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Utah is home to some of the most stunning natural beauty in the Southwest. Red sandstone arches and rock canyons line the city of Moab in eastern Utah. It is the centerpiece of the state’s Canyon Country and a popular tourist attraction, but for some, these ancient arches hold a different allure.
Thrill seekers from all over the world now flock to Moab’s Corona Arch to live out a daredevil’s dream. People transform the arches into extreme swing sets by tying ropes to the rocks and swinging through structures 140 feet tall. It’s called “Pendulum” or rope-swinging and it’s the new craze sweeping Utah’s canyon lands, which is already home to adrenaline activities like climbing and BASE jumping.
Viral YouTube videos like this one helped popularize the “Pendulum” jump.
“That first step, it really takes your breath away,” said Ty Foster, who has swung over the canyons.
But the craze is creating a problem for the Bureau of Land Management. Three people have died in the last two years, fueling an already-heated debate about the limits of extreme sports on public lands, and some are calling for a ban.
“There’s always that inherent risk. But we’re going to have a good time and we made sure we did everything the right way,” Foster said.
Bego Gerhart of Grand County Search and Rescue says the “risk takers” shouldn’t be performing stunts in the town’s front country, or areas along popular campsites and travel routes.
“The overwhelming feeling is all of this should not occur in the front country,” Gerhart said. “If you want to go out and kill yourself, do it in the back country.”
Gerhart also says that for many of the hikers, backpackers and outdoor devotees, the thrill seekers now filling the canyon are becoming a nuisance.
“There are complaints … about the rope people causing mayhem in a peaceful place,” he said. “They don’t think this should be Disneyland.”
Hiker Tim Kote visits the arches for peace and quiet.
“You come up here to see the beauty, not a thrill ride,” Kote said. “We need to leave some stuff alone, just to be what it is, let us enjoy it like it is.
Destruction of the fragile arches caused by the jumpers is another concern for federal officials.
“We are seeing some abrading from the ropes,” said Megan Crandall, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management. The agency is considering a temporary ban on rope-swinging for two years to assess the land and determine its best use.
But until a decision is reached, it seems that the debate will continue between those who thrive on the thrill and those who crave the solitude of nature’s spectacular beauty.
“Banning things like that doesn’t seem to make them go away,” Foster said. “People should be able to go up there and interact with it as they will.”