Southwest Utah. I’m struck by contrast when I look out the window on the southbound I-15 corridor. To my left, uninterrupted views of the central Wasatch and Mt. Timpanogos. To my right, the Utah State Prison, a Wingers, a Wing Stop, a Wing Nutz and a Buffalo Wild Wings. Few places illustrate the Salt Lake Valley’s Jekyll and Hyde qualities better, and few places inspire me to more quickly seek solitude. Thankfully my vantage point from behind the wheel means I’m speeding towards the southwest corner of the Beehive State where wild spaces await.
Outside of Utah, St. George is best known as the last bastion of morality on the road to Sin City or as the place where downwinders took the brunt of collateral damage from mutually assured destruction. Closer to home, it’s known as the basecamp for Zion, the gateway to a wealth of public land and home to outdoor devotees who are more than willing to share the wealth.
Set Up Camp
The St. George, Virgin, LaVerkin, Springdale, Hurricane area—which shall henceforth be referred to as the Lower Left—has endless options for camping and lodging. Snow Canyon Campground has group sites with great views and all the amenities of a state park. The more upscale adventurer will enjoy Springdale’s Cable Mountain Lodge, with luxury suites and a pool and private dining area in the shadow of towering red rocks. If you’re on the reluctantly-employed budget like I am, the free camping on BLM land atop Gooseberry Mesa—beware the rough access road, especially in inclement weather—is the ticket. Pick your poison, hunker down and rest up for the fun part.
Get in the Saddle
The Lower Left doesn’t have the name recognition of Moab among mountain bikers, but its profile is growing. If the terrain is good enough for Red Bull Rampage, it probably offers more than enough challenge for us mere mortals. Start your day by stopping in at Over the Edge Sports (OTE) in Hurricane. OTE has an incredible selection of demo bikes from core brands like Evil and Knolly with prices starting at $49 per day. I’ve yet to see a better lineup, so treat yourself and try something new.
Even if you packed your own bike, it’s worth squeezing OTE for a little local knowledge. “Having local info is huge. Trail apps are helpful, but they can’t tell you how to link rides in a way that’s best for you,” says owner Quentin McPhee. “Our staff is involved in trail work, and we’re out riding whenever we’re not working. We can tell you how to keep a group happy, and our full-service shop is ready to save vacations.”
JEM Trail starts right near the shop and is a fast and flowy option for all skill levels with a short spicy section of stepped rock. Head to the heart of St. George for a spin on Zen Trail for a more technical challenge and add a loop on Barrel Trail when you’re ready for some airtime. Gooseberry Mesa is another can’t miss with creative loops on slickrock backed by big exposure and bigger views. Follow the dots, but don’t be afraid to stray from the path and scope out the extra credit lines and features along the way.
Over the Edge Sports, Hurricane: 76 E. 100 South, Hurricane, 435-635-5455, otesports.com
Take a Hike
Once you’ve succumbed to saddle sores, it’s time to hang up the bike and head out on foot. The Lower Left’s unmatched landscapes extend beyond Zion’s mainstays, so skip the crowds by heading to Kolob Canyon. Kolob Canyons Road and the Visitor Center are temporarily closed for construction, but that means fewer people you’ll have to fight for views.
The LaVerkin Creek Trail and Kolob Arch are accessible from the Hop Valley Trail via Kolob Terrace Road. For a little taste of the Narrows without the crush, check out Kanarra Creek, which follows a moderately-technical slot canyon on BLM Land from the public parking area in Kanarraville.
Refresh and Refuel
Take it from me, a couple days biking and hiking through the Lower Left will leave your body feeling a little bruised, blistered and sunbaked. Few things in life are more satisfying recharging after a day out with a frosty beverage and plate of grub, so hit these can’t miss spots.
Pie in the Sky
Veyo Pies is a hole-in-the-wall pie shop that won’t leave you wanting for anything except another piece of pie. I recommend stopping in and getting some provisions for the journey home after you decide to pull the ripcord on the weekend and head back to the drudgery of real life. What’s the point of all that exertion if not to replace the calories with something delicious?
- 24 Main St., Veyo,
Suds with a View
Zion Brewery pours a variety of tasty microbrews that will hit the spot, but its location right at the entrance of Zion National Park is what makes other brewpubs irrelevant. I’ve had a few pints with good views in my day, but I normally need to carry the rapidly-warming libation to the top of the mountain. Zion will bring an ice-cold glass to the patio while you look out at the Eighth Wonder of the World.
- 2400 Zion-Mount Camel Hwy., Springdale, 435-772-0404, zionbrewery.com
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