The Utah Hills crags offer quite the respite from the brutal temperatures that can exist several thousand feet lower in St. George. Of course during the winter months, this phenomenon can work against you, particularly your fingers as they pinch the cold limestone! Besides the obvious advantage of cooler temps, you also will experience a better quality of rock compared to most crags in the tri-state area. Most of Utah Hills is comprised of some form of hardened limestone. Utah Hills lies on the boundary of the Mojave (25,000 square miles) and Great Basin (190,000! square miles) deserts. These are huge areas in and of themselves, thus the boundary boasts an unique ecosystem and rock formations. You would be hard pressed to find a more dense Joshua Tree population then what surround these hills. My first experience with Utah Hills was actually running a rather obscure race through them.
I have never climbed in one area whose multiple crags differ so much in texture and color, offering a different climbing experience depending on which wall you are climbing.
Listed as you Approach Them, South to North
Turn left on Sunset Blvd off of Bluff Street in Saint George. Drive 11 miles west through the town of Santa Clara and into the Shivwits Indian Reservation. Pass the Gunlock turnoff and stay left on old route 91 for another 8-9 miles. Pass a communications tower on your left and take the next left over a yellow cattle guard. This rough road leads to an active mine therefore is somewhat maintained. Travel approximately 2 miles and you will see Gorilla Cliffs on your left. To reach the most northern crag, Soul Asylum, turn left off of the mine road onto a much more primitive road. Drive past the Gorilla Cliffs through several dips and up a hill. Stay left at a fork and pull out right at a gate. Continue past the gate on foot and follow the road left crossing a dry creek bed and continue east up the road past a fenced in station of some sort. The road becomes more faint, but a trail emerges that curves back northwest as the walls of Soul Asylum come into clear view.
A vehicle with high clearance will get you much closer to several of the crags. We have run the Tri State Marathon on old route 91 and it can make for a scenic run or bike before or after your climb.
A portion of the area is privately owned and contains historic mining hazards. The owners do not allow access for climbing activities on their property because of safety concerns. You are advised to stay on BLM public lands for all activities The BLM manages nearly 22.9 million acres of public lands in Utah, representing about 42 percent of the state. The regulations regarding most BLM land are fairly wide open compared to State and Federal parks. Unlike most of the rock back in the St. George area, the limestone of Utah Hills is quite solid. The main difference is the effect of rain. I would not hesitate to climb at Utah Hills after a rain.
When to Climb
I have climbed in St. George for years during the winter months and have always found any south facing walls inviting places to climb. However, I froze up in Utah Hills during one winter visit. There can be a dramatic difference in temperatures between Utah Hills and Saint George, particularly during the winter. If you are climbing anywhere in southwestern Utah during the summer months, you more than likely better get up early and finish your climb early. The walls can get brutally hot. Solstice Wall further down US 91 is your best bet during sunny winter days.
Camping/LodgingThere are no official facilities although evidence of camping exists. Where mining land starts and ends versus BLM land is not definitive, thus I would avoid camping back here. There are three campgrounds within the city limits of St. George none of which I have experienced. Temple View RV Resort at 975 South Main Street; Settlers RV Park at 1333 East 100 South; St. George Campground at 2100 East Middleton Drive.
Of course my druthers would be to stay at the campground in Snow Canyon State Park. This has to be one of the finest State campgrounds anywhere with direct access to tons of climbing routes. The campground is open all year, no holiday closures. There is a limit on your stay of 5 days. They have 33 total units, 17 of which are reserved for the big boys (RV’s) with utility hookups. The tent sites were $14 in 2005. Drinking water is available on site along with vault toilets and even showers. The running/hiking/equestrian trail system is pretty cool and as long as you don’t run into the occasional Segway group, the whole park is usually very quiet, particularly during winter months.