Kanab, a gorgeous corner of Southern Utah

If you’re a fan of old-fashioned Westerns, it’s a good chance you’ve seen Kanab, Utah. It’s served as the backdrop for such classics for everything from TV’s “Gunsmoke” to John Wayne’s “El Dorado” and Clint Eastwood’s “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

As beautiful as it looks on screen, nothing beats seeing Kanab in person. The red rock mountains seem to arise out of nowhere, ringing in the small town with a uniquely rustic beauty.

Though I’ve been to Kanab about a dozen times, it never gets old. Sure, the drive from Santa Clarita is largely unremarkable desert until you hit St. George, when the landscape morphs to Southwestern vistas of red, orange, green and gold, with flat-topped mountains dotted with random rock formations that look as if they were whittled by the Gods.

It takes about eight hours to get there from the SCV, at least with my canine passengers, Louie and Melvin, who require frequent stops to sniff and take care of business. I take them along because Kanab is one of the most dog-friendly towns in America.

Most of the local lodging (which range from old school, independent motels like The Quail Park Lodge to newer chains like La Quinta and Best Western) accept dogs along with their owners.  And as you drive down the long main street, you’ll see plenty of people walking dogs, often stopping to enjoy a meal alfresco on pet-friendly restaurant patios.

In addition to hotel options, there are lots of homes available to rent on websites like AirBnB and HomeAway. Luckily for me, I have friends with a beautiful cabin who allowed us to stay for a long weekend this September along with my parents and their dog Annie.

The fall is a nice time to visit, allowing you to avoid the 100-plus weather of summer or the snow and frigid chill of winter. Nights and mornings are cool enough for a sweatshirt, while a T-shirt will do for the daytime.

On Friday, my mom and I decided to take a quick sightseeing trip through Zion National Park, which is 32 miles out of town, while dad stayed home to hang with the dogs. Armed with her senior pass that allowed us to get in for free (it’s usually a $35 fee per car), our excitement started to diminish after being stuck in long lines among the two-lane highway.

It did give us some extra time to gorge on the park’s incredible sights, like layers of sculpted rocks, some with green trees poking out, others that looked as they had been spread like frosting before cooling into otherworldly orbs. Deep canyons that went on forever surrounded by majestic mountains that appeared to poke a perfectly cloudless deep blue sky.

The following morning, mom and I woke up early to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the nation’s largest no-kill rescue and home to 1,700 dogs, cats, goats, pigs, horses, bunnies, parrots and various wildlife. Mom has been volunteering there for decades, and took me along for the first time about 15 years ago.

The seed she sprouted that trip has grown into my current job as the public relations specialist for Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles, which allows me to be a voice for the homeless pets at our two adoption centers and advocate for our national goal to end the killing of dogs in cats in America’s shelters by 2025.

So, while I’m fortunate enough to go to the sanctuary every year for work, it was extra special to spend a morning with my mom at the Homer octagon in the Dogtown portion of the sanctuary. There we walked along flat, landscaped trails with ambling seniors like Yoyo, a sweet, peppy chocolate brown girl with perky ears, and spent quality time with Kit and Caboodle, 2-year-old siblings with neurological issues. Toward the end of our shift, we helped put Kit in a wheelchair and Caboodle in a harness so they could meet guests coming through on a tour. They charmed everyone, including two young sisters who gently pet the dogs.

On Sunday, our last full day, mom and I took our dogs for a hike in town at the Squaw Trail, which is located just off the main strip. They loved exploring the short bushes and rocky sections along the Roadrunner path, which had a moderate gain that allowed us a vast view of the entire trail and the ability to touch the roughly textured red rocks as we walked along.

At noon, I headed to meet my friend Christelle at Peekaboo Canyon, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant located in the middle of Flagstone Studios hotel. We both ordered the stellar huevos rancheros – Christelle had the vegan version with tofu, while mine came with two perfectly cooked eggs layered over flavorful black beans, melted cheese, creamy guacamole and fresh salsa. It’s a hefty portion, especially with the crispy home potatoes served with the dish, and very satisfying.

Determined to work off some calories, I wandered the streets, which are lined with photos and plaques of “Little Hollywood Walk of Fame” stars such as Ronald Reagan, Tom Mix and Dale Evans, before popping into the “Little Hollywood” museum. One can meander through the gift shop with locally made art and jewelry and kitschy Western themed knick knacks before heading to the back, where the museum is located – it’s actually an outdoor area with structures and props from movie sets, including a huge horse figurine pulling a wagon where you can perch for fun photo ops.

To celebrate our last night together, my parents and I went to Vermillion 45, a brand-new French bistro with a gorgeous open-air kitchen where chefs busily prepare decadent dishes. Dad and I split a superb French onion soup, complete with crispy crouton and melted cheese before diving our entrees: a decadent duck confit with creamy potatoes au gratin, a perfectly cooked pork chop topped with garlic mashed potatoes, and fragrant roast chicken with herbs served with roasted veggies.

Full and happy, we headed back to the cabin and sat in the yard, watching our dogs frolic as the sun set and cast a golden glow on the red rocks of Kanab one last time. Until next time, at least. Because Kanab is always worth the return trip.

For more information on Kanab, visit www.visitsouthernutah.com.

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