More Ghost Towns in Utah and Nevada
The year is 1962 and Roadtrip-'62 TM is leaving Green River, Utah today, pressing on with our thirty-third day of travel along historic US-6. In 1962 it ran from Provincetown, Massachusetts to Long Beach, California and was the longest US-numbered route: 3,517 miles from ocean to ocean. Today it’s only 3,205 miles. Don Milne here, your virtual tourguide, and it’s always 1962 when we’re on the road. Yesterday we covered 187 miles from Glenwood Springs, Colorado to Green River, Utah, and today we might go even further. There is a lot of empty country out here, so we can do a lot of non-stop driving. But we will see things: small museums, ghost towns, and miles of scenery. If you see anything you like on this virtual roadtrip, get yourself out on the road and enjoy it in person. There's nothing like the real thing! At any time, click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. Time for me to grab the wheel and go!
Green River is small, so there are few choices for breakfast. The truck stop where we came into town, West Winds, is rather new but has an interior that looks like an early 60s coffee shop. They serve breakfast all day. Or I could try the La Veracruzana Restaurant, which still sports a pair of Ben’s Café signs to show us what was here in 1962. I’ve heard good things about their breakfast burrito, but it’s not the kind of thing I usually have early in the morning. At any rate, after breakfast I wanted to take a float trip through Labyrinth Canyon because it’s an easy, flat-water section suitable people like me who really don’t want a white-water experience, like me. But the stretch of river that flows through the Labyrinth is too long to be traveled in just one day, so I guess it’s time to hit the road.
Today, US-50 crosses the San Rafael Swell with the I-70 freeway, but in 1962 it continued along with our route all the way across Utah. We stay with US-191 and will pick up US-50 again later today at Delta, Utah. As we leave town, we pass a vacant, older motel whose sign is also vacant, showing no name. After a couple of vacant gas stations and the La Veracruzana Restaurant, we’re out of town. In fact, in just a couple of blocks from the center of town, you’re already driving out of town: it’s that small. There is a cluster of gas stations at the freeway interchange west of town, where we have to get back on the freeway because the old road is gone. We also find ourselves in a desert, complete with scrubby vegetation and sand everywhere.
The colorful cliffs north and east of US-6 are known as the Book Cliffs, apparently because early explorers or settlers thought the colored layers looked like a stack of books on their sides. I think they either had more imagination than me or were just bored. The formations run from just east of Grand Junction, Colorado, where we saw their beginnings yesterday, to near Price, Utah. Our road follows along them as they turn first south and then north. The cliffs are the remains of sandstone layers that formed under the west coast of the Cretaceous Sea, which covered this part of North America 100 million to 73 million years ago. The sea gradually shrunk towards the east, but not uniformly. This sporadic movement caused layers of vegetation to partially decay into peat on the bottom of stagnant swamps, and then be covered up again by sand and mud. The result today is layers of coal sandwiched between sandstone and shale. You can see the alternating layers in some of the roadcuts in Price Canyon, farther ahead. We can also see the remains of coal mining towns along this part of US-6 today.
Woodside, Utah is the first of these ghost towns. In 1900 the population was 114, but it nearly tripled by 1910, when it had schools, saloons, and even a large hotel. But in the late 1920s, the railroad moved its livestock shipping facilities and railroad station out. The severe drought of the 1930s further reduced the town, so that only about 30 people lived there by the 1940 census. Today, a vacant, fenced-in gas station is about the only sign of human activity along the first 50 miles of US-6/US-191 between Green River and Wellington, Utah. Behind the gas station, Woodside has another of the cold water geysers like we saw last night. It formerly spouted as high as 75 feet, but is lower now. The geyser started out as a water well, but there was enough carbon dioxide gas in the water that it bubbled out. A local entrepreneur turned it into a roadside stop with a gas station, store, and café. We could have stopped to see it in 1962, but the cafe and store burned down around 1970. The remaining gas station was closed and for sale a few years ago. In the 1960s, the Highway Beautification Act led to the removal of many of the billboards advertising the geyser, reducing tourism here.
The railroad runs alongside most of the way to just past Woodside, where it then follows the Price River and we instead head up a low cliff and out of the valley. Yesterday, we saw “Federal Helium Reserve No. 2” at Harley Dome, Utah, and today we pass through “Federal Helium Reserve No. 1”. This store of underground helium was discovered in 1924, when Utah Oil & Refining drilled the Woodside #1 well but found no oil. President Calvin Coolidge set aside the "Woodside Dome Field" as a helium reserve, but it has never produced any helium. The potential reserves are said to be substantial but it all remains stored underground.
Wellington, Utah must have an irrigation district, because as we approach town there are some farm fields. The city limits extend about a mile beyond the main part of town, so some of these fields are in town. As with much of this part of Utah, the area was settled in the 1800s by Mormon pioneers. When coal mines opened in the area, immigrants from all over the world poured into Carbon and Emery Counties. As a result, these counties are the most ethnically and religiously diverse locations in the state. Wellington Pioneer Days, in late July, is celebrated with a parade, food, music, and activities in the park, which is right on US-6. Across Utah, Pioneer Day is celebrated July 24th and was originally a day to commemorate Brigham Young and the first group of pioneers who entered the Salt Lake Valley. Today, it is a day to celebrate the state’s pioneer diversity.
The major reason for motels here is for access to Nine Mile Canyon, northeast of town. The road through the canyon was once a major transportation route, beginning as a military road, then becoming the main stagecoach, mail, and freight road into the Uinta Basin area until railroads came. After that, Nine Mile Road was left largely alone and was not paved until 2014. The canyon is known as "the world’s longest art gallery" because of the extensive rock art created centuries ago by the Fremont culture and the Ute people. There are at least 1,000 rock art sites in the canyon, with more than 10,000 individual images. Much of the art is what is known as "pecked petroglyphs", but there are also painted pictographs. Along a 40-mile long section of the canyon, there are also the remains of pit-housess and granaries left by these aboriginal peoples, which have been subject to only a limited amount of excavation. Many of these structures are located high above the canyon floor on cliff ledges, pinnacles, and mesas. The Ute settled here between AD 950–1250 because the creek in Nine Mile Canyon is one of the few water sources in the region that are reliable year-round, and it has been so since prehistoric times. Ancient irrigation ditches could still be seen as late as the 1930s, but are no longer visible after generations of modern cultivation.
From here, US-6/US-191 is a 5-lane highway to Price, Utah. As you make the bend on the west side of Wellington, the mountains loom ahead. When we reach Price, the highway now takes a freeway bypass around the city, but of course we are going into downtown the old way, on Main Street. Price is big enough that we pass a Walmart and other modern, chain store shopping on our way in. Before we see the big museum in town, we can stop at the oldest cabin in Price. The Leander Clifford cabin dates to 1884 and was moved to its current site about 1936, so we could have stopped in 1962. It is operated as a museum along with another cabin on the site, as the Historical Relics Hall, by The Daughters of Utah.
On to the Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum. Originally known as the Carbon College Prehistoric Museum, the institution opened in 1961 in a conference room on the second floor of the Price City Municipal Building. Planning had been ongoing since 1960s, when Lee Stokes of the University of Utah and a local amateur archaeologist, Eldon Dorman began discussing using a dinosaur skeleton as a tourist attraction. A skeleton was purchased and Carbon College, a branch of the University of Utah, accepted responsibility to develop a new museum. The young museum featured prehistoric artifacts and fossils including an Allosaurus skeleton installed in 1963. So, from the beginning, it focused on both Archaeology and Paleontology. The museum has been expanded since then and moved to the college campus in 1973. Today it has added exhibits on Geology. It expanded several times while on the Utah State University Eastern campus, which was originally founded as Carbon College in 1937. One thing that makes this museum somewhat unique is that items on display were actually discovered in the vicinity of the museum location! Dinosaurs, mammoths, and other finds including artifacts from five different Native American cultures of Utah are world famous, and you can see them here surrounded by their original context. The museum now occupies a new, larger building adjacent to the library downtown and should take at least an hour to see.
One of the university buildings, the Geary Theater, was completed in 1962, so that’s worth a drive past, too. Back at the original home of the Prehistoric Museum, the Price Municipal Building, it’s also worth a stop to see the Price City Mural. The mural was completed in 1941, a project which took the artist Lynn Fausett nearly three years. Mr. Fausett was born in Price and created several other murals for the Works Progress Administration at the same time. He trained in Italy and France during the 1920s and 1930s and assisted with the tiled arches of the Nebraska State Capitol building, which we saw back in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Price City Mural depicts the early history of Price and Carbon County, named for the local coal deposits and mines. The full story of the scenes depicted can be read at The Price Mural.
Also on Main Street is the Crown, which I can’t tell whether it’s a steak house, theater, nightclub, or a bar. It was once a theater, so that’s the most likely use back in 1962. Anyway, it has a great vintage sign! A big “C” in a crest that must look great when lit up at night. And two other theaters are here too: the Price Theatre, still showing movies, and the Star Theatre, which was converted into retail store space sometime before 2005. These two buildings are next door to each other. The whole of downtown is about 5 blocks long along Main Street and looks very active and busy. In fact, sometime ago, traffic became too heavy for comfortable business activities, and US-6 BUS was switched one block north at the east side of downtown. It still runs there and crosses over both Main Street and the railroad at the west side, to continue out to the bypass. But we’ll continue the old way out of town on Carbonville Road. Out at the freeway interchange at the bypass, there are some new motels, but here, the Legacy Inn appears to be holding on in an older, single story building at the edge of town. Before we leave town, let’s stop at Sherald’s Frosty Freeze, at the edge of downtown, for some ice cream to hold us over until a late lunch. Isn’t that just what we need out here: dessert in the desert? Sherald’s has been here since the 1950s, was known as Claire's Tastee-Freeze in the 1960s, and was remodeled in 2014. So it combines the best of vintage and modern!
Carbonville, Utah is not on either my newest map or my 1962 Rand McNally map. But there are houses and businesses here. Old US-6 is adjacent to the railroad, while new US-6 occupies a freeway in the Price River valley. We briefly have to use the freeway between Carbonville and Spring Glen, Utah, when the valley becomes too narrow for both roads, but quickly exit again. This spot is walled-in on both sides by rocky bluffs that look like castles. This formation seems to be an unnamed version of the one named Castle Gate farther up the road. We cross cattle guards on the road at both ends of the freeway area, to keep cattle off that busy highway. Does that means we might see a cow wander across old US-6? Actually, in the late 1970s a local farmer’s buffaloes escaped from a field and did cross the highway near the Carbon Country Club. The country club has existed since at least 1945, so if you would rather play a round of golf than see the Prehistoric Museum, that would fit our timeline too.
Spring Glen, Utah is mostly homes along the highway, but also a few blocks of homes across the railroad. This is also not on my 1962 map, but it is on my newer map. Spring Glen was founded in 1878, and was the first permanent settlement in what is now Carbon County. The larger city of Helper, Utah was part of Spring Glen until 1891. The early settlers seemed to have some difficulty cooperating in communal projects, so the irrigation canal wasn’t completed until 1893. There is little left here, with the only hint of a downtown being a few crumbling brick buildings and the Slovenian Home, a meeting house. This building appears to date from at least 1922 and is evidence of the mixed immigrant population that came to mine the local coal. The beautiful, historic Greek Orthodox Church is another reminder. Spring Glen School, built in 1927, is closed. But the town manages to host the Spring Glen "Mudhens" Car Show in late June: maybe you can see something from 1962.
We come immediately to Helper, Utah, so-named for the railroad practice of adding engines to trains to “help” them over the steep Soldier Summit mountain grade nearby. The city was once home to 20,000 miners, but now it's shrunken to less than 2,000 residents. Besides the closed LaSalle Hotel & Cafe Restaurant, there are several other buildings downtown that have old neon Hotel signs, that are no longer hotels. My guess is that the town hasn’t hit bottom quite yet, as just last year the local power plant closed. The plant had been in operation since 1954 and was Utah's oldest coal-fired power plant. It was an innovation in its time, as it was Rocky Mountain Power’s first plant to be built near a coal mine, significantly reducing coal shipping costs. But other costs ultimately caught up with it, when the Federal EPA changed regulations of mercury emissions and the plant’s owners deemed it too expensive to comply. So, while the coal fields of the Book Cliffs make this one of the richest coal producers in the West, that coal will no longer be used here.
But there is something to do here, the Western Mining and Railroad Museum! The museum is housed in the old Helper Hotel building, built in 1914, and focuses on the railroad and mining history of the area. There are four floors of artifacts and photographs that tell the history through displays like a simulated coal mine and a blacksmith shop. There have been over 30 operating coal mines in the area and around each mine there was a community of miners and their families, many arrived from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Japan, Slovenia, and China between 1880 and 1936. After the museum, we can stop to take a look at the railroad depot, which was constructed by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad around 1940 as a replacement for the original depot. It has an interesting Art Moderne touch in the windows and doors. It originally had a flat roof, typical of Art Moderne buildings, but that was with a more practical gabled roof. It’s now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad and still serves as a depot for Amtrak's California Zephyr, running from Chicago, Illinois, and the San Francisco Bay Area in California. So we could catch a train here in either 1962 or today.
Something that I think is cool is the Big John statue at the Helper Auditorium right on old US-6. Big John was installed in the mid-1960s, so it’s just a bit too new for our trip. He appears to be a standard “Muffler Man” statue, holding a pick instead of a muffler, and he is painted in a high-gloss black, like shiny coal. As we leave town, we pass the Rainbow Inn bar. It has a beautiful blue porcelain block front that surely looked just as inviting in 1962 as today. It’s probably out of business though, as I cannot find any information for the place. North of Helper, we bounce back and forth on opposite sides of the freeway and in some places we have to use the freeway for short distances because a few hundred feet of the old road is missing. The former Balance Rock Motel is at the far north end of town, where old US-6 temporarily ends instead of crossing the freeway. There is still a sign out at the freeway, but the sign at the site is gone and the remaining building is painted all white. As expected, the motel site is near its namesake Balance Rock. The rock sits on top of the cliffs north of town and seems to be balanced on a smaller rock. It is a popular climbing spot.
Past Balance Rock the freeway ends and we travel through Price Canyon on the old road. Highway US-191, which had been with us since Crescent Junction, Utah yesterday, leaves our route in the canyon and heads northeast up a different canyon on what was UT-33 back in 1962. Our route currently goes through a huge rock cut and out of Price Canyon, but it used to stay alongside the river. That old road runs along the coal unloading facilities for the power plant and rejoins the new road beyond Castle Gate, Utah. Castle Gate is a major gap through which the Denver, Rio Grande, and Western Railroad was cut. In its early days the railroad was particularly important as a carrier of coal from Carbon County mines to Salt Lake City. Today, the area is a ghost town, following its being dismantled in 1974. The residents were relocated to a new subdivision just west of Helper and the former townsite was cleared and replaced with the coal-loading facilities we see today. Like Balance Rock, Castle Gate was named for a rock formation. This one is said to look like a castle that gave the impression the Gods were opening a way through the mountains for you.
Castle Gate was also the site of a coal mine disaster in 1924 which killed 172 miners. A granite memorial with a bronze relief is along the highway, near where the mine is located, just before where US-191 leaves us. The explosions that destroyed the mine were caused by a combination of improperly dampened coal dust and helmet lamp flames, when a miner tried to relight his lamp with a match. The blast was powerful enough to throw a mining car, telephone poles, and other equipment across the canyon, nearly a mile from the mine entrance. The mine’s steel gates were ripped off their concrete foundations and inside the mine, rails were twisted, and roof supports were destroyed. Additional explosions occurred as other miners tried to relight lamps that had gone out due to the wind from the first explosion. The Castle Gate disaster currently ranks as the 10th worst mining disaster in United States. And mine explosions continue to modern times, an explosion in 2000 at the nearby Willow Creek Mine killed two men and sent eight others to the hospital. That mine was sealed and reclaimed following its tragic accident.
Farther along the road, there are other historical markers for Utah’s Coal Industry and Butch Cassidy’s nearby robbery of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company office and store in 1897. Beyond Castle Gate, we’ve climbed high enough that the cliff tops and hillsides are covered with evergreen trees. The Price River valley is also green and it’s nice to see the green all around again, as deserts are foreign to me. A nice sidetrip for a hike is to the Price Canyon Recreation Area. The recreation area is located on a ridge high above Price Canyon, and offers a chance to enjoy cooler temperatures and the shade of large ponderosa pines. You can also find some excellent views of this rugged canyon country on the entrance road and on a hiking trail. The recreation area is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Just beyond that access road, you can see the twin tunnels of the railroad as it goes through a mountain that we go around. There is barely enough shoulder to pull of on for a good photo. But because we climbed over the mountain, we are high enough to see another set of twin tunnels a couple of miles north, as the railroad runs through Diamanti Canyon. Once up out of the canyon, the trees disappear and rangeland takes over the landscape. It’s still green though.
We mostly stay up out of the river valley the rest of the way to Colton, Utah. Colton is another ghost town with nothing more than a couple of empty buildings among ruins at the old townsite. One store, the Hilltop Country Store, was moved out of town and up to the highway in 1937 and is still in business. Colton was a railroad town which lost out to technology. In the 1950s, the railroad was straightened through the area, reducing the steep grades from 4% to 2%. Also, more powerful diesel engines replaced the steam engines, so the need for helper engines was eliminated. Most of the railroad operations were ended and the buildings removed. At the high point of those grades, 7477 feet above sea level, is Soldier Summit, Utah. Soldier Summit is the name of both the mountain pass in the Wasatch Mountains and the ghost town located at the pass. With the exception of a gas station and a couple of houses, this is another abandoned town. The railroad moved many employees' homes to Helper, leaving only the foundations. Today it is a popular rest stop and photo spot for railfans taking photos of the Gilluly loops, a series of horseshoe curves the railroad takes on the western approach to the pass. A measure of how fast a town can be abandoned is that in 1948, there were 47 students at the school. The next year enrollment dropped to just 11. The town limped along until 1984, largely on revenues from a speed trap on US-6. But the state eventually decided it had heard enough complaints and disincorporated the town. I hope I wouldn’t have received a speeding ticket in 1962!
The next ghost town is even less visible, as it has been buried under the highway! Tucker, Utah was another town abandoned when the railroad was upgraded. Beginning in 1969, the state used the townsite for a highway rest area for many years, but when US-6 was also upgraded, Tucker was buried. Between all these ghost towns, we pass through some wide open areas near the tops of the mountains, featuring rangeland of pine trees, bushes, and grasses. The crossroads all have cattle guards and the road right-of-way is fenced in. A mile or so past the summit, the railroad passes under the highway in a big horseshoe curve as it reaches its summit and heads back down beside Soldier Creek. It’s a great spot for train watching and photos, with access roads to trackside. The road then heads downstream faster than the railroad, placing the railroad halfway up the hillside for several miles of good viewing. There is an old, winding road on the other side of the creek for part of the way, which may be an older version of US-6. Certainly, some of the rock cuts and curves on the current 5-lane highway are too new to have been here in 1962. Crossroads head into the hills to two national forests from here. Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is to the north and Manti-La Sal National Forest is to the south. Manti-La Sal was formed when two national forests merged in 1949. Both forests have various trails, waterfalls, canyons, scenic byways, off-road vehicle areas, and ski areas are located in other parts of these two National Forests. Along US-6, you can see the forests up the hillsides.
At Mill Fork, Utah there are a few buildings, including a closed truck stop at the crossroad to Sheep Creek Road. The town was founded on the lumber and charcoal businesses, both based on the nearby forests. The charcoal business closed down around 1890, and most residents had left by 1900. When the railroad made its improvements in the late 1950s, where was little left besides the cemetery. The cemetery is a landmark along US-6; unusual for its long, wooden footbridge on the access path crossing a dry wash. Beyond here, we enter a narrower canyon of red rock, appropriately called The Red Narrows. After a few more turns, the high peaks of the Wasatch Range fill the windshield view directly in front of us.
The Red Narrows takes us to the site of the former town of Thistle, Utah. Here, we meet US-89, which joins us and travels with us to Springville, Utah. This route runs from the Canadian border near Port of Piegan, Montana to Flagstaff, Arizona. Before 1992, it was a border-to-border highway that ended at Nogales, Arizona. It takes a short break at Yellowstone National Park because the National Park Service does not number the highways through the park. Highway US-89 is sometimes referred to as the National Park Highway because it connects eight national parks and provides easy access to 14 others. Thistle is gone for a different reason than the other towns in the area, it was destroyed by a massive landslide in 1983. This landslide completely closed US-6 for a year, while it was being rebuilt farther up the canyon wall. The landslide dammed up the Spanish Forks River, creating a lake right on the townsite. Though the lake was later partly drained, the remaining structures have a “subterranean feel” with partially submerged homes and stores still visible. The new 5-lane road has high rock cuts on one side and a great view of the Spanish Fork valley below, where there are some portions of the old road, now called Thistle Slide Road, adjacent to the rebuilt railroad. We eventually end up back down by the railroad and the creek, where we can watch the cows grazing beside the road.
As we exit the canyon of the Spanish Fork River, a modern wind farm of about 10 windmills greets us and US-89 heads north through Mapleton, Utah. We turn west and come to the city of Spanish Fork, Utah. Here, we meet US-91 and travel jointly with it south to Sataquin, Utah. US-6 makes a bypass of town today, going just north of town to turn and leave on the I-15 freeway down the west side. However, old US-6 of course goes downtown, probably using today’s UT-198. So, we find the old road as far south as Payson, Utah. Spanish Fork is the first good-sized town we’ve seen all day. Nearly the whole area has a modern, somewhat suburban look, which indicates to me that much of its growth has occurred after the 1950s. Perhaps in the late 60s or 70s when the freeway from Provo, Utah was completed. Of course, out on the edges, the development is very recent. But I’ll try to find some old-fashioned place to eat either here or at Payson, Utah: I’m too hungry to wait any longer.
It may seem strange to think of Iceland here in Utah, but the connection is an old one. Between 1855 and 1860, sixteen pioneers established the first permanent Icelandic settlement in North America here. There is a monument to the settlement on US-6 and the Icelandic Association of Utah hosts Iceland Days in Spanish Fork every year. The Icelandic Association of Utah was founded in 1897, so we could have participated in some celebration back in 1962. The event is held in mid-June because Icelandic Independence Day, or their National Day, is June 17th. Another festival is celebrated here in June, Fiesta Days. The 2016 Fiesta Days will be the 74th annual, and most of the events are held at the Fairgrounds, which we pass on the south side of town. This year, there will be three parades, a craft fair, a car show, four days of rodeos!
I only found a pair of possibly older restaurants in Spanish Fork. The Sip-N is a new ice cream place in a building near where we enter town that used to be Johnny’s Drive Up. Peanut butter bars are one of their specialities. Glade’s Drive-In is on the bend where UT-198 turns south onto Main Street. It’s been around for over 35 years, but can’t find just how long. It’s attached to a small house, right across from a school, with some of the houses clearly from the 1950s. Glade’s is a tiny place with walk-up service only, to take back to your car. They have an unusual white sauce for their french fries. Neither of these quite suits me today, so I’ll drive the few miles to Payson and hope I do better. As we head south, the Wasatch Range is now on our left side, with mostly irrigated farmlands beyond the city on the right. Mountains are always impressive when they rise from a flat plain, like they do here.
If you’re in need of some swimming, boating, fishing, or other water recreation after a couple of days through desert, there are several access points to Utah Lake within five miles of US-6. Might be a good idea, as there are a couple more days of even drier desert ahead of us. A couple of areas with some facilities are Sandy Beach and Lincoln Beach Park and Marina. We pass through an area known as Salem, Utah, which was not shown on the 1962 Rand McNally map. Known as "Pond Town" by early settlers, because of some natural ponding caused by flowing springs, the springs were soon dammed for irrigation and a farming settlement had grown up by 1856. Salem was incorporated as a town in 1886. We cross the pond near the dam. The town seems sparsely settled, which may be due to its originally platting as large, 5-acre lots.
At Payson, there is indeed more choice for lunch. Dalton’s Steak House is a real full service restaurant in downtown Payson. It’s in an older store building that has been remodeled, so I can’t tell the age. But the interior is decorated with lots of memorabilia, so it at least seems old. It also has a stage with a piano and microphones for live music. There are two soft-serve ice cream places, the Daley Freeze and Polar Queen. Daley Freeze is downtown in an original old Dairy Queen or Tastee Freeze style building, still serving soft ice cream and the usual packaged frozen, then deep fried items. Polar Queen is at the south end of town and looks like it may be an older building, but maybe not. It has indoor seating, but then so does the One Man Band Diner. This diner is downtown and has a fun 1950s style, with phones on the tables for ordering. That’s enough to attract me.
The Peteetneet Museum and Cultural Arts Center is housed in the former Peteetneet School building, which opened in 1902 and was still a working school until 1988. While the historical society has a variety of exhibits, including the School Room Exhibit, which shows how a school room would have looked when the building opened, it’s too new a museum for us. On the other hand, one building from 1962 that is now gone is the former UTOCO service station run by Don and Duane Patten. The station opened in 1957, and to give a glimpse of prices back then, gas sold for just 25 cents a gallon on opening day. We’ll continue on the old road through town to Santaquin, Utah, though since the mid-1960s, US-6 has bypassed town on the I-15 freeway. As we enter Santaquin, we have to use a freeway frontage road for a few blocks because the freeway has cut old US-6. But crossing the freeway after an interchange, we still enter on Main Street. Santaquin was one of the early settlements in the area, and was originally settled in late 1851. Because the Morman’s trekked to Utah so early, towns like Santaquin and Payson were settled at about the same time as towns we visited way back in Indiana and Illinois. That is unlike most of the far west, which was not settled until after the Civil Way.
Southeast of town is the Mt. Nebo Scenic Loop Road through the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. This drive begins in Payson City and runs south to Nephi, Utah, but can also be accessed from here via Santaquin Canyon. It takes you up into the mountains for many scenic overlooks, and along the way are campgrounds, and trails through a wilderness area. The wilderness starts at 5,400 feet there are trails that climb through mountain valleys and over steep ridges. The climb will take you through a variety of environments, including sagebrush-cliffrose, mountain brush, aspen, spruce and alpine fir, and even an alpine zone above the timberline. Bobcats, mule deer, and elk are commonly seen here, along with trout in the streams. You may need one of those campgrounds if you take the drive and hike a trail, because the drive alone is 38-miles long and you probably won’t make it back to US-6 tonight.
The Santaquin area is the second largest producer of tart cherries in the country. Urbanization and industrialization in the Provo-Orem area to the north drove many fruit farmers here long ago, and orchards were planted to replace wheat fields and pasture land. In celebration of the orchards, the town celebrates Santaquin Orchard Days with the typical carnival, rodeo, parade, an art and quilt show, and special tours at the Santaquin Chieftain Museum. Santaquin's Orchard Days Rodeo was awarded the "Rocky Mountain Professional Rodeo Association Rodeo of the Year" from 2008 to 2014. And this celebration of the local cherry orchards even has a Cherry Pit Spit contest! As we leave town to the west, US-91 used to leave heading south, but its number is now gone and only the I-15 freeway heads south. The route of US-91 is one of the most severely shortened by the interstate system. The original southern terminus of US-91 was in Long Beach, California, at the same intersection where our US-6 ended! In 1962, the north end was 1468 miles away at the Canadian border in Sweet Grass, Montana. The shortening occurred in 1974, when the interstate freeway was completed.
A few miles before Goshen, Utah we leave the orchards and farm fields behind and find ourselves back in cattle rangeland. Goshen consists of a single grocery store and a café in an otherwise empty downtown, and the few homes. But it was once a mining boomtown because of the Tintic Standard Reduction Mill. The mill was a concentrator mill that only operated for four years, 1921 to 1925, but served many mines of the Tintic Mining District. It processed local copper, gold, silver, and lead, concentrating the metal content so that shipping to smelters would be less expensive. It was the only American mill using the Augustin process, an acid-brine chloridizing and leaching process, during the early 1920s. The mill closed when it became outdated due to improved technology. Because of its historical significance, the mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The ruins currently consist of foundations for water tanks, crushers, roasters, iron boxes, leaching tanks, and drains. The site is less than a mile off US-6 and is visible from the road due because it sits up on a hillside.
Just at the west edge of Goshen is an area known as Elberta, Utah. It was an irrigation project aimed at creating a peach growing area like we saw around Grand Junction, Colorado. But as happened with many other irrigation projects in the West, too many people tried to use too much water. The Elberta project was sent to the back of the line in a 1902 court case and in 1912, the reservoir ran dry. Though the area had shipped 30 boxcars of fruit a day, a freeze in 1925 destroyed the peach trees and the orchards were not replanted. Today, Elberta is just a few buildings at the intersection of two state highways; another ghost town. The next town, Eureka, Utah, is not quite a ghost town, as some of the local mining activity keeps popping back up. It began as a commercial center for the gold and silver mines and soon became the financial center for the Tintic Mining District. At its height, the town was the 9th largest city in Utah, and had a population of nearly 4,000. Copper, iron, and lead have also been mined nearby and Eureka was the site of retailer J.C. Penney’s second store. Things were still rolling along in the 1950s when metal prices plummeted. So, when mines flooded, it was deemed not worth the cost of repairs. Most were closed and the population shrank rapidly thereafter. By the 1970s, the EPA was working to clean up lead and arsenic in the soil, resulting in demolition of buildings, removal of topsoil, and even paving over parts of the town.
But many of the remaining mines in the hills are owned by small-time operators who don’t have the money to prevent the erosion of their tailings piles, so new pollution is constantly being generated. Besides these small-time mines, the giant Rio Tinto mining company has been exploring for copper, gold and molybdenum since 2011. And as they go, they are sealing some of the old mines to reduce pollution. So the locals are hoping for another boom. They are also guarding the past, as many siginficant historic buildings remain here. The 1920s post office building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Tintic Mining Museum displays historical artifacts from the town’s mining days. There are many blocks of houses, but downtown consists of nothing but boarded up and vacant buildings, and empty lots along US-6 as we approach downtown.
We pass through the neighboring mining ghost town of Silver City, Utah, where some people tried to rework the old tailings piles during the 1980s. The price of gold took off at that time, making this old rock profitable using new methods. The new methods consisted chiefly of spreading a layer of thick plastic on the ground and piling the old crushed rock onto it, then spraying a solution of cyanide over the pile. The cyanide reacted chemically with whatever small amounts of gold and silver were in the ore and collect at the low end of the pile, where it was pumped out and transported somewhere else for smelting. But it was never enough work to bring back Silver City, and all you can see from the highway are large piles of mine tailings surrounded by empty grazing lands, no town. That grazing land is wide open south of here, with almost no buildings and a 65mph speed limit on US-6.
On the west side of the highway and Jericho, Utah lies the Little Sahara National Recreation Area. I could not find when it was designated a National Recreation Area, but of course the dunes have been here for several thousand years, so we could have seen them in 1962. The dunes were formed by sand that washed down from the Wasatch Range to the east, that was deposited in ancient Lake Bonneville. The lake dried up during the end of the last Ice Age, and strong prevailing winds have since blown the sand into hills. The winds continue to move the sand in this 124-square-mile system; these are active dune fields. With little vegetation to destroy, the area is popular among off road vehicle users and motocross bikers. But there is also a quiet side to the park at the Rockwell Outstanding Natural Area. This has been set aside as a vehicle-free zone with trails for hiking and wildlife viewing. There is also camping at several campgrounds, and two of the world’s largest sandboxes have been fenced off, providing several acres of play area! The park boundary is adjacent to US-6 in some areas, though the visitor center is about 6 miles away. Beyond here, the landscape becomes more empty and barren of bushes and trees the farther south we go, until you can even see the white sand between clumps of grass. This is the most nothing I’ve seen yet on the trip, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. Then, suddenly, the highway enters farmland again as we approach an irrigation district in Lynndyl, Utah.
Lynndyl is a small farming town, literally, with what seems to me more farming in town than streets. The city blocks often have one house or none, and hay bales, farm equipment, and even animal pens are everywhere. I didn’t see any open businesses; just one vacant gas station on US-6. The speed limit on the highway only drops from 65mph to 55mph through Lynndyl. In 1962, we would have crossed into Pacific Standard Time just before Delta, Utah. The line currently is at the Nevada border. We pass the Intermountain Power Plant, a coal-fired plant that supplies electricity for much of Los Angeles County, California. We also cross the source of the area’s farming prosperity, the Sevier River. Beyond Delta, the river ends in a dry lake bed in the desert, never making it’s way to an ocean. This area is the old lakebed of prehistoric Lake Bonneville and one of the last parts of it to have been under water. When settlers arrived, a remnant of the lake still survived as Sevier Lake, but the use of irrigation water was the last blow to the lake, causing it to dry up. Maps of Utah from 1962 on show the lake as a dry lake. In contrast to many places we drove through today, Delta is a real city with a hospital, modern chain store development, and industry.
The main crop of the Delta area is alfalfa hay. Due to the dry climate in the Delta region, farmers are able to control the moisture content of the hay when it is baled, which is important to prohibit mold growth. Because of the abundant hay, Delta is also home to dairy farmers. And, because of the spring rains that come down to the former lake each spring, the area around Delta is home to thousands of Snow Geese during their 3,000 mile voyage home to northern Canada. These birds use local fields and the Clear Lake Wildlife Management Area as a rest stop on their northern migration home. The city has embraced the birds, holding their annual Snow Goose Festival in late February, with a craft and quilt show, beard contest, skeet shooting competitions, and more. And you can view the geese at Gunnison Bend Reservoir, just outside of town and downstream on the river.
Delta’s history includes what has come to be known as an internment camp, which is a polite name for a wartime concentration camp. After the bombing of the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii by Japanese planes and the start of World War II in 1941, the U.S. government began moving Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast inland. These were forced moves, and approximately 110,000 people were concentrated in camps due to fear that because of their ties to Japan, these American citizens might become spies for the Japanese, or even help carry out attacks against the U.S. The Topaz Internment Camp was open from late 1942 until the end of the war in October 1945. It housed 11,212 people during the war, mostly former residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of the former farmland the residents tended has been sold or leased to private owners since, but the main residential area now belongs to the Topaz Museum and is a National Historic Landmark. Likewise, most of the buildings were sold or demolished, though one of the barracks has been moved to Delta, behind the Great Basin Museum. The former residential area of Topaz today is a rather eerily empty grid of former streets and building foundations about 5 miles northwest of town, right at the edge of the area’s farms. The former recreation hall is also now in Delta, as part of the Topaz Museum. It has been restored to its 1943 appearance with untaped drywall walls, masonite flooring, and tar paper covering the pine boards on the outside walls. The museum highlights camp life at Topaz with displays on cultivating gardens, attending classes at school, use of the recreation halls, and working. I’m sure you get a better look into this piece of history than you would have in 1962.
Speaking of the Great Basin Museum, it also displays a video about Topaz, local historical and cultural artifacts and, and rocks and fossils found in the area. The museum was only opened in 1988 though, making it too new for our journey. But the museum occasionally hosts tours of Van’s Hall, which was open in 1962. Van’s Hall was a dance hall built on the second floor of some stores downtown. It opened in the 1920s and closed to dances in the 1970s. The hall has a fantastic décor of mirrors, lights, puppets, and even a model of the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple. As with many dance halls around the country, its best days were during the big band era of the 1940s. At that time, the residents of Topaz even frequented the hall. The Delta area has also long been a popular place for digging rocks and fossils. Several local companies maintain fossil dig areas where tourists can dig their own fossils for a fee. Or, if you’re in a hurry or don’t want to spend the day out in the desert sun, there are a couple of shops where you can buy fossils and mineral samples. I’ve always been fascinated by trilobites; maybe I should finally buy myself a fossil.
Modern day US-50 rejoins us here in Delta, after splitting from our route back in Grand Junction, Colorado. Back in 1962 it traveled with US-6 all the way, but has since been moved to the I-70 freeway that makes a shortcut through central Utah. Delta might be a good place to stay on a roadtrip like ours: it appears to have several older cafes and motels. These include the Tops City Café, which looks like the kind of downtown spot that has been open forever, maybe under different names. It has a sign that looks to be 30-40 years old. As we travel west through town on US-6, we pass in order the Deltan Inn, an older, good-looking motel 2 blocks west of the US-6 junction with US-50. This is followed by the Rancher Motel and Café, across from a city park, and the Diamond D Motel, another block west and right at the east edge of downtown. Both are older, good-looking motels. Downtown, and in fact the city itself, ends abruptly at the railroad overpass. There are only a few blocks of homes and businesses on the other side before we head back into farm country. But I want to press on across some uneventful desert and get some more miles done today. As we leave town, we cross quite a few irrigation canals and ditches in this farm country.
We’re quickly through Hinckley, Utah, which is another farm town. It’s thinly settled and without any businesses that I could see. But it’s so close to Delta that I’m sure they can handle all their business over there. In the center of town is a blue highway sign that could easily be mistaken for a Rest Area notice. But pay attention: it reads “Next Services 83 Miles” and it means business because there are no towns at all until we get well west of the Nevada border! Wave goodbye to the cows as we cruise through town and enter a long stretch of unspoiled desert scenery. Our route once ran well north of the current route, using a different pass through the Horse Range and rejoining the current road just past the Nevada border before Sacremento Pass. This area is so empty that this section of US-6/US-50 was not even paved until 1952. When it was completed, a grand celebration was made, with parades, barbecued beef, and speeches promising economic growth for the area.
The faint outline of Swasey Peak in the Horse Range of mountains is visible on the horizon as we leave. That mountain range encloses the basin that both we and the Sevier River are in, and beyond which is the real desert. Some of the land we pass now is near desert, growing clumps of grasses, sagebrush, and weeds, while some is irrigated cropland. Some areas are bare ground, perhaps because it is too salty to grow anything, as this area was once part of the ancient lakebed of Lake Bonneville and when that lake dried up, it left a lot of salt deposits behind. When we get about 30 miles southwest from Hinckley, you can see Sevier Lake…when it has water in it. It reminds me of the kind of heat mirage you get over a hot asphalt pavement, when it appears to have a pond floating above the road. Of course, there is the chance that some of what looks like water IS nothing more than a mirage from the real lake. There is a point with an access road and it’s less than a ¼ mile from the road to the lake when it’s full, so you can see for yourself. The road to the north here in the Horse Range Recreation Area is labeled Death Canyon road, a great name for a road in a desert!
We cross the Horse Range through Skull Rock Pass, but it’s not much of a mountain pass compared to the canyons and switchback roads we saw back in Colorado. This is a rather straight crossing of a high plateau between low mountains, with just a few rock cuts. The actual mountains are about a mile away from the road. The pass through the next mountains, the Confusion Range, is more typical, winding its way around several cliffs and hills through Cat Canyon and obviously heading uphill to the next higher plateau. There are wild horses in the Confusion range, which the Bureau of Land Management occasionally rounds up, similar to their activities we saw yesterday in DeBeque, Colorado. The most recent gathering activity was north of US-6, in the Swasey Herd Management Area, in 2013. We actually climb high enough that there are some scrubby trees up here. Of course, you can always see the next range of mountains ahead. And as we pull away from the pass, the land dries out again to reveal patches of bare sand: it’s desert until we reach those next mountains.
Well, we made it to the Nevada border and now we are on Pacific Standard Time. That means we gain an hour and should have time to see one more thing before we stop for the night. At the Nevada/Utah border is a strange oasis that is divided among the two states. On the Utah side is a gas station and the Border Inn motel, while on the Nevada side is the restaurant and bar that, of course, has the gambling. Surrounding us is the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which is the largest National Forest the outside of Alaska. It may seem odd to have a national forest in a desert, but it covers numerous large sections of actual forest scattered about most of the state of Nevada and a small portion of eastern California. So, north of the highway here, there is some forest in the mountains. But, we’re heading south of the highway, to Great Basin National Park. First, we cross a cattle guard right across the highway, as we leave open range for the settled areas around Baker, Nevada. Just a few more miles, and we turn south on NV-487 towards the park. The nearby mountains here are high enough that they still have snow on the peaks in May.
Baker is just a few miles south of US-6 and is another small town, but it’s not a ghost town. There is a post office, at least one church, and a few tourist businesses because of the proximity of Lehman Caves. It is not the typical “tourist shopping” experience often found outside of other National Parks. Baker sits at 5,300 feet above sea level, while Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in the Snake Range outside of town, has an elevation of 13,000 feet, providing Baker with a scenic backdrop. The Great Basin Visitor Center is in Baker, so I’ll stop there before driving towards Wheeler Peak to visit Lehman Caves. A very modern Great Basin National Park sign greets us, but I suspect back in 1962 it was a standard, rustic National Parks sign reading Lehman Caves. You have a choice of three roads here: the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to the mountain, the Baker Creek Road to the campgrounds, or straight ahead to our interest, the caves. The whole area is covered in a variety of pine trees, as we are up out of the desert here.
The Lehman Caves were discovered in the late 1880s, though there is evidence that they were known by local Indian tribes. They became a tourist attraction shortly after, and early cave exploration has left it's mark. Some of the smaller stalactites have been snapped off and there is graffiti on the cave walls in the so-called Inscription Room. Lehman Caves were protected as a National Monument in 1922, and that was the name by which we would have seen then in 1962. The caves were combined with the national park in 1986. The Lehman Cave system began forming approximately 550 million years ago while the area was submerged in a shallow ocean. Most of the features in the caves are marble and limestone. Major changes occurred as the ancient water level dropped, leaving large rooms and other cavities in the rock, creating the current caves system. The features on the tour include stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone, popcorn, and rare shield formations. There are two different guided tours, the Lodge Room Tour and the Grand Palace Tour. The Grand Palace Tour is the longer tour, about 90 minutes. Great Basin National Park also has canyons, hiking trails, and camping. There are 5,000 year-old bristlecone pine scenic areas and scenic overlooks on the park drive. There is even a small glacier on Wheeler Peak. Because the park contains a drastic elevation change from its valleys to its peaks, the region supports an impressive diversity of plant and animal species, with everything from those adapted to the desert to those adapted to forest and even alpine environments.
Well, it’s time to go back to town, where we pass an old railroad passenger car that appears to have been used as a residence at some time past. Since the town is small, so are the motels. The 10-room Silver Jack Inn, next to the LectroLux Café, has been here since 1949, and the Whispering Elms Campground has 6 rooms of an unknown age. You can also head back to nearby Baker, and stay in the motel on the Utah side! And after dinner, I might just sit and do some star watching. We’re so far out in the desert here, that the area has some of the darkest night skies in the United States. Besides thousands of stars, you might see up to five of the solar system's planets, the Milky Way, and satellites with the naked eye. Since we’re back in 1962, we might even see Telstar or the Mercury 7 capsule overhead! At any rate, I’ll see you tomorrow at Roadtrip-'62 TM.
For those of you who are considering wandering around some of the abandoned mines we passed today: don’t. The Bureau of Land Management lists over 8,000 abandoned mines in Utah alone, and as the popularity of outdoor recreation grows, more people are injured at these sites than would have been the case in 1962. At least if you wandered around in the mines back then, the wood and metal would be less likely to break and injure or trap you, as it was all 54 years younger than today.
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2016 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2016 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.