The foundation of Cedar City is red. For many visitors, the very first thing they notice upon arrival is the orange-red glow of the eastern mountains. It demands the attention of new residents.
Red is Southern Utah University’s official color, an homage to the sandstone rocks that have put the town on the map.
One of the university’s most marketed selling points is the surrounding red rock. SUU brands itself as “The University of the Parks” to celebrate its proximity to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park.
In 2017, Outdoor Nation crowned SUU as “The Most Outdoorsy School in the Nation,” and SUU Outdoors occupies the space directly across from the Welcome Center. Would this same emphasis on nature exist without crimson cliffs overlooking campus?
While the school has established its identity on its easy access to nature, that doesn’t mean every SUU student is outdoorsy.
I am one of those students. As the younger sibling of two all-state baseball players, I spent most of my time outdoors brushing infield dirt out of my eyes at windy ballfields.
By the time I came to SUU I’d only been camping a handful of times on church outings. When I asked people what they’d do for fun in town they’d always mention a place instead of an activity. They’d say “Cedar Breaks” or “Kanarraville Falls” instead of suggesting a movie.
Those names seemed intimidating to me. I didn’t want to go near any breaks or falls, so I just locked myself up in my apartment and grinded through the semester. I felt like I didn’t have anyone to go with and I was overwhelmed by the amount of beauty worth seeing.
Where would I even start?
Nature just seems like a hassle. You have to go out of your way to get into the wild, and it can be easy to come up with excuses. I didn’t have shoes sturdy enough for hiking so I fired up a video game instead.
A few months later my older sister had planned a trip to Escalante with her husband and kids and invited me along. I looked at my gripless skateboarding shoes, but I was tired of staring at the inside of my own walls. I slipped the sneakers on and met my sister’s family in Escalante.
She had done all of the intimidating legwork for me and picked out a beautiful slot canyon called Peek-A-Boo. We worked our way in, and I marveled at the curvature of the red rock walls. They curled like a flag frozen mid-gust, carved by the water flowing through over the course of millions of years.
It was quiet between those curled sheets of the canyon walls. No heaters blowing, no television intruding from the other room, no semi-trucks rattling down the highway.
At the most narrow passes I caught myself standing still, tracing the shape of the uneven wall. How could something so rigid be shaped into something so smooth?
I tore through the legs of my JCPenney chino pants sidling through the canyon. My shoes were drenched and ruined from the sand embedding itself in the soles. It didn’t matter.
All I could think about was the peaceful silence of the canyon and the way the world seemed to be performing for me with each curl and dip in the path.
As I explored the canyon, I explored my own mind. I returned home exhausted but full of wonder, like a child after a trip to Disneyland.
In the years since that hike, I’ve sought out that canyon’s stillness often. Sometimes I find it on Angel’s Landing on a planned hike with friends, and sometimes I find it simply driving through Cedar Canyon.
Taking part in nature requires a bit of humility. You don’t really get to play by your own rules out there, and sometimes that still steers me away from spending my time outside. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to relinquish control and be a part of the landscape instead of insisting on painting it.
The more I’ve visited Cedar City’s pockets of wonder, the more I can feel the town’s red foundation becoming a part of my identity.
If you visit the chiseled-red amphitheater of Cedar Breaks National Monument or the sprawling landscapes of Three Peaks, then it’ll become a part of your identity too.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photos by: Christopher Dimond