Kanab is a town of fewer than 4,000 souls, but they live in spectacular surroundings. Within a 90-minute drive from Kanab, Utah, you can stand on the Grand Canyon's North Rim, hike the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park, hit the trails at Zion National Park, squeeze into a slot canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument or shove off onto the waters of Lake Powell.
Kanab is the government seat of Kane County, but of the county's 4,373 square miles, 3,718 are administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Given spectacular surroundings under federal protection, it's no wonder that the town, despite its small size, has geared itself to support summer tourism with plenty of lodging choices, stores, gas stations, restaurants and fast food outlets. It's an ideal base from which to explore all that fine country, as a friend and I confirmed a few weeks ago when we headquartered there on a three-day excursion.
On our first full day in the area, we headed north out of Kanab about 5 miles along U.S. Highway 89, turning right into Kanab Canyon to visit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. It is said to be the nation's largest no-kill animal home; its 1,700 residents include dogs, cats, horses, birds and rabbits. All are cared for, and some are available for adoption.
The sanctuary is spread out over more than 3,000 acres, with plenty of open space between the highlights. From the Welcome Center to the Dogtown area is about a 4-mile drive. From there, it is another mile to Cat World. Other areas include Horse Haven, Piggy Paradise and Wild Friends.
Taking a guided tour is the best way to visit the place; they run four times a day and last about 1½ hours. The tours fill up fast, though, so it is best to call ahead for a reservation. If you really like the place or the cause, you can become a sanctuary volunteer; more than 8,000 people do so each year.
Even if you don't have time to take the sanctuary's tour, just driving the Kanab Canyon Road is a pleasure in itself. The road travels through the sanctuary and then loops back out onto U.S. 89.
At the start of the drive, you will be traveling within red rock country and along the high banks of Kanab Creek. This drainage is flanked by mature cottonwoods and from here travels down through Kanab, south to the Arizona Strip and to the Grand Canyon.
We headed north through the small towns of Carmel Junction and Orderville and then into sleepy Glendale. We were looking for the unmarked back road that would take us into the western entrance of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
We spotted many charming homes in the town but not a person in sight along the main road through town. As we headed north, we finally found a policeman sitting in his cruiser. I approached to ask for directions, but he didn't answer; closer inspection revealed his secret identity as a plastic dummy, stationed there to encourage lead-footed drivers like myself to comply with speed limits. Feeling foolish, we continued on and, after a few wrong starts, found 300 North, the side road that marked our journey into the rural park.
This is the western section of the 1.9 million-acre monument, a not-yet-well-known preserve of some of Utah's most stunning scenery. We spent the rest of our day and early evening making a big back-road loop, up the 34-mile Skutumpah Road, down the 46-mile Cottonwood Road and back to Highway 89, returning to Kanab 32 miles later.
This loop not only makes its way among cliffs lovely in gray, white, pink and vermilion but also accesses the trail heads of short-but-sweet narrows hikes.
After miles of twisting roads and some shallow stream crossings, we stopped at Bull Valley Gorge. This is a wonderful, corkscrew slot canyon that you can hike through; it takes some technical climbing skills to explore it down and back but simply walking along the rim and looking into its depths is worth the trip. Even that isn't for a person seriously scared of heights or unsteady on the feet, for a stumble here could be your last mistake.
About 50 years ago, three men were driving along Skutumpah Road when they plunged off a narrow bridge and into the gorge. All were found dead a few days later. The truck was left where it lay, and you can still see some of the vehicle among the logs, boulders and gravel that support this rural bridge.
Continuing up the road, we stopped at Willis Creek. This is another narrow canyon yet a suitable hike for any age. The narrows can be reached with just a five-minute walk on a marked trail along the north side of the rim. The canyon is more than 100 feet deep, yet in some places we could touch both its walls at the same time.
One of the greatest places in this canyon is usually overlooked. The trick on the return is to bypass the official trail out of the canyon and walk upstream until you can't go any farther. Here we found a small waterfall where we took an impromptu and very cooling natural shower, perfect on a hot summer day.
The Cottonwood Road link of our trip passes the trail heads of two excellent hikes, a short loop hike through Cottonwood Narrows and an up-and-back in Hackberry Canyon. Merely driving the long loop, without further hiking, let us enjoy extraordinary views. Along the way, you will find Kodachrome Basin State Park, home to dozens of monolithic stone spires, Grosvenor Arch, a rare double arch, and also drive along the tilted sedimentary layers of the Cockscomb.
Kanab was once a cattle town, but Hollywood has been dropping in since the 1920s. Set at the base of the colorful Vermilion Cliffs, Kanab is surrounded by interesting landscapes, ideal for filming outdoor adventure movies. The first filmed there was "Deadwood Coach," starring Tom Mix, in 1924. Some later ones were "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Planet of the Apes," "Maverick" and "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing." Television shows that used Kanab scenery have included "The Lone Ranger," "Gunsmoke," "F-Troop" and "Lassie."
Not surprisingly, its role in cinema has become an important part of the community's historic lore, as we learned the next morning when our walking tour of the town started at Parry Lodge. Besides being a great place to stay, the lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Film stars who have stayed there include John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Olivia de Havilland, Gregory Peck, Maureen O'Hara and Frank Sinatra.
Just 22 miles west of Kanab is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. It's a favorite spot for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, and 1,200 acres is designated for open riding. There also is a 265-acre resource management area that's great for hiking. The park gets its name from dunes of eroded, pink-hewed Navajo sandstone estimated to be more than 10,000 years old.
At an elevation of 5,000 feet, Kanab is an all-season resort, but summer is appealing, when high temperatures rarely exceed the low 90s. If you go in August, there are some special events around which you can build an extra-interesting trip.
The Kane County Fair kicks off Saturday and then runs Aug. 9 to 13. With so many ranches around the county, the fair is heavy on livestock and features rodeo competition and a horse show. Favorite events include a tractor pull and the more traditional parade and fireworks. There also is a 5K walk/run.
One of Kanab's largest events, the Aug. 18-20 Western Legends Roundup, celebrates the town's Western culture. One of its most popular aspects is the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, where poets compete for jackpots. This annual event features cowboy music, Dutch oven cooking, Western swing dancing, and demonstrations, exhibits and workshops. There are workshops in swing dancing, Western photography, hand quilting and silversmithing.
Kanab's Crescent Moon Theater hosts the Little Hollywood Western Film Festival during the Roundup. Stunt men and movie stars will hold panel discussions, and, of course, you can watch fine old cowboy films. With a little luck, you'll be able to spot scenery you saw that very day, serving as a believable facsimile for sites in Texas, Kansas or New Mexico.