Now playing in Kanab, Utah.

Now playing in Kanab, Utah.

For years after it was settled by Mormons in the mid-19th Century, Kanab claimed it was one of “the most isolated cities in the nation.” Today, even though it sits as the hub on a wheel of magnificent natural wonders, with numerous national parks and outdoor destinations a short hop, skip, and jump in every direction, and with a major state highway bisecting the town bringing countless visitors through annually, this “city” of about 4,000 residents still feels cut off from the rest of the nation, both literally and figuratively. With Springdale to its west and Moab to its east, both flourishing from several decades of tourist boom, Kanab still seems like a forgotten step-child – unwilling or unable to catch up.

That’s not to say the town is all doom and gloom for travelers passing through looking for a decent meal and a good drink as they explore the desert (the former somewhat easier to find than the latter), or that Kanab should want to embrace the sophisticate growth that has affected, and some would say infected, Springdale and Moab. It’s just that this sleepy town (with the exception of all the traffic flying down Highway 89) doesn’t really seem to have a sense of what it is and what it might be.

Two weeks staying in Kanab – “A Western Classic” – gave us ample opportunity to explore and sample its offerings, more than once usually. We met some inspiring people, we ate some good food at times, but on the whole we shrugged our shoulders and said “meh” a lot. Here, then, is an incomplete rundown of a few of the places we visited.

The Rock Stop – Yes, we know. The Rock Stop is not really in Kanab, but twenty-five miles north up Highway 89 in Orderville. Still, it was one of the highlights of our stay. Great coffee from a great proprietor. Stop in and say hello, learn about the area’s geology (and purchase a memento or two of it), drop a pin on the world map in back showing where you’re from while marveling at where everyone else calls home, and step out back to say “hi” to Lilly and Violet, the two resident goats. This is what makes traveling so engaging for me.

Flagstone Studios – Small “studio apartments” where we stayed during our time in Kanab, each has a small kitchen and for the price the pros outweighed the cons. Those cons? A window air conditioner that kicked on every ten minutes and sounded like a jet flying by, necessitating earplugs in order to sleep. But at least ours worked, which wasn’t the case for a very unhappy older couple in an end unit (although theirs did come with a surprise package of mystery meat in the freezer). Cleaning costs extra and you only get one small roll of toilet paper, so be prepared to make a store run for essentials besides food. Also, if you wash the bed sheets try to close your eyes when looking at the soiled state of the mattress you (and countless others) have been sleeping on.

Co-Dependency Anonymous meeting. Please ask for permission before attending.

Co-Dependency Anonymous meeting. Please ask for permission before attending.

Kane County Office of Tourism – Very friendly people who will go out of their way to offer suggestions and advice, including places to avoid (though understandably spoken in hushed tones), which we very much appreciated. Their digital board out front was also a source of giggles.

The Rocking V Café – Probably Kanab’s most “upscale” restaurant. A good albeit expensive menu, friendly if busy staff, and an aggressively nice owner, this was probably the best proper restaurant we ate at while in Kanab, although after talking with locals it sounds like the only people who can afford to eat there on a regular basis are those passing through. Make reservations. You’re not missing much by avoiding Rafters Gallery upstairs.

Little Hollywood Museum – A number of westerns were filmed in and around Kanab, including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Planet of the Apes, The Lone Ranger, and Gunsmoke; which is why one of Kanab’s nicknames is “Little Hollywood.” The museum by the same name boasts “lovingly preserved” sets from some of those movies, along with a giant gift shop and adjoining dining hall that apparently puts on Old West themed shows. We felt very alone when we wandered through Little Hollywood Museum. All alone, in fact, although it felt like there were eyes always on us. The sets were dilapidated and lackluster, the gift shop was fine if you happened to be looking for a cheap cowboy hat or a wolves-howling t-shirt, and the dining hall apparently is only opened up to entertain visiting tour buses full of old people. All got filed under CKE (Classic Kanab Experience) – something we’d encounter often during our stay.

Escobar’s Mexican Restaurant – This place came highly recommended by locals. Ice cold Coronas and a decent if unsurprising menu, the restaurant is family-run and a great place to cool off after a long day in the sun.

Lotsa Motsa Pizza – Which is Kanab for “cheap pizza that is just ‘okay’ but you won’t complain because it really is inexpensive.” Really nothing against this place. But then again, nothing really for it. CKE.

Calvin T's BBQ & Saloon. Cowboy Dick Cheney says: "Enjoy it or I'll shoot you in the face!"

Calvin T’s BBQ & Saloon. Cowboy Dick Cheney says: “Enjoy it or I’ll shoot you in the face!”

Calvin T’s Smoking Gun BBQ & Saloon – Nestled on a bend of Highway 89 in the middle of town, Calvin T’s for me signified much of what was good about Kanab and much of what wasn’t. A giant place sporting its own Old West movie set and gift shop – exact same “alone but being watched” experience as the Little Hollywood Museum – the BBQ here was quite good, somewhat reasonably priced, with decent service from a young seemingly Eastern European waitress who hobbled around on a broken leg (an employment and medical predicament we felt horrible about). Calvin T’s also claims to have the only “bar” in Kanab, where I watched a young bartender appear to put Mrs. Dash in a martini. Really. Which brings to mind one of those essential rules when imbibing in unknown environs: If the bartender doesn’t look like they would drink what you’re asking for, don’t order it; and, in general, stick to things in bottles or shot glasses. Between the indoor dining area and the bar is a small stage where nightly a lone cowboy strums and sings with a full but non-present band backing him. Yes, weird. Lonesome cowboy songs (mostly Willie Nelson covers) with a taped backing band. Solo country karaoke. Sometimes the singer would stop playing guitar during a song but you’d never know it by the sounds coming out of the PA. Topping off the Calvin T’s experience was the fact that the namesake of the restaurant (whom we never met) looked suspiciously like Dick Cheney – which would explain a lot, really. A classic Classic Kanab Experience if ever there was one.

Houston’s Trail’s End – A fine if unmemorable western “homestyle” restaurant with a few too many possessives in its name.

Angel Village at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary – Nestled in the middle of Best Friends’ expansive property, located a few miles north of Kanab, Angel Village hands down had the best food we ate while in Kanab. It certainly was the least expensive and had the best view. Angel Village is Best Friends’ dining hall, where employees and guests can dine on an enormous vegetarian and vegan-friendly buffet for a mere $5. The choices are ample, the food is absolutely delicious, and the view from the patio there overlooking Kanab Canyon (which BF have renamed Angel Canyon) is second-to-none.

Panaramic view of Angel Canyon from Angel Village. (Click on the icon to embiggen the panorama.)

Spurs Grill LLC – Unless you’re on a tour bus and have been given no other opportunity, you probably should avoid this place. And even if you’re part of a tour group and you get dumped here, you’re better off walking somewhere else. Anywhere else. Spurs Grill LLC (yes, LLC) appears similar to Calvin T’s: a large BBQ joint with ample seating. It was just around the corner from where we were staying but thankfully we did a little internet research before deciding to avoid this place. I only bring it up because Spurs’ numerous reviews on both Yelp and Trip Advisor are worth reading as much for their entertainment value as they are for their DANGER! AVOID! significance. Off-color food, off-color beer, and an off-color owner threatening retaliation against those who’ve taken to social media to describe their dining “experience” are just a few of the highlights past patrons have had to endure. Part of me really wanted to visit Spurs for the novelty of it and in the hopes it all would be (unfortunately) true, but the better part of me pulled that decision up short of actually acting on it and avoiding what probably would’ve been the penultimate CKE during our stay. A wise choice, no doubt.

Dog House Tavern: our local while staying in Kanab.

Dog House Tavern: our local while staying in Kanab.

The Dog House Tavern – If The Rock Stop was how we began most of our days, more often than not the Dog House was how we wound down the evenings. Run by a curmudgeonly-on-the-outside but extraordinarily-sweet-on-the-inside woman named Valerie, the Dog House started off as a vegan-specific food store that Val expanded into a pub in the hopes that the beer end of slinging things would provide extra cash the store wasn’t always bringing in. That didn’t up being the case, and there’s a chance the Dog House will be closed by the time you read this. I really hope not, because Val is one of those great people quietly trying to make a living in a way that doesn’t require playing the tourist “game” – a statement I realize might appear to be in conflict with my opening sentiments about Kanab. Even if Val’s menu seemed a bit odd to me – “vegan food for carnivores” as she put it – and I’d preferred to have little more actual vegetables on the menu and fewer wholly unnatural meat substitutes, I felt really at home at the Dog House trading light-hearted and self-deprecating barbs back and forth with her. On any given evening there would be staff from Best Friends hanging out, guides from local expedition outfitters, and random ragtag people like me and Kim, all while Val’s sweet pooch Katie wandered to and fro. Some evenings, however, there wouldn’t be anyone, and you could see the toll it’s taken on Val. I sincerely hope she finds a way to keep both the vegan grocery as well as the bar end of things going; Kanab needs more places like hers. Places that reflect what I’ve always thought of as the true character of the West and those who lived there: passionate, fearless, committed to doing their thing and not play dress-up in order to chase tourist money. Please stop in if you’re in town and tell Val we said hello.

(Click on a pic to embiggen and view the full gallery.)
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