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Photo by Bobbie Green

Cowboy (Movie) Heritage in Kanab, Utah

The little town of Kanab, Utah has been doing things the cowboy way for a lot of years.  Although the sleepy little town springs to life each year in the month of August to celebrate its “Little Hollywood” heritage, it's far more than a once-a-year destination.

Western Legends Festival

For 10 years this town has hosted the now famous Western Legends offering tourist a rooten-tooten fun filled look at yesteryear and the days of the cowboys.

Ten years ago the folks living in this real cowboy country town -- spearheaded by three of the towns business men, Robert Houston, Dennis Judd and Lyle Heyborne -- decided to give others a look at the “Reel Cowboys” they came to know and love. The movie industry had long been using their area to make the great old Westerns, and these men wanted to help preserve their western heritage. Although no longer a major film location, each year over 5000 visitors make their way to this little town to celebrate the movies and the stars from the past.

Visitors today enjoy a pretty efficiently run event with plenty to do and see.  Each year they have a line-up of past and present cowboy heroes mingling with the visitors. There are panel discussions with questions and answer sessions as well as one-on-one conversations and autographing. I could not decide who was enjoying these mixers more the tourist or the guest stars.

This is also your chance to test your gun slinging quick draw skills, hear the cowboy poets, watch or participate in the fiddle contest, ride in a real covered wagon. See the local Native Americans dressed in their regalia performing their dances.

The western-days parade is kicked off by running a live herd of cattle down Main Street like the old days. The wagon train that began 3 days earlier in Alton Utah enters town. Interested visitors can sign-up ahead of time and participate in the three-day wagon train. This is a real non-motorized cowboy parade, short but definitely unique.

Local folks participate by displaying their antique tractors, engines, cars, wagons and such. The Crescent Moon Theater shows the movies that were filmed in the area, usually ones featuring the stars that are present. They feature year round vintage westerns. 

Photo by Bobbie Green The two stages keep free entertainment going all day from legendary country western singers to the local cloggers. Along with the street fair food vendors and the local restaurants keep visitors well fed.  The historic Trails Inn was amazing, originally noted for catering on location to the film industry, this Western themed restaurant is keeping up its reputation by continuing to be well prepared and able to offer reasonably priced quality meals to a continuing packed house with quick and efficient service. I was impressed.

There are many motels and B & Bs from which to choose. We stayed at the Quail Park Lodge -- a very small older motel recently purchased and beautifully refurbished while keeping its retro style that very much fits in with “Little Hollywood” heydays.  If small and quaint is your style you will love it here with friendly staff and fluffy comfy bedding. They are a pet friendly motel and while we were there they presented a $1000.00 donation check to Best Friends Animal sanctuary. While there one can rent a vintage bicycle to ride about town. Another choice is the The Bob-Bon Inn -- a cute manicured log cabin style motel.

Visit the original Parry Lodge where the stars stayed during the filming. The Parry lodge is still in its beautiful picturesque form and still hosting visitors. Mosey over to the lobby and view their historic collection of autographed celebrity photos.  From mid-April thru mid-October their Old Barn becomes a movie theater showing Kanab classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Friday and Saturday evenings they have concerts in the high school auditorium with well known headliners. This year it was Riders in the Sky and Ian Tyson. The legendary Johnny Western was there entertaining visitors day and night with song and stories about the western movie heydays.

A visit to Western Legends is a fun unique getaway. I spoke to a couple from Switzerland who planned their vacation to the U.S. around this event; apparently, cowboy heroes are loved by every one everywhere.

A Great Place to Visit Anytime

A stopover in Kanab is always a treat even when Western Legends is not going on, the area is so scenic. The old movie set of Gun Smoke is located just outside of town, sadly it is in bad need of repair and efforts to restore it are being hampered by environmental groups.

Frontier Movie Town also site of many movies is located on Hwy 89 in town and is open to the public year round. Cowboys and cowgirls can golf at the Coral Cliffs 9-hole Golf Course located at the east end of town.

Photo by Bobbie Green The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is only 5 miles out of town on Hwy 89 and it is a fabulous place to visit. Besides being beautiful what has been accomplished there is unbelievable. Best Friends is the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the world. They give tours year-round.

Just off Hw 89 is the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and campgrounds, with hundreds of trail miles for off road vehicles or one can build castles in the pink sand.

In Fredonia is Pipe Springs National Monument, a natural desert oasis located in the historic travel corridor for our nomadic ancestors. The Mormon Fort is built over the natural springs and tours are given with much information about the history of the area. Your National Parks card gives you free admission.  

Another close by attraction is the Moqui Cave. It is privately owned and has the largest collection of dinosaur tracks in southern Utah. The large cave was originally used as a nightclub with the bar still intact; it also sports an extensive collection of fluorescent mineral displays and a large collection of Native American artifacts. The owner is well versed on local history and shares his knowledge with his guest.  

Other Events

In May the town is host to the annual Greyhound Gathering. Owners of retired racing greyhounds bring them to Kanab where they have a week-end of dog participating activities.

Start practicing your quick draw skills for this years event, saddle up the Honda and mosey on up there. Kanab Utah is located on Hwy 9 near the Arizona border just 17 miles from Fredonia and has established itself as an all-American year round place to visit. 

For more information visit Kane County Travel Council or call 800-733-5263



Bobbie Green grew up in southern California. She is a freelance writer and a member of the North American Travel Journalist Association. She has been published in various Senior Wire Publications, The Desert Valley Times, Nevada Magazine, Mesquite Local.com, Travel World International, and Leisuretravelreports.com. Besides enjoying her love of travel by doing it as often as she can, she enjoys photography and attends numerous travel trade functions. Presently she is enjoying desert living in Mesquite Nevada.

© 2009