Photo by Elaine and Scott Harris
Las Vegas is often thought of as the place to indulge in world-class entertainment, dining, and gambling, but only hours from the Las Vegas Strip lies an area of great natural beauty that will entice every explorer. We opted to engage our inner pioneer and begin with a trip into Utah, a state that boasts some of the nation’s most incredible terrain and five national parks. Just an hour out of Vegas, still in Nevada, is the fabulous Valley of Fire with its stunning red, cream, and lavender undulating rock formations. Continuing on to Utah, there are more natural wonders to experience.
In Southern Utah and Arizona there are plenty of reasons to celebrate, as many areas boast decades of engaging star-gazers and adventure-seekers. On our recent journey we stopped in at several historic venues that are operated under the Forever Resorts umbrella where we learned more about the history that put these places on the map. Forever Resorts offer everything you could imagine from boating, lodging, and adventure in many of the most picturesque areas of the United States and worldwide. Aside from being a leader of exhilarating outdoor adventures, Forever Resorts is also an authorized concessioner of the National Park System. We recently had the opportunity to explore the natural wonders, cuisine, and lodging in our neighboring states of Utah and Arizona.
Our first stop was in Kanab, Utah, also known as “Little Hollywood,” and the second leg of our trip took us a bit further to the northern Rim of the Grand Canyon and then on to breathtaking Bryce Canyon where sweeping vistas, mind-boggling geological formations, and night skies filled with celestial wonders have captured the hearts and spirits of adventure-seekers.
Just a few hours by car, we pull into Kanab, promoted as a “scenic tourist town with a friendly western spirit where tens of thousands of tourists stop to enjoy the ‘Old West’ quality of life each year.” Kanab is also home to Best Friends Sanctuary, the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the world, and one can feel the positive energy of the area just by that fact alone. With the stunning red rocks soaring in every direction, we quickly understood why this place drew the Hollywood crowd in the golden age of the American Western.
Photo by Elaine and Scott Harris
Parry Lodge has been attracting visitors and A-listers for 85 years. In 1931, the Parry Brothers, Whit, Chaunce, and Gron, turned their home into a tourist lodge and restaurant to help house and feed the movie companies that were seeking out this unique area for filming. According to the Utah Film Commission, more than 900 movies have been filmed in the area, spanning a half of a century ranging from the 1939 Western Stagecoach to the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes. We had the good fortune to stay in the Joey Bishop Room, which seemed appropriate since we just came in from Las Vegas. All the rooms were endowed with the names of the Hollywood notables such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Lana Turner. These quaint cottage rooms were the quarters that these stars called home. The Frank Sinatra room is the most sought-after, so make your reservation early. In fact, Sinatra paid for the swimming pool at the Parry Lodge so he and his crew could cool down after a hot day of filming.
As we walked into the quaint, white-washed dining area, adorned with Hollywood headshots, we remarked to the front desk agent, “If these walls could only talk,” and — to our surprise — he stated that the upstairs was where the Rat Pack had their own personal bar back in the day. Although the bar is no longer there, this indeed was the space Sinatra and his pals were known for entertaining until the wee hours of the morning. Although the Parry Lodge boasts an 85-year history, it has all the modern conveniences and lovely meals to keep guest coming back again and again. Hollywood may have left its mark here, but this lodge is a star in its own right as it continues to shine as a place of respite and relaxation.
We meandered across the street to the Iron Horse Restaurant and Saloon, which has garnered the reputation as one of the local’s favorite mainstays with its kitschy Old-Western town façade and even a faux outhouse. Oversized statuesque horses embellish the entrance of this family dining establishment just as ceremonial lions would guard a palace. This is not a traditional sit-down restaurant but more of an old-fashioned dining hall with communal seating, a salad bar, and the meats grilled to order. Guests must order at the bar, which is the only full service bar in Kane County, and once you’ve ordered, a food runner brings your meal straight from the open grilling area to your table with the side of your choice. We opted for the rib-eye and bison with a side of the house baked beans and coleslaw. We were greatly pleased with the perfect medium-rare rib-eye and, being the first time we tried bison, we were pleasantly pleased with the texture and flavor of the meat. A convivial atmosphere pervaded as more people filled the dining area. Satiated and content, we headed back to our room at the Parry Lodge. The bartender mentioned that tonight was the town’s fiddle circle at the Parry Lodge and, being curious to the ways of Kanab, we wanted to find out what this local music fest was all about.
Photo by Elaine and Scott Harris
The night sky glittered brilliantly as fiddle music flittered from the large barn located in the parking lot behind the hotel. The barn once housed animals used during the movie shoots; even the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, had a “movie” stall in this historic building. Still bearing the nostalgia of days gone by, the building has been preserved for community plays, music, and summer movie nights where the noted Hollywood Westerns are still on the big screen. This night was slated for the meeting of the town’s fiddle players. We peered in to observe the musicians, sitting in a circle peacefully playing their blue-grassy music. The communal serenity of the music makers exuded the “Old West Spirit” through their lilting melodies; we ended our evening on a blissful note.
The next day we got an early start for our adventure in the popular slot canyons. Only accessible by a powerful off-road vehicle, we joined Brent Johnson of the Forever Adventure HummerTours for a trek into the pink desert of Kanab. Johnson, a rugged and knowledgeable individual, has been a guide in the area for decades, and we knew immediately we were in for a true insider’s look at the area. As we headed down the road in the well-equipped but very comfortable Hummer, Johnson filled us in on the Hollywood history of Kanab and other interesting facts that you don’t get from a tour book. As we headed towards a very hilly area, he added, “You see that blue port-a-potty located on the right side of the road, there is a path up the hill to a rock encrusted with dinosaur tracts.” Intrigued by the prospect of seeing dinosaur fossils, we opted to attempt that hike at a later date. For now we turned off the road and careened through low-lying cacti and desert brush. For overzealous adventure-seekers, be forewarned that this area is meant for regional experts who know how to handle these potentially hazardous environments with the proper off-road vehicles. Venturing out into these areas on your own could be very costly or potentially fatal. Investing in a guide with Forever Resorts Adventure Tours will save you time, energy, and a big out-of-pocket towing expense.
Not a mile down the road, we encountered a real-life cattle roundup with cowboys, lassos, and cattle dogs nipping at the heels of the herd as they stampeded up the sandy slopes. Johnson quipped, “Well, you don’t see that every day.” It was exhilarating to see the teamwork and drama as everyone worked in unison to keep the cows going up the steep sandy slope as a few errant cattle frantically sought to escape the arduous ascent.
We finally reached our destination after a slight delay of cattle traffic; we eagerly began our next leg of our adventure through the slot canyon. Slot canyons are narrow canyons comprised of sandstone and limestone that can measure several feet in width to several hundred in width and depth. They are considered rare due to very specific climactic and geological characteristics that must happen in the formation of these unique and stunning canyons. Utah is home to the largest percentage of slot canyons in the world. As we wandered through these towering stone walls, weathered and wavy with brilliantly colored sandstone, light caressed the craggy ledges creating a cascade of illusion, a stream of light that often looked like water pouring from the cracks. We snapped as many pictures as possible to share with others of these magical moments in this unique space. Too soon, we headed back into the Hummer. As we proceeded through the backcountry, Johnson gave us an insider’s look at the Best Friends Sanctuary, the largest employer in Kane County. Much of the property we were going through was owned and maintained by the sanctuary and seeing the extensive and well-maintained enclosures for all types of animals made us extremely grateful that such a place exists.
We sped away from our jaunt through Kanab and embarked on yet another lovely leg of the journey. This year, the National Park System celebrated its centennial and we wanted to be part of the hoopla. The first national park in the world was established in 1872 at Yellowstone and, within 10 years, the National Park System was formed, bringing a unified National Park management system by presidential order on Aug. 25, 1916. While embarking upon the north rim of the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park within a limited amount of time, we were in awe that such realms of astounding natural wonder existed within a few hours from each other.
Bryce Canyon National Park was first established as a national monument in 1923. We were fascinated and intrigued by its famous sculpted landscape known as the hoodoos. What’s a hoodoo? It is a very specific geologic formation that is found only in this area because a unique process of thawing ice crystals within the sedimentary rocks over hundreds of years. The authentic regional climate of the area provides just the correct formula within the rocks to create these towering statue-like monoliths rising from the floor of the canyon. Hoodoos look like creatures rising from the canyon floor and just ask any of the park rangers about the Native American tale that coincides with this lore. After a great day of exploring the area, we moved into our quarters at the historic Forever Resorts Bryce Canyon Lodge. Opened in 1925, the lodge is one of our national parks' architectural treasures. Designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who defined the rustic style architectural sites such as Old Faithful Lodge at Yellowstone and the Ahwanee at Yosemite, Bryce Canyon Lodge has maintained its original structure but with all the modern amenities that active vacationers and families enjoy. We loved the elegant dining hall with white linens, engaged servers, and world-class cuisine. The rustic ambience of the lodge leads to the endearing quality of timelessness that the National Park System has upheld for a century.
Our visit to the much less-visited North Rim of Grand Canyon was just a few weeks from the closure of the park for the winter season. Although many of the park facilities including the historic lodge were already closed, we did manage a few hours to hike along the walkways that supported astounded onlookers. Mother Nature has managed to continue to capture the attention of thousands of onlookers in a trance of tremendous awe, but we also felt an enormous amount of gratitude for Forever Resorts in their consistent efforts in maintaining and modernizing some of the most historic lodges in America. Creating memories that will last a lifetime is the common goal of travelers and we found a few of our own just a short drive from the neon lights of Las Vegas.
For more information on Forever Resorts and all there offering go to foreverresorts.com