As we crept through the early morning traffic slowness heading into Salt Lake City, I could not fathom why people subject themselves to this horror on a daily basis. “ Why do all these people live here?” I queried the other occupants of the Durango. Neither Bryan nor David had a good answer, as they had just endured a 4 hour drive over the length of the state which began for all of us at 3am. The effects of 3 cups of coffee on my nervous system had long since moved downward, and as we arrived at the pick up point for the shuttle, I hoped that my fast and purposeful stride into the Sinclair bathroom was not too obvious.
They call them Snowbirds: people who flock to warm Saint George Utah when other, colder areas start to freeze and become unbearable. They come from all over the state mostly, since the majority of Utah gets pretty chilly in the winter, but also from all over the United States. Some of them own homes here, others just take vacations during this prime time of year. No matter where you are from, or what weather you are accustomed to, Southwest Utah is at a low enough elevation that the winters are extremely mild and are actually perfect temperatures for the avid nature lover.
Spending a day exploring the Eagle Crags trail and formation is a perfect day adventure for someone with a healthy dose of ambition. It is a beautiful hike that will visually keep you on your toes as you rise and fall in a pinyon and juniper forest offering spectacular vistas of the Virgin River and Parunaweap Canyon. Start early to watch the sunrise light up the west temple and to avoid the midday heat.
Living in Saint George just fell in my lap, but for some people, it is a planned conscious choice. Many people, like most of my fellow-guides at Paragon Adventures, moved here because it is surrounded by a wide variety of easily-accessible outdoor sports, like rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and canyoneering, to name just a few. For people like us, it is amazing how close some of these trails, canyons and cliffs are to town.
From most of western Saint George, Utah, the swirled geology of Snow Canyon State Park dominates the northern skyline. This park includes 7,400 acres of amazing landscapes, cliffs, canyons and an almost unreal amount of untraveled backcountry very close to the major metropolitan area of St. George. Snow Canyon state park also manages sections of the surrounding Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. The 62,000 acres of the conservation area is dedicated to the conservation of the endangered desert tortoise, and other endemic species. The combination of conservation area and state park lands make the area’s surrounding St. George an outdoor enthusiasts dream.
It is amazing that anyone ever finds this place. A non-descript mesa in a no-man’s land of mesa’s so far down in southern Utah, that if you fell off the south side of it you would nearly land in Arizona. But it is the maze of dirt roads that intricately lace the top of the formation that make even finding the trail head a mini adventure. No signs, kiosks, or interpretative placards provide even the slightest clue that you are at the trail head of one of the best rides in the country. Rather it is the condition of the road that limits further motorized travel without tank tracks, as it changes from smooth 2wd gravel to bouldery slickrock 20 feet beyond the few available parking places.
Looking for a way to enjoy some fresh air on a rare rainy and cool day in sunny St. George, I recently went on a hike to the nearby formation called Elephant Arch. The formation is located in the nearby treasure of land called the Red Cliffs National Conservation area. The reserve is dedicated to the protection of the Mojave Desert Tortoise and while outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to utilize the reserve, they are advised to tread with caution in the fragile habitat. The reserve is easily accessible and just a few miles from the main streets of St. George and thus makes an ideal location for a quick jaunt into the wilderness whether worried about inclement weather or not. Undeterred by raindrops and clad in my rain gear, I felt invigorated by the cool air.