St. George, Utah

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Hiking by Brilliant red rock walls in Utah

Brilliant red rock walls

I woke up toward the end of the drive from Salt Lake City to Southern Utah and realized the world had completely changed. The land was brilliantly red, and I could see across the sloping rocks for miles. It was unlike any landscape I had ever seen. The rocks there twist themselves into pillars, arches, giant craters and vibrating hoodoos as they reflect the brilliance of the sun. This land can be brutally hot during the summer, but it also invites you to participate in the world in a unique way. Since my first trip to St. George, Utah, I’ve never lost the awe I felt for the area’s interactive geography, myriad state parks, beautiful scenery and animal wildlife.

I arrived in St. George during the summer and headed out to hike around noon one day. The first thing I felt was the heat. During July and August, St. George feels like an intimate next-door neighbor to the sun. Everyone says, “Don’t worry, it’s a dry heat.” Sure, there’s no humidity in the air, but 113 degrees Fahrenheit is not something that can be brushed aside. I quickly learned to start my workouts with the rise of the sun. But don’t fear; spring and fall temperatures are gentle in St. George, and the temperature drops drastically as you head up into the national parks. If you happen to land yourself in this quiet town, count yourself lucky. Even in the peak of summer, there are still enriching ways to beat the heat.

Ancient petroglyphs in Utah

Ancient petroglyphs

With the extreme weather conditions in St. George, I was surprised at how much water freely runs. In the end, it makes sense because water is the artist responsible for carving the rocks into canyons. What’s truly amazing, though, is how cold the water remains all throughout the year; it will make you shiver in August! Water hikes are a true blessing in the St. George area. In the spring, the fresh snowmelt joins the ranks and you’ll find water flowing stronger than it will the rest of the year. Waterfalls and rivulets are hidden just beyond the next slot canyon or around the next turn, pooling up in clear blue basins. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and a welcome relief from the burning sun.

Hiking and climbing waterfalls in the Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Climbing waterfalls in Utah

If you have a bicycle or access to a vehicle, take the 20-mile ride from St. George to Gunlock State Park (start early with the sun if you’re taking a bike). Spend some time at the Anasazi Ridge on your way out of town. You’ll find petroglyphs drawn by the Anasazi people all over the sandstone boulders here. Definitely keep your eyes and ears peeled for rattlesnakes in this area (I’ve never come across a rattlesnake that didn’t give me plenty of warning to keep myself safe). Further west, you’ll pass a Paiute Indian reservation, see tumbleweeds blowing across the red fields and find small spots of shade along the overhanging cliffs. When you turn into Gunlock’s parking lot, a bright blue reservoir will expand in front of you. Locals come here to relax, take boats out and play in the water while absorbing some great scenery.

Hiking in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah

Snow Canyon State Park

You must also check out Snow Canyon State Park on the north side of St. George. You can ride your bicycle through the center for a 12-mile climb or opt for one of the many hiking trails. You’ll be able to explore sand dunes, earn spectacular views from the highest cliffs, and climb into (or onto) the rocks for an adventurous workout. The land here is stimulating, and you’ll find that the time flies while you’re out exploring. At the base of Snow Canyon, there is a local performing arts center called Tuacahn Amphitheater. The backdrop of the stage is the natural rock formation of the park. I’ve never seen a neater performance of Aladdin; the camels fit right into the setting, as did the magic carpet that flew at us from the red cliffs behind. Catch a show there; it’s one of a kind.

The land in this area is certainly full of life. Here, I saw my first rattlesnake and my first wild tarantula (so cool!). You may be lucky enough to watch a condor in flight in Zion or see a mountain goat perched atop a boulder, and you’ll most definitely see some bison on the way to the Grand Canyon. The other certain thing about this land is that it will make you feel alive. You’ll be called to explore among the red rocks and the waterfalls, experiencing the world in an entirely new way. St. George will leave you invigorated.

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McKynlee Westman
McKynlee currently spends her summers as a Backroads Guida in Italy, and her winters living la Pura Vida in Costa Rica. The in-between time takes her home to the cow-laden pastures of Smithville, Missouri. She loves how Backroads gives her an opportunity to create a family of locals in each region, who she loves to share with her new guest-friends. McKynlee can do a pretty impressive "backwards worm dance" (don't be embarrassed if you have to ask; it's a rare art form) and was once captain of her university's varsity softball team. If you want to see what else McKynlee is up to, check out: http://mckynlee.blogspot.com.
McKynlee Westman

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