We headed north on Interstate 15 toward the cooler climes of Cedar City, Utah, somewhat ignorant to the construction delays and completely unaware of the armed protest at the Cliven Bundy ranch that would shut down the freeway for a short time.
So we sat steaming as we came to a crawl at some points and complete stops at others, turning what should have been a 2½-hour drive into a four-hour patience-testing trek.
But those hassles were mostly forgotten once we arrived in the city of about 29,000 residents. At an elevation of 5,800 feet, Cedar City is on average 10 to 20 degrees cooler than Las Vegas, which makes it an ideal summer destination.
That’s especially true for Shakespeare lovers, who flood into this town beginning each June when another round of plays begins. This year’s schedule opened last week, with plays staged at the open-air Adams Shakespearean Theatre and the indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre. Matinee showings of “The Comedy of Errors” take place in the indoor Auditorium Theatre.
The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts is projected to open before the 2016 season begins and serve as the new Shakespeare venue.
But the plays aren’t the only thing when visiting Cedar City.
There are a handful of ways to stay busy when not watching “Twelfth Night” or the other festival offerings, and some of those ways include getting out of town.
If you have a day to spend, the awe-inspiring Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks are roughly an hour away.
If you have a little less time but still want to take advantage of the surrounding area’s tremendous scenery, Kolob Canyons and Cedar Breaks National Monument are much closer.
Kolob Canyons is a 5-mile drive away and open year-round. Be sure to hike out to the world’s second-longest natural arch. At Cedar Breaks, open only from late May to mid-October because of harsh winter weather, nature lovers can take advantage of three hiking trails.
But what if you want to stay put and take in Cedar City beyond the Shakespeare fest?
For a little bit of history, head to the kid- and adult-friendly Frontier Homestead State Park Museum. It’s open every day except Sundays, and visitors can easily spend an hour or so at a cost of just $3 per person. In the indoor section of the museum is a large collection of horse-drawn wagons and early 20th-century cars among other artifacts that offer a trip back in time.
Outside is a taste of life in the early days of Cedar City, including a two-story schoolhouse complete with an actual teacher. OK, so there isn’t a teacher on standby, but an English tourist happened to be sitting at the teacher’s desk and seemed like the real thing as she sat writing notes about her American vacation.
The city oldest’s standing home is also on-site.
Those with young kids or even preteens can easily spend an hour or two at the Park Discovery, which is divided between the “Tot Lot” on the left and the older kids area on the right. Getting there is a little tricky with the parking lot next to the Iron County School District building and a couple of football fields away. You pull into the lot thinking it must be the wrong place, but rest assured it isn’t.
Once there, the place looks almost like a fortress, with the Space Shuttle wooden tower, the just-what-it-sounds-like Boat House and a green army Jeep. Two math mazes add a little bit of an educational element, and similar touches are found throughout the park, which includes an outdoor classroom and stage area.
And, of course, the park features the usual kid-friendly amenities such as swings and slides.
For a more moving experience, head over to the Veterans Memorial Park. Large memorials pay tribute to those who fought for our country, going all the way back to World War I, with names listed of those who paid the ultimate price in those conflicts.
If you have enough time, you can also take a walking tour of Southern Utah University, visit the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum, or go to the Museum of Natural History on the first floor of the Science Building at SUU.
A person can build up quite an appetite watching plays or exploring around town and, luckily, Cedar City provides its share of standout dining experiences.
On our first night after braving the terrible traffic, we stopped at Rusty’s Ranch House. Arriving after 8 p.m., we didn’t get a look at the beautiful mountain setting, but we were greeted by animal heads throughout the restaurant.
The food was good and the menu offered the kind of selection you would expect from a ranch house, with steaks and barbecue at reasonable prices.
Our other dinner was at Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant, where the entry presented a smorgasbord of trinkets that ranged from dolls in miniature strollers to pieces of costume jewelry. Everything looked haphazardly thrown together. Even more odd, at the cash register were replicas of New York’s Citi Field, the U.S. Capitol and the Vatican.
I’ll have a burrito and replica of the Jefferson Memorial to go, please.
Somehow it worked, though, and the food and service were terrific. The menu offered typical Mexican fare at outstanding prices. The topper was dessert: The cheesecake chimichanga alone made the stop worth it.
If you want a real treat, though, eat at The Pizza Factory, where the delicious footlong bread sticks could be a meal in themselves. If you order pizza for the table, and the quality of the pies is quite good, one bread stick will do the trick. We ordered four of them and ate parts of two.
The more health conscious can eat from the salad bar while the rest of the party digs into a cheese pizza.
The takeaway from Cedar City? It’s a nice weekend break, especially during the summer, for those looking for a quiet getaway. It’s close to those amazing national parks, and, of course, there is the Shakespeare festival.
There was also the matter of that drive back to Las Vegas. Coming up was bad enough, and we were concerned about what the trip home would be like.
It was event-free, though, with no blockage of traffic from Bundy supporters or construction to slow us down, allowing us to make the trip in 2½ hours.
As the Bard might have said, “All’s well that ends well.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter @markanderson65.