Go for Zion and the Parks, Stay for St. George

RV visit to southern Utah: Visitors to Bryce Canyon National Park take in the view from the main amphitheater
The main amphitheater in Bryce Canyon National Park is filled with hoodoos, spire-shaped formations of weathered rock.

To truly appreciate a motorhome tour through southern Utah and northern Arizona, it may require multiple visits

When my husband, Jim, and I first drove our motorhome through St. George, Utah, we made a big mistake: We only stayed three nights, which barely gave us enough time to visit Zion National Park and Snow Canyon State Park, and to do laundry. We did, however, leave with a long must-see list and a plan to return. So on our second RV visit to southern Utah we spent 10 days exploring this part of southern Utah, which included a dip into northern Arizona.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is Utah’s first national park and one of the most popular in the U.S., with more than 4 million visitors each year. Zion’s website advises visitors to come early to avoid parking hassles. We arrived shortly after the first shuttle started at 7:30 a.m. Parking was still available at the Zion parking lot. There were probably 40 people ahead of us in line for the shuttle, but we were able to get on the next bus. When we returned later in the day, the shuttle line was five times longer and empty parking spaces were few and far between.

RV visit to southern Utah: A hiker is dwarfed by giant rocks on the Angel's landing hike in Zion National Park
The West Rim Trail leads to Zion’s most popular hike, Angels Landing, high atop the rock on the right.
Photos: Mary and Jim Zalmanek

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The free shuttle buses make nine stops in Zion Canyon, with buses coming about every 10 minutes. We rode the bus to the last stop, and then hiked some easy and moderate trails at every stop on the return trip. The Riverside Walk at Temple of Sinawava is a paved 1-mile trail along the Virgin River. Before we got to Big Bend, the bus driver told us to listen to the “canyon chorus,” the sounds of the river, wind, birds, frogs and squirrels. On the walk down to the Virgin River, we appreciated nature’s music. The path to Weeping Rock is short and easy. It leads to a waterfall that visitors can stand behind under the protection of a rock overhang. (As of press time, the Weeping Rock trail was temporarily closed due to rockfall damage.)

At the Grotto, we walked along the West Rim Trail that leads to the park’s most popular hike, Angels Landing. The strenuous hike is 5.4 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1,488 feet, and it takes about four hours. It’s not recommended for children or people with a fear of heights. At the top, hikers hang on to a chain that follows a narrow spine about 1,500 feet above the canyon. We turned around before we got to the Angels Landing trail, realizing we didn’t have enough time — nor perhaps enough stamina nor courage — to complete the hike. We returned to Zion Lodge for lunch. The taco bar was just what we needed to restore our energy for a few more short hikes.

A red rock in the foreground is fr4amed by white rocks in the background at Snow Canyon State Park
The white and red rocks in Snow Canyon State Park were created about 183 million years ago.

Snow Canyon

Snow Canyon State Park is one of four state parks near St. George. The 7,400-acre park was named after early Mormon settlers, Lorenzo and Erastus Snow. White and red rocks of the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone Formation were created about 183 million years ago. Jagged brownish-black rocks on the Lava Tube Trail are remnants of volcanoes dating back anywhere from 27,000 to 1.4 million years ago. As we wandered through the lava flows and admired the sandstone formations, my vocabulary was reduced to four simple words: “Wow! This is gorgeous!” Later, we rode our mountain bikes on the West Canyon Road, an easy 8-mile round trip ride on gravel.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

A dirt road winds its way through the wilderness at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Located on 3,700 acres in Kanab, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary offers an amazing view from the Angel Village Cafe.
A Class A motorhome is parked in one of six RV sites overlooking scenic red cliffs at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Best Friends also has six RV sites overlooking scenic red cliffs.
A couple pses with teo dogs near Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
The author and her husband, Jim, take Triangle and Ripley for a walk as part of their volunteer responsibilities at the sanctuary.

Years earlier, Jim and I had briefly visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. The sanctuary sits between Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, which speaks to the beauty of the natural setting. Located on 3,700 acres and surrounded by 33,000 acres leased from the Bureau of Land Management, Best Friends is home to more than 1,600 dogs, cats, horses, birds, rabbits, potbellied pigs and other animals.

I never forgot the experience, and wanted to return as a volunteer. Since more than 12,000 people volunteer each year, we signed up months in advance. We also booked two nights at their RV park in a gorgeous spot overlooking a canyon.

While I was checking in at the welcome center, I turned around to ask Jim a question, but couldn’t find him. Jennifer, the woman who was helping us, reassured me by saying, “Don’t worry. If he gets lost, we’ll find a good home for him.” Now I had one more reason to love Best Friends; the staff has a great sense of humor.

After taking an orientation class at noon, we went to our afternoon shift in Dogtown. Our duties included feeding, washing dishes and cleaning the kennels. My favorite part was when we took Triangle, a 6-month-old female heeler mix, and Ripley, a 4-year-old male heeler mix, for walks in the sanctuary. It was hard to tell who enjoyed the walk more, the dogs or the humans.

Antelope Canyon

The Antelope Canyon photography tour has been on my bucket list for years. Every time I saw one of those photos of the famous slot canyon, I imagined being surrounded by the beauty and serenity of those sandstone walls. We signed up with Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours for a two-hour photography tour of Upper Antelope. It is one of several canyons on Navajo land east of Page in northern Arizona.

Nearly everyone who tours the canyon has a camera or a smartphone, but only people on photography tours can take a tripod. Outside the canyon, a guide recommended camera settings. Inside the canyon, it was every bit as beautiful as I imagined, just more crowded. After our guides told us where to set up our tripods, they would clear everyone else out of the area for two minutes. The people on our tour snapped photos, mindful of the seconds ticking away. The guides would announce, “30 seconds!” “15 seconds!” “Time’s up!” The area would quickly fill with people. There’s a good reason Antelope Canyon is so popular.

Lakes, a River and a Dam

On our last day in Page, we visited the Glen Canyon Dam, Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell. At the Carl Hayden Visitor Center at Glen Canyon Dam, we learned about this engineering marvel, built in the 1950s and ’60s, that “both withstands and harnesses the tremendous power of water.” The visitor center provided a bird’s-eye-view of the dam and the Colorado River 700 feet below.

One of the most popular sites in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Horseshoe Bend is a 1,000-foot-deep, 270-degree bend created by the Colorado River.
One of the most popular sites in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Horseshoe Bend is a 1,000-foot-deep, 270-degree bend created by the Colorado River.

Horseshoe Bend is a short 15-minute drive from the visitor center and a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike from the parking lot to the overlook. One of the most popular sites in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Horseshoe Bend is a 1,000-foot deep, 270-degree bend created by the Colorado River.

The most popular way to explore Lake Powell is by houseboat, which we’ve done on numerous occasions. This was our first time in a motorhome. We stayed at the Page Lake Powell Campground and appreciated the full hookups since temperatures were in the high 90s.

When we went to Lone Rock for a dip in the lake, we were surprised by the large number of RVs dry camping along the shore. RVers are advised to set up during the day to avoid the risk of getting stuck in the sand.

St. George Camping

When we returned to St. George, we stayed at McArthur’s Temple View RV Resort, which was a great choice for several reasons. I needed reliable Wi-Fi to research all the great places I wanted to visit, and also to keep up with email. At the front office, I checked out a free unit that provided a personal hotspot network at our site. I had to reset it once, but overall it worked great. During the days, we explored local attractions, but most evenings we stayed at or near the RV park. The hot tub and swimming pool were a short walk from our motorhome. Several nights after sunset, we relaxed in the soothing waters. The friendly staff helped us with discounts on some local activities. The front office had a wealth of information about local attractions.

Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon

We knew we wanted to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, but had never heard of Cedar Breaks National Monument, which was on the way to Bryce. Cedar Breaks is a natural amphitheater, 3 miles across and 2,000 feet deep. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought we were in Bryce. Thanks to the elevation of more than 10,000 feet, the cooler temperatures were a welcome respite.

Bryce Canyon National Park is actually a collection of giant amphitheaters, with lots of hoodoos. A hoodoo is a spire-shaped formation of weathered rock. We drove through the park, stopping at every point of interest on the map to admire the beauty and serenity before us. Due to its remote location, Bryce is much less crowded than Zion. Even though a small crowd gathered at Inspiration Point, everyone had an unobstructed view of the main amphitheater.

St. George Attractions

In the St. George area, the Red Rock Golf Trail is a golfer’s paradise, with 10 golf courses within a 10-mile radius that are open 365 days a year. We perused the brochure and selected the Sky Mountain Golf Course in Hurricane because it promised “the most breathtaking driving range on the planet.” The rest of the course was beautiful, too, with views of Zion, the Pine Valley Mountain Range and the red rock towers of Babylon.

A crowd watches a performance at Tuacahn Center for the Arts about 10 miles northwest of St. George
At Tuacahn Center for the Arts, the stage is set for family-friendly musicals at the base of Padre Canyon, with red sandstone cliffs rising high above.

When we heard about the Anasazi Steakhouse, the cooking method intrigued us. Steaks can be prepared by the chef or you can cook your own on a hot lava rock at your table. This new-to-me method of cooking has been around since 18,000 B.C., but it’s much fancier now. The entree is delivered on a salted rock on a plate designed to withstand the intense heat. I ordered a small filet and Jim ordered a rib-eye. The steaks came to our table briefly seared but mostly raw. We put the beef on our serving plates, then cut off small slices and cooked them as we were ready for each hot and tasty bite. To top it off, we had dark chocolate peanut butter fondue for dessert. Yum!

A rock with petroglyphs is in the foreground of photo shot n the Santa Clara River Reserve
Petroglyphs in the Santa Clara River Reserve were created by Native Americans thousands of years ago.

About 10 miles northwest of St. George is the Tuacahn Center for the Arts. Here, the stage is set at the base of Padre Canyon, with red sandstone cliffs rising high above it. From May through October, the calendar is filled with three family-friendly musicals that rotate throughout the week. We saw “The Sound of Music.” The first act opened with Maria walking down through the red rocks singing “The hills are alive … ” and ended with the von Trapp family fleeing into the rocks. After seeing just one performance, I wished I lived close enough to buy season tickets.

More St. George Attractions

One morning we took a stroll through the 4.5-acre Red Hills Desert Garden, Utah’s first desert conservation garden. In addition to more than 5,000 water-efficient plants, the garden features a 1,150-foot meandering stream with rare fish species from the Virgin River and a fish viewing area. You can learn a lot by reading the informative signs throughout the garden, but if you want to dig deeper (pun intended), there are more than 20 free hour-long landscape classes and special events offered throughout the year.

That afternoon, we searched for petroglyphs in the Santa Clara River Reserve. Starting at the Anasazi Valley Trailhead, the Tempi’po’op Trail (translation: rock writing) passes by a prehistoric farmstead. Native Americans created the rock art thousands of years ago. For several hundred feet along the edge of the plateau, petroglyphs adorn the tops and occasionally the sides of boulders.

Here’s my problem with St. George. The more I see, the more I want to see. We only had time to see one musical at Tuacahn, play one golf course and visit one of the four state parks. There are several seasonal events that make multiple return visits likely. Kayenta Art Village hosts a Street Painting Festival every April where talented artists cover asphalt with brilliant chalk drawings. From June through August, history comes alive with the Historic St. George Live! tours. Actors portray Brigham Young, Erastus Snow and other famous pioneers in historic buildings around town. The Huntsman World Senior Games in October is the “largest annual multi-sport event for people aged 50 and better on planet Earth.” From archery to volleyball, competitions are held for 27 sports.
See what I mean? Two visits are not enough. We’re going back … again.

For More Information

Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours | Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Bryce Canyon National Park | Arthur’s Temple View RV Resort
Page Lake Powell CampgroundRed Hills Desert Garden
Sky Mountain Golf CourseSnow Canyon State Park
Tuacahn Center for the ArtsZion National Park

Light dance off the walls of Antelope Canyon n Navajo land east of Page in northern Arizona on a RV visit to southern Utah.
Antelope Canyon is one of several canyons on Navajo land east of Page in northern Arizona.

 

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