November 2017 – Southern Utah is loaded with eye-popping scenic drives. From the stunning and famous Scenic Highway 12 to the little known Burr Trail to the dramatic Bicentennial Highway (Utah Route 95) and Scenic Byway 24 through Capitol Reef Country, almost every road in southern Utah is impossible to drive without stopping every few miles to take a photo!
We’ve loved our travels in southern Utah so much that I’ve had to split our Utah travel page to list southwestern Utah and southeastern Utah blog posts separately. Looking them over, it’s impossible to say which area we love most!
But our travels this year focused on the area around Kanab, a little town that is within easy striking distance of the Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon and Bryce Canyon, three of America’s most popular and awe-inspiring National Parks.
Like many western towns, a hillside on the edge of town sports Kanab’s first initial.
Kanab, Utah, has a long history of hosting Hollywood movie crews whenever they descended on the area to film scenes set in the dramatic landscapes nearby.
Not only are there movie sets to visit, both renovated and dilapidated, but there’s a historic motel in the center of town that has lots of photos of the various celebrities who have used their facilities as a home base while making their films.
But our favorite aspect of Kanab is getting out into those landscapes and exploring. The amazing thing is that simply driving towards the big name destinations automatically becomes a trip through gorgeous scenery.
Taking Route 89 a few miles north of town in the direction of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon, we found a stunning red rock wall that was throwing fabulous reflections across the water.
We’ve driven this road dozens of times and barely noticed this gem passing by at 60 mph. This time we stopped to take photos!
Heading east of Kanab we drove into Johnson Canyon where, again, the views were breathtaking.
We spotted an exotic looking rig camping among the towering rocks. At first we thought it was an EarthRoamer, a very expensive go-anywhere type of ultra rugged motorhome. But it turned out to be a work truck front end with a small travel trailer perched in the bed! Now there’s a creative way to go…!!
Johnson Canyon Road veers off onto various dirt roads that can take you on a very long back country adventure through Grand Staircase Escalante before returning you to one of the distant highways. There isn’t a whole lot back there, but we were thrilled when we spotted a roadrunner that wasn’t sprinting away as they usually do.
This little guy wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere.
He sat on his perch and looked this way and that, letting us get incredibly close.
Then he hopped to face the other way, and after showing off his tail, he took off.
This is ranching country, and cattle grazed peacefully in the fields. We noticed a crowd of cows and a huge flock of mockingbirds were grouped in one spot. We slowed to get a closer look and were floored to see a lone coyote standing over a dead deer in the middle of them all.
As we approached, all but a few mockingbirds (which look like flying saddle shoes) scattered to the winds. The cows swayed and turned their attention to us. But the coyote didn’t budge. He stood over his kill and even licked his chops.
We often hear coyotes yipping at night. They hunt in groups and let out a whoop and holler of excitement when they get a kill. But this guy appeared to have taken down the deer by himself, as there were no other coyotes around. It is astonishing that a coyote could take down a deer, but we did a little research later and found that it is not that unusual, although several friends think he was just an opportunist who came along at the right moment!
It was strange, though, to look at the big herd of cows standing around and realize that they had witnessed the whole thing. What did they think as they watched the coyote chasing that deer down?
There are some red rock walls in Johnson Canyon that sport petroglyphs left by the ancients. Not far from the familiar rock art images of hundreds of years ago there are also some scratchings that were left more recently.
Kids from the class of 1941 made a few etchings, and a “Store and Garage” owned by Jensen and a partner which sold Eastman Kodak film had something of an advertisement pecked out on one rock wall.
We saw this funny kind of antique advertising at Montezuma’s Well in Arizona too. Those wily proprietors knew that tourists were out searching the landscape for petroglyphs. What better way to lure them to your store back in town than to put an ad right alongside?!
Kanab is quite a hub for RV travelers, especially international travelers, and rental RVs are as common as privately owned rigs. One year we saw several rental RVs with flags from the tourists’ home countries, and another year, while we were waiting to use the RV dump station in town, we met a couple from Germany who had taken their rig around the world.
South of town lie the mysterious sand dunes of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.
But without doubt, the most popular destination for folks that swing through Kanab is Zion National Park. Before reaching the incredible scenery that lies in the main canyon or the stunning vistas that lie in the western section of the Park at Kolob Canyon, tourists coming into Zion from the east end up driving one of the most dramatic roads we’ve ever seen.
Route 9 between Zion’s hometown of Springdale, Utah, and the intersection with Route 89 travels through a kaleidescope of color and a series of switchbacks that are mind boggling. I will never forget our first trip on this road with a minivan years ago. Unfortunately, part of the road goes through a low and narrow tunnel, and dually trucks and larger vehicles can’t go through the tunnel without paying a fee for a pilot because traffic must be shut down in the opposite direction.
We weren’t traveling to the main part of Zion this year, so we didn’t go through the tunnel to the dramatic switchbacks on the other side, but we still enjoyed a glorious few hours exploring the scenic drive east of there.
Since we had plenty of time and just a few miles of distance to cover, we made a point to get out of the truck a bunch of times and wander way back into the exotic landscape, far from the road.
This little excursion was well worth doing because everyone on the road was whipping past at high speeds on their way to the main part of the park, but there was nobody out in the red rocks.
The peace and tranquility out on these unique rocks was delicious, and we just soaked it all in.
It was fascinating to run our hands on the exotic swirls of rock and imagine the days eons ago when these exotic mounds were sand dunes. The sand at Coral Pink Sand Dunes flies so freely in the wind…
Looking at the rock patterns up close, it seemed very similar to wood grain. I love the way the different grains intersect and criss-cross each other.
We made our way back to the road and the traffic had intensified. Zion National Park is extremely popular, and the road leading to it from the east was becoming non-stop cars and RVs.
if your RV travels take you through Kanab, there are wonders to see in all directions. But some of the greatest beauty and quietest spots can be found along the roads leading to the big name destinations, so take your time getting there!
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- Kanab Utah Visitors Guide – Go Utah
- More Kanab Utah Tourist Info – Kanab Guide
- Even More Kanab Tourist Info – Utah State Government website
- Locations of Southwestern Utah’s Jewels – Check out the Southwestern Utah section of our Utah Page for our articles on each one
Fun destinations we’ve visited that are closest to Kanab:
- Best Friends Animal Sanctuary & Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Utah 09/15/08
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park – Shape Shifting in the Sand! 11/08/17
- Johnson Canyon Movie Set – A Spooky Ghost Town – Happy Halloween! 10/27/17
- Kanab & Alton, UT – Whoa!!! 09/29/08
- Sand Hollow State Park, Utah – An Oasis in the Desert! 11/21/17
- Zion National Park “West” RV Trip – Gorgeous Kolob Canyons! 12/22/16
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- Williams, Arizona – Home of the Grand Canyon Railway! 10/25/19
- Drag Boat Races in AZ – Top Speed FUN on the Colorado River! 10/18/19
- Seligman, Arizona – Birthplace of Route 66! 10/11/19