Kanab is a historic Utah town that is located near the Arizona border. This location is surrounded by many National Parks, wilderness areas and National Monuments. The little town of Kanab has many nicknames and slogans that have been promoted through the years. Kanab is known as “The Gateway to Outdoor Adventure” because it is located next to the vast Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument wilderness area, but most people simply refer to Kanab as “Little Hollywood” because so many classic western movies and television shows were filmed here.
During the spring and summer season, thousands of tourists visit the National Parks in Utah and in recent years these primary vacation destinations have been plagued by overcrowding problems. The Zion and Arches National Parks have been running at maximum capacity during the last two years and this has caused many visitors to become frustrated while on vacation. Those who neglected to reserve a campsite well in advance end up having to scramble for vacancies at surrounding motels. On weekends and holidays it can be difficult to even find a parking space during the peak tourist season.
Instead of adding to the congestion problem and frustrating moments at the two most popular Utah National Parks during the peak vacation season, the better option is to explore other scenic areas in southern Utah that are far less crowded. For example, the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument offers over 1.8 million acres of Southwestern wilderness to explore. An SUV or Jeep is all it takes to travel the long dirt roads in Escalante to some of the most pristine scenic areas in the west. Primitive camping is allowed just about anywhere in BLM territory and the panoramic views of Escalante Grand Staircase are spectacular to see.
There are many nice little towns that are located along the border of Escalante Grand Staircase that offer RTV rentals, camping gear and plenty of good eats. Kanab is the most popular gateway to the southern end of Escalante and this town offers everything that visitors could possibly need for a camping expedition. Several dirt access roads that go deep into this wilderness area are also close by.
Kanab is also a great Southwestern destination in its own right. This town has a long history that dates back to the 1870s, when a few Mormon pioneer families settled in these parts. Kanab is like a time capsule of old west history, because the building styles from every era during the last century have been preserved and the western architectural theme continues in modern times.
When I first visited Kanab, I was traveling from the Glen Canyon and Lake Powell back to Las Vegas, via Cedar Breaks National Monument. Traveling west on U.S. Highway 89 along the southern edge of Escalante was as picturesque as a scenic drive could be, then all of a sudden I saw a billboard sign that said “Abra Kanabra.” I actually pulled the car over, because I did not have clue as to what the message on the billboard meant. I honestly never heard of Kanab before, so I could not piece it together. After looking on the map, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a town nearby called Kanab that offered some creature comforts in this vast desolate region. Just like magic, the “Abra Kanabra” sign started to make sense!
When I arrived in Kanab, I was nearly licking my chops in anticipation of getting something good to eat while taking a break from the road. The first place that caught my eye was a rustic old west style shack called the Moon Saloon next to the 1940s style Crescent Moon Movie Theater. As it turned out, the Moon Saloon actually was the movie theater snack bar and it had outdoor seating. The Moon Saloon menu offers good snack food, sandwiches, sundries and soft drinks. I certainly got my fill and relaxing at one of the picnic tables was a really nice way to wind down after driving a long distance. I also got the opportunity to talk to the operator of the movie theater and she told me all about how the theater features many old classic westerns were filmed in this historic town. She also pointed out a few commemorative plaques of the famous western stars Virginia Mayo and Clint Walker, then mentioned that the Little Hollywood Museum was located a little further on down the line.
Fans of old western films and TV shows will simply fall in love with the idea of visiting Kanab! The TV series Death Valley Days and the outdoor scenes in Gunsmoke were all filmed in Kanab. The John Wayne classic film Stagecoach was filmed in this town and so was Clint Eastwood’s famous Outlaw Josie Wales. Old episodes of The Lone Ranger were even filmed in Kanab too. This may be difficult to imagine, but even parts of the classic sci fi film Planet Of The Apes were put together here in this town back in Charlton Heston’s heyday too. Kanab truly is the Hollywood of the old wild west!
Old western movie memorabilia can be seen all over town and autographed photos of the old western stars can be seen in nearly every business on main street. The old west style main street area offers plenty of shopping and good restaurants. Everything from antique shops and trading posts to great steakhouse restaurants and old fashioned diners can be found in downtown Kanab. Downtown is also where the Little Hollywood Museum can be found. This tourist destination is a combination museum, trading post and chuckwagon cookout event, so it simply does not get any better than this if you are a classic western movie fan!
Little Hollywood is not only what makes Kanab famous. In the early 1900’s a drifter came to Kanab from Mexico with stolen information about the location of Montezuma’s Treasure. Apparently a priest had a map that led straight to the huge cache of gold, which just happened to be hidden somewhere near Kanab. Everybody had gold fever back in those days and before long, the entire community was searching for Montezuma’s Gold and digging holes all over the region. Interest in finding the treasure soon declined when not even a trace could be found, other than some old Spanish explorer items that were found in a sealed cave. In modern times, the story of Montezuma’s Gold still draws a few treasure hunters to Kanab each year, but nobody has ever found the mysterious stash in this vast wilderness area.
Just on the outskirts of town on Highway 89 going west is where the Moqui Cave can be found. If caves could talk, the Moqui Cave could speak volumes about the history of this region. This red sandstone cave provides millions of years of natural history information that can be learned just by taking a tour. Starting about 1,000 years ago, the Pueblo people and local tribes used the Moqui Cave as a cool food storage facility. When the pioneers rolled through in the 1800s, this cave was a haven for moonshiners. In modern times, the Moquis Cave caters to the tourist trade and it definitely is an interesting place to visit.
The landscape surrounding Kanab is what makes this destination so special. Dramatic canyons, green trees and red sandstone bluffs that touch the cobalt blue sky add to the visual charm. Maybe the colorful landscape is the reason why Kanab became the Little Hollywood of the old west. It is that same imagery in the old classic western films that made Kanab so familiar to so many people that have never even heard of this place. Kanab is a friendly little old west town that is easy to like and this scenic destination deserves a place on the lifetime travel bucket list. Because Kanab can be seen in so many western shows and movies, it is easy to keep this historic place in mind many years after paying a visit!