Small Towns

Southern Utah’s Hidden Gem: Veyo Pool and Crawdad Canyon

The scents of summer, and the sound of rock climbers in the background are found in the desert oasis of Veyo — a small resort town in Southern Utah. With temperatures generally 10 to 15 degrees cooler than nearby St. George, the lush green shade of Crawdad Canyon makes the perfect summer hangout.


“I remember swimming at the Veyo Pool my entire life; that’s where my grandpa taught me how to dive,” said Tasha Braken, who now resides in Enterprise with her  husband and two young boys, Rydge, 11, and Sadlyr, 8. She remembers spending the day with her cousins and grandparents at the pool.

To this day, memories of the Veyo Pool always seem to find their way into casual conversation when spending time with the family. Now, Braken has extended this family tradition to her children, and usually spends a couple of days a month relaxing in the cool oasis of the Veyo Pool.

The Veyo Pool was founded in 1927 by James and Caroline Cottam, who obtained the land through the Homestead Act. The couple, along with some ingenious foresight, built a simple cement pool, fed by a nearby 83-degree hot spring in a part of the Basin and Range/Colorado Plateau transition zone where there are higher concentrations of geothermal activity.

Some of the attractions at Veyo Pool. Photos courtesy of the Veyo Pool.

Over time, the Cottams expanded the pool, adding dressing rooms, an office building, and an orchestra pit where people danced as they listened to music performed by local talent.

Veyo is located at the heart of several small towns, and the pool was and is the happening place to be on a hot summer day. It has changed over the 96 years since it was created by the Cottams, from a simple rectangular swimming pool into the rock-climbing paradise and family fun retreat you see today.

“The pool is emptied each night and refilled with crystal-clean water for each day for swimmers, using the smallest amount of chlorine possible to meet environmental regulations,” park manager T.J. Packer said.

Braken’s boys spend hours swimming in the pool or wading in the river catching crawdads. These non-native crawdads were brought to Utah in the late 50s and occupy mostly rocky or weedy shorelines where they can seek shelter from predators like raccoons and herons, and although it isn’t known how they ended up in Crawdad Canyon, it is a perfect hideout for these crustaceans to call home.

“The property has had three owners throughout its history; the Cottams, the Bosse family, and currently Joe and Sarah Salisbury. Despite all that the Cottam family had created, the surrounding canyon was relatively untouched.

Jim Bosse, was a visionary seeing what the canyon could become. He teamed up with rock climber Todd Goss, who along with his team transformed the canyon walls into the first, and perhaps only, privately owned outdoor rock-climbing park in the nation.

Goss’ team developed 250 bolted climbing routes 85 feet high in the solid basalt walls that surround the canyon. Each route is identified at its base with its name, difficulty rating, and the name of the climber who made the first ascent.

The goal was to create a safe climbing experience, said Goss, who owns Paragon Adventures, a St. George company specializing in rock-climbing, canyoneering and hiking. With the bolts already in place, he explained, the canyon is great for beginners with some experience, but it’s not for newbies.

Compared with indoor climbing gyms, outdoor climbing adds potential dangers like scorpions and bees, as well as loose and slippery rocks. Goss recommends wannabe climbers take a class before attempting the Veyo course.

The routes range in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.13 on the Yosemite scale. In layman’s terms, 5.0 is the easiest route in the world — like a sidewalk — while a 5.4 is something like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, with its steep trails, chains, and cliffs. A 5.10 is a sheer cliff face and far more adrenaline — like El Capitan in Yosemite.

“Climbing is about purely existing,” Darren Edwards said. “When you’re climbing, you’re not in your head, you’re not self-conscious and you are always in the present moment.” The park does not rent equipment, and at least one person in the group must have extensive climbing experience before taking on the wall.

Several years ago, Michele and Chase Sullivan traveled across the country from Louisiana to Salt Lake City, Utah to visit family with their grandkids in tow, and decided to stop in Veyo for the day. It didn’t take long before they found the cool waters of the Santa Clara River flowing through Crawdad Canyon. Chase, a big outdoorsman, showed the kids how to be safe when picking up crawdads and how to avoid the pinchers — like that of a lobster. Crawdads are generally friendly creatures, but a nip from a claw can be painful. So, watch out!

After a day of climbing, swimming, or catching crawdads — or all three — regulars grab a Pronto Pup, a hand-dipped specialty corn dog made from a 93-year-old family recipe; onion rings and a Veyo Pie Shake consisting of a slice of famous Veyo pie; key lime, raspberry-rhubarb. “The shakes are just the best,” said Braken, “but the Pronto Pups are the very best!

This sweet little oasis, nestled in the canyon overlooking the Santa Clara River, is truly one of southern Utah’s best-kept secrets. After a day of playing and camping beneath the stars, small glowing embers flitter into the night sky from the nearby campfire. S’mores and tales from an amazing day complete the adventure, and a Pronto Pup and pie shake only leaves you wanting more. After all, who could get enough of a place like this?

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