5 ways to stay and play the right way in southern Utah.
What if we told you there was a gallery with some of the oldest and most beautiful art in the entire world right at your fingertips? Art that predates human history by millions of years, and is even interactive, with positive health benefits! It won’t cost ya too much for an entry fee, either, and it’s hosted by a truly bustling town.
If you told someone about this miracle gallery and their first reaction was, “Heck ya! I can’t wait to leave my protein bar wrappers on the ground there,” you probably wouldn’t invite them, would you?
Well, you’ve probably guessed that this gallery does exist. You know it as the towering slot canyons, red cliffs, and mind-blowing vistas of southern Utah and Kanab, but for lots of critters, plants, and people — it’s home. And despite its stunning beauty, epic geologic track record, and charming locals (four-legged and otherwise), some people must feel as though the art is not complete without their imprint. We beg to differ! Don’t be one of those people. Treat southern Utah with respect and kindness, and ensure that the echoes of your oohs and aahs off the canyon walls are the only evidence that you were ever there (along with some stunning photos and incredible stories, of course).
Dear Derek and Stacy, it doesn’t matter if you two think you’re “4evah,” don’t carve it on the rocks — they’re way more “4evah” than any of us. In fact, when you travel through the canyons of southern Utah, you’re walking through passageways and landforms formed over millions of years by ancient seas, howling winds and shifting tectonic plates. Let’s see Derek and Stacy do that. What’s that? They broke up already? No way.
In all seriousness, vandalism is a serious problem in our outdoor spaces and has increased as more and more people ventured outside due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You might think that a rock is just a rock and that a little scratched-in name won’t hurt too bad. But those imposing rocks used to be the bottom of a seafloor and we want to preserve them in their purest geologic state. Let’s be as kind to the earth as those that came before us — it doesn’t say “Basilosaurus wuz here” anywhere, does it? Perfect info to share on social media, not the land.
Pro tip: Even just climbing on certain rocks is enough to wipe away their unique hues, so stick to the trails when possible.
Mother Nature may have created the natural Artscape that’s all around you just by doin’ her thang, but there’s plenty of art in southern Utah that was put there on purpose. Petroglyphs created by ancient Native American cultures can be found throughout southern Utah, and are some of the most unique aspects of the region. Their cultural significance is priceless. Treat the petroglyphs with reverence whenever you’re lucky enough to encounter them. Due to their age, these petroglyphs are also extremely sensitive. They should not be touched — even the oil from fingertips can damage this delicate rock art — and should absolutely never be vandalized. Derek and Stacy don’t need to add their love to the story of the ancients, even if Cassy P. says they’re back together and it’s for realsies this time.
Remember the mysterious monolith that appeared in southern Utah in 2020, went viral, then disappeared just as quickly? To this day, no one is sure who put it there, but we do know who left all of the trash, food scraps, and human waste behind after rushing to the location for a photo op. (Hint: It definitely wasn’t aliens.)
Always remember the golden rule of “Leave No Trace” when hiking, camping, biking, climbing or otherwise exploring southern Utah’s amazing landscapes (or any other landscapes for that matter). If you were able to enjoy some unspoiled natural beauty for a few hours, make sure you give others the chance to do the same. Bring all of your discarded wrappers and other trash back in your pack. While you’re at it, try and pick up any other trash you find along the way too. You can be the hero for the next group that comes through, alien or otherwise.
Now back to that human waste … Everybody poops, but not everybody poops right. Certainly, in some environments, you’d be alright digging an 8-inch hole when nature calls, but things are different in the arid desert climate where waste and toilet paper take longer to decompose. If you’re camping or hiking somewhere without a vault toilet — or anywhere near a water source — it’s a good idea to bring along some waste bags for your poo (and your pooch’s poo).
Don’t worry, waste bags are easy to buy at outdoor shops or online, and are surprisingly sanitary. They seal tight, eliminate odor, and can be tossed in a trash can as soon as you find one. This may take you out of your comfort zone, but cleaning up human waste properly is an important part of keeping ecosystems healthy, as our diet can prove toxic and harmful to animals of all kinds. Also, your fellow humans visiting usually don’t prefer their views with a side of poo.
If you forget to pack bags or accidentally place too much confidence in your stomach, digging a shallower 4- to 6-inch hole is actually good practice in the desert — the heat helps accelerate decomposition. If you’re near a water source, try and get as far away from it as possible. You’ll still have to pack out your TP, however, or look for a good solid leaf (cacti are not recommended).
Fight Your Burning DesireOn the one hand, it sometimes just doesn’t feel like a night under the stars without a roaring fire. On the other hand, it’s tough to enjoy the stars when your campsite is on fire. Crackling campfires are one of life’s simple joys, but southern Utah can’t afford to crackle. The region plays host to the types of hot and dry conditions that wildfires dream of, but you can crush those dreams harder than Stacy just crushed Derek’s if you don’t practice proper fire safety. Observe all fire restrictions when in effect (NO means NO) and make sure to properly extinguish your fires when bans are not in place. Extinguished doesn’t just mean “dying down” either, it means drowning all embers (not just the red ones) and ensuring that the firepit or ground is nice and cool. Would you set your tent up on top of it? No? Keep pourin’ buster. As a certain beloved bear would say, “Only YOU can prevent wildfires.”
In case you’ve been living under a red rock, you might have noticed that the secret’s out on southern Utah. The national parks and natural playgrounds of the area are among the most popular destinations in the world, which means — you guessed it — a lot of other visitors. Crowds can be stressful, but we can all still give our fellow explorers and gracious hosts the same respect we give to the hares and the hoodoos.
Keep a cool head on the road in hot weather. As the Utah Department of Transportation points out in their “Summer Safely” campaign, aggressive driving is one of the most common factors in traffic accidents. Hitting traffic or getting stuck behind a slow driver can drive anyone crazy, but you can stay safe and calm in these situations by giving yourself enough time to allow for slowdowns. The unexpected, of course, should always be expected.
The same patience should also be practiced with the local restaurants and activity centers of Kanab. As a town rich with culture that’s smack dab in the middle of so many beautiful places, Kanab will most likely be busy. Make reservations for activities and restaurants when possible, and give yourself plenty of time when they’re not. Keep some snacks handy as well — waiting is a lot worse on an empty stomach, and hangriness is a beast that often waits to rear its ugly head at innocent locals.
The people of Kanab and southern Utah love the area just as much as you do. In fact, they love it so much that they call it home! Keep it as happy and healthy as possible, so this wonderful gallery can stay open for admission for many years to come.