DESERT STARS

Jul 17, 2019
By: Ash Sanders

Kanab isn’t trying to brag, but since you asked, why yes, it is the jumping off point for three national parks, five national monuments, a national recreation area, and two state parks. Forget St. Louis and its flashy arch; if it’s all about location, location, location, then Kanab is the real Gateway to the West.

From Kanab’s sunny red rock porch, it’s just a Teva’s hop, skip and a jump to some of the country’s most killer hikes, climbs, floats and vistas. Traipse over to Bull Canyon Gorge or Buckskin Gulch to check “deepest” and “longest” off your slot canyon bucket list, or wend your way to nearby Bryce Canyon or Cedar Breaks to play hoodoo whodunnit. Need a swim? Head east to the red rock canyons and blue waters of nearby Lake Powell. Oh, and save room for dessert — er, desert — at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, where you can play a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia, uniting the bickering factions of your kids as you four-wheel through rough terrain. (Yes, that’s a metaphor for something.)

But wait! You’re not leaving just yet, are you? Because Kanab is more than a gateway. It’s a destination in and of itself, just as good for diving into as it is jumping off from. After all, its reputation precedes it. Long a favorite backdrop for Westerns, this sleepy little town has hosted so many big-shot directors and starlets (paging Elizabeth Taylor) that its pet name is Little Hollywood. And it wasn’t just a haven for artists of the silver screen persuasion. Famed painter Maynard Dixon traded his San Francisco home for Kane County, and his cabin — now the Thunderbird Center for the Arts — is still a center of the Southwestern paintiverse, hosting artists, panels and more at its in-house museum.

Or maybe you’re here to find the nation’s biggest animal rescue? In that case, you’re one lucky dog, because Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is right up the road. Stop by for some fine vegetarian victuals, a whole lot of four-legged friends, and a tour of Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven or Piggy Paradise. On your way back, stop into Moqui Cave to see how the ancients got things done. WIth thousands of arrowheads, pre-Columbian pots, the occasional dinosaur track and — yep — fluorescent stones and minerals, there’s something for even the pickiest roadside traveler.

Feeling hungry? Head back to Main Street’s sandstone-colored shops and streetside cafes so cute they’ll make your teeth hurt and grab some grub from one of many local eateries. Or fill your belly and slake your thirst for fame at the Little Hollywood Museum, where you can love on some Dutch-oven cooking, explore old movie sets and reenact an Old West shootout.

Phew, you’re tired! Rest your weary li’l Western head at one of the town’s many locally run inns and motels, or gussy up and get over to the handsome Parry Lodge — hotel to the stars — where Frank Sinatra commissioned the swimming pool. By morning you’ll be well-rested and chafing to head for the hills — and boy, do we have just the hikes for you.

OUR FAVORITE HIKES IN KANAB

TOADSTOOL HOODOOS

  • Difficulty Easy
  • Distance 1.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation +141 feet
  • Pet-friendly Yes, on leash
  • Seasonality September – June
  • Perfect for parents trying to get their video game–addicted kids to enjoy the outdoors

If the Mario Kart crew founded a commune in the desert and hired Dr. Seuss as chief architect, it would probably be a lot like Toadstool Hoodoos (named after the Princess, naturally). And for the low, low buy-in of a 20-minute hike, you can join them. Forty-five miles east of Kanab on Highway 89, this 1.8-mile loop takes you through a landscape so red-hued and whacked-out it would make even the reddest Martian landscaper green with envy. The family-friendly hike begins in a sandy wash that threads between a layer-cake of brown, red and pink sandstone walls, then undulates over smooth, gray hills to the mushroom feast up top. Along the path, gnarled fingers of rock point the way. These weathered formations are hoodoos in the making — layers of sandstone that have been shaped by wind and rain. As the lower, softer layers of rock wear away, the rock takes on the characteristic hoo-doo shapes: a squat goblin, twisted ghostie, a madcap mushroom, etc.

WHITE HOUSE TRAILHEAD IN PARIA CANYON TO BUCKSKIN GULCH

  • Difficulty Flat hiking, but requires wading through water
  • Distance 14.9 miles round trip
  • Elevation +905 feet
  • Pet-friendly Dogs allowed
  • Seasonality Late Spring through early Fall
  • Perfect for bucket-list box-checkers; slot canyoneers

As Robbie Frost approximately said: Two options for hiking Buckskin Gulch diverged in a sandstone canyon, and sorry I could not travel both, I took the one that required no permits — and that has made all the difference. While all the chumps are waiting for an overnight permit to hike Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass, jump the line — and the crowd — and come in the back door for a no-permits/no-less-spectacular 15-mile day hike from White House Trailhead to the confluence with the Gulch. You’ll still get that gobsmacked slot canyon feeling from the Paria Narrows section of the hike (towering sandstone cliffs, anyone?) and get your feet wet in the Paria River.

And when you get to the Gulch, you can have a picnic, lay down your heavy load and shimmy through some ever narrower narrows without having to hoof your house around on your back. And yes, you can still say you’ve hiked the world’s longest, deepest slot canyon. And that’s what we in the adventure business like to call a win–win. The first several miles of this hike are in an open canyon so make sure to bring sunscreen and one of those dorky neck-covers that seem less and less dorky as the sun climbs the sky.

THE WAVE/ WHITE POCKET

  • Difficulty Wave: Moderate; WP: Easy
  • Distance Wave: 5..2 miles round trip; WP: 1+ miles (however much you want to explore)
  • Elevation Wave: +400 feet; WP: Depends on you
  • Pet-friendly Wave: Yes; WP: Yes
  • Seasonality Wave: Late Spring/early Fall; WP: Year-round
  • Perfect for brides to be; people who just bought a DSLR; those with a high stripe tolerance

Everyone who’s been to a college football game knows that doing the wave is cool. It makes you get up on your feet. Spill your popcorn. Feel part of something cosmic and bigger than yourself. But also? Everybody’s doing it.

The same could be said for Utah’s (okay… technically Arizona’s) sandstone spin on the old athletic classic. The red rock version of the Wave is mind-bendingly beautiful: an undulating, striated expanse of desert that resembles nothing so much as exactly what it isn’t — water. But it’s also insanely popular. Didn’t get a permit six months ago? You have about a 15 percent chance of remedying that in person.

But don’t despair! Skip the permit hustle-and-bustle and set out for White Pocket, an equally impressive ocean of stone that shocks and delights but doesn’t require you to camp out (I mean, what is this, a Beyoncé concert?). The road there is rough but worth it. A tripped-out vista of twisted earth, this cauldron of color looks like God put on a pot of candy to boil and forgot to come back for it.

MANSARD TRAIL

  • Difficulty Difficult (steep with scrambling sections)
  • Distance 3 miles round trip
  • Elevation +850 feet
  • Pet-friendly Dogs allowed
  • Seasonality Winter, spring and fall
  • Perfect for cyclists training to win the polka-dot jersey; lovers of curious ancient history

Cancel your gym membership and brush up on your rock art because Mansard trail is a butt-kicking and an ancient art lesson in one. Five miles outside of Kanab, this hike rises like an expectation from the valley floor. After a half-mile scramble over tumble-down boulders, you’ll reach the top of the Vermillion Cliffs, but you’ve got more mountain ahead of you, young billy goat — this time up the sloping sides of the White Cliffs to a shaded alcove where all your hard work will be rewarded. The petroglyphs at this site are unusual times two: First, they’re etched into the floor of the alcove, not the walls, and second, they contain images that aren’t present at any other site in the area. That’s right, the ancestral Puebloan artist Anasazi really broke the mold on this one — we’re guessing it was the dorm of a misunderstood performance artist or the home of a genius baby who liked to chisel on mom’s new sandstone floor. Either way, you’ll go home grateful for your own kid’s set of water-soluble markers.

DID YOU KNOW?

In 1911, Kanab voted in the first all-women town council in American history.

Locals have long called the Kane County area the Grand Canyons. Gotta respect their confidence co-opting the name of the most famous geological attraction in the country.

For folks who like to combine their love of ancient pottery with their love of 19th-Century religious communalism, the Moqui Cave has a stash of documents relating to the Mormon Church’s early plans for the United Order — a utopian vision where all private property would be held in common — right next to the arrowheads.

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