A map on the wall of the Frontier Homestead State Park Museum in Cedar City, Utah, shows the town was built on the crossroads of many of the major western trails. In some ways, it’s still at a crossroads, and that’s part of what makes it an interesting place to visit.
Cedar City still has an old small-town Mayberryish feel with a historic Main Street lined with shops. There are a lot more places to buy sewing and craft supplies than there are places to wet your whistle. The spot where you get your hair cut is still called a barbershop, and there are quite a few to choose from. The big news in town is that they’ll soon be getting their own Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple.
But the future is sliding in. Cedar City has a skateboard park and a nightclub, or at least, as one local said, “what passes for a nightclub here.” There are two comic book shops, a well-stocked independent bookstore and a patchouli-scented music shop with a lot of counterculture posters on the wall. The drugstore has a working soda fountain, but the young woman behind the counter was sporting a decidedly punk look on the day I visited.
Next door to the soda fountain is Hunter-Cowan, a Main Street store that opened in 1931 and carries hardware, small appliances and camping equipment, including the old-style heavy sleeping bags that Teddy Roosevelt would have been comfortable in. The same store also carries decorative tin signs, sculptures made of old silverware and does computer repair.
When I arrived, I traveled the length of Main Street and ended up on the south end of town at Brad’s Food Hut. I ordered a Butterfinger milkshake that came with a straw and a spoon. The straw was clearly included as some sort of small-town practical joke. Lungs don’t exist that could suck that shake through a straw. It was a little bit of work just to get the spoon in it. It was worth the effort.
I headed a little farther down the road to a historical marker noting the cove in a hill where the original 1851 settlers wintered the first year. Thirty-five men were sent to make iron mined from the area. Some of the early settlers were from mining towns in Britain, brought out for their expertise.
Frontier Homestead State Park Museum is on Main Street, too, and you can see artifacts and buildings from the area’s past. The oldest log cabin in the county is preserved there along with a school, a house and a yard full of rusty farming equipment. Inside the building are several carriages and early horseless carriages and interpretive displays.
Next door is the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau & Visitors Center. The building also houses the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum. A wide variety of free maps and brochures, including information about nearby hikes, skiing, historical sites and the many special events that take place in Cedar City are available at the bureau.
“We call our town Festival City,” Mayor Joe Burgess said. “There’s something going on just about every weekend in the summer.”
I was in town for the start of the Utah Summer Games, which is a big enough deal that some businesses were closed, with signs explaining altered hours because of the owners’ children’s participation in one game or another.
“We always kick off the Summer Games with a rodeo,” Burgess said. “It’s a great rodeo and we have a lot of riders here who participated in the last few National Finals Rodeos.”
It seemed the whole town was out at the rodeo grounds way on the east side of town. In mid-June, there was still a nip in the evening air. The crowd cheered when a cowboy made the full eight seconds in the saddle bronc competition and politely clapped when a rider was thrown early.
Cedar City is a great base to take short drives to go hiking or exploring nature or see historic sites. Brian Head, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Kolob Canyons-Zion National Park, Navajo Lake, Old Iron Town and Parowan Heritage Park are all within a 30-mile drive from Cedar City.
You don’t have to leave town to start a hike in nature. Center Street winds up the canyon through the mountains on the east side of town, following Coal Creek. A bike-and-hike trail roughly parallels the road, offering views of the stream and ruins of old structures dotted along it. The trail begins in the Cedar City Little League Baseball Complex next to Cedar Canyon Park, which is actually a pair of city parks.
The East Park is a popular picnic spot for locals and visitors alike. The other is Veterans Park, a collection of veterans memorials along a strip of park along Coal Creek. They range from a monument honoring those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to a World War I monument that was installed prior to World War II and refers to the conflict as “The Great War.”
From the bridge to the World War I monument, I spotted Ernie Bulloch sitting in the shade of a small tree along the creek while he watched his two children and his niece playing in the cold water with inner tubes.
“I’ve got a buddy who works in a tire place and I figured I could just buy some old tubes from him,” Bulloch said. “He didn’t have any so I bought some new tubes instead. These are better than those plastic things from the department store. They’re durable, they’re not going to break, and if they do, I know how to patch them.”
Bulloch’s family was among the first in Cedar City and he’s a fifth-generation resident. He had spent the day working with his family’s beef cattle at a place in the hills.
“We don’t make any money at it, but it’s a tradition,” he said.
When he was younger, he moved to Las Vegas for a few months, but he didn’t care for the big city and was soon back in Cedar City.
“Cedar is a great place to live,” Bulloch said. “It’s a great place to grow up.”
When I mentioned I was working on a story and hoping to let people in Las Vegas know about all the things you could do in Cedar City, Bulloch just shrugged.
“I’m pretty sure they already know about it,” he said. “A lot of people have come in from Las Vegas and built fancy homes up on the hill. They must be making a lot of money.”
He was referring to Ley Hill, on the other side of the highway from the old town. The homes there wouldn’t look out of place in Summerlin or Anthem. An improbable lighthouse in the desert marks the entrance to the new neighborhood that was mostly built in the past few years.
In contrast to the Bullochs and their tire-shop flotation devices, a small artificial lake has been constructed near the top of the hill. On a sunny weekend day, scores of people barbecued and played games and sunbathed on the sandy beach. Kayaks and canoes are available at a boathouse, and a dozen of them plied the waters.
A large modern pool shares the parking lot with the lake, and across the street is Park Discovery, a large interactive play structure. The park was built by and for locals. Kids helped design it with slides, towers, ships and a little amphitheater. The park was built by and funded by the community.
I made a point of having a drink in every bar in the city. Both of them.
There actually are several places serving beer and wine in Cedar City, but most have a license that requires food to be on the table also. Several restaurants in town have names inspired by the long-running Utah Shakespeare Festival on the campus of Southern Utah University.
The festival’s 52nd season runs through Oct. 19 and includes productions of “The Tempest,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “King John” “Anything Goes” and “Twelve Angry Men” through the end of August, with “Peter and the Starcatcher” continuing with “Richard II” and “The Marvelous Wonderettes” through the end of the season. Some are staged in the university’s reproduction of the Old Globe Theatre in London, where Shakespeare originally staged many of the plays.
Many of the performances are preceded by free green shows, with jugglers and musicians entertaining outside the Adams Shakespearean Theatre. Additional educational opportunities are play orientations and seminars offered at various times. There is also a walking tour of the many sculptures on campus.
For a small town, Cedar City boasts a lot of public art and sculptures, including several life-size sculptures of the city’s early movers and shakers on Main Street.
Contact F. Andrew Taylor at email@example.com or 702-380-4532.