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About Utah: For sale  Abbey’s old home in Moab

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MOAB — Looking for a change of address? Looking for a way to connect to the colorful characters who have passed through Utah? Looking for a place for inspiration to write that best seller you've never quite gotten around to?

You are in luck.

Edward Abbey's old Moab home is for sale.

This is not to be confused with his first residence in the Moab area, the one-room trailer he lived in as a summer ranger at Arches National Park circa 1956.

This is the place south of town at 2240 Spanish Valley Drive that he bought nearly 20 years later, in 1974, and lived in, on and off, through 1978, when he moved back to Tucson, Ariz.

It was here that he lived after marrying his fourth wife, Renee'. It was here where he threw the big party when he turned 50. It was here that he wrote "The Monkey Wrench Gang."

I learned that the 2,800-square-foot house is on the market from a solid, unimpeachable source in Moab — the Southeast Utah Real Estate Happenings magazine, which I picked up at a gas station:

"Charming 4 bed/2 bath home on 1.41 ac, huge fireplace, wood floors, fabulous views, former home of Edward Abbey, $290,000, Call Penelope."

I called Penelope Butterfield, the friendly Realtor handling the sale.

She said the house has been on the market since spring. So yes, the down economy has slowed down everything, including houses Edward Abbey once lived in.

Not even Tim DeChristopher has made an offer.

But that doesn't mean there isn't interest.

I talked to Terry Caine, the current owner, and she said people will knock on the door just to satisfy their curiosity.

"They don't want to buy, but they ask if they can come in and look," she said. "I say, 'Sure, come on in.' "

Terry didn't know Edward Abbey. She bought the house seven years ago after it was vacant for several years. All she knows is that the famed author and environmental activist, who died in 1989 at the age of 62, once lived where she lives now.

Laura Lee Houck has a much clearer recollection. Laura Lee still lives in the next house north on Spanish Valley Drive, where she moved in 1977 and instantly became good friends with her neighbors, the Abbeys.

There were fewer houses 30 years ago, and people, and Laura Lee is prone to nostalgia when she talks about it.

"Moab was awesome then," she says. "A lot of river runners and Jeepers and hikers and people just kinda wandering through and getting stuck here."

She remembers Abbey coming over all the time to use her phone because he didn't have one of his own.

"He said he couldn't have a phone because, once you become a celebrity, you can forget about the writing part because people are always calling," she says.

"He was really a cool person," she adds. "It cracks me up that people take him seriously because he didn't take himself serious; he was laughing all the time. He was laughing at himself; he was laughing at our culture. He was spot on with ironies."

She's positive he would be laughing about the house he bought for $26,000 now listing for $290,000.

"He sold it for $40,000 and thought he was quite the magnate," she says.

By sheer coincidence, Abbey's widow, Clarke Abbey, lives around the corner from 2240 Spanish Valley Drive. Since she didn't meet Abbey until 1979, she has no recollection of his days living there.

But Clarke Abbey, too, imagines her late husband would appreciate the irony of the land he loved becoming so much more expensive.

"He had a habit of buying high and selling low," she says.

And the fact that his celebrity helped inflate the price wouldn't be lost on him either.

Laura Lee notes that it's not exactly the same house, though.

The den area where Abbey wrote "The Monkey Wrench Gang," for instance, is now a bathroom, she points out.

"But the great views of the red rock and the LaSals, they haven't changed and never will," she adds on a cheerful note.

So there you go. For $290,000 you get the views, the house and Ed Abbey's friend as a neighbor.

I get the impression she'd still let you use her phone.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.