From falling water to native birds to windswept sand dunes, it’s an environment perfect for meditation, contemplation, or simply experiencing the outdoors as you’ve never done before.
Those planning a trip to Kanab, Utah, are usually drawn to the stunning geographical displays that surround the town. With towering peaks, sand caves, slot canyons, toadstools, and all manner of other red-rock formations, this region of southern Utah is unlike anywhere else on earth. You’ll be blown away by the sights in Zion National Park, Buckskin Gulch, and—if you’re lucky enough to snag a permit—The Wave, one of the country’s most iconic desert hikes. It’s the landscape of countless western movies and multiple national parks. But while there is something memorable to see in every direction, that’s just the start of what makes this place special. It’s also a place to listen.
For some, the sounds of Kanab are just as memorable as the views and are highlighted by the acoustically rich canyons that create a natural surround sound. You can find countless outdoor locations to enjoy the sounds of nature—from falling water to native birds to windswept sand dunes. It’s an environment perfect for meditation, contemplation, or simply experiencing the outdoors as you’ve never done before.
So, of course, open your eyes and see all the sights around Kanab, but also take the time to listen for an immersive outdoor experience with these nearby adventures. You won’t be disappointed.
The Sound of the Canyons
Perhaps it would help to start with a bit of a science lesson. (Don’t worry, we’ll be brief.) Once a sound is created, it travels in waves, diminishing in energy as it moves further and further away. While sound waves are different in structure than ocean waves, thinking of them that way can be useful. As they hit a hard surface—like the walls of a canyon—they bounce off and resonate in a new direction. In narrow spaces, this is how you get echoes. But thinking of the canyons as simply echo chambers doesn’t quite do justice to the sound phenomenon you can experience in these natural settings.
An echo is just a part of the soundscape. More importantly, every sound is changed by the surroundings. Running water is amplified. The wind becomes an instrument, and birds and other animals create noises that you may not have heard before. In a world that’s typically filled with the background noises of everyday life, these quieter sensations are ignored. But in the canyons around Kanab, they’re amplified. Your sense of hearing is elevated, and it changes the way you experience the outdoors.
Where to Listen
You don’t have to travel far from downtown Kanab to take advantage of these settings. The red-rock landscape is incredible wherever you go. But for some unique soundscapes, try out these destinations.
This 23-mile long slot canyon carved through the desert is the longest in the Southwest—and you’ll be amazed at all you can see here. With high sandstone walls, water, and twisting corridors, the canyon features an impressive interplay of light and sound. You can explore a section of the canyon as a day hike or take it the whole thing via a multi-day trek.
For a more isolated experience, check out Peek-a-boo Canyon, a very narrow slot canyon not far from the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. You’ll need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to traverse the sandy road to get to the canyon’s entrance, but once there, you’ll enjoy a remarkable experience walking through the very narrow corridor.
For an adventure that’s a bit more accessible, check out the Sand Caves, which are located just off the highway about five miles north of Kanab. A half-mile hike will take you through these impressive wonders that were created by sand mining in the area.
Enjoy this family-friendly hike that features balancing rocks and hoodoos. The name comes from the formations that feature a bolder atop rocks of a smaller dimension, which causes them to resemble mushrooms or toadstools.
Belly of the Dragon
This tunnel goes under Highway 89 and continues for about four miles before reaching a slot canyon. You get a taste of both the narrow canyon and wide-open windswept rock formations here. You’ll need to do a bit of scrambling, but the hike is doable for most people.
Located just across the border in Arizona, The Wave is one of the most visually stunning hikes in the county. Because of the fragile ecosystem, however, only 10 people a day are permitted to make the trek. Enter the lottery and hopefully, you get lucky. If you do, you’ll see the striated sandstone that forms “waves” across the landscape.
Kaibab National Forest
Also in Arizona, the Kaibab National Forest serves as the gateway to the Grand Canyon and offers an alternative to the surrounding desert landscapes. Here you’ll find meadows and woodlands, and creatures you may not expect like grazing buffalo, elk, turkey, Kaibab mule deer, and antelope. Explore more than 300 miles of trails in this wild setting to enjoy one-of-a-kind sights and sounds.
The Unique Sounds of Nature in Kanab
You don’t have to travel far from Kanab to hear the sounds of nature. You won’t find the larger mammals of the Kaibab National Forest here, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of animals. In the Grand Staircase National Monument east of Kanab, you’ll find mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, and gray fox, plus smaller critters like jackrabbits and rock squirrel.
It’s most likely you will spot and hear the birds in the area. Ravens and golden eagles are some of the bigger native species, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Rock wren, scrub jays, chukar partridge, and chipping sparrows are all fairly common. Serious birders might want to consider a trip to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, a beautiful spot that’s home to the western bluebird and Cassin’s kingbird. Wherever you are in the wild, keep your ears open for unique sounds. Often you’ll hear an animal before you see it.
A Place for Meditation
The natural surrounds of Kanab are an excellent spot for meditation and quiet reflection. It’s quite easy to find a spot in the wild that’s far from people, with only your thoughts to occupy your mind. It may seem quiet, but when you stop and listen, you can hear more than you thought possible. Take advantage of the opportunity and spend some alone time in nature.
The Music of the Canyons
It’s no surprise that the natural setting is inspiring to musicians as well. The Symphony of the Canyons holds several events throughout the year. The orchestra was founded 35 years ago by a local pharmacist who pulled together a group of classical performers. The group has now performed more than 200 concerts in the region, and among its schedule in 2020 is a concert at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Other music festivals in the area include Red Rocktoberfest and the Kanab Summer Concert Series in Jacob Hamblin Park.
The 4th of July is a big event in Kanab, and after a day of parades and festivals, you won’t want to miss the fireworks show. The bright explosions light up the surrounding cliffs and echo all through town. It’s an Independence Day experience you won’t forget.
Is Kanab visually stunning? Of course it is. But keep your ears open as well on your next trip to this unforgettable region of southern Utah. Chances are you’ll hear something you won’t expect, and it will be extraordinary.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for Matcha in partnership with Kane County.