THE IRON-Y & THE ECSTASY

Sep 11, 2020
By: Melinda Rhodes

Romeo and Juliet walk into a tasting room, finding a shipwrecked pirate at a table in the corner. Not really. But this little bit of irony offers a glimpse of Iron County’s charmingly quirky personality. You’re welcomed to its largest municipality, Cedar City, by a red-and-white striped lighthouse looming large over its landlocked location. Weird, right? But endearing at the same time … like that parrot doing the macarena on the shipwrecked pirate’s shoulder.

This international destination is home to the Utah Shakespeare Festival and a blossoming winery. It satisfies the cravings of culture, cuisine, and curiosity. And surrounded by Frontier Homestead State Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and the Kolob Canyon entrance to Zion, Cedar City also makes a great starting point for a road trip filled with amped-up landscapes and unforgettable adventures. Even the carcoleptic are ecstatic enough to stay awake between stops.

A TOWN THAT WALKS THE WALK

A richly hued view of Cedar Breaks

To say that Cedar City is a pedestrian-friendly place is an understatement.

Ten minutes. That’s how long it takes to hoof from the town center to Frontier Homestead State Park. Step back in time to see the industrial age from a pioneer’s POV — no VR goggles required. Some of the oldest tools of the trade are found here, including a 19th-century printing press, horse-drawn farm equipment, and iron-processing structures. Interactive experiences make it more fun than Wally World.

Railcar relic at Frontier Homestead

Prefer art to ancestry? Nine minutes in the other direction from the town center and you’re at the Southern Utah Museum of Art on the corner of Southern Utah University’s campus. The modern building with a canyon-like roof is a work of art itself. From one angle it resembles a checkmark. From another, a paper airplane in the folding process. And a large wall of windows blurs the inside/outside boundary. Once you walk through the doors, do your best impression of Ferris Bueller and friends as you critique the collection of paintings by regional artists and prints from international masters (Picasso! Renoir!).

SUU is also where you’ll find the Utah Shakespeare Festival. These performances ain’t lackluster local productions; ol’ Bill the Bard himself would be impressed with the high caliber. The festival received a Tony Award in 2000 for America’s Outstanding Regional Theatre. Backstage tours, prop and costume seminars, as well as Q&A luncheons with the actors add another element of entertainment. And if you stay in one of the carefully appointed rooms or posh suites at Abbey Inn Cedar City, you receive an exclusive discount on festival tickets. Located less than a mile from SUU, Abbey Inn Cedar City is also within walking distance.

You probably don’t want to walk to Lake of the Hills with paddleboards in tow. Throw those buoyant bad boys in the back of your kick a** Truck Norris or on top of S-S-S-Sooby-Doo the Subaru and make the 10-minute drive instead. Don’t have any toys? Kayak rentals are available once you get there. The glassy water is perfect for paddling of any kind because motorized boats aren’t allowed. And don’t forget your fishing poles. Every spring the lake is stocked with brook trout and rainbow trout.

Of course, when you return from the smooth, sandy shores, you’re gonna have to stop for some scoops. Why? Because licking an artisan-made ice cream cone while sitting in colorful chairs on the patio of Cedar City’s historic train depot is a quintessential summer vacation thing to do. Duh. And you’ve already burned off every delicious calorie by walking everywhere.

Just don’t ruin your appetite for dinner because there’s an eclectic mix of eateries to choose from. Wood-fired pizzas and microbrews on Main Street. Steak and seafood served streamside. Salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs yet? Uh-huh.

A WHOLE LOTTA LAVA

After enjoying all that Cedar City has to offer, make your way to the Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway. The road gently curves through dark volcanic rock and bright aspen forests as it climbs Cedar Canyon. Schedule, schmedule. Take your time here. Pull over and snap some pics from jaw-dropping overlooks. Reach over and close your companion’s mouth (in true cartoon-character style), then turn on the spur to Navajo Lake. This unique body of water lined with lava fields drains through sinkholes. Cast your line and see what’s biting while you’re there or go on the easy out-and-back trail to Cascade Falls where the water from Navajo Lake spills from a cliffside cave.

Tired yet? Duck Creek Village offers lots of lodging options. Search results look a little like the Milky Way Galaxy without light pollution. Cozy cabins. Sophisticated second homes. Campgrounds. Hotels.

Duck Creek Village, bordering a mountain meadow.

But don’t let all those dots fool you. This unincorporated community located on the border of Dixie National Forest offers plenty of scenic solitude — whether you’re a camper, a glamper, or one of the pampered.

When morning comes, send the claustrophobes on miles of wide-open ATV trails and have everyone else meet at Mammoth Cave. Though you can walk through most of the lava tube’s 2,200 feet of passages, there are a coupla shirt-dirtying shimmies on your stomach. Strap on your headlamp for the best view of the soda straws and other formations inside. It’d be a shame if you dropped that new iPhone 11 while using it as a flashlight or drained the battery on your “vintage” 5S so you couldn’t take any pictures.

UNIQUE IMPOSTER

As you stand atop the altitudinous amphitheater enjoying the cool mountain air, feel free to scoff at all the sweaty peeps below you. It’s fine. They won’t be aware of your arrogance from all the way down there.

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Chances are you’ve seen photos of Cedar Breaks National Monument before and mistaken it for Bryce. It has hoodoos. It has saffron sandstone. It’s bordered by thick forests. What it doesn’t have? Vast amounts of visitors. This pocket-sized monument also sits at 10,000 feet, about 1,000 feet higher than its counterpart park — think of it as the taller fraternal twin with its own unique DNA rather than the identical twin. As you stand atop the altitudinous amphitheater enjoying the cool mountain air, feel free to scoff at all the sweaty peeps below you. It’s fine. They won’t be aware of your arrogance from all the way down there.

That high elevation also makes the nightlife cooler. Literally and figuratively. Cedar Breaks is an International Dark Sky Park and hosts star parties every weekend. (That might be more often than an SUU frat house.) On clear nights you can often see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons through the powerful telescope provided. When our own planet’s moon is full, sign up for a night hike guided by a ranger.

If you happen to be there in July, take time to walk through the wildflowers on the Alpine Pond Nature Trail. This easy 2-miler in the forest opens up to meadows and loops past a spring-fed pond.

A SEASON FOR EVERYTHING

There are two unofficial seasons at Brian Head: ski season and après-ski season.

Lift-serviced terrain at Brian Head

If you long for the rush of flying down a mountain but don’t love doing it when the snow is swirling sideways and the frigid air is turning your lips the shade of a Smurf, summer, or fall are the perfect times to visit Brian Head.

The resort offers mountain bike courses for riders of all experience levels. With smooth berms and minimal pedaling, the Color Trail is perfect for beginners. Intermediate riders love the rock ladders and tabletops on the brand new Glitter Trail. More advanced courses like the Timberline Trail have tricky technical sections and opportunities for big air. All in all, there are more than 200 miles of backcountry trails and plenty of shuttle services to get you to and fro, bro.

Other vertical drops include a mini zip line and avalanche tubing. That’s right. A lift-serviced tubing hill usable in the summer. Parents: this means you don’t have to pack ten layers of fleeces and puffers for the littles, worry about lost gloves, or listen to incessant whining while going back up. Halle-freakin-lujah!

Have an older crew of outdoorsy cohorts? Try some disc golf or archery. Need more time to fit it all in? Spend the night at Cedar Breaks Lodge and play for another day. However you spend your time, the scenery is simply stunning.

WRITTEN IN STONE

A Mammoth Cave Passage

Urim and Thummim? Pfft. You don’t need these objects of divination to achieve celestial alignment. All you need to do is visit the Parowan Gap and stand next to the 10,000-year-old cairns on summer or winter solstice and watch the sun go down, framed perfectly in a rocky notch. As the blazing ball of dust and gas approaches the horizon, everyone becomes silent. It’s truly transcendent. Other cairns are precisely positioned for equinox viewing.

Shooting the Parowan Gap

These aren’t the only makings of ancient solar and lunar calendars evident in this 600-foot-wide slice. The natural roadside attraction boasts an impressive outdoor gallery of Native American petroglyphs, with upwards of 1,500 figures splayed across 90 rock panels. And it’s one of the most accessible collections. No binocs necessary. An added bonus? There’s also a sweet set of dino tracks nearby. Rawr.

GO TOWARD THE LIGHT (HOUSE)

Cedar City and the rest of Iron County serve up just the right amount of weird and wonderful, making the area worthy of a multi-day road trip. There’s excitement and adventure around every corner. Not to mention good food. And plenty of photo ops … with or without characters of yore.

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