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Stop by our Tourism Office & Visitor Center for information on St. George, Zion National Park, and other attractions. It’s the perfect first stop for visitors to the area to discover something new, ask questions and pick up materials.

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How to Experience the Thriving Arts & Culture of Greater Zion

Written by Jenny Willden from RootsRated Media Utah Office of Tourism

From Classic Broadway Style Plays to Contemporary Art, Greater Zion Has it All

Arriving near sunset, my partner and I take our seats facing the 1,500-foot red rock cliffs at Southern Utah’s Tuacahn Amphitheater, the rocks glowing in the magic hour light. We’ve just driven in from Salt Lake City, but the bustling energy of the city quickly fades, and we find ourselves enchanted as a tale as old as time unfolds on stage. The classic story of Beauty and the Beast comes to life as actors dressed as candlesticks and clocks sing and dance to “Be Our Guest,” their voices echoing against the canyon walls.

One of three Broadway-caliber live shows that Tuacahn hosts each year, the dramatic desert setting breathes new magic into this old fairytale. Beauty and the Beast, Annie, and The Count of Monte Cristo will soon grace this stage, and no performance disappoints in this spectacular space.

From the freeway, it’s easy to mistake this hamlet for a strip mall-filled border town, but visitors discover that St. George, Utah, boasts a flourishing art and culture scene that beckons exploration. From theater to galleries to a thriving music scene, this red rock utopia is more alive than ever.

And the secret is out. St. George’s booming population has made it the fastest-growing metro area in the nation, with retirees and young adventurers alike relocating to this desert paradise that’s a short drive from Zion National Park, vast red rock wilderness and conservation areas and a cluster of Utah’s best state parks. But you don’t have to move here to get in on the action. St. George’s spectacular landscapes, small town charm, and big city amenities make it an incredible place for an artistic escape.

Tuacahn Center For the Arts
Tuacahn Center For the Arts

Broadway in the Desert: Tuacahn Center for the Arts

Built in the shadow of tall red rock sandstone cliffs, Tuacahn puts on Broadway productions in a dramatic outdoor amphitheater near Snow Canyon State Park. The word “Tuacahn” means “Canyon of the Gods,” and its stunning rugged backdrop enhances any production. Catch musical performances by leading local and national acts on the outdoor stage through November, long after northern Utah’s temperatures have gone cold.

Return to Tuacahn on Saturday mornings for a weekly market featuring local art, crafts, food, and free live entertainment. An ever-changing set of painters and artisans sell their wares alongside Tuacahn Canyon, and musical acts play until afternoon.

Outdoor theatre

Art Enclave: Kayenta and Coyote Gulch Art Village

To discover the essence of St. George’s authentic art scene, make a beeline for the artist enclave of Kayenta. Creative types have long touted the inspirational benefits of living amidst these soaring cliffs and dazzling panoramas, illustrated by Kayenta’s popularity. Built against stunning varicolored rock walls just seven miles from St. George, Kayenta bustles with galleries, studios, festivals, retail shops, gourmet food, a yoga studio and even a spa — just in case you need a vacation from your vacation.

Venture into Juniper Sky Gallery to see wind sculptures and Mystic Canyon Light for outdoor landscape photography. Find impressive ceramic works at Zia Pottery Studio.

Refuel and caffeinate amidst a xeriscaped desert (one that needs very little irrigation) at Xetava Gardens Café, a Kayenta coffee shop and kitchen surrounded by lava fields. Then catch a brilliant sunset in the sculpture garden or stroll around the meditative Desert Rose Labyrinth built by Kayenta locals.

Art Events: Center for the Arts and Festivals

Catch performances by musicians, comedians, artists, and actors at the new, multifunctional Center for the Arts in Kayenta Art Village. Completed in 2017, the spacious center encompasses 11,000 square feet along with an outdoor plaza.

Stay for one of the region’s signature art festivals and gallery walks. High temperatures mean summers are slower here, making the art-strolling season a reason to visit during the cooler months of March (St. George Art Festival), April (Street Painting Festival) and October (Art in Kayenta Festival).

Close up view of pottery and paintings on display.
Dave West Art Gallery

St. George is home to 16 museums and galleries, and one of its best served as a simple sugar-beet-seed storage facility before being transformed into an art museum. Through the work of the community, St. George Art Museum opened in 1997 in this restored space. Today, the museum boasts a collection of regional and local art exhibits as well as rotating collections and events like date nights and book clubs.

For relaxation amidst classic and contemporary art, visit Dixie State University’s Sears Art Museum. The museum features six exhibits each year and an outdoor sculpture garden where you can meditate and meander among reflecting pools and bronze sculptures. Admission to both is always free.

Outdoor Tunes: Concerts in the Park

Casual and free is the name of the game at this outdoor Monday music series. Make it a long weekend and pack a picnic for these family-friendly Concerts in the Park that run from April to September in Vernon Worthen Park. Pick up some picnic fixings and then lounge on a blanket and soak up jazz, rock and roll and R&B under the stars.

Musical Theatre: Brigham’s Playhouse and St. George Musical Theater

Performing arts are popular in this community, and there’s room for more than one theater in town. Beyond the red rocks of Tuacahn, find Brigham’s Playhouse, a family-friendly theater focusing on fun, affordable performances. Its location inside a saloon-styled structure in Washington, just outside St. George, adds to the ambiance, and you can enjoy an old-fashioned root beer or dessert during any performance.

Popular St. George Musical Theatre closed for nearly five years when it lost access to its performance venue, but the company’s return to the old St. George Opera House has been met with enthusiasm. See classics like Annie, The Music Man and Guys and Dolls performed here by talented singing and dancing casts.

Classic Sounds: Southwest Symphony Orchestra

Hear the sounds of Handel’s Messiah and masters like Beethoven and Brahms at performances by the Southwest Symphony Orchestra. This 75-member orchestra calls the Cox Performing Arts Center on the campus of Dixie State University home and is celebrating 36 years of inspiring the community with classic symphonic performances.

Whether you come to St. George for the professional theater, dazzling landscapes, or abundant art galleries, this booming southern Utah destination just four hours from Salt Lake City makes the perfect place for a cultural getaway.

How the Beautiul St. George Came to Be

The history of St. George is just as interesting as it is historic. The Virgin River Anasazi were St. George’s earliest residents, inhabiting the area from approximately 200 B.C. to 1200 A.D. They left behind rock art and ruins of their dwellings. The reason for their departure is unknown to this day. The Pauite tribe arrived between 1100 and 1200 A.D., utilizing the area as a hunting ground for deer, rabbits and other animals. The Pauites also grew crops along the riverbeds, including corn, wheat and melons. In 1776, the Dominguez-Escalante Party became the first recorded European-Americans to visit the area. Fur trappers and government survey parties followed.

In 1854, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the LDS Church, or Mormon Church) established an Indian mission in Santa Clara, two miles northwest of present-day St. George. The church set up experimental farms in the St. George Valley in 1857-1858. In October 1861, church leaders called 309 families to establish the Cotton Mission. After the outbreak of the Civil War that same year, LDS Church President Brigham Young felt it necessary to grow cotton, if possible. Many of these families assigned to settle the area hailed from the South and possessed the necessary skills to grow cotton and establish a community. Paying homage to the nickname of their former home, these settlers called the region “Utah’s Dixie.”

pioneerpark stgeorge family hiking

St. George, Utah was named in honor of Mormon apostle George A. Smith, also known as the “Potato Saint” because he urged early settlers to eat raw, unpeeled potatoes to cure scurvy. Smith did not participate in the town’s settlement, but personally selected many of the pioneers that originally settled the area. The first years in St. George proved difficult for early residents due to challenges such as flooding, lack of culinary water and scorching summer heat. A cotton factory erected soon after the settlers’ arrival produced off and on for approximately 50 years, but overall, cotton proved an unsuccessful venture. The area also produced silk as early as 1874, but its production did not contribute significantly to the area’s economic prosperity. Other early pioneer endeavors included the production of molasses, dried fruit and even wine.

St. George became the county seat of Washington County in 1863.

That same year, construction began on the St. George LDS Tabernacle, which was finished in 1875. In 1871, work began on the St. George LDS Temple, which became a cooperative effort uniting many Southern Utah communities. Mormon Apostle Daniel H. Wells dedicated the temple on April 6, 1877. It was the first temple constructed west of the Mississippi River. Undergoing significant renovations in the late 1930s and mid 1970s, the structure is the longest continuously operated Mormon Temple in the world.

Tabernacleanglemod

In 1911, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of St. George’s settling, the Dixie Academy building was constructed. The LDS Church operated the academy until 1933, when it became a two-year college within Utah’s higher education system. The new Dixie College campus opened in the southeastern corner of the city in the 1960s. Today, Dixie State College boasts an enrollment of approximately 5,200 and features several four-year programs, including Business Administration and Computer and Information Technology.

Today St. George is the largest city in Washington County and the eighth-largest city in Utah. Its metropolitan area is home to nearly 120,000 residents. It has consistently ranked as one of the fastest growing areas in the nation for the last two decades, even surpassing Las Vegas in per capita growth. St. George has become a popular retirement destination as well a respite for those seeking a second home in a more moderate climate. New residents are attracted to St. George’s scenic beauty and its close proximity to unparalleled recreation, including Zion National Park, Lake Powell and Grand Canyon National Park. The history of St. George continues to amaze new travelers to our area. Come and check out this area for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.

The Bright Future and Growth of Greater Zion

If you had suggested to early explorers that one day tourism would be one of the largest private sector employment groups in this area, they would have laughed you off the expedition trail. In the mid-1800s, Parley P. Pratt called this area a “poor and worthless” place. He described it as “a country in ruins turned inside out and upside down by terrible convulsions in some former age.” Today, people from all over the world are flocking to experience this “country in ruins,” and with them come millions of dollars in economic prosperity.

The transition in public perception got started back in 1909. That’s when President William Howard Taft traveled the bumpy roads to the tiny town of Springdale to designate the Zion Canyon area as Mukuntuweap National Monument. Ten years after the dedication, the National Park Service changed the name to Zion National Monument and a short time later, expanded the boundaries to make it a national park. In 2017, Zion became the third most visited national park in the country, welcoming 4.5 million visitors.

Access to air conditioning in the late 1950s played another big part in the transition. Then, in the early 1960s, a group of city fathers came up with the controversial concept of creating a golf course in St. George. Traditional farmers were taken back by the idea, thinking it was a travesty to use vital water for recreation, but in 1965, Dixie Red Hills Golf Course opened and started Washington County’s transformation to a golf destination.

Sporting events, such as the St. George Marathon (1977) and Huntsman World Senior Games (1987), helped change the image of the community to a more active recreational mecca. In 2010, the IRONMAN Triathlon exposed our striking landscapes to a global audience of endurance and outdoor recreation fanatics like never before. By hosting these events, we introduce new visitors to the area, and because of the welcoming attitude of our communities, they want to come back. 80 percent of first-time participants say they plan to return for a vacation.

With the proliferation of social media and internet marketing capabilities, the colors and contrasts of the area are being shared all over the world. People like what they see in southern Utah, and when they come here, they like what they experience. Today, the “poor and worthless” lands of Washington County are some of the most enviable places to visit in the country.

Tourism is a dynamic economic driver that infuses fresh revenue into the local economy from outside sources. It is also a prime component in Governor Herbert’s economic development plan. When visitors stay in local hotels, they pay a transient room tax (TRT). The hotel collects the tax and remits it to the state. Washington County then receives 4.25% of the total cost of the room. In 2017, this amounted to $7. 7 million dollars.

Usage of TRT funds has strict guidelines. To begin with, all TRT spending must be approved by the Washington County Tourism Advisory Board. By law, 2.25% of the revenue must be used by the county tourism office for marketing and advertising efforts to promote the area. These marketing efforts have been extremely successful. Since 2006, TRT revenue has grown by an average of 13% every year. The remaining 2% of the TRT funds are used by the county to help fund tourism­related facilities such as the Dixie Convention Center, St. George Regional Airport, Tuacahn Fine Arts Center, and other tourism-related projects. These types of facilities are crucial to the growth and development of our tourism product. They play a vital role in attracting new visitors and ensuring a positive economic cycle.

The economic benefits of tourism are far-reaching. The continual churn of these dollars in our economy keeps local businesses thriving and creates energy and inspiration in our communities. Tourism revenues create jobs-nearly 8,500 in Washington County­and they spark investment in additional tourism-related assets that residents get to enjoy. For example, if we relied on revenue from local residents only, Washington County could sustain only two golf courses; we currently enjoy twelve. Without tourism, residents wouldn’t have nearly the variety of restaurants, shops, and recreational facilities that they now enjoy. In fact, we would each be paying more taxes to maintain some of the basic services like health, education, and public safety. Studies show that tourism in this area provides $1212 in tax relief per household each year.

At the Washington County Tourism Office, our vision is a community that is energized by nature, inspired by achievement, and rewarded through the opportunities of tourism and outdoor recreation. This vision will influence our decisions as we strive to enhance opportunities for visitors and communities and maximize the tax revenues generated by the exponential growth of tourism. Because our tourism product is like no other, we have a profound responsibility to ensure that the future for residents and visitors is rewarding and successful.

An Interview With One of Greater Zion’s Many Unique Artists

Q) How did you get into landscape photography and what has kept you in it?

A) The outdoors has been my playground for as long as I can remember. Fishing was a huge part of that (Thanks to my Dad) when we moved here, my first thought was this is a desert where am I going to find any fishing?  Fortunately, there are many great still waters, creeks, and a few rivers to fish. I would always carry a camera with me first an old 35mm Minolta, there were so many places to explore sometimes the fishing was put on hold.  It gradually became another pursuit that I enjoy just as much, I guess because its a lot like it.

You’re not always going to come back with a great photo (I would equate it to the equivalent of getting skunked), but when you do, it makes your day. That probably is what has kept me in it, the enjoyment of finding new places and exploring, like fishing you never know what you will find around the next bend or canyon.

Q) How long have you lived in the St. George area and what brought you here?

A) I’ve lived in St. George for about 25 years, we moved here when I was 12 from Washington State. It was a big change in terms of scenery and weather!

My parents have always loved the outdoors, and wanted to raise me and my brother in a similar way to their upbringing. The weather and dynamic landscape were a perfect fit and reason when looking for a new home to explore, didn’t hurt that St. George was a great community as well!

Q) Where is your favorite place to go to take pictures?

A) That’s a tough one, I would have to say the places that are off the beaten path, we get so fixated on the major parks that we sometimes forget there are so many other smaller areas that have so much to offer. I feel that southern Utah has such a great diversity of deserts, and mountains that you could spend a lifetime and not see it all. There are some places that are 15 minutes away, and yet you feel like you’ve been transported to a different world.

Q) Is there any advice you would give to an aspiring landscape photographer?

A) The most important is to get out there, I think bad weather days tend to make the best for photography, we get terrific clouds certain times of the year and they add a another dimension to photographs. Another tool that is extremely helpful are graduated density filters, these allow you to get properly exposed images in situations such as slot canyons or high contrast scenes. There are some great local photography clubs, and there are so many wonderful websites and books to help you learn photography. I would have to say its just like fishing, its mainly time, patience, and a little luck!

Q) What’s your favorite image you’ve created and why?

A) They are all my favorites, but there are certain ones that have special memories of time spent with family and friends. A picture is worth a thousands words and that is no lie!  Me and my family were hiking up in Kolob to a place that I’ve hiked so many times in the past, I told them it looked like we were going to see a wonderful sunset, knowing full well the chances were 50-50, but as the sun began to set we were treated to one of the best sunsets I have ever seen, that made my year!

Q) How would you describe your style of photography?

A) I’ve always loved bold color and light, so timing is most important, the first and last hour of light are best! (again pretty much like fishing!). I like to capture compositions that create depth, I want you to feel as if you could step into the scene.

Q) Where do you draw inspiration from?

A) Simple, Southern Utah! How can you not, I’ve been all over the west, but I feel this tiny corner of the state is jam packed with all sorts of fantastic landscapes.  I’ve always had huge respect for the amazing artists that have captured the area. There are so many wonderful photographers and painters: Alain Briot, David Pettit, David J West, Dave Becker, Joseph Holmes, Michael Fatali, Royden Card, and Roland Lee just to name a few (that list is endless by the way!). Southern Utah is and will always be a special place to me!

In this series, we would like to invite you along as we explore the art scene in the St. George area. With so much natural beauty in the landscape, it should come as no surprise that talented artists of many disciplines have chosen to call this corner of Utah “home”. Kayenta Art Village out in Ivins is a great place to start your exploration of our art scene for the simple reason that so much art resides all together in this amazing setting.

Throughout the art village, you can browse through fine art galleries, visit working art studios and enjoy a glass of wine or beert with top-rated cuisine at Xetava Gardens Cafe. If you plan ahead, you may even be able to catch a performance at the Center for the Arts and Theatre.

Panoramic view of the interior of an art gallery.

Great Variety

This art village is a feast for your eyes. Each gallery has its own identity and focus. Some like Mystic Canyon Light Gallery comprised work by only one artist while other galleries exhibited the works of over 100 different artists, most of them being local. What’s truly special about this art village is that you’ll have the ability to talk with the actual artist and hear their passion and love for their work.

See Artists at Work

There was more than just items to purchase at these galleries. Some of the shops are actually studios for resident artists. They co-op and take turns producing their amazing art right before your eyes. You’ll get to see different artisits create their paintings, pottery, sculptures and more. Seeing someone actually working the paint brush on canvas and watching their work come to life is worth the trip out there all by itself.

Whether you are interested in the artistic process or want to pick up a beautiful piece of art to remember your visit here, the Kayenta Art Village offers something for everyone. It’s also a place that you’ll find yourself returning to each time you visit Greater Zion.

Capturing the Perfect Shot of Zion National Park

It’s an Instagram world we live in, and that means many are looking for that perfect shot of their trip. For a lot of people that visit Zion, there is one perfect shot in particular that they are looking for—an empty Narrows!
However, in this day and age, that shot isn’t easy to get. It takes some real commitment. Let’s take a look at what you’ll have to do on your next trip to pull off that amazing Narrows shot.

Timing

If you plan on chasing after a perfect shot of the Narrows during the spring, summer, or even fall, you will be faced with crowds upon crowds. The secret is out and just about everyone who visits Zion wants to make their way up the Virgin River and into the Narrows. You won’t find a bend of canyon not full of people—during normal hours of the day, that is.

If you want to get a nice long exposure with beautiful, silky water and no random tourists in the frame without doing some extensive photoshop magic, then you have a couple options during peak season.

You can gamble on the first shuttle of the day. This is honestly a pretty safe bet and only requires a little effort to not have other people crowding your shot because only a few of you are in the canyon at this point. Your window is not super long with this strategy, but you can get a few good shots.

Your other option is to get up really early and bike up the whole main canyon and park the bike at the trail head. If you go this route, you could get lucky and have over an hour and half to have the canyon all to yourself!

Bike waiting a rider.

Choice of Season

If you don’t like the idea of getting up an hour or two before dawn, then winter is your best friend. This tactic works great for getting some nice one-on-one time with the Narrows. The downside here is that it’s pretty frigid temperatures for the water, so you have to rent the proper cloths from someone like Zion Outfitters or Zion Adventure Company. You will need dry pants and neoprene socks at the very least. It may be worth it for you to get a full dry suit.

Because winter isn’t a high visitation period—and because of how cold the water is—you will have no trouble finding the shot you want and getting it. You will likely only run into a handful of other people braving the river that day. It’s actually a lot of fun to explore the Narrows in the winter. And with the proper clothes, you won’t mind the cold. We promise.

Having the Right Equipment

There is really only three pieces of equipment I would say are a must for getting a killer shot. The first is a sturdy tripod that won’t have a problem with the moving water of the Virgin River. It’s not a powerful body of water, but if the tripod is flimsy, you may suffer from some camera shake that will ruin your long exposure. That leads to the second piece of equipment, which is a DSLR that has a timer shutter and can do at least a 1-second exposure.

The final piece of equipment will only be necessary if there is a lot of direct sunlight in the canyon. If you have a lot of light in the shot, you will need a neutral density filter to darken your image so a longer exposure isn’t blown out with too much light.

No matter how you chose to do it, getting great shot of the narrows is going to require some creativity and extra effort. Don’t be afraid of the extra work though. It’s a great experience and so rewarding to have the picture you saw in your head and hoped for. Good luck, and happy shooting.

You’re out in this red rock paradise and you want to see and do as much as possible—we get it completely. But, sometimes, the best way to experience St. George is to take a breather and slow down the adventure a little, and this desert garden is a hidden gem sitting right above the city just waiting to be explored.

Red Hills Desert Garden has taken a new approach to the concept of gardens and laid out a huge variety of desert plant life to the tune of 170 different types, all of which are labeled. It’s a plant paradise! For someone who derives so much joy from being able to identify and name different plants, it’s heaven on earth.

This garden is stroller and kid-friendly and features a large fish tank naturally blended into the environment which also is labled and gives some background into the types of fish that live in the tank. An added bonus is that this garden also has some dinosaur tracks preserved and labeled. What kid do you know, including the kid inside yourself, who wouldn’t love to see dinosaur tracks?

This family friendly garden is also an ideal spot for a picnic or to take a break and do some people watching. With benches and swings scattered throughout the garden, you can find the perfect spot and enjoy the view of the plants and the other visitors as they take in the beauty of what this area has to offer.

Between the ATV rides, zip lining, canyon exploring, miles of hiking and a plethora of other things you will be doing, take a minute or two and see this one-of-a-kind desert garden close to the heart of St. George. Sit down, enjoy the fresh air and unique scenery in this quaint garden. Once you’re rejuvinated, another Greater Zion adventure will be calling your name.

Woman pushing stroller through desert botanical garden.