Mormon pioneers first settled in Utah and neighboring states in 1848 to avoid persecution and to live their faith, which included a belief in polygamy. In 1890, amidst heavy pressure from the United States Government, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints renounced polygamy and to this day continues to forswear the practice.
Some Mormons, however, never accepted the church doctrine and Federal law that forbid polygamy. They continued to practice "plural marriage". As their viewpoints were no longer accepted by the mainstream Church, they founded splinter groups such as the "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" (FLDS) and usually lived in remote communities, keeping mostly to themselves.
Colorado City is one such community. The city straddles the Utah/Arizona border. Virtually all land in the community is owned by the United Effort Plan, a FLDS corporation. Local government, including the police and public school, is run by church members. While Colorado City has survived an infamous anti-polygamy raid in 1953 as well as the death of its founder, its future remains uncertain. Detractors, including those formerly associated with the Fundamentalist community, say the church leader exercises extreme control over its members and on his orders may re-assign wives or banish men. A State investigation began over allegations that some underage women were taken as brides in the community and that the local police worked to squelch any investigation about the practice. Community members are also embroiled in a property tax dispute as well as disputes over attempts to evict dissenting residents.
On September 25th, 2007, Warren Jeffs, who FLDS adherents regarded as their leader and prophet, was convicted in a Utah court as an accomplice to rape, even though his only connection to the alleged victim was as officiant at her wedding. In the year 2008, more attention was thrust on the community when Texas rangers conducted a botched raid on a FLDS ranch based on a crank phone call. The so called "botched raid" was based on a false report, but led to further investigation, Jeffs is now serving life plus 20 years in a Texas prison. Some outside observers have commented that all this unwanted attention has caused the community to open up somewhat. A handful of small shops have opened, and the presence of visitors is now more or less tolerated.
An unusual and uninviting place for tourists to go, Colorado City might nonetheless be a worthwhile stop for those undertaking a Mormon history tour, or for anyone who wants to see the results of a community that has struggled for years to isolate itself and maintain its own traditions.
Colorado City is one of the most remote communities in the lower 48 states, both in terms of distance to other cities and in terms of separation from mainstream American culture. But it is located right along Utah State Route 59/Arizona State 389 and easily reached from Hurricane, Utah.
A tiny municipal airport is adjacent to the city. No commercial flights serve the airport; in theory private aircraft could fly in.
A company started by two former FLDS members, both lifelong residents of the community, offers tours of the town, including a picnic lunch in the Vermillion cliffs. Their tours offer visitors the opportunity to "frame the previously closed community with detail and respect. Phone 1-877-520-9955. Given the dearth of information about this community and its residents, a guided tour might be a worthwhile way to visit the town.
You can drive your car around. You could park your car by the playground and sit or walk.
You will see a great number of large, unfinished houses in Colorado City. Polygamy obviously leads to large familiy sizes and sometimes exterior improvements are delayed when money is tight. You may also see that local residents dress modestly, often wearing hand sewn clothes similar to what Western settlers wore a hundred years ago.
Unless you are a Fundamentalist LDS church member, there is little more to do here other than to drive by and look at this unusual community and its residents. There is a small playground within the town at the city park.
Hike Canaan Mountain - One of the most incredible hikes anywhere! Begin in Hildale (across the state line, but still the same community) This can be done as a hike in and back to where you started or hike from Water Canyon to Eagle Crags in Rockville
Hike Water Canyon - This is an impressive canyon that the guides in Springdale use to teach canyoneering. Anyone however with gear and knowledge can descend the canyon. Water Canyon is not just for canyoneers. It is a gorgeous hike through a water filled canyon.
Squirrel Canyon - This approach to Canaan Mountain is not as impressive as the Water Canyon direction but it is an alternative. Most that do the hike, enter Squirrel Canyon, hike on Canaan Mountain and exit via Water Canyon.
FLDS Clothes - Traditional dresses and other clothing may be offered for sale.
Colorado City has no restaurants. It does however have a take away pizzeria, Craigo's Pizza at 80 Central Street (928-875-8333). It also has a coffee shack where you can buy to go coffee, the "Espresso Creek" at 875 Arizona Ave (928-875-2011).
Hildale, the same community, but on the Utah side of the stateline has the Mark Twain Restaurant, as well as the Merry Wives Cafe, serving home style food. The Merry Wives cafe is operated by the Centennial Park polygamist group, which split from the FLDS in the 1980s and dresses modestly, but otherwise in the same way as mainstream Americans. The Merry Wives is located at the Border Shop, a gas station and convenience store. Hildale also has the "Zion Health & Nutrition" store with a great drive thru sandwiches and tacos menu, frozen yogurt and muffins. Zion Health is located at 1195 W. Utah Ave in Hildale and is open Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm (435-874-1120).
Colorado City used to have a supermarket, called the Cooperative Mercantile Foodtown, but that was closed on FLDS leadership orders in 2012.
While FLDS and Centennial Park members as opposed to mainstream Mormons drink coffee and alcohol (as they slip from the mainstream Mormon Church before the edict against these was issued), Colorado City still has no bars. It has been reported that a license for beer sales has been approved for the Merry Wives Cafe in Hildale.
There are no hotels. Unless you are the invited guest of a local resident do not even think about sleeping or camping here.
With absolutely nothing inviting to tourists in Colorado City you likely will drive out only a few minutes after arriving. Colorado City is about a 30 minute drive to Pipe Spring National Monument. Pipe Spring is also of Mormon signifcance and is far more inviting to visitors.
Drive the Historic Smithsonian Butte Backway. From Colorado City, drive approximately 9 miles west on Az 389 soon becoming Ut 59, and look for the dirt road at Big Plain Junction.Turn right onto the dirt road. This is an unpaved road that travels from near Colorado City to Rockville and is 8.5 miles long. Along the way is the popular Gooseberry Mesa Mountain Bike Trail System and grand views to the north of Zion National Park. The road was named by John Wesley Powell.
From Colorado City its a quick jaunt to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park on dirt back roads. Drive 4 miles east on Az 389 toward Grand Canyon and turn north on the paved road to Cane Beds. The road is paved for about 4 miles and then becomes dirt and sand. Continue north on the dirt road as it passes through Rosy Canyon. The road is paved once again when entering Utah, and shortly after Coral Pink Sand Dunes appear.
FLDS members generally feel that their religion and lifestyle have been misunderstood by outsiders. They have gone to great lengths to practice their religion without outside interference, despite occasional persecution. They are often distrustful of outsiders.
Because of this many local residents will not want to speak or interact with you. If you are asked to leave, do so. Virtually all real estate in the town is private church owned property. Local police include adherents of the FLDS religion and may arrest those they feel are disturbing the peace or trespassing. However, if you are respectful to the police and the locals, you shouldn't have any problem.