Saturday, May 3, 2008

Utah Adventure Part 2 - Ghost Towns a Blowin

Forced Downtime....

I really thought I could get to part 2 of our Utah Adventure by last Sunday, but my real job crept back in the way. Flew out to Toronto on business Sunday and didn't get back until late Monday night. Then Tuesday and Wednesday were jammed pack trying to prepare for being forced out of everything late in the week. That's due to a little injury I had to my right foot 5 years ago that grew into a bigger problem and finally required surgery. Talk about your mandatory down time! I'm lying in bed with my foot propped up now and won't be released to go back to the office for about a month. Sounds nice on the surface, but believe me, I am already going stir crazy from being in bed the past 48 hours. And poor Kathy...trying to concentrate on Legends Of America, while her husband calls from the other room for this and that, is sure to lead to frustration...She's a trooper though, and though I'm the typical male (a bit whiny over crap like this) I'm sure she'll keep me in line. So I decided to stop taking the pain killers this morning, stop the whining, clear my mind and focus on the rest of the adventure we had in Utah this April.

Green River to Price, via more National Parks...

When I left off in Part 1 we had made a long trek over through Southeastern Utah and finally up to Green River. The incredible changing landscapes of that adventure had included some wonderful National and State Parks, but by the time we reached Green River we could already tell we were getting "park" weary. Our main focus of this trip is the old west and ghost towns. Kathy's agenda for the day had us more on that course, but we started right off the bat veering off I-70 onto US 191to Utah's Dead Horse Point State Park. The drive out to the park was pretty flat for a while. You could see cliffs off in the background and there were some good photo opportunities at a couple of pull offs along the way, but nothing to compare to the awesome view that was ahead.

Dead Horse Point is an overlook to the Colorado river 2000 feet below, carving it's way for millions of years, still sculpting the landscape below. You can see for miles, and believe me, your breath will be taken away. The Point has a natural 'bridge' about 30 yards wide, that in times past, would be used by Cowboys to heard wild Mustangs through, keeping them on the point as a natural corral. Legend has it that one time, after breaking some of a heard, the unwanted Mustangs were left behind on the point with the gate open across the natural bridge. Thought was that they would leave the point on their own, but they didn't. Instead they stayed and died of thirst within site of the Colorado River 2000 feet below. Thus the name of the park.

Kathy and I immediately noticed how breezy it was at the top of the point. At the highest overlook, I had the distinct feeling that the wind would pick us up and blow us out of the park. There we were, I holding Kathy's cap with one hand, my own with the other, while she took pictures of the landscape below. And COLD....this was April, so don't know what we expected to feel like 6000 feet above sea level, but the surprise at just how the wind cut through us that morning was enough to make this a brief moment of gawking.

Beyond Dead Horse Point is the Canyon Lands National Park. I'll say right now that I'm not going to do it justice. By the time we reached this point, Kathy and I were just 'parked' out. More beautiful landscapes, including the natural Mesa Arch which was pretty neat. But this park we zoomed through, ready for the treasures of Ghost Towns that lied ahead. So back out of the parks to US 191, then south to Moab for lunch. Deciding there that we would not actually enter Arches National Park and instead just skirt it to the south along the Colorado River. Saw quite a few river rafters along the way, and wondered if someday we may take that kind of adventure ourselves. After watching a few of them struggle, I doubt it.

Finally out of the Canyons and back some straight roads, we ventured up toward I-70 again to our first ghost town of the day, Cisco. The town had grown as a Railroad stop back in the mid to late 1800's, then later in the 1900's grew some more with the discovery of Oil and Gas in the region. After I-70 came along though, the town died. Not sure this is true, but it gave off the appearance today that it was owned by only a handful of people now, used mainly as a salvage yard for old cars, trucks and oil field equipment. Run down houses and closed businesses, plus the Utah winds that day, put my mind a wonderin to some of those movies I've seen over the past few years. What was that...something called "The Hills Have Eyes", or something like that. Anyway, gave me the creeps (sorry about that Cisco).

After Cisco we hit I-70 again, making a loop back toward Green River where we began. The Utah wind that day was extreme, and locals say it was a rare occasion. 60, sometimes 80mph winds whipping out of the canyons and into the flatlands we now traveled, blowing the grey, moonlike dust we experienced in South East Utah, giving the sky a murky, almost ash look. Our next stop was Thompson Springs and Sego Canyon just off to the north. Sego Canyon was our bonus of the day. The short dirt road trip out of Thompson Springs brought us into the Canyon out of the strong wind, where the old mining town of Sego used to thrive. Still remnants of several buildings standing, including an old boarding house and evidence of rail tracks that handled the coal in the hills around it. Kathy and I enjoyed this one a lot, including the additional petroglyph's on the way. Pretty weird aren't we? Run down ghost towns favored over incredible National Park beauty. Guess we just have a different taste for history.

After Sego, it was back to I-70, past Green River, then north on US 191/6 to Price Utah, in the middle of Carbon County. This is ghost town haven and there is a lot of history throughout the county, including the town of Helper, which holds it's annual Heritage Week and has been named a Top Western Town by True West Magazine two years running. Got to Price pretty late, so we decided we would make the Super 8 there a stay two nights running. It was nice not having to rush around the next morning, and we started our leisurely trek up toward Helper by mid day.

Carbon County Coal Mining...

Helper is still a very active town, but the old mining camps that surround it are either gone and just a faded memory, or have been bought by the several Mining Operations still active in the coal industry today. There were quite a few with structures still standing, and the town of Kenilworth, just east of Helper, still houses a few hundred residents in old "company" homes. The mining operation there dying back in the 1950's, but the mining company selling the town back to the residents. The company store still stands, though it looked pretty abandoned.

Helper has a lot to offer the history buff, especially those into America's history in Coal, and the Old West. Looks like it was a pretty major rail hub, and still handles rail traffic today, complete with an Amtrak stop. Several thousand still call Helper home, and historic buildings still dot the way down main street. After Helper we headed up north toward Castle Gate, known for a famous Butch Cassidy robbery back in 1897, and an explosion that killed 172 miners in 1924. Nothing left of the town now but an historic marker and coal loading facilities.

Further north we veer off 191 toward higher country and the mining towns of Scofield and Clear Creek. Scofield State Park is home to a fairly large mountain lake, and in April it's still pretty frozen. The town of Scofield it self still houses about 30 residents in neatly restored mining homes, scattered amidst historic structures. Nestled toward the top of the Mountains here, you can tell that Summer months would be a wonderful time to visit, however in April, snow was so deep it came up over fences and half way up residents doors...and this was after some melt had already started. It was a nice stop though and beautiful country. May have to come back here in June or July to truly appreciate it's wonders. In fact, I recommend making this trek in early June to take in Helper's Heritage Week and the surrounding ghost towns.

Price to Mesquite Nevada....

Our last day of travel that Tuesday took us back to I-70, a couple of ghost town stops along the way, then back toward Las Vegas for our flight home on Wednesday. Leaving Price we ventured south on Highway 10, making a quick side trip on state 122 in search of Hiawatha and Wattis. We never found the towns, just active Coal Mining operations that you couldn't travel through. We did find ourselves on a dirt road along the side of a mountain that Kathy was just sure would take us to some great discovery, but I was driving and the ass hole pucker factor along the one lane, sometimes snow covered road was getting to be too much for this boy, so we finally found a safe place to turn around and headed back to the main highway.

A couple more stops in Lawrence and Emery to take in some history, and finally we were back on I-70. Making good time now on a long trek, we figured we could definitely take the time to stop by Cove Fort, just before the junction of I-15, the end of I-70 West. Cove Fort was built back in the mid 1800's by the Mormon's a place of protection and refreshment for travelers. The fort is a great stop today, kept up by the church who still give tours and a glimpse of what life was like then. They never needed to use it for protection against the local Indians, in fact they were on great terms with the Natives and did trade with them. Only one shot was ever fired at the fort, and it was an accident involving a young boy. The people that run the tours now are extremely friendly and very versed in the history of Cove Fort. It's a great stop for those wanting to learn more about Utah's history.

We only ventured off the interstate again once, this time on State Highway 156, leading us to the ruins of Old Iron Town. The state has protected some of the historic structures in a park there, that includes the remains of an old cone shaped Kiln and a home. Today they are developing a housing community around it with some pretty nice homes, but the park remains for historic minded people like us. Back to 156 we continue down toward State Highway 18, and the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which today stands as a monument to the 120 Men, Women and Children who died at the hands of the Mormon Church. The monument as it stands today was dedicated by the Church, and is a 'hallowed' reminder of the tragedy, later depicted in the 2007 movie "September Dawn".

That was our last adventure in Utah really, besides more incredible beauty back towards I-70 and ever more changing landscapes. Stayed the night in Mesquite, not wanting to venture back into sin city until we had to the next day. Glad to be coming home, yet thankful for the wondrous experience we had in Utah.

Our next big adventure is this July, where Kathy makes her second journey into Montana, but I my first. Planning on spending quite a bit of time there late July, so there will be plenty to write about. For now though, it's bed rest with foot propped up for the foreseeable future. Think I'll take another magic pill and let the day melt away into the abyss.

Ps. Kathy's already got most of the stories from Utah up on Legends Of America. Check out the What's new page for more. Or if your reading this months from now, go to Legends Of America and use the search bar for Utah, or just click Travel To, and chose Utah.

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