St. George, Utah

Rich natural beauty in a desert setting just a short drive from Las Vegas.

June 9, 2003: 4:32 PM EDT

(Money Magazine) - St. George is in southwest Utah's "color country" -- red rocks, deep blue sky, snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Just minutes from Snow Canyon and about two hours from Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon -- as well as the man-made monuments of Las Vegas -- this town is a mecca for active retirees.

"Wherever you turn here, it's beautiful," says John Castle, 78, a retired college professor who moved here from Michigan with his wife Audrey, 78, in 1992. Town facilities include tennis courts, a large pool (with special classes for people with arthritis or other disabilities), golf courses and 35 miles of walking trails. Each October, the Huntsman Senior Games attract about 5,000 athletes to St. George for competitions in the triathlon, biking, softball and more.

St. George, Utah
Population: 49,663
Percent population over 65: 17 percent
Median price of single-family three-bedroom house: $200,000
Nearest major city: Las Vegas (120 miles)
Average annual high/low temperature (F): 103/29

But you don't have to be an athlete to love St. George. Dixie State College, located in town, offers classes and trips for seniors. Tuacahn Theater stages plays and concerts in a natural amphitheater of red rock; Southern Utah University, a few miles away, runs an annual Shakespearean festival; and an all-volunteer community theater puts on musical shows.

Residents credit the active cultural life to two factors: the proximity to Las Vegas, which helps Tuacahn snag nationally recognized performers, and the large Latter-day Saints community.

"The Mormons foster culture within their own families, so you have an enormous number of people who take pleasure in drama, singing groups, playing music," explains Sandy Armbruster, 60, who is not a Mormon but is a big fan of the group's emphasis on the family. "Kids are polite and know how to speak to adults. It's not what I'm accustomed to, coming from the Northeast."

Because of its size, St. George has only one hospital, but a second is scheduled to open this year. The tiny airport will be opened to jets around 2005. In the meantime, people drive to the Las Vegas airport when they want to travel.

There are drawbacks: One is heat. St. George is at the northern tip of the Mojave Desert. The dry, sunny climate that attracts snowbirds in winter can turn broilerlike in summer (last year the mercury hit 113 degrees farenheit). In addition, the continuing drought has residents voluntarily rationing water and anticipating a hike in their water bills.

Water issues aside, life in St. George tends to be inexpensive. Property taxes are low, less than one percent of assessed value for full-time residents (second-home owners pay slightly more). "A lot of people come here from California," says John Castle, "and for the price of their old house, they can buy two in St. George."

Utah's income tax tops out at 7 percent; its sales tax is 6.125 percent. There is an estate tax, but the state follows the federal rules, so assets up to $1 million are exempt.

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31 March 2006