GET OUT: Utah State of Mind

By on April 26, 2016

Smiles abound in St. George—a haven for friendly folk.

TOP: Great car camping outside of town. BOTTOM LEFT: Prolific exploration of nooks and crannies. BOTTOM RIGHT: Limestone crags abound. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

TOP: Great car camping outside of town. BOTTOM LEFT: Prolific exploration of nooks and crannies. BOTTOM RIGHT: Limestone crags abound. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – I had the opportunity for a brief road trip last week but the weather looked heinous. Given that it looked rotten in all other directions within a 10-hour drive, my friend suggested St. George, Utah as a destination. I gave in to my perplexed attitude and thought, “Why not?” I’ve only driven by the town once and remembered it being a blink of strip malls on I-15. However, after spending a few days in the area, I realized what a wonderful and nice destination St. George really is.

Upon my arrival, the first couple hours were a bit extreme. It took some time to acclimate to the drivers of St. George. They were completely unpredictable, stopping often with their cars halfway in the road and halfway in the gas station pullout. The turning area is elevated ever so slightly, and it seemed that people preferred to creep over the bump in the path at a snail’s pace. Anywhere, even a green light, was a possible stopping zone, making defensive driving skills an absolute necessity. After a couple training rounds I got used to the unpredictability, even joining with the drivers in their efforts. Once I got to interact with the people outside of their cars, the town quickly grew on me.

Wherever we wandered, whether it was a gas station or a grocery store, the townspeople there were the nicest people I have ever met! Everywhere was like the Four Seasons. The friendly values were even reflected in the plethora of free camping sites just one mile outside of town. Climbing was a goal for the trip, so we used the site as a base camp and ventured to other places to climb.

We explored Snow Canyon State Park (in any other area besides Utah it would likely qualify as a national park) and paid the six-dollar entry fee. The attendant stepped out and asked, “Are you guys going climbing?”

We affirmed our tentative plan, so she whipped out a map and told us exactly where to park, where to find the best climbing access, and also gave us information about what areas were currently closed due to nesting birds.

“Have a wonderful time out there,” she said as we drove away.

We got to the base of a short, multi-pitch climb and quickly discovered that there were other people climbing as well. They greeted us with smiles, and asked about our intentions to climb the route. At this point, we were expecting a long wait, or having to go to a Plan B, but no, the niceness continued.

“We don’t want to hold you guys up,” they said. “We have some visiting friends that want to top rope this too. Why don’t you guys just go ahead of us?”

Never in my life have I experienced such kind and selfless climbers. I began wondering what was in the water.

A long day of glorious climbing worked up our appetites, so we splurged on Thai food. Dirty and sweaty, we made our way to Benja’s Thai Garden. Our hunger prevailed over making time to shower. The hostess greeted us warmly when we walked up.

“Thank you so much for coming in! I was admiring your beautiful dress from the window,” she said.

I kind of felt like the entire town was filled with encouraging friends I had simply yet to meet in my life. 

We also explored a limestone climbing area in the Utah Hills. There were a few other people there and, unlike Jackson, where people grimace when strangers approach the “local crag,” the people at the crag welcomed us. They asked us what kind of climbs we were looking for, and directed us to great warm-ups at a grade that we were looking for. As the locals warmed up on 5.13’s, their positive energy encouraged us on our 5.9. Even the extreme athletes here have no judgment on people of differing ability levels.

During this peaceful time exploring a plethora of limestone, sandstone and basalt cliffs, I began to wonder what Jackson would be like if people acted like they do in St. George. “Hey! Welcome to town. Come to my secret powder stash!” could be as common as, “What did you ski today?”

I’m not exactly sure what makes some towns more welcoming than others but it sure does feel nice to be a visitor amongst nice locals. PJH

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