Upset Expectations in Kanab, UT

Check-out time at the Zion Lodge is eleven, and our daily goal is to hit the road before then, even though today’s destination – the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – is a mere 107-mile drive. So when we return from Weeping Rock, we load up the car and take the winding, dramatic Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, past the “Checkerboard Mesa,” scored horizontally and vertically as if the whole rocky mass had been mashed long ago against a sieve.

Our goal is to hit the town of Kanab for lunch. Jim is a little reluctant to spend tourist money in Kanab. He thinks he remembers an anti-gay ordinance passed there a few years ago. The hard truth, however, is that the lunch options between Zion and the North Rim are extremely limited.

The law Jim remembers was a resolution drafted by the Sutherland Institute of Utah and sent to all Utah muncipalities. Kanab was the only city that actually adopted it, in 2006. It reads in part as follows:

“We envision a local culture that upholds the marriage of a man to a woman, and a woman to a man, as ordained of God … We see our homes as open to a full quiver of children, the source of family continuity and social growth. We envision young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers; and we see young men growing into husbands, home-builders, and fathers.”

Whether or not the resolution – which in any case was symbolic and without legal force –is still on the books, the 2009 Master Plan for Kanab echoesthe resolution in its vision statement:

“Kanab was settled and resettled by Mormon pioneers first in 1864, and finally
in 1870, when a colony of settlers arrived mostly from Cottonwood and Salt
Lake City. It is from this rich pioneer heritage that core values were formed in
Kanab and are evidenced today by conservative Judeo-Christian values which
include traditional family values within a friendly environment.”

The rest of the Master Plan focuses on preserving Kanab’s historic buildings, while creating “mixed use” and green spaces downtown. In fact, Main Street does have a distinct, old-timey feel, especially the intriguingly old-but-eclectic-looking Rocking V Café on the corner of Main and West Center Streets. During a feverish search on my AAA smart-phone app, I manage to direct us there in the hope of eating a real, locally made lunch. Alas, the Rocking V is open only for dinner and closes for the season in November. We have to make do with Subway, my fast-food haven when we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere. (The following day, on the way back from the North Rim, we stop again at the Subway, where we mingle with an haute-bourgeoise-looking French family, Hispanic workers and the teenage Subway employees, one of whom is sporting an off-the-shoulder top — not what you expect in a “traditional family values” kind of town.)

The owners of the Rocking V, Victor and Vicky Cooper, are transplants and were backers of the “Everyone Welcome Here” campaign organized to counter the “natural family” resolution. Apparently the Kanab City Council is less than transparent in its deliberations (see the current controversy over a permit for a coal gasification plant in town). So many business people who make money from tourism were unhappy about the resolution, especially when groups began boycotting the town. Local businesses put “Everyone Welcome Here” decals in their windows, although the decals produced their own controversy. The original ones showed a row of rainbow-colored little people linking hands, causing residents to debate whether the little people were gay. Victor Cooper is currently running for city council on an open government platform.

The Coopers are proof that this landscape attracts all sorts of people from all sorts of places (Victor, born in New York and raised in Texas, was a cameraman for CBS for many years) and that some of them fall so hard for the rocks and colors and space, they end up staying and creating their own local culture. If you ever want to spend a truly amusing quarter of an hour or so on the Internet, visit the Rocking V Café’s web site. It’s not only a restaurant – whose organic greens come, rather improbably, from nearby Fredonia — , it’s also an art gallery, and its sidewalk café is a haven for diners and their dogs. Anyway, on the strength of the Rocking V if nothing else, Kanab deserves a visit, and I want to pass through again for dinner.