Kanab's Rocking V Café by night
On three of the five nights I spent in Kanab, Utah, I and my companions (my sister Annie and our old friend Kathie) dined in a very good and fun restaurant literally a minute’s walk from my motel room—the Rocking V Café and Rafters Gallery.
Way cool, man. The restaurant, which occupies an old building in a quiet part of town (well, there are no other parts of town), looks great—there’s artwork, most of it local 'n' good, on every wall—and the food is as good as any I’ve eaten. Somehow, the music—mostly vintage rock—is perfect too. We generally ate on the top floor, the gallery, looking out on one of Kanab’s busiest streets (ha ha).
Kathie, who’s been coming out to Kanab (to teach U of Redlands students at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary) for ten years now, knows the owner, Victor (his wife is Vicky, hence the “Rocking V”), and so we always seemed to get the royal treatment, although nobody in the restaurant was doing any complaining.
I noticed an exotic restaurant worker, a beautiful young girl that I took to be French.
“Nope, she’s Russian,” said Victor. In Kanab, young people don’t do this kind of work, he said, and so businesses are forced literally to import workers from Russia and elsewhere around the globe.
OK, I get that. But exotic young Russians in Mormony old Kanab, Utah? It made me smile.
During one of our dinners at the Rocking V, the voluble Victor mentioned a recent New York Times article that said nice things about his place. Today, I decided to look it up.
East of Calf Creek, the landscape becomes even more strange and unearthly. The Creator was having fun out there. Canyons yawn. Arches sprout from nowhere, not to mention spires, buttes, towers and pinnacles. The earth erupts and convulses. There are raw desert lookouts where not one single man-made light distracts from the stars. — Tony Perrottet
This must be it: back in April, Tony Perrottet wrote an article for the Times about the untouched natural wonders of southern Utah. It is entitled, "America’s Outback."
He starts with this:
If the name Dry Fork Coyote Gulch doesn’t give fair warning that this is not your average hike, then the haunting drive to the trailhead will remove all doubt. The sandy Hole-in-the-Rock Road is one of the few routes that even attempt to enter the biblical expanse of desert in southern Utah called the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and when I made a pilgrimage there last summer, I didn’t pass a single car, let alone a sign of human habitation.
Turns out, the southern Utah area is a largely ignored but fabulous land of remoteness and jaw-dropping beauty, or so says Perrottet. From what I’ve seen, he’s right.
Perrottet has long been intrigued by one writer’s account of his adventures, in 1872, as a young man in this then-unknown frontier:
Frederick Dellenbaugh, fresh from high school in Buffalo in 1871, heard that John Wesley Powell was looking for men to join his second expedition down the Colorado River. Powell had become a celebrity for conquering the Grand Canyon in 1869; this time, the white-water trip would be combined with the mapping of the Colorado plateau. … Dellenbaugh…became the expedition’s artist.
The adventure lasted nearly 18 months and involved plenty of near-death encounters on the river. But its most striking achievement came in May 1872, when Powell sent his second in command, Almon Thompson — a self-taught surveyor nicknamed the Prof — on a monthlong horseback trek through the unknown deserts of southern Utah. Dellenbaugh went along, and 36 years later, in 1908, he published his classic account of the Thompson expedition, “A Canyon Voyage,” which became an American bestseller.
Our man Perrottet wanted to cover the same ground as Thompson and Dellenbaugh, and so, last summer, off he went:
My journey began in Kanab, a tidy little Mormon outpost of mowed lawns and municipal buildings framed by glowing red bluffs. Powell set up his winter base there, in wood-floored canvas tents not far from a fort. Kanab in 1872 was no Deadwood: “Not a grog-shop, or gambling saloon, or dance-hall was to be seen,” Dellenbaugh wrote. Liquor was in such short supply that one of the photographers actually made cocktails from his photographic alcohol.
Life has loosened up slightly in Kanab today. You can buy alcohol [well, near-beer], from the State Liquor Store, including the Utah brew Polygamy Porter (“Why Have Just One?”). After dark, I found a brand new bistro filled with stray Europeans enjoying quinoa salads and sauvignon blanc.
That’s the Rocking V, I think.
The Rocking V by day
Perrottet fills out his account of Kanab (dubbed “Kabob” by Annie):
In the heyday of the western movie, Kanab became an unlikely boomtown as Utah’s Little Hollywood, a film location for dozens of famous movies. Photographs of forgotten black-and-white stars in Stetsons line the main street in a Western Walk of Fame, and you can find a whole theme park of cinematic relics like Clint Eastwood’s cabin in “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” (For true nostalgia buffs, the remains of the “Gunsmoke” set are quietly decaying on private land a few miles out of town, visible from the road).
That Kanab was a “Little Hollywood” visited by famous movie stars is amazing, given that, until fifty years ago, there were no major roads to the town. It was seriously remote.
Inside the Rocking V (New York Times)
Turns out Kathie is a big fan of John Wesley Powell, having read extensively of his exploits mapping the Grand Canyon. Even Annie had heard of him. As a one-time employee of the USGS (in the case of my sister, all employment is “one-time”), she was aware that Powell was the “father of the USGS,” a factoid she insisted on repeating at every opportunity.
Well, anyway, the article mentions places to eat and stay in the area:
You may have to search, but a surprising number of decent restaurants are hidden away in southern Utah. In Kanab, the Rocking V Cafe … is a bistro and art gallery where the eclectic menu includes Thai curry and garlic lemon shrimp (around $80 for two, including wine). On weekend nights, you actually need a reservation.
This little mention was enough to keep Victor happy for over a month, so far.
THE SHITHOLE MOTEL:
But where to stay? Well, Annie and I didn’t get our acts together until too late, and so we were forced to make reservations at Kabob’s little-known Shithole Motel. (That’s not really its name.) We wanted to stay at the famous Parry Lodge, but it was booked. Perrottet writes:
Since the 1930s, … the place to stay has been Parry Lodge…. It has 89 rooms (rates start at $62), including seven comfortable, retro-chic suites with kitchenettes. Western films that were made in the area are shown in the old barn on summer evenings; I caught Jack Nicholson’s little-known 1965 performance in “Ride in the Whirlwind.”
$62 a night! OK, now that really cheeses me off. I paid $65 a night at the Shithole, just down the street, and it was, um, a shithole.
Cabin used in filming Gunsmoke
Why do I say this? Well, during our stay (Annie and I stayed there; Kathie had her own place a mile away), not once did anyone clean anything or change the linen. At one point, Annie asked the motel lady for another roll of TP, and the lady (upon restoring her teeth to her mouth) demanded a reason. “Well, I need more,” said Annie. "Well, you should be using only two or three squares each time," scolded the lady.
There were no electric outlets on the walls near our beds, and so we were forced to plug our CPAP machines (Annie and I suffer from sleep apnea) into the walls across the room—so we had to sleep backwards. None of the outlets could take a three-pronger, and so Annie couldn’t charge her laptop. The sink was not in the bathroom but in the closet. The AC unit generally didn’t work.
Nevertheless, when we decided to stay an extra night, I insisted that we just stay at the Shithole, since we were by then used to it, and who wants to go to all the trouble of moving? All we had to do was switch rooms. But when we arrived at our new room at the Shithole late on Wednesday night, we found that my bed (in Annie World, the crummier or less convenient bed is always my bed) had been slept in, the shower had been used, the toilet was, um, full, etc. Soon, the little girl at the desk came around and made things right, apologizing profusely and promising to arrange for some kind of discount.
She was amateurish but sweet. We actually sat with her and gave her some career advice. Which college to go to? When to go? How about out-of-state? “Cosmetology is my dream,” she said. "Excellent," I replied. It's good to have a dream and then a plan.
Old Kanab movie set (New York Times)
She left. An hour later, she called, informing us that we were staying “for free” that night. I thanked her. The next morning, I dropped by the office to get the $65 taken off my card, and the old lady with dentures was there. She apologized profusely. She explained that she is forced to hire people from “other countries” to do work, and she flat can’t understand them sometimes. “I just didn’t make things clear to the boys!” she said.
I wasn’t about to give her a hard time. Sure, sure, I said.
Then she grabbed my right hand with her two hands. She looked into my eyes, pulling me toward her. She said, “Do you forgive me?”
I did. That’s when we left Kabob.
"Yes, I forgive you."