What does a determined tourist in St. George, Utah, do for fun? On earlier visits I’d hiked many of the spectacular national parks near-by such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capital Reef, and Canyonlands, to name just a few. I had also indulged in some geo-caching in near-by Snow Canyon with its striking combination of black lava rock and red sandstone.
But on this trip, the question posed was whether St. George could be enjoyed as a destination and not merely a pass-through town on the way to Las Vegas and various national parks. What attractions would help define the city for us? We had twenty-four hours to spend and only the Internet to guide us. Soaking up some local history seemed like a good starting place.
Brigham Young’s winter home
Our visit to the historically accurate restoration of the winter house of Brigham Young, involved the story of the man who led settlers from Illinois and Missouri to the Great Basin in order for his people, known as Mormons, to escape religious persecution.
The house was filled with period pieces that shed light on the domestic life of the time. While visiting the kitchen, the docent told us that the two greatest causes of death to women in that locality during the nineteenth century were childbirth & fire. You can see two buckets filled with water and sand kept constantly at the ready beside the old coal stoves. The clothes iron shown here was heated by placing hot coals inside the spigot.
Have you seen china soup bowls like these two before? Their hollow bottoms hold hot water for keeping the food warm on cold days. Take a look at the pointed spoons! And here I’d always thought knives and forks were the dangerous items on a table.
The parlor held the luxury of a piano shaped exactly right to fit in a wagon for the overland trek. Upstairs we found a little spindle doll made by Thomas Cottam, a pioneer carpenter who specialized in building some of the chairs found in the home.
Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum
We had similar expectations for understanding the lives of the early pioneers through visiting the historical house belonging to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. Unfortunately, it was like trying to discover history by reading a card catalogue. The building held a huge number of artifacts crammed into a very small space, with all historical context lost in an overwhelming inventory of goods.
Here’s an example of the problem. A small box holding strange-shaped rock-like figures about an inch or two long caught my eye. When I peered more closely, a typed card identified the artifacts as being children’s toy animals made of bones. But the exhibit was dwarfed completely by everything else alongside it.
Think what could be done to fire a child’s interest in the history of the area if s/he were to discover these bone animal toys in a meaningful way. The child might begin to understand what it felt like to have no possessions other than the clothes s/he was wearing, or what it might feel like to be small in a vast desert environment where a bone yard of dead animals that had bleached for years under a hot summer sun was the best source for play things.
The best thing to come out of our trip to that museum was finding Angelica’s, the Mexican restaurant across the street. We thoroughly enjoyed the salsa bar, which turned everything we ordered from good and plain into delicious and delectable. We’re coming back to Angelica’s on our very next trip through town!
Kayenta Art Village
We spent the afternoon at Kayenta Art Village, aka the Coyote Gulch Art Village located in Ivins, which is part of the St. George Metropolitan Area. The nearby Kayenta community of homes is located in an arid region of sand, stone and scrub brush below sheer rock cliffs, sometimes red, sometimes grey and black, but always stark.
The structures are all built to a code that blends with the site-lines of the surrounding protected landscape. They must be one-story in height, and made of materials with colors to blend in with the plants and rocks of the area. We visited a home built to these specifications and found it a place of unique beauty and repose. The colors and scents of the desert washed over us in the architecturally minimalist environment, producing a profound sense of calm.
So, is it worth your while to be a tourist in St. George, Utah? An unequivocal yes.