How to Experience the Thriving Arts & Culture of St. George

Arriving near sunset, my partner and I take our seats facing the 1,500-foot red rock cliffs at Southern Utah’s Tuacahn Amphitheater, the rocks glowing in the magic hour light. We’ve just driven in from Salt Lake City, but the bustling energy of the city quickly fades, and we find ourselves enchanted as a tale as old as time unfolds on stage. The classic story of Beauty and the Beast comes to life as actors dressed as candlesticks and clocks sing and dance to “Be Our Guest,” their voices echoing against the canyon walls.

One of three Broadway-caliber live shows that Tuacahn hosts each year, the dramatic desert setting breathes new magic into this old fairytale. Cinderella, Matilda and the Prince of Egypt will soon grace this stage, and no performance disappoints in this spectacular space.

From the freeway, it’s easy to mistake this hamlet for a strip mall-filled border town, but visitors discover that St. George, Utah, boasts a flourishing art and culture scene that beckons exploration. From theater to galleries to a thriving music scene, this red rock utopia is more alive than ever.

And the secret is out. St. George’s booming population has made it the fastest-growing metro area in the nation, with retirees and young adventurers alike relocating to this desert paradise that’s a short drive from Zion National Park, vast red rock wilderness and conservation areas and a cluster of Utah’s best state parks. But you don’t have to move here to get in on the action. St. George’s spectacular landscapes, small town charm and big city amenities make it an incredible place for an artistic escape.

Broadway in the Desert: Tuacahn Center for the Arts

Built in the shadow of tall red rock sandstone cliffs, Tuacahn puts on Broadway productions in a dramatic outdoor amphitheatre near Snow Canyon State Park. The word “Tuacahn” means “Canyon of the Gods,” and its stunning rugged backdrop enhances any production. Catch musical performances by leading local and national acts on the outdoor stage through November, long after northern Utah’s temperatures have gone cold.

Return to Tuacahn on Saturday mornings for a weekly market featuring local art, crafts, food and free live entertainment. An ever-changing set of painters and artisans sell their wares alongside Tuacahn Canyon, and musical acts play until afternoon.

Art Enclave: Kayenta and Coyote Gulch Art Village

To discover the essence of St. George’s authentic art scene, make a beeline for the artist enclave of Kayenta. Creative types have long touted the inspirational benefits of living amidst these soaring cliffs and dazzling panoramas, illustrated by Kayenta’s popularity. Built against stunning varicolored rock walls just seven miles from St. George, Kayenta and its Coyote Gulch Art Village bustle with galleries, studios, festivals, retail shops, gourmet food, a yoga studio and even a spa — just in case you need a vacation from your vacation.

Venture into Juniper Sky Gallery to see wind sculptures and Mystic Canyon Light for outdoor landscape photography. Find impressive ceramic works at Zia Pottery Studio then throw your own pot to take home in a two-hour private lesson.

Refuel and caffeinate amidst a xeriscaped desert (one that needs very little irrigation) at Xetava Gardens Café, a Kayenta coffee shop and kitchen surrounded by lava fields. Then catch a brilliant sunset in the sculpture garden or stroll around the meditative Desert Rose Labyrinth built by Kayenta locals.

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The Desert Rose Labyrinth was built by Kayenta locals.

Anna Papuga

Art Events: Center for the Arts and Festivals

Catch performances by musicians, comedians, artists and actors at the new, multifunctional Center for the Arts in Kayenta’s Coyote Gulch Art Village. Completed in 2017, the spacious center encompasses 11,000 square feet along with an outdoor plaza.

Stay for one of the region’s signature art festivals and gallery walks. High temperatures mean summers are slower here, making art strolling season a reason to visit during the cooler months of March (St. George Art Festival), April (Street Painting Festival) and October (Art in Kayenta Festival).

Classic & Contemporary Art: St. George Art Museum and Sears Art Museum Gallery

St. George is home to 16 museums and galleries, and one of its best served as a simple sugar beet seed storage facility before being transformed into an art museum. Through the work of the community, St. George Art Museum opened in 1997 in this restored space. Today, the museum boasts a collection of regional and local art exhibits as well as rotating collections and events like date nights and book clubs.

For relaxation amidst classic and contemporary art, visit Dixie State University’s Sears Art Museum. The museum features six permanent exhibits, rotating artwork and an outdoor sculpture garden where you can meditate and meander among reflecting pools and bronze sculptures. Admission to both is always free.

Outdoor Tunes: Concerts in the Park

Casual and free is the name of the game at this outdoor Monday music series. Make it a long weekend and pack a picnic for these family-friendly Concerts in the Park that run from April to September in Vernon Worthen Park. Pick up picnic fixings from Lunch Box sandwich shop, then lounge on a blanket and soak up jazz, rock and roll and R&B under the stars.

Musical Theatre: Brigham’s Playhouse and St. George Musical Theater

Performing arts are popular in this community, and there’s room for more than one theater in town. Beyond the red rocks of Tuacahn, find Brigham’s Playhouse, a family-friendly theater focusing on fun, affordable performances. Its location inside a saloon-styled structure in Washington, just outside St. George, adds to the ambiance, and you can enjoy an old-fashioned root beer or dessert during any performance.

Popular St. George Musical Theatre closed for nearly five years when it lost access to its performance venue, but the company’s return to the old St. George Opera House has been met with enthusiasm. See classics like Annie, The Music Man and Guys and Dolls performed here by talented singing and dancing casts.

Classic Sounds: Southwest Symphony Orchestra

Hear the sounds of Handel’s “Messiah” and masters like Beethoven and Brahms at performances by the Southwest Symphony Orchestra. This 75-member orchestra calls the Cox Performing Arts Center on the campus of Dixie State University home and is celebrating 36 years of inspiring the community with classic symphonic performances.

Whether you come to St. George for the professional theater, dazzling landscapes, or abundant art galleries, this booming southern Utah destination just four hours from Salt Lake City makes the perfect place for a cultural getaway.

Written by Jenny Willden for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.

Featured image provided by Anna Papuga

Mission to Mars: Riding Gooseberry Mesa

We may as well have been on Mars. Far away from any semblance of civilization and surrounded by a seemingly endless horizon of dramatic desert landscape, we had the place to ourselves. Is there anything so liberating as escaping the masses to quietly commune with nature in a vast expanse of stunningly beautiful desolate terrain? Granted, it was a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of July with temperatures soaring into the triple digits, but still. We were there to take a tour of the legendary Gooseberry Mesa mountain biking trail system near Hurricane, Utah.

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View from the North Rim Trail.

Sandra Salva

Let's set our stage: Massive exposed shelves reveal 240 million years of erosion and a departed ocean that left shoreline deposits and formed the hardened Shinarump conglomerate, which formed the cap of Gooseberry Mesa. Rising further, the bygone forest left behind petrified wood, which can be found lying on the mesa surface. Wavy bands of red sandstone mold the Moenkopi Formation that experienced riders familiarly know as slickrock. Swirls of piñons and junipers pepper the trails, while California condors circle above. A cottontail rabbit darts across the path. We peer closely at the rock as we spin by to see the sunbathing lizards. Stop for a quiet rest, a deer might make an appearance. Mind the cacti. Crashing is even less fun if you land in the prickly Claret Cup Cactus.

Crashing? It's possible. These trails are not for everyone, as most are considered intermediate to advanced level riding.

Far away from any semblance of civilization and surrounded by a seemingly endless horizon of dramatic desert landscape …

This is a first-rate, looping trail system that allows for a variety of course options. If you ride the entire Big Loop Trail counterclockwise, you'll complete just over 13 miles of intermediate and advanced technical riding connecting both the North Rim and South Rim sections. Alternatively, you can choose your own adventure by riding a combination of the trails to customize your mileage and difficulty preferences. Although both the Point and Overlook vantage points are out-and-back trails, they are absolutely worth the extra effort.

The trails are marked fairly well and easy to follow in most places, but cairns can always be missed. Some of the routes are marked with white paint spots to designate the trail. However, because you can ride in either direction, it's important to use your navigational skills because it's too easy to get turned around and the trailscapes can start to look homogenous real quick if you get lost.

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View from the point, start of the South Rim trail.

Sandra Salvas

The summer's mid-day heat made each pedal rotation a little more work, but the cache of Gooseberry Mesa is that it features roller coaster slickrock singletrack grandeur in lieu of lengthy ascents and descents, allowing riders to whistle while they work. The South Rim and Hidden Canyon loop is considered advanced technical and inspires a few come-to-Jesus moments along the way. Good thing it's always an option to hop off your bike and walk the iffy sections that are close to the cliff side. The 1.8-mile North Rim is more suitable for intermediate riders and features short, steep climbs with no shortage of jaw-dropping vistas.

If you're unsure of your ability, have a go at the moderate Practice Trail. It will give you a good idea of what's in store. It's also a great warm-up for the longer trails. Overall, no matter which trail you choose, Gooseberry Mesa is a classic trail that will reward you with epic views and darn good fun. Add it to your itinerary if you plan to ride in the area!

Written by Melissa McGibbon for Utah Office of Tourism.

Featured image provided by Sandra Salvas

Winter in Southwestern Utah: Zion and the Mojave Desert

Warmer temperatures make Utah's Dixie (named so because of ill-fated early Mormon Pioneer attempt to grow cotton in the desert) a year-round travel destination. You can golf pretty much throughout the year on St. George's championship-level courses. But it's a land of contrasts, it can be sunny and warm in St. George and snowing just an hour north in Cedar City. The world famous Zion National Park is the main attraction but Snow Canyon State Park, Red Cliffs, Sand Hollow and Quail Creek are all equally wondrous parks to add to your itinerary, even when the weather dial isn't turned up to hot.

Zion National Park

Zion is Utah's lowest park in both elevation and latitude, so its weather tends to be pretty fair year round. You can expect rain at times, but rarely snow, and cool temperatures especially in sunless canyon bottoms. You can also expect to have parts of the stunning canyon to yourself, ideal for solace seekers and nature photographers. Shorter daylight also brings sunrise, sunset and starry skies closer together — but bundle up for those chilly desert nights!

Temperatures can hover in a comfortable 50-60 degrees during the day but drop below freezing at night. Winter rains and periodic snow can build up on trails creating icy conditions in the morning, which often melts away in a few hours. Always exercise caution on wet and icy trails and turn back if conditions inhibit safe passage. Learn more about safe winter adventures, check location conditions and get the weather report at the visitor center, open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the winter.

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A different winter wonderland all to yourself.

Beatrice Nervo / NPS

Get the gear: Zion Outfitters One of the most amazing things to do in Zion National Park in the off-season is to hike into the Narrows, hike a few miles up the Virgin River below towering rock walls that close in on you as you ascend the river bed. But you 'll need a drysuit, an impenetrable rubbery suit that keeps the cold water out and you warm and dry. Zion Outfitters rents the suits and other resources, as well as a helpful orientation session to get hikers ready for their canyoneering adventure.
95 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale
(435)-772-5090

Base camp: Springdale

Where to stay: Located near the entrance to Zion National Park Cable Mountain Lodge is practically in the park. The lodge has standard hotel rooms as well as spacious family-sized suites with kitchens and plenty of room and the hot tub is open year round. The property also offers a handy, up-to-date list of restaurants that are open in the off-season at its front desk. Or, let Larry and Liz host you at the beautifully designed and comfortable Zion Canyon Bed & Breakfast. Some accommodations take the winter off, but Springdale continues to welcome travelers to the mouth of Zion National Park. See even more lodging options below.

Cable Mountain Lodge
147 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale
(435)-772-3366

Zion Canyon Bed & Breakfast
101 Kokopelli Circle, Springdale
(435)-772-9466

More Springdale accommodations

Where to eat: Zion Canyon Brewing Company's brewpub has excellent pub grub and a good selection of beers, brewed onsite.
2400 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale
(435)-772-0336

Base camp: St. George

While some of Springdale takes the winter off, St. George is a good size city on the main interstate full of great restaurants, year-round adventure and cultural attractions — a round of championship-caliber golf is frequently possible as well.

Where to stay: As a year-round destination and a winter getaway for Northern Utahns, hotels and motels abound in Southern Utah 's largest metro area, St. George. But for something out of the ordinary, check out the Inn on the Cliff, a boutique hotel set on a bluff high above the town. For a luxury experience try the Inn at Entrada, a golfing-getaway spot located in a gated community just an hour away from Zion National Park.

Inn at Entrada
2588 W. Sinagua Trail, St. George
(435)-634-7100

Inn on the Cliff
511 S. Airport Rd, St George
(435)-216-5864

Where to eat: The Painted Pony Serving upscale southwestern cuisine alongside a great cocktail menu and wine list, The Painted Pony is open seven days a week.
2 W. St George Blvd., St. George
(435)-634-1700

Explore more dining in St. George.

Written by Jeremy Pugh for Utah Office of Tourism.

Featured image provided by Courtesy of Utah Office of Tourism

Services to resume at Utah’s national parks despite government shutdown

Cara MacDonald / KSL.com

Rep. Rob Bishop delivered a letter earlier this week to the acting Secretary of the Interior requesting they take “emergency measures to resume operations” at National Parks in Utah.

Acting Secretary David Bernhardt approved the request Sunday morning, stating that services will resume to national parks within a few days.

Read the full article at KSL.com

St. George pledges money to keep Zion open during persistent shutdown

Joseph Witham / St. George News

As a partial shutdown of the federal government continues well into its second week, local officials are working to keep Zion National Park open for at least another week.

As many federally managed parks have been forced to close their boundaries to all visitors, Zion has remained partially operational thanks to funding from the state of Utah and the Zion Forever Project. However, that funding runs out Saturday.

Assuming the shutdown continues past Saturday, St. George Mayor Jon Pike announced Thursday that plans are in place to keep the park partially operational for an additional week — until Jan. 12.

Read the full article at St. George News

Washington County Tourism Impacts

Kevin Lewis / Community Education Channel

It’s one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. Washington County, Utah is not only seeing a high growth rate, but is also experiencing worldwide tourism. Washington County Tourism Director Kevin Lewis explains why and how these visitors are helping locals pay the bills.

Energized. Inspired. Rewarded.

Kevin Lewis / Southern Utah Business Magazine

If you had suggested to early explorers that one day tourism would be one of the largest private sector employment groups in this area, they would have laughed you off the expedition trail. In the mid-1800s, Parley P. Pratt called this area a “poor and worthless” place. He described it as “a country in ruins turned inside out and upside down by terrible convulsions in some former age.” Today, people from all over the world are flocking to experience this “country in ruins,” and with them come millions of dollars in economic prosperity.

Read the full article in the Fall 2018 Issue of Southern Utah Business Magazine