The 'Other' Southern Utah
Photography: Courtesy of St. George Chamber of Commerce
As we make the final approach to the St. George Municipal Airport, I breathe deeply. It’s March, and I’m spending a girlfriends’ weekend away from kids and work to rejuvenate after a long, cold winter. The airport’s plateau location allows almost all of St. George proper, an oasis of vivid green in the middle of the undulating southern Utah desert, to come into view as we taxi along the runway.
As diehard mountain bikers, my posse’s pre-children spring desert getaways had always been to Moab where we’d ride, camp, drink wine and laugh around the fire until late in the evening. Now, however, with at least two kids apiece under our belts and interests centered more around relaxation than getting dirt in our teeth, we thought we’d give the “other” Southern Utah a try.
Once thought of as merely a last pit stop on the road to Las Vegas, St. George has slowly come into its own and is now one of the fastest growing communities in the West. Snowbirds from across the country flock here for the area’s stunning scenery, immediacy to Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, proximity to national parks and, of course, year-round sunshine. And though the town still has a way to go to match the sophistication and cachet of other desert destinations like Sedona or Santa Fe, what St. George lacks in style is made up for in affordability and virtually non-existent crowds.
After a leisurely Saturday morning breakfast, my group and I pulled on our hiking boots and hit the road for Snow Canyon — a lightly visited, 5,700-acre state park, replete with formations of red Navajo sandstone capped by black lava rock, located just 11 miles west of St. George. We hit the Cinder Cone Trail first, which begins one mile north of the junction of Snow Canyon Drive and State Route 18. Appropriately named, the trail leads to the edge of a cinder cone, responsible for the lava flow covering much of the park. The hike is short, but steep, and the trail is mostly jagged lava rock, which made me glad to be wearing my hiking boots. At the top, we rested and enjoyed incredible views of the park and nearby Pine Mountain.
Next we headed for Whiterocks, a longer but just as picturesque Snow Canyon hike south of the Cinder Cone Trail. This trail hugs the edge of the canyon, allowing us to enjoy amazing views of West Canyon along the way. At the top, we scrambled up to the Whiterocks Natural Amphitheatre, a natural bowl formed at the base of three sandstone rises.
Later that afternoon came the reward for all the boot leather we’d expended earlier in the day — a visit to St. George’s world-famous Red Mountain Spa. We took a much needed steam after spending the day in the dry desert air and then went off to enjoy our individual treatments. I chose the Canyon Warm Stone Massage. Any residual stress I had brought down to St. George with me quickly melted away as my aesthetician used warm river-polished stones and hot oil to work out my kinks.
After our pampering, we took a stroll around the spa grounds and did a little shopping at Red Mountain Outfitters, which carries one of the most extensive and varied selections of yoga and fitness clothing I’ve seen anywhere. We found out that a stay at Red Mountain Spa includes meals, dozens of daily fitness classes, guided hikes, access to the amazing spa, a full menu of side trips to nearby Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks and accommodations in modernly-chic guest rooms. As we went to have cocktails and dinner, we made a pact that our next trip to St. George would definitely include more time at Red Mountain Spa.
The next morning we decided to hit the road for Kayenta, an über-cool, architecturally sensitive housing development located about 10 miles from St. George along historic Highway 91 in Ivins. Amid this enclave of low-profile adobe homes is the Coyote Gulch Art Village, a cluster of independent art galleries, unique shops, an outdoor theater and the Xetava Gardens Café. After browsing the galleries and shops for a while, we walked over to the art village’s Xetava Desert Garden Arboretum. Crushed sandstone pathways wind through a desert garden full of marked native plants including indigo bush, firecracker red penstemon and towering desert spoon. We also peeked inside the art village’s pottery studio, which offers walk-in wheel throwing and hand-building pottery classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Our last stop in Coyote Gulch Art Village was the Desert Rose Labyrinth and Sculpture Garden. This winding sand path, leading past several ethereal sculptures, was created and donated by artists living in Kayenta as a place for reflection and meditation. At the end of the path is a series of stones arranged in a circular pattern or 11-circuit labyrinth. A walk inside the labyrinth to the center represents shedding concerns and quieting the mind, while walking out symbolizes integrating new insights realized while within the labyrinth.
Centered and pleasantly relaxed after visiting the labyrinth, we reluctantly got into our rental car and headed for the airport. As our little plane took off, heading north to our families and obligations, we decided that even though Moab will always hold a special place in our hearts, Utah’s “other” southern Utah is not just a retiree haven as we had previously thought, but an up-and-coming desert destination ideal for recreating, rejuvenating and reconnecting with friends.
More about St. George from Park City Magazine writer Melissa Fields:
A Slowly But Surely Maturing Restaurant Scene
Though predictable chains outnumber creative independents three to one in Dixie, it is indeed possible to enjoy good food in St. George. The Painted Pony (located downtown in Ancestor Square, 435-634-1700) is the memorable kind of eatery you'd be more likely to find in a sophisticated Southwestern locale like Santa Fe or Scottsdale. Menu standouts include the summer tomato salad, rosemary scented rack of lamb, seared ahi tuna and spinach hazelnut ravioli. For breakfast all day long, locals and tourists alike flock to the Bear Paw Coffee Company (75 N. Main Street, 435-634-0126).
Smoothies, espresso drinks, all-natural homemade daily muffins and a wide selection of both healthy and heavy breakfast items round out the Bear Paw's extensive menu. But if you're there for lunch, try one of their paninis: the artichoke heart and sun-dried tomato is particularly delicious. St. George newcomer, Twentyfive Main Café and Cake Parlor (downtown St. George, 435-528-7110) is in the same league as the Bear Paw-offering a creative menu of coffees, breakfast and lunch items-but also offers a daily menu of cupcakes featuring flavors like peanut butter cup, chocolate espresso, orange blossom and vanilla strawberry. The funky Xetava Gardens Café (815 Coyote Gulch Court, 435-656-0165) is found in nearby Kayenta. This funky eatery/new age bookstore serves fresh lunch items, smoothies and coffee drinks during the day. The best time to visit, however, is in the evening when you can sit out on the patio, listen to live music and sample Xetava's creative tapas menu and full wine and beer menu, including the house-made sangria. St. George's nightlife is still, well, meager. Four private clubs operate within the city limits-The One and Only (800 E. St. George Blvd), Sunset West Bowling Center (1476 W. Sunset Blvd), Iggy's Sports Bar and Grill (132 S. 1470 East) and Players Sports Grill (1688 Convention Center Drive)-and the town now boasts two state run liquor stores (929 W. Sunset Blvd and 150 N. 900 East).
So, you're heading to southern Utah and immediately think mountain biking, right? Think again. Flying down to St. George was super convenient for our group of time-starved moms, but once there I regretted not driving because I could've have packed my bike. Thanks to a thoughtful city master plan, St. George's staggering growth has also ushered in more than 30 miles of paved bike paths, as mandated by the city to accompany all new developments. And where the bike paths end, marked bike lanes begin on city streets creating an almost seamless transition. Bike paths/designated bike routes run from the SunRiver development at the far south end of St. George, to the Snow Canyon State Park loop in the north, and connect to the Washington City bike paths/lanes to the east as well. To download a St. George Urban Trail System map, visit www.sgcity.org.
The girls and I failed to hit the links during our recent trip to St. George, which may have been a mistake. St. George offers more golf per capita than any other place in the Sunbelt. The golf courses there are known for their challenging designs, well maintained fairways and greens and spectacular natural features. This year-round golf community boasts eleven courses within a 15-minute drive from one another-proximity to local convention and visitors' bureau markets such as the Red Rock Golf Trail.
Hype aside, St. George's golf offerings are both scenic and as enjoyable to play as just about anywhere. In fact, several of Utah's top rated courses are found here. Despite its recent surge in popularity, golf in St. George remains more accessible than well-known Palms Springs or Scottsdale, and virtually every course in this southern Utah berg is well designed with a high rate of playability. "There are more golf courses in Arizona, but the courses there are so popular you can't ever get on them," says Randy Dodson, publisher of Fairways, magazine of the Utah Golf Association. "And it's pretty easy to spend a vacation here, playing four or five very different courses, without breaking the bank or feeling like you've just been in a boxing match." For details, visit www.redrockgolftrail.com.
Where to Stay
St. George now boasts more than 3,000 hotel rooms, offering everything from five-star elegance to no-frills accommodations. Following is a sampling of lodging in the St. George area.
- The Inn at Entrada is a small, luxury resort offering villa-style accommodations, located inside a gated community on the ninth fairway of the Entrada Country Club golf course. Amenities include a fitness center, golf packages, nightly-weekly-monthly rental, spa and gourmet dining. (435) 634-7100, www.innatentrada.com.
- Stay in the heart of St. George's historic Ancestor Square area at the Seven Wives Inn Bed & Breakfast. Choose from 13 unique rooms and suites, all with private baths. And, of course, a full gourmet breakfast is included with each night of your stay. 1-800-600-3737, www.sevenwivesinn.com.
- The business-traveler-targeted Courtyard by Marriott offers large rooms, free high-speed Internet access throughout the property and a Seattle's Best coffee bar. Two heated pools and whirlpool spas, as well as a guest laundry make this a good choice for families as well. (435) 986-0555.
- The Hampton Inn offers clean, dependable accommodations in the heart of St. George's central business district. Amenities include two heated pools, daily hot breakfast bar and free local calls. (435) 652-1200.
St. George is located in southwest Utah, 305 miles south of Salt Lake City and 120 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The St. George Municipal Airport, located just two minutes from downtown, is served year round from the Salt Lake City International Airport by Delta Airlines. A new airport with expanded service is scheduled for completion in 2011.
Freelance writer Melissa Fields writes about travel, gardening and interior design for Salt Lake Magazine, Wasatch Journal, Utah Style & Design and Sunset.