Striking scenery surrounds this small town in Utah’s far south. The Vermilion Cliffs to the west and east glow with a fiery intensity at sunrise and sunset. Streams have cut splendid canyons into surrounding plateaus. The Paiute Indians knew the spot as Kanab, meaning “place of the willows,” and willows still grow along Kanab Creek.
Mormon pioneers arrived in the mid-1860s and tried to farm along the unpredictable creek. Irrigation difficulties culminated in the massive floods of 1883, which in just two days gouged a section of creek bed 40 feet below its previous level. Ranching proved better suited to this rugged and arid land.
Hollywood discovered the dramatic scenery of Kanab in the 1920s and has filmed more than 150 movies and TV series here since. Famous films shot hereabouts include movies as different as My Friend Flicka, The Lone Ranger, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. The TV series Gunsmoke and F Troop were shot locally.
Film crews have constructed several Western sets near Kanab, but most lie on private land and are difficult to visit. The Paria set east of town, however, is on BLM land and open to the public.
If, while exploring Kanab, you see what looks like a family reunion, it might be just a man and his wives from the nearby polygamist settlements of Colorado City or Hildale. Needless to say, Kanab doesn’t have a reputation for being the most socially and politically progressive town in Utah. In 2006, for example, the Kanab mayor and city council passed a resolution declaring “We envision a local culture that upholds the marriage of a woman to a man, and a man to a woman, as ordained of God? . . .We see our homes as open to a full quiver of children, the source of family continuity and social growth. We envision young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers; and we see young men growing into husbands, home-builders, and fathers.”
While most park visitors see Kanab (pop. 3,500) as a handy stopover on trips to Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks and the southern reaches of Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, there are a few interesting sites around town that may warrant more than a sleep, eat, dash-out-of-town visit.
Getting to Kanab
Kanab is 15 miles south of Mount Carmel Junction on Highway 89, a total of 40 miles from Zion National Park, and just seven miles north of the Arizona-Utah border. From here, Highway 89 continues southeast, providing access to the southern reaches of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and, 74 miles later, Glen Canyon Dam at Page, Arizona.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition