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Southwestern Utah: St. George

By Jeanne (Jeannew)

Getting there

Fly into Las Vegas, then drive 121 miles (2 hours) north on US15 to reach St. George. Consider staying a night or two in Las Vegas, either at the beginning or end of the trip. It is worth seeing at least once even if you are not interested in gambling and glitz. Our most recent visit was April 25 - May 4, 2004. The weather was perfect. It was also great in October of 2002, but very hot (110) in June of 2002.

Accommodations

St. George has many hotels and some B&B's. There are also short term condo rentals available. On most of my visits I stay at a friend's home, although I have also spent a few nights at the very comfortable Holiday Inn on Bluff St.

Food and Wine

There are plenty of fast food places and burger joints. The newer shopping centers are bringing in specialty ice cream stores and ethnic restaurants. We had a great Mexican lunch at the Rio Cafe in town. Another Mexican restaurant is on Bluff Street with outside tables and thatched umbrellas. I didn't eat there but my husband loved it. For more upscale dining, the Painted Pony in Ancestor Square is probably the best in town. We didn't eat there this visit so I can't give a detailed report.

We did eat at Rococco which is next to the St. George airport and has wonderful views over the town. We had salad, entrees such as prime rib or grilled salmon, dessert and wine for $125 for the 4 of us. Alcoholic drinks are not on the menu but they serve them if requested. This is a peculiarity of Utah (restrictive liquor laws).

There is one bar and one liquor store, state operated, in St. George. My husband went in and purchased a respectable Utah made red wine. Our friends make the short trip to Nevada to buy their alcoholic beverages. The small casino town of Mesquite, Nevada is 45 minutes away. We had an excellent dinner in Gregory's at the Eureka casino. The tab for the 4 of us, big meals and drinks $83.

Sights and Activities in Town

St. George's history goes back to the days of Brigham Young, leader of the early Mormons. He had his winter residence here and also had a large tabernacle built. There are several historical Mormon sites to visit and even a genealogy center where church members can help you do a computer search for family ancestors.

Because St. George is a rapidly growing tourism and retirement area there are quite a few golf courses and shopping centers, complete with outlet stores. Many people can spend a week there golfing, shopping and learning about local history, but for the adventurous more awaits to be discovered.
www.stgeorgechamber.com: St. George Chamber of Commerce

Quick Trips

Snow Canyon State Park

This gem of red and white sandstone and black lava flows is next to Ivins, less than 15 minutes from St. George. There are biking and hiking trails through red sand desert, over petrified sand dunes and into red rock canyons. They have a small campground and ranger station with excellent nature programs. We had the good fortune to participate in a moonlit scorpion hunt on our visit in April. Ultraviolet lights are used to locate the scorpions which are not harmed. At the edge of the park is the cone of a dormant volcano.
www.stateparks.utah.gov: Utah State Parks

Tuacahn

This is an outdoor amphitheater among the red rocks not far from Snow Canyon State Park. Many artistic and popular productions are staged here during the warmer months.
www.tuacahn.org: Tuacahn

Santa Clara

A small main street is shaded by sycamores and lined with historic settlers' homes. There are a few antique shops, delightful Grandma Tobler's Bakery where you can pick up some goodies and then go across the street to Way Cool Dirt Cheap for great bargains on Mexican imports. Be sure to obey the posted speed limit (there are speeding traps!).

A few miles out of Santa Clara is the planned desert community of Kayenta. On the main entrance road is Xetava where you can buy cacti, books, gifts with a desert motif and have a mean cup of java. Xetava is part of Kayenta's Coyote Gulch Art Village. Also located here are public restrooms and several galleries featuring local artists, visiting fine art exhibitions and fine handcrafts.
www.sacredearthliving.com/xetava.html: Xetava

Further Afield

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is about a 1 hr 10 minute drive from St. George, and doable as a day trip. If you are an avid hiker and wish to take more that just quick look, consider staying one or two nights either at the lodge in the park or in the town of Springdale on the edge of the park. Bus rides around the town of Springdale and into the park are included in the park admission fee. We spent two nights at the Desert Pearl Inn, a uniquely lovely accommodation. We then had plenty of time to explore some of the many hiking trails and watch climbers scale the high cliffs.
www.nps.gov/zion: Zion National Park
www.desertpearl.com: Desert Pearl Inn

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is another 2 hours 15 minutes from Zion or 3 hours directly from St. George. Some people will make this a day trip either from St. George or Springdale. They will drive up, get out of the car and look over the edge then drive back. This is not slow travel! We stayed at the park lodge which is a very short walk to the edge of what I consider one of the most beautiful vistas ever. A multitude of colorful spires seem to glow in the sunlight. I wanted to be there to watch the sunrise, sunset and see the view in the light of the stars. We also enjoyed several hikes here, although the high altitude left me breathless at times. Dinner in the lodge is very good, but reservations for rooms and dinner need to be made months in advance. Several motels are located at the edge of the park.
www.nps.gov/brca: Bryce Canyon

Kanab

Kanab is about 1.5 hours south of Zion on route 9. It is a reasonable drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and has several nice motels and B&B's. On the way to Kanab from Zion is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, a large stretch of beautiful sand which we spotted from our plane. Certain sections are open for off road vehicles, but only the most fanatic would camp there because of the heat. It is an interesting detour if you have time to kill. The rangers will gladly show off their international sand collection, little vials of sand from all over the world!

For animal lovers, the main reason to stop in Kanab is to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Tours through the sanctuary are available twice daily but you must call for a reservation. The grounds of the sanctuary were used for making cowboy movies and TV shows including the Lone Ranger. Best Friends has very nice accommodations for people who wish to stay a few days and do volunteer work. We spent the night in a brand new cottage with living room, kitchen with microwave and fridge, bedroom, bath, cable TV and excellent air conditioning. The next day we helped care for senior dogs, taking them for walks and brushing them.

Kanab is 80 miles from St. George if you wanted to make it a day trip. On the way back from Kanab, you could stop at Pipe Springs National Monument. It was a way station for settlers who were building the Tabernacle in St. George. They have an excellent historical interpretive program, and it is a pleasant oasis before drive back to St. George (58 miles).
www.bestfriends.org: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
www.nps.gov/pisp/: Pipe Springs National Monument

Note: If you are driving from Kanab to St. George, stop in Colorado City for ice cream at a small gas station / ice cream store on the left. There you have the opportunity to gawk at "sister wives" in their long calico dresses and elaborately braided hair, and have them gawk at you. Colorado City is a town with many polygamous families.

The Grand Canyon, north rim

From Kanab we went on to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, spending 2 nights at the very rustic but adequate Jacobs Lake Lodge. It was a 45 minute drive to the canyon through beautiful forest and pasture land. Lodging is very scarce at the North Rim, which is less visited that the South Rim but still very beautiful. It was impossible for us to obtain rooms in the park with only 3 months advance notice.

If you plan to hike in these areas, educate yourself about the proper safety measures. Sun screen, sun hats, plenty of water and boots for back country trails (rattle snake protection) are a must. Many of these areas do not have good cell phone reception so bring a map!

Our friends took us four wheeling to the Tuweap overlook of the Lava Falls of the Grand Canyon. It was a beautiful trip and they carefully prepared for it, first checking the weather reports for possibilities of flash floods and then leaving our route and estimated return time with friends.

We love the area and have not exhausted the available activities. We'll be back!

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