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Wednesday, September 15, 2010
In The Gold Dust Rush
Just a little less than halfway done with this project...
Today I am visiting with a friend in SLC and tomorrow it's off for Wendover and the Western Desert. I'm pretty confident about the way the photographic part of this project is turning out...
Then there is the idea of actually writing something more substantial, closer to resembling a real book, about these places. Which leads us to the subject of Ghost Town books in general. Aren't there enough already written? Why go over what's already been done, researched and written about in great depth already?
For starters, ghost town books have the convenient habit of going out of date as time goes by and different places fall apart completely, burn down, get taken over by second-home owners, get strip mined into oblivion, get torn down by the Bureau of Land Management, get converted into motorcross race tracks, or shooting ranges, etc... History disappears pretty fast out here on its own, and a lot of Utahan's actions (or inaction) aren't helping. This is, after all, the state who's motto is "Industry". Preserving historic structures ranks pretty low on the list of priorities when there's money to be made!
A good example of this comes from Winter Quarters in Carbon County. Today, the former town is just a few neglected and collapsed frames of stone, alongside overgrown foundations, broken glass, and two large, modern, hunting trailers. It is also the site of the worst mining disaster in Utah's history. On May 1, 1900, 200 miners died when built up accumulations of underground coal dust ignited. The explosion made headlines around the world. Whole families were devastated- many loosing several members at once in the blast. Boy scouts from neighboring counties volunteered to dig the many graves needed in nearby Scofield's cemetery, and religious officials from as far away as Rock Springs, WY came in to administer rites in multiple languages. In a state heavily dependent on extractive industries, you'd think this place would be known, studied, and visited. Instead it is locked away behind 3 separate fences all with "Private Property- No Trespassing" signs (four fences actually if you count the side road up to the mine entrance itself). The owners of the ranch alongside the road to Winter Quarters don't do much to encourage tourism. The elk tags the Division of Wildlife gives them can sell for thousands of dollars a-piece to out of state trophy hunters. The tighter land access is controlled, the more these tags are worth.
I also visited- but didn't photograph- the site of the second worst mining disaster in Utah's history. This would of course be Castle Gate, Carbon County, where on March 8 1924, 172 men died in another underground explosion. Castle Gate is also famous for being the site of Butch Cassidy and Elza Lay's daring payroll robbery in 1897. There is a small commemorative plaque along highway 6 about these events you'll probably miss as your drive past the giant fenced off coal power plant that has been built where this town once stood!
A lot of the ghost town books tend to excite readers about places with virtually no traces left of them at all, or inversely, they set you up for disappointment when your visit to someplace rare and special turns out to be wedged tightly in between brand new trailer homes, shiny pickup trucks, and "No Tresspassing" signs. Probably the most authoritative book of this type for Utah- Some Dreams Die, by George Thompson- has the rather obnoxious habit of concluding every entry on a historic place with the suggestion that great treasure may be just waiting to be found by You and Your metal detector. It would be pretty hard to calculate just how much damage that one book alone has contributed to the places it describes by sending the most destructive visitors directly to them.
Well, we'll see what I wind up being able to pull together. Till then, here's a little peak of what's still left out there.
Mohrland, Hiawatha, Coal City, National, Peerless, Standardville, Rains, Mutual, Ophir, Spring Canyon, Winter Quarters, Homansville, Silver City, Death Canyon, Mercur, Manning...