Ghost Town Tour 2016

“Well, they’re either out here lost too, or they’re out to murder us. Both seem likely right now.”

Luckily, the folks following us around the trails west of Milford, UT weren’t out to murder us that night, and as a result, I’m still here to tell this story.

When the trip reports from the 2015 Ghost Town Tour were posted to ExpeditionUtah.com, I was fairly jealous about having missed the trip. So, when the signups for the 2016 trip opened up, I was all over that one, and began the countdown to April.

Thursday

Ready to leave.

Ready to leave.

My Dad and I set out for Milford, Utah a little later than planned on Thursday afternoon. Got the Bronco loaded up, and headed south. After a stop for chimichangas in Delta that took a bit longer than planned, we were on our way. In retrospect, a few plates of Mexican food probably wasn’t the best choice for a trip like this, but hey, those were still some good chimis.

We made a quick stop for fuel in Milford, then headed west to try and meet up with the rest of the ExpUT crew near the 2+2 Kilns a dozen miles or so out of town. On a side note, the Bronco hit a little over 16MPG on the drive down - not bad for something that’s essentially a 5,000 lb brick. It’s surprising what can be accomplished when you clamp the cruise control down to 55mph and drive like a grandma take the scenic route to where you’re going.

We arrived at the turnoff for the kilns, and started looking for camp. However, a short way up the trail, it looked like we might have taken a wrong turn, so we doubled back to try to get back on the right course. Once we started up what we thought was the right trail, we saw a set of headlights quickly turn off of the highway, and start to follow us. We hadn’t seen any other vehicles for a while, so it was surprising, but whatever. The other vehicle started to gain on us, and while at first we weren’t super concerned, we also weren’t very convinced that we should stop and see who it was that decided to start following us around these trails in the dark. After all, I had both the 2m and CB radios on, and if they were with the ExpUT group, they’d try to call out to us on the radio, right?

As the mystery truck got closer, at point we thought we heard shouting. Around this time, the other truck got close enough that we decided we’d take our chances with the murderers. Apparently, they must’ve caught a glance of my amateur radio plates, and got closer to grab the callsign. Shortly after that, we heard them over the 2m, so we pulled over, and that’s how we met Greg & Rex. Turns out that they had been calling to us over the CB, but we didn’t hear them. The “shouting” we’d heard earlier was actually them over the radio, but I’d bumped the CB, and was routing the audio out to the PA horn under the hood. Once I flipped the switch back to the internal speaker, all was well.

Shortly after, we heard Dan over the 2m, and met up with him and his daughter. By this point, we still hadn’t yet found the camp and the rest of the crew at the kilns. We did a bit more exploring, but it was getting late, and pretty dark. A group decision was made to return back to the highway, and just camp near the markers for Frisco. We figured that the rest of the group would be headed that way in the morning, and this way they couldn’t miss us. Also, after trailing Dan for a bit with the light of a thousand suns he’s got mounted to his truck, I’m sold. The Bronco needs some extra lighting.

Friday

Good morning.

Good morning.

Friday morning we were treated to a fantastic sunrise. Also, to warm cinnamon rolls courtesy of Dan. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever woken up on the side of a highway in a better mood.

We broke camp, then made our way over to the Frisco kilns to wait for the rest of the group. Soon after, Dave rolled up, followed shortly by the rest of the crew. Introductions were made, and Dave gave us a bit of information on some of the history of the area.

We explored the area on foot, checking out the remains of the mining operations in the area. I get a big kick out of old machinery and heavy equipment in general, so I had a little too much fun wandering around out here. The interiors of the kilns were pretty interesting as well - looking closely, you can see where it appears that the rock began to melt, or at least glaze over due to the heat inside those things when they were in operation. I don’t know if that’s the true cause, but it makes sense to me.

From here, we made our way over to visit the Frisco Cemetery. As with a lot of these old cemeteries, there was a pretty good mix of older grave markers, newer markers for old spots, and in a few cases, fresh decorations on some of the graves. Always nice to see when folks aren’t forgotten.

We then hit the highway for a short trip around the mountains to visit the remains of Newhouse. There’s not much left there, other than a few walls, lots of foundations, and a few buildings. In contrast to the larger equipment left behind at Frisco, sometimes it’s the smaller things that can be interesting: small gears, or license plates. While there wasn’t a ton of stuff left though, I enjoyed being able to play “Six degrees of Samuel Newhouse”. Newhouse was the founder of the town, and owner of the nearby Cactus mine. We’re not related or anything, but as part of his contributions to Utah’s history, he also built Salt Lake City’s first skyscrapers, the Boston and Newhouse buildings. A few years ago, I used to work up for a company in the Boston building, and while the company I worked for turned out to be not so great, the building itself was pretty cool. If you find yourself in downtown Salt Lake, it’s worth a look around, and a sandwich from the deli in the basement.

Our trip continued on to Wah Wah Springs and the Squires family ranch. Here we found the remnants of some buildings, fencing, and other miscellaneous bits lying around. All built in an area that seemed like it would’ve been a nice place to settle for a while. The area we visited was a bit of a hike from where we parked, which was clearly marked with only the finest of tire signs.

We made a stop in Kiln Springs for lunch, and to just look around for a bit. The kilns here are in decent shape, and there’s some nice scenery. Once we got on the move, things were going well. We were seeing some good stuff, and my truck was running well. Compared to when I first picked it up a few years ago as a project, it’s been an uphill battle to get it trail-worthy. This trip, it had been running like a dream. But as we continued down the trail, we hit a decent bump, and then the Bronco died. Felt like a punch in the gut. We tried starting it back up, but it just wasn’t getting a spark. With some help from Kurt, we started poking around, and it looked like the wire connecting the radio interference capacitor broke loose, touched something it shouldn’t have, and we blew a fuse for the ignition system. After a quick fuse swap, and securing the rogue wire, we were back on our way in 10–15 minutes. All was well.

Our next stop was at the Pine Grove Camp, just off the side of the trail. The trail leading to the camp was a fun drive, and felt a bit narrow at times, at least for the full-size rigs. Pretty sure that a few of us collected some new pinstripes along the way.

The camp was in a beautiful little meadow, with a few cabins left. The area is nice and green, with a small creek running through it. Compared to some of the other areas we visited on this trip, it was nice to see a place that appeared to be aging naturally for the most part, and not due to vandalism and folks using everything visible for target practice.

After a nice stretch bombing down some dirt roads, we hit Stateline. There were a handful of buildings still standing, some right on the road, others tucked back behind trees, so some exploring was needed. A little ways down from the road, there was a small house that looked like at one point someone had been in the process of trying to renovate. Lots of newer building materials scattered around, and a couple of abandoned campers and trailers behind it. Inside the house, there was the usual vandalism, this time declaring that “Steven was here”, and “Sid too”. As we wandered around the property, I was a bit wary of investigating the trailers too closely - I’ve seen enough episodes of The Walking Dead to convince me that Steve & Sid were likely waiting for us in one of those trailers. This little section looked almost just like a scene from the show. Luckily though, no walkers were found.

It was also at this stop where it was determined that Rob’s trailer didn’t fair so well on the trip up to this point, and the axle had been bent. Some roadside repairs were done to remedy the problem the best we could at that point, and soon after we were on our way again. We continued on to the town of Modena, where we once we hit the highway, our group parted ways with Rob and his trailer, and he headed in the direction of Cedar City for some repairs.

We setup camp that night at the Etna Mine. Probably one of the coolest places I’ve camped. Approaching the mine, the road splits up into three levels, giving us plenty of space for everyone, and giving our campsite a bit of a condo feel. We’d been getting hints of rain here & there, and right around dinner time is when it really started to rain. Not exactly a downpour, but enough to get things muddy and make setting up some shelter for cooking worthwhile. Some folks were smart enough to bring along a canopy, or to setup their kitchens in one of the old mine sheds. Dad and I ended up just leaning over the stove to shield our dinner from the rain. And, right on time, the rain stopped as soon as dinner was ready. All part of the fun though.

Good times were had around the campfire. Lots of stories, and plenty of time to just relax and chill for the evening. We setup the fire near one of the covered mine openings, which of course led to most of us standing around, combining our flashlight power to find the bottom of the shaft. An attempt was made to lower some light down on a cord, but with the shaft not being totally straight, we had better luck with the combined flashlights. The shaft was not quite bottomless, but deep enough.

Etna was fun - plenty of stuff to see, and great scenery. The highlight for me was an old car that was apparently impaled on the lower level. I’d love to know the story behind that one. Abandoned cars have always interested me - more so than buildings at times. I mean, it’s pretty hard take a building with you. Eventually if you need to move on, buildings are usually pretty anchored where they are. But a vehicle, there’s almost always a way to get those things where you want them to. I’ve just always been curious about the story behind how a vehicle ends up where it is at times.

Saturday

Despite the rain, I slept like a rock for the most part. The little tent I brought along wasn’t as roomy as I originally remembered, so Dad & I woke up wet, with puddles in the tent, and wet sleeping bags. Apparently I was too relaxed to care though, since I didn’t really notice until we started waking up to our alarm clock.

We began the day with a trip up the road to view the remains of a few cabins in Gold Springs and the reclaimed Jennie Mine. “Reclaimed” obviously being a technical term, as the reality was that it looked more like someone drove a bulldozer over the place, and called it good. It’s a shame that rather than leave these buildings intact, they’re instead destroyed, and a mess is left in it’s place.

From Gold Springs we moved on to Fay, Nevada, near the Horseshoe Mine. Here we took a look around the cemetery, where it appeared that most of the grave markers had been lost to a fire. The few stone markers showed evidence of the fire as well, but over time the weather looked like it was helping to clean those up a bit.

Near the cemetery though, was quite the pile of old cans. In one area, you couldn’t spit without hitting one. A few of us got a kick out of one type of can in particular - cans of Baltimore Oysters. The cans said that these things were packed in Salt Lake City. However, it just seems that the time it would’ve taken to get fresh oysters to Salt Lake, means that these probably weren’t the freshest things around. There were dozens of these cans around though, so one theory we floated was that either these guys really liked oysters, or they were pretty disappointed when their supply shipment arrived, and they received oysters instead of flour. Who knows?

From Fay, our next destination was the Hackett homestead at Deer Lodge, Nevada. Here you’ll find the family home, and a few other buildings. This is another site I’d been looking forward to, as I’ve seen photos, and have heard the story of the Hackett brothers. As mentioned earlier, I find abandoned cars fascinating, and this is one of those cases, where not only is it a neat looking car, but we’ve also got the story to explain how it got there.

The story goes that one of the Hackett boys bought the car, but then ended up being called off to fight in World War II. The car was left home, and eventually one of the other brothers was off of to join the fight. Unfortunately, neither one of the brothers made it home, and the final resting place of the car remains there to this day. The brothers, along with other members of their family also ended up not too far from home, in a small, well kept cemetery up the road a bit. Not a bad little place to end up, really.

Our group then returned to Modena, Utah, where we setup near the old Lund Hotel. We took a break for lunch, and probably got the few locals wondering what was going on. Modena was an interesting place. Depending on where you looked, you could either think that you were in Small Town, USA, or a completely abandoned town. From some views, it was a bit of a mind-bender for me to see a home with a well-maintained yard and fairly new cars, framed by a couple of abandoned buildings. That’s a place I’d like to go back to wander around for a bit longer, as there was just an interesting mix of old & new(ish) there.

After leaving Modena, our last stop for the day was a CCC camp that must’ve been huge when it was in operation. Nature had reclaimed most of the area, but there were plenty of foundations left, and even an empty swimming pool. We found what looked like part of a garage, and rows upon rows of stones marking off a grid system. It’d be really interesting to know what sort of projects were going on back in the day.

Refilling the tanks.

Refilling the tanks.

From the camp, we started to make our way back toward the general direction of Milford again. Not all of us were going to be spending the night again, so as we made our way towards Milford, the group began to split up, with those staying one more day heading in one direction, and the remainder headed to Milford. Dad and I were part of the group taking off early, so we joined in with the others saying our goodbyes over the CB as our paths diverged. Nearly 300 miles from our start near Milford, the round trip returned to town, topped off the fuel, aired up the tires, began the trip home.

This was a great trip, and I’d highly recommend doing a similar trip if you get a chance. I’ve never been to this part of Utah before, and had only seen photos of a few of these places. Seeing these sites in person really felt like a step back into the past, and helped to make a connection to the history of the area. It also had a few of us wondering, at what point does something that’s part of our everyday lives become history? Because really, we spent a lot of time just looking and being interested in something that for someone 100 years ago, was no big deal. It was just life. In some cases, it just made us laugh - today, if someone left a campsite full of hundreds of empty cans and other junk, folks would throw a fit. But on this trip, we came across pretty much that exact situation, and had fun just picking through it and talking about history. Kinda makes me wonder if 100 years from now someone will be picking through the remains of my house, wondering what life was for my family and I. (I can only hope.)

A huge thanks to Dave for organizing this trip, and for being so knowledgeable about the area. It was great meeting many folks that until now, I’ve really only interacted with online. We had a couple of mechanical issues, but it was impressive to not only see how quickly the crew came together to get things resolved, but also how prepared they were. The knowledge and general likeablilty of the group was pretty much off the chart. Here’s hoping the Expedition Utah Ghost Town Tour becomes a regular event. I’d gladly hit this trail again with these folks.

I’ve shared a few of my photos here, but the full collection can be found over on my Flickr page.

Joshua Buhler Written by:

Josh is a father of three, husband of one, and occasionally likes to write about stuff.