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Colorado City hoping to transform into tourist destination after complicated past

Tight-knit community with a complex past
Posted at 10:19 AM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 13:56:23-05

COLORADO CITY, AZ — Tucked away along the Arizona Strip, you'll find two adjoining towns, Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. A small street is the only thing dividing the two. Locals call this area "the Crick.”

The towns are small and remote, nestled right up to the Canaan Mountain Wilderness. It's a tight-knit community with a very complex history.

Since the beginning, the towns have always been associated with polygamy. To understand where the towns are today, we need to go back to just a few years ago.

A polygamist past

At one point, the entire town was owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The church operated and controlled everything — the government, businesses, education, the police department. It even assigned families their homes. Nobody owned anything.

It was a refuge for FLDS members to practice their faith away from the rest of the world. Outsiders were not welcome.

Arizona Top 10 Polygamist Towns
FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo, a girl swings a chain as she stands with others in a playground in Colorado City, Ariz. The towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona have long been dominated by the FLDS and its imprisoned leader, Warren Jeffs, but the Colorado City Marshal's Office is now closely watched by a court-appointed monitor after a jury found police guilty of civil rights violations, Hildale is led by non-sect leaders and a food-stamp fraud case led 10 people to plead guilty and exacerbated a leadership void in the FLDS. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

But things changed when the church's prophet was sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault. He declared God had left the town.

Then in 2016, the federal government said the church could no longer discriminate against non-believers from owning property and FLDS members started to scatter.

Since then, the town has been going through a rapid transformation.

“I would not change my childhood for the whole world,” said Darlene Stubbs. “It was so much fun.”

Darlene grew up in Colorado City, but she left the faith and her family when she was 15. She wanted an education and a life outside Colorado City. Her brother, Dalton Barlow, also left the church and the town to work in North Dakota.

Now, as adults, they're both back living here and working to bring tourism to the town.

The twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, are surrounded by a backdrop of the Vermillion Cliffs, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2004. The polygamist town was originally known as Short Creek, but residents later changed the name after an infamous 1953 raid by Arizona officials who hauled polygamist men away and sent more than 200 children to foster homes. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)

“It's a passion,” said Dalton. “I care about the community. I want to see it go in the right direction.”

It’s also a passion for Darlene who created a farmer’s market and running club.

“It's not something that I'm ashamed of or want to hide but I grew up in a polygamist family,” said Darlene. ”I am proud of my roots. I really feel like that we should incorporate that into our tourism.”

Tourists looking for more remote areas

The towns are located near some of the most popular destinations in the country including Zion National Park, The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Lake Powell.

“I've been training horses for about 35, 36 years and we've been doing trail rides for about 18 years,” said Dell Timpson who owns Blue Sage Adventures.

Timpson says more than half of his business comes from international travelers wanting custom trail rides in areas far less busy than nearby Zion National Park.

Polygamous Town Police Chief
FILE - This Oct. 26, 2017 file photo shows Hildale, Utah, at the base of Red Rock Cliff mountains, with its sister city, Colorado City, Ariz., in the foreground. On Thursday, May 24, 2018, Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., announced that Mark Askerlund, an outsider with no ties to the sister cities, has been hired as the new town marshal. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

“We have some beautiful country to ride in,” said Timpson. “Our most popular trail is — we leave from here, I would just cross the road and go up into a canyon called Indian Box Canyon.”

An array of Airbnbs are popping up, and some are more unique and adventurous like a glamping campground just outside town. It's far from a hotel but the tents are perched in the mountain with air conditioning and beds. The views are hard to top.

Across town, Bryen Stubbs helps operate Sandstone Adventures, a new covered-wagon Airbnb. It's life, or at least a night, on the open range.

The business has been so good, he's now expanding.

“This is what we're going to be doing by spring,” said Stubbs while showing plans for the new expansion. “Will be opening this up and like I say, you won't recognize the place once we're done.”

The town is also getting its first winery. It's under construction now but it's expected to be open soon. The Edge of the World Brewery is a place for both locals and tourists.

Booming business and new industries

“Tourism is about 60% of our revenue,” said Raymond Hammon, who started brewing beer 11 years ago in a garage. Now, he has turned it into a business and was the first person in Colorado City to ever sell beer.

“We're conveniently located right in the center so we catch a lot of folks that way. And they always have a good time,” said Raymond.

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Then there's the "Cricker Wagon." You can't miss the literal party wagon pulled through town by a John Deere tractor. It's the town's version of party bikes you'll see in larger cities. In the backdrop of it all is Mother Nature.

Extensive trails in the area link hikers with some of the most spectacular views around. Darlene says that alone is a selling point.

“When I go to go hiking, at the trails I was hiking as a child - when I was a child there wouldn't be really any vehicles from out of state,” said Darlene. “Now I go to those hikes. It's hard to find a parking spot. There's license plates from all over.”

Darlene says that's the goal — to bring people to town from all over. The town certainly doesn't shy away from talking about its complex past but they're hoping people will leave that reputation where it belongs — in the past.

“I love that people are feeling welcome enough to stop and hike, to go horseback riding, to go have a beer at the brewery,” said Darlene. “I love it. People feel welcome.”