“I can’t get away from the feeling that the destiny of Dixie lies in her climate and her scenery and that perhaps my mission is to help bring this about,” Hafen is quoted in a brief history about Snow Canyon State Park that I obtained from park officials in December 2004.
Hafen’s ideas for a tourist theme park and numerous golf courses were bold long before others saw the potential for this area’s now thriving tourist industry. Considered quixotic by some, Hafen imagined a winter resort community nestled in the red rocks he loved.
The St. George area today – as he imagined it – attracts thousands of new residents in search of the ultimate retirement lifestyle including more than a dozen world class golf courses in a radius of 50 miles.
Snow Canyon has long had a history of human use, beginning with Anasazi Indians and later Paiute Indians who used the canyon for hunting and gathering. In the 1850s, Mormon pioneers found another use for Snow Canyon – as a site for spring cattle grazing and as a grazing stop over between lower and higher elevations, then Snow Canyon State Park John Ibach told me in a Dec. 28, 2004 interview
Ranchers built water catch basins above where the existing park campground is now located, as well as Three Ponds and White Rocks, both spots that are popular with tourists today. These same ranchers built drift fences, comprised variously of wood, wire and rock.
“For a long time, this park was looked at by the pioneers as a place to use the land to survive,” Ibach said. “It offered a great opportunity for the people to use the land for grazing. They used the land because they had to.”
In addition to its early utilitarian use as a spot for grazing, Snow Canyon’s Johnson Arch became a popular picnic spot for early Southern Utah pioneers, Ibach said. During the 1870s and 1880s, Mormon polygamists used it as a place to escape from federal marshals conducting “polyg” raids in the area.
Even back then, people knew the area was a special place, Ibach said.
But state park status would have to wait until 1958 when Snow Canyon became one of the first to be included in a state park system. The park system was created as a direct result of State Senator Orval Hafen, who was the chief sponsor of the legislative bill.
With Hafen in the legislature and the state actively pursuing a state park management system, Washington County Commissioners Rudger Atkin and Jim Lundberg encouraged Harold Fabian of the State Parks Commission to visit Dixie to see an amazing concentration of sandstone cliffs and lava flows located just north of downtown St. George.
The canyon, discovered by early cowboys checking for lost cattle, was named for the Snow family who ranched there, including Erastus and William Snow and their descendants, according to Douglas Alder and Karl Brooks, authors of A History of Washington County.
The park is also named for Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the LDS Church, according to Jan Brannan, author of Utah State Parks; A Complete Recreation Guide.
During Fabian’s visit, the team negotiated the first purchase toward the creation of Snow Canyon State Park. Joseph Blake was paid $20,000, about $22 per acre for his 898-acre ranch in Diamond Valley, including the ranch house, farm building and water from two springs. Blake’s property would be added to the 296 acres already donated by Washington County, then transferred to the state parks commission in 1959. Additional private tracts totaling 640 acres were purchased by the state in 1960. Then on Jan. 9, 1964, the Bureau of Land Management transferred 3,854 acres of federal land to the state of Utah, for a total park acreage of 5,688, according to Alder and Brooks.
“The county and the state began improvements immediately, constructing a water line to the area that is now the Shivwits campground and improving Highway 18 through the park to Ivins. That work was completed in 1977, and hot showers were added to the campground in 1984. The park quickly became a popular site for tourists, in part because it was made famous by many western movies filmed in the park,” Alder and Brooks state.
Dick Hammer, who started Dick’s Café, and motel owner Brown Hail, who became a partner with Hammer in promoting movies to Southern Utah, picked up what the Parry Brothers in Kanab were doing in attracting movie makers to Kanab. Hammer and Hail hired a photographer to shoot film of Snow Canyon and other scenic sites in Southern Utah, then took their film to Hollywood and met with cameramen at the major studios.
Because most films needed various livestock, Hail and Andy Pace contracted for the livestock, according to Alder and Brooks.
The enterprise involved the whole town, with Hollywood companies hiring a number of people in St. George to work as carpenters, painters, and to take bit parts in crowd scenes. The movie industry helped to end Dixie’s isolation as people all over the world began to make the region a prime tourist destination.
Even so, as late as the 1970s, yearly visitation to Snow Canyon State Park remained fairly small.
Ibach said a park manager at that time, told Ibach that the park manager used to go out and flag down people in the park just to have someone to talk to.
That all changed in the 1980s when the St. George area started to experience tremendous growth. At the same time, Snow Canyon State Park became a place that began to see more and more out of state and out of area visitation and interest.
As more people came to the area, visitation continually increased at Snow Canyon State Park where 300,000 visitors visited in 2003.
In addition, Ibach said what was once a remote state park to many, is now an urban park with development occurring on three sides of the park.
Management of this urban park by 2004 had also taken on new characteristics. For instance, to accommodate the privacy needs of campers, rock climbing activities were moved away from the campground area to accommodate for an ever widening usage of the park at that time included: rock climbing, scrambling, hiking, horseback riding, exercise walking on paved trails, rappelling, road bike and mountain biking in the main canyon area.
Each year, a new recreational activity seemed to pop up in the park such as base jumping, street luge, and paragliding, to name a few.
“It is just another way to see the park,” Ibach said in that 2004 interview.
Because the Utah Parks and Recreation is a recreation agency, its only purpose is to provide recreation – today and in the future.
Because 85 percent of the park is located in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, its mission also expanded to include preservation of endangered plant and animal species, and educating the public about uses that are conducive to the mission of the park and the reserve.
Through the park’s naturalist program, some 3,000 school children in the Washington County School District annually visited the park, usually during the spring or fall, during the time Ibach was park manager. At that time, the park also had programs on exotic weed control and revegetation of disturbed areas.
For many other park visitors, the park’s 16 miles of trails in 2004, held great fascination.
Many of the trails have existed for years. Over time, those trails were adopted by park staff as official trails. In the 1980s, several destination trails were constructed in the park including: Hidden Pinyon, Jenny’s Canyon, White Rocks, Butterfly Trail, Padre Canyon, Toe Trail, Scout Cave Trail, Whiptail Trail and a horse trail.
In addition to the trails in the park, several miles of trails in Paradise Canyon connect to those in Snow Canyon State Park.