The literally breath-taking gorgeousness of the red rock cliffs and canyons of Kane County, Utah— an area that includes the famous and elusive “Wave,” the slot canyon Peekaboo and the eye-popping Vermillion Cliffs— has, in the past, only been matched by the utter absence of human cultural delight. No place to eat. No place to stay. No events to attend. The scenic wonder land surrounding Kanab has long been a literal and metaphorical desert for miles. It’s all great, until you finish a day of hiking and want a glass of wine.
This kind of dichotomy has been true in many Utah towns and the towns have responded in different ways. “Not another Moab!” It’s the rallying cry of many residents of Bluff, Blanding and Boulder, all villages poised for change because of increased tourism as a result of National Park and Monument designations.
Where to Go: Kanab Visitors Center has an excellent collection of single-sheet itineraries for enjoying the area’s scenery according to your abilities and preferences. Access to everything from scenic driving routes to family-friendly hikes to ATV excursions and difficult, restricted hikes like The Wave is spelled out in detail, allowing you to plan your ideal trip. Kanab Visitors Center, 745 E., US-89, Kanab, 435-644-1300, visitsouthernutah.com
Now, Kanab, in deep southern Utah, on the edge of Arizona, faces the crossroads of tradition and tourism. Kanab has long been a “gas-and-go” community but in the last five or six years Kanab has changed, and perhaps the food on the plate in front of me tells that story most succinctly: Beef Wellington. You know, Beef Wellington—one of the defining dishes of French haute cuisine, especially as it was imagined in America. Rare beef, shrouded in mushrooms and encased in puff pastry.
Except. This “beef” isn’t beef. It’s “Impossible Burger,” the much-touted meat substitute beloved by ecologists and animal lovers. It looks like beef, tastes like beef, but no animal was harmed in the making of this “meat.” The Wellington is a star on the menu at Peekaboo Wood-fired Kitchen, the vegetarian restaurant run by Kathie Chadbourne, where the selections also include wood-fired pizza, potstickers and cassoulet. The outside patio functions as a town meeting place—I can overhear conversations between off-duty adventure guides and wilderness therapy counsellors and a table nearby is occupied by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary’s founders and directors.
Kanab has changed—to such an extent that Lonely Planet says it is the “next Sedona.”
The scenery, of course, has always been there, as old as time. What ignited the Kanab renaissance and sparked interest in the previously sleepy mostly Mormon town was one organization. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary opened more than three decades ago, bringing moneyed bi-coastal and European tourists to town for something other than scenery: Best Friends’ zealous mission to “Save Them All.”
“Kanab has always been a tourist town,” says Camille Johnson Taylor, Executive Director of the Kane County Office of Tourism, a seventh-generation Kanabite. “We’re celebrating the 150th anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s expedition and we’ve been known for decades as ‘Little Hollywood.’” Monuments to A- (and many B-) list actors who frequented the town to film Westerns in the ’50s and ’60s line Kanab’s streets. “And we’re very close to the Maynard Dixon homestead and to Lake Powell.”
But today’s tourists are a more demanding bunch. The Canyons Collection has developed a group of hotels and motels, each one distinct in its charm, emphasizing individuality as well as creature comforts.
Where to Stay: Hotels/Inns
Canyons Hotel, 190 N. 300 West, Kanab, 435-644-8660, canyonshotel.com
My Star Vacation Rentals, has several unique rental houses. 435-990-5850, mystarvr.com
Quail Park Lodge, classic ’50s hotel, redone: 125 N. 300 West, Kanab, 435-215-1447, quailparklodge.com
Black Feather Tipi B&B (it’s a real tipi), 514 N. 200 East, Kanab, 435-899-9092, kanabstars.com/tipi.html
Cave Lakes Canyon offers tipis, hogans and conventional rooms, 435-644-3812, cavelakescanyon.com
Quail Park Lodge, for example, is a classic ’50s tourist court, redone with a keen eye for today’s mid-century love affair. Canyons Boutique Hotel has been completely modernized while keeping a slight Victorian vibe. The hotels offer services like complimentary bikes and dog-friendly rooms—another influence from Best Friends, which allows visitors to take animals on “sleep-overs.
Best Friends’ animal-friendly ethos has influenced Kanab in lots of ways besides the Impossible Beef Wellington on the plate before me. You can choose from more than half-dozen good restaurants—most all with vegetarian or vegan options. The Rocking V Cafe, serving a southwestern menu of vegetarian and vegan specialties as well as bison and beef, was one of the first. Now you can order a healthy bowl meal from Wild Thyme Cafe, start the morning with fresh-made pastries (croissants warm from the oven) from Kanab Creek Bakery, enjoy Asian flavors at Fusion House Japanese-Asian Grill or authentic French cuisine at Vermillion 45, where we stop in after dinner to visit with the chef and share some wine and food in an evening of joyful hospitality Lumiere would be proud of.
Chadbourne bubbles with enthusiasm about the future in Kanab—she’s working to form a community of chefs, maybe even a restaurant association so that chefs and owners can cooperate on events and sourcing, which can be tricky in a place so far from anywhere. After running restaurants in Oregon and Salt Lake City, she says Kanab is the closest thing yet to her ideal.
People arrive at their dreams in strange ways. Shon Foster, chef at Sego, grew up in Utah and went to high school in Kanab, a place he never thought he’d come back to. He went on to become an audio engineer for punk bands in Los Angeles for labels like Pennywise, Epitaph, Phat Records and he still looks the part when I meet him to talk about his latest venture—the vaguely military haircut, the black sox and T-shirt, baggy shorts. The only attire that reveals he belongs in a kitchen is his clogs. He ended up as executive chef and F&B chief for Amangiri, one of the most exclusive resorts in the world, but left to start Sego Cafe in Kanab.
Where to Eat:
Wild Thyme Cafe, 198 S. 100 East, Kanab, 435-644-2848, wildthymekanab.com
Sego Cafe, 190 N. 300 West, Kanab, 435-644-5680, segokanab.com
Peekaboo Canyon: Wood-fired Kitchen, 233 W. Center St., Kanab, 435-689-1959, peekabookitchen.com
Rocking V Cafe, 97 W. Center St., Kanab, 435-644-8001, rockingvcafe.com
Kanab Street Bakery, 238 W. Center St., Kanab, 435-644-5689, kanabcreekbakery.com.
Fusion House Japanese-Asian Grill, 18 E. Center St., Kanab, 435-644-8868, fusionhousekanab.com
“Sego Cafe is more democratic,” jokes Foster. “We try to appeal to a broad audience and want the food to be affordable and local. The goal is to connect the food, the diner and the land. We feel we are in a position of stewardship of land and animals, stewardship of the planet via green kitchen.”
According to Francis Battista, co-founder and board chair of Best Friends, this is the larger goal of the foundation.
“Once you’re in the mindset of kindness and caretaking, it spreads to other things besides animals.”
Of course, says Taylor, there have been a few collisions between original town folk and the idealistic newcomers. But in the end, there seems to be agreement on the goal of creating a community in harmony with its place—specifically, not another Moab.
See all of our outdoors coverage here.