through Utah’s Dixie
At Snow Canyon State Park.
Darley Newman 08/25/2009
Go trail riding in Snow Canyon State Park in St. George,
Utah, and you’ll be riding through Utah’s
When Brigham Young called upon the 300-plus families
to help with the Cotton Mission, they did not go happily.
“I have seen faces look as long as a sectarian
parson’s face,” reported church leader
George A. Smith. But Young hoped their efforts would
help alleviate the cotton shortage back East due to
the Civil War. In October 1861, the Mormons founded
a city north of the junction at the Santa Clara and
Virgin Rivers, which they named St. George after their
Snow led the charge for the Cotton Mission from his
base in St. George, and the park’s name was
changed from Dixie State Park to Snow Canyon State
Park in honor of him.
park sometimes gets missed for the grander Bryce Canyon,
Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks, but it’s
worth the trip because of its striking scenery and
because of outfitter Patty Arnett’s Olympic
I rode out from our meeting point on Itos, an 18-year-old
dark bay Dutch Warmblood, I could feel that I was
on a special horse. Itos, the father of all of the
horses that our small group was riding, placed eighth
in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He’s one of Patty’s
well-bred horses that visiting riders can mount if
they explore the park with Patty.
rode by towering white and red Navajo sandstone canyons,
juxtaposed with dark lava rocks, which attracted Paiute
and Anasazi Indians, Mormon settlers and Hollywood
filmmakers. It also attracts distinctive wildlife,
like the Peregrine Falcon, leopard lizards, gopher
snakes and the giant desert hairy scorpion, said to
be the largest scorpion in North America. Upon learning
of that fact, I was glad that I wouldn’t be
camping out in the park.
we rode along a rocky portion of the trail, Patty
told me that we were passing over an area where lava
once flowed 2.5 million years ago. All around us were
desert plants and wildflowers. The neat thing about
riding in Snow Canyon is that as the sun moves across
the sky, it illuminates different aspects of the canyon
walls; the scenery constantly changes as new colors
are brought to life.
along the ride, Patty and I used our imagination to
see what we could find within the sandstone walls.
We spotted rock formations that looked like bears,
the gopher from Caddy Shack and an eagle head. We
must have had wildlife on the brain, as we approached
an area with falcon nests in the crux of a rock wall.
For bird watchers, this is a highlight of the ride.
most interesting about riding through Snow Canyon
is its geological diversity. I suppose this is why
it would be a good place to film a show like mine,
and Hollywood movies of the past. The Electric Horseman,
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Jeremiah Johnson
are some of the famous Westerns that filmed scenes
in Snow Canyon. As someone who does a lot of filming
on horseback, I could imagine the drama as Paul Newman
and Robert Redford navigated through the sand at Snow
Canyon in the beginning of the chase scene in Butch
Cassidy, when their characters Butch and Cassidy keep
looking back to ask, “Who are those guys?”
we continued our trek, the rocky footing changed abruptly
to fine, deep sand trails. “Yeah, we call this
the Utah Beach. Instead of having ocean, we have a
sea of sage,” Patty jokes. Unlike the beach,
I was enjoying the fact that the park wasn’t
crowded. We hadn’t seen any other riders on
the trail that day or any other people at all. Perhaps
it wasn’t so bad that everyone was flocking
to Bryce and Zion, leaving the small, but satisfying
Snow Canyon all to us. We rode through a sandy wash
and were lucky enough to see a beautiful white flower
blooming in the crux of the rock wall. I find it amazing
that such delicate things like the roots of a small
flower can take hold and thrive in such harsh environments.
This is the power of nature.
climbed up to a high spot to enjoy views of the north
end of the park with its pink and white canyons in
the distance. As we rested there, I thought about
the Mormons who unhappily headed to their mission.
If only they could have seen the beauty that is Utah’s