Kanab and Alton, Utah
July 15-19 (and again August 21-26, 2008) - We left the cool pine
woods of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and
descended into the flat, hot desert floor of Utah to the north. Kanab,
Utah, is the only town of any size (pop. 3,800) between several
national parks: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Grand
It is a charming community tucked up against a row of red
rock mountains. At this time of year the town is loaded with
rental RVs and foreignors. Groups of Europeans were
caravaning in their rental RVs, hanging the flags of their
homelands off their radio antennas and in the back windows.
Our weeks in the woods at
the North Rim had emptied
our shelves completely, so
we stayed for a few days to
replenish everything. We
were fortunate that the
monsoons were still very
active. Even though Kanab is
at 4,900 feet elevation, it was
blazing hot in the sunshine.
The cloud cover and
downpours in the
afternoons kept us
Kanab's city park
gardens and a brand
new huge swimming
pool and water slide
that was packed to the
gills with happy kids all
day. While we strolled among the flowers, the park's longtime caretaker
described the boisterous family fun of the Mormon Pioneer Days that are
celebrated with an enormous city-wide barbecue in the park's barbecue pit.
Hundred of kids and families spread out on the grass on the July 24th
weekend to celebrate the unique heritage of the Mormons who settled
Utah with great purpose in the mid-1800's.
Behind the park, Squaw
Trail climbs up a canyon
to heights way above the
city, passing steep red
rock walls along the way.
We clambered up the trail,
shouting "hello" at the
tops of our lungs as the
trail took us ever deeper
into the canyon. I have
never heard such a
perfect echo with such a long time delay. As we
shouted, it was as though the canyon walls were
shouting back at us, each word enunciated with
The bird's eye view of Kanab from the top of the
cliffs was worth the sweat we lost getting there. We
had often hiked similar trails around Phoenix in the
olden days, but this trail was unique because it was
utterly quiet. We didn't pass one other person on
the entire trail. From the top of the mountain we
could hear the town's internal workings below: a
tractor in a distant field, a motorcycle rumbling down
the main street, kids playing ball in a back yard.
The air around us was perfectly still, and these quiet
murmurs from the town's streets drifted slowly up to
us on sun-drenched air currents.
The rocks were every
shade of orange and
red. Some faces were
rainbow streaked, with
stripes formed over the
ages, offering a full
array of orange-hued
swirls and bands. As
we climbed back down,
we found furnace-hot
rock faces were now
baking the spots where
there had been cool
shade during our ascent. The beauty filled our senses, but this red rock
desert environment is unforgivingly harsh in the sun.
The road leading north
out of Kanab is
stunning, without being
showy. Crowded in
among tourists and
locals hurrying along
this busy stretch of
road, I caught myself
gaping at the exotic
cliffs that lined its
Over eons, the darker hues of
some red rocks have dripped
lazily down the lighter colored
cliffs, leaving dribbled stains on
the rock face like an old paint can.
August 21, 2008 - We saw a small
road on the map leading away
from the highway to a dot marked
"Alton." Accepting this open
invitation into the hinterlands, we
hoped no cars would want to
share the one-lane road with our
behemoth truck and trailer as we
approached the town. We arrived
unscathed, but found ourselves
hopping out of the truck each time
the power lines crossed the road,
worried that the buggy would snag its
roof on the low-hanging wires.
Tucked away, far from anything, amid
farmlands that stretch as far as the
eye can see, this picturesque tiny
town charmed us with its "Whoa" stop
signs and warm welcome from
people working in their yards.
We asked a man in a cowboy hat
where we might find a place to park
for the night, and he suggested the town hall parking lot. "Really?" we asked. "I'm the mayor,
and it's okay with me!" Another fellow, Paul, set his shovel aside for over an hour to chat with us
about the town and its history. He told us the mayor, Claren Heaton, was the great-grandson of
the town's founder, and that the name of the town was drawn from a hat, back in 1908, by two-
year-old Gwen Heaton, as the citizens of the new town looked on.
He said it is not unusual to see a horse
strolling down the street, and that no one
minds. With just 134 people in town,
there's no such thing as a strange face,
human or equine. 100% of the citizens
are Mormon, he said, adding, "probably
80% are related to each other too."
As we talked, Paul's fifth cousin three
times removed, Victor, pulled up. He
parked his truck in the middle of the
road to join our conversation. We
were on the main drag, and Mark and
I looked up nervously when a truck
approached in the distance. Paul and
Victor laughed and assured us there was no need to move: the truck would go around us.
We watched in amazement as the man in the truck, marked "Sheriff," waved "hello" to our
little group, and then drove off the road into the dirt to get past.
We rode our bikes throughout
the town, utterly delighted with
the prettiness and happiness of
this little community. We eagerly
jumped off the bikes every few
minutes to snap pictures.
Without being backward or old
fashioned, this miniscule hamlet
seemed untouched by the rest
of the world, living in peace, and
removed from time.
So we had to laugh when we discovered we had a wi-fi signal in the trailer.
But the joke was on us. Mark popped off an email to his cousin, describing this wonderful town we'd discovered. Almost instantly,
he received a reply, complete with a link to the Alton, Utah, website showing the long line of Claren Heatons' ancestors that had
been mayors of the town before him. Mark's cousin also included a link to Alton's satellite photo on Google Earth, detailed enough
to see the shed next to where we were parked.
At peace, yes. Removed from time, perhaps. Out of touch, hardly!
We spent the summer of 2008 bebopping around southern Utah. Two of our most heartwarming experiences were the
discoveries of two unusual Utah animal sanctuaries: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill domestic animal sanctuary in
stunning Angel Canyon, the Southwest Wildlife Foundation which rehabilitates and reintroduces native fauna.