We’ve been camped out on BLM lands near Kanab for the past three nights, and have been enjoying every minute there out among the dunes. During the day we explore, at night we build a fire and watch the stars come out.
This small rustic (pit toilets, no hook-ups) campground (10 sites), is first-come, first-served and is simply idyllic. It charges $5 a night ($2.50 for seniors), and the sites are spacious and private.
We chose Kanab as a base from which to explore southern Utah’s parks and landscapes and our initial plan was to boondock for a few days then come into town and set up in an RV park for the usual water/ sani dump/shower refresh. Today is a rainy day and perfect for catching up on emails, grabbing some groceries and doing some last-minute planning. We thought to reserve a spot at one of the RV parks in town, but our heart sank when we saw how crowded they were, so we’ve moved to Plan B. We will stay at our lovely campground for another couple of days – just hitch up to use the dump and water facilities at a campground further down the road, then return to our little slice of nature.
Kanab is well-situated within an hour’s drive of two national parks, several state parks, and a number of other attractions and amenities. Kanab has a rich cinematic history; it has long been called “Little Hollywood”. Since 1924, over 100 movies and TV shows (mainly Westerns) have been shot here and in the surrounding areas. From 1924’s Tom Mix movie Deadwood Coach to such notables as The Lone Ranger, Stagecoach,The Misfits, The Rainmaker, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and more recently, The Planet of the Apes.
As westerns have become a less popular genre, filmmaking in the area has fallen off.
The Little Hollywood museum offers a peek into the backlot and peels the curtain back on the mystique of set design.
This “adobe” structure used in the critical last scene of “The Outlaw Josey Wales” is actually made of styrofoam blocks.
The building to the right is simply a facade; last used in a Kenny Loggins video.
During its heyday, Kanab hosted a huge number of A-list stars, including John Wayne, Glen Ford, Charlton Heston, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Barbara Stanwyck, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and this fellow:
Parry Lodge was in the centre of much of the action in those days. It opened in 1931 to help attract, house and feed the movie industry who had just discovered the area and were arriving in droves. Most of the film companies stayed here, and the lobby is filled with photos of the stars who made this their temporary home.
By today’s movie star standards, Parry Lodge seems homey and quaint, but at the time it offered an oasis in the desert.
The town of Kanab offers a lot for tourists in terms of lodging and restaurants. We had a terrific lunch at Rocking V Cafe – very cool spot. We did pause for a minute when we realized our US$15 burgers were actually CA$22, but that has been the inescapable equation throughout our trip. Most restaurants in the U.S. have the same (or higher) prices as Canada, but then we have to add another one-third to that price. We mainly ignore that depressing reality. If we waited for our Canadian dollar to be less dismal before travelling to the U.S., we could be waiting a long time.
The understated simplicity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Even Kanab wrestles with this unknowable question.
We took a drive up the Johnson Canyon Road, an area where a lot of outdoor shots and action shots were filmed. It was a pretty drive, but you had to really stretch your imagination to see where the old “cowboys and Indians” scenes might have happened.
The original set from Gunsmoke. Much like the popularity of the westerns, it has fallen onto hard times. It ran for 20 years from 1955 to 1975 – how many people have even heard of it?
I don’t know anything about this little building and windmill, but I thought they added to the atmosphere.
After we left Zion, we thought our chance to see Bryce National Park was gone, as they had received such a dump of spring snow that several trails had to be closed due to avalanche risk. It was disappointing, but we just added Bryce to our list of “next-times”.
Well, luckily for us, we had a brief window yesterday to make the 1 1/2 hour drive up to Bryce. The roads were clear, weather was good and today they are expecting another big snowfall, so it was now or never. We hopped in the truck and headed north.
Good grief – every day-tripper in southern Utah had the same bright idea – it was madness. As we were about 15 miles from the park’s entrance, the scenery began to change and become the dramatic backdrop we all wanted to capture. Cars pulling off the road, veering onto shoulders and spilling out their various occupants, armed with cameras and tablets and cellphones. It was a race to the finish, with dozens of people crouching, climbing, standing in the road; you would have thought we all had 30 seconds before the images in front of us erased. (We were no better, by the way).
When did we stop simply looking and admiring what is in front of us? It was a bit embarrassing and disconcerting, and I asked Stephen, “Do we want to do this?” Well, yes, we did, so we carried on.
We drove through a couple of arches along the way.
We reached the Visitor Centre, where I had an urgent pit stop; NO available parking, so Stephen just circled and finally found a spot at the entrance.
Bryce has had a few issues lately – high snowfalls, construction in campgrounds, only one campground open, many trails closed due to unsafe conditions and the unstoppable flow of tourists putting great demand on the infrastructure.
We did have a very enjoyable visit, but we don’t feel as though we experienced the park as we might have. We didn’t hike (other than a couple of 1-mile hikes to overlooks), we didn’t stay in or near the park for a couple of days and we didn’t have the chance to get away from the crowds. We were all crammed in together, grabbing the good weather and all wanting the same thing. It is worrisome to consider how our national parks will cope going forward.
The geology of Bryce Canyon is simply stunning. The tall bulbous formations, called hoodoos vary. Some are ridged into walls, others have created holes or windows, and others are spindly stand-alones. They’re all awesome and it is difficult to take in this landscape and really appreciate what you’re seeing – it looks like nothing else you’ve seen before. Much of the canyon is viewed from the trails along the rim, which provides tremendous aerial views. The recent snow lent a dramatic contrast.
It is possible to walk right along the rim; there are few fences or guardrails. There are signs to “Watch your Children” but I would be a very nervous mother (or grandmother.)
Stephen wanted to see the contrast between the white birch, the white snow and the white hair.
On our drive up to Bryce, we drove through a number of towns with great signs – old neon, or intriguing business concepts. There was one sign in particular…
Home of the Ho-Made Pie? How could we resist? And of course, our server would look just like this buxom French maid.
Our server was Steven, a friendly and garrulous fellow who was full of local gossip and history. A history of the restaurant was printed and propped on our table, so we spared ourselves having to ask the obvious question – “Ho-made? Typo or bakers with an interesting sideline?”
The Thunderbird Restaurant is located in Mount Carmel and was built in 1940, in response to the traffic that developed after the building of the tunnel linking this town to Zion National Park. When the owner Fern was widowed in 1961, she overcame a series of obstacles to not only stay in business but create a small empire – a restaurant, inn and golf course. But always, the pies were the draw – Fern’s skills as a baker were legendary. When they had the sign made, it wasn’t possible to fit “Homemade” neatly into the design, so they shortened it to “Ho-made” – a term that was still innocent in the early ’60s.
It has turned out to be a marketing dream – it is what brought us off the road and through the door. Are the pies as good as they say? They were excellent, although I’m sure a lot of home bakers could outdo that pastry. I had apple pie with warm butter rum sauce and Stephen had Thunderberry (4 berry) with ice cream. When was the last time we stopped anywhere for a piece of pie? It was so much fun.
The other sign we couldn’t resist was this one. We just loved the versatility of a skilled tradesman – caskets or gun cabinets. According to our new friend at the Thunderbird, this man does a ripping business.
Next time we talk, we will have peered over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
11 thoughts on “From Little Hollywood to Hoodoos”
Your photos are fabulous. I love the old neon signs too! And the BLM & Corps of Engineers campgrounds can’t be beat. So fun to travel along with you guys!!
Are you back home yet? We’ve been following your adventures via Instagram, but figure you must be itching to get back to your perfect slice of paradise by now.
I love stopping in Kanab and had the good fortune of visiting Bryce Canyon in 1981, on a weekend when, somehow, there were few other people. October will find me back in southern Utah, likely to focus on Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges, Arches and a smidgen of Canyonlands, in a week’s time.
I keep thinking we have missed the best of travelling the national parks (and many other points of interest in the world) by about 10-15 years. In 1981 it must have been pure joy to travel almost anywhere.
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I find travel is still a joy. It is more a matter of accepting that there are a lot more joyful people about. Please do not give up on the great (and small) places of beauty.
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Guess I’ll start baking pies! Lol. Maybe I can put a sign out at the end of the lake road and make my fortune——-one way or the other. Lmao. Wonderful pics as usual. We are not keen to enter the US of A at the moment, but your pictures and experiences are certainly causimg us to rethink.
How did we miss that marketing scheme, Joan? I guess we just think too small. 😏
We began our trip with a great deal of trepidation, due to the current political climate, but our experiences have been mainly wonderful and non-confrontational. We always wait for our new American friends to lead the conversation ( otherwise we never bring the T-word up), and if they do, it is because they are mortified and want to talk. It has been so edifying – the U.S. is just full of really great people, and we feel more connected than ever.
This too shall pass, and like survivors of a terrible storm, soon our conversations will be spent wondering what the hell happened.
Glad the weather cooperated and you were able to take in Bryce Canyon, despite the crowds. Your picture of the pies started produced hunger pangs … maybe it’s time to use up those apples in the fridge!
It’s funny Heather – I always associate spring and summer with pies and crisps – rhubarb, strawberry rhubarb, blackberry, peach and then into fall – pumpkin, apple – I would eat pie before cake any day.
Great description! We loved Bryce Canyon! Pie … Gary’s favourite as well! Love the signs too. Enjoy Grand Canyon. No pics can capture the grandeur. Keep enjoying. Loving your travels! Hugs friends.
We’re leaving so much behind in Utah – we’ll do another trip here for sure. We’re in Grand Canyon tomorrow – everyone has said the same thing – it is an unforgettable sight. We met a fellow camper in Kanab who comes west every year and has gone to Grand Canyon every single time – he figures he has been there 20 times – each one a different experience.
We’re there for three nights over Easter weekend – there’ll be crowds!
Then we begin our trip back – very mixed feelings!