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Moab Historic Happenings October 2003

Grand County Ghost Towns
by Jeff Richards


October is always a good time for ghostly happenings. Although Grand County doesn’t appear to have many legends involving actual ghosts or haunted houses, it is home to several ghost towns. Most are mining camps that died decades ago. Here’s a short guide to some of the more well-known ghost towns in Grand County:

Miners Basin

MINER’S BASIN, also known as simply Basin, was a mining town at over 10,000 feet elevation on Mt. Waas in the La Sal Mountains. With a peak population of about 75 or 80, the town flourished for about 20 years after gold was discovered there in the late 1880s. The first claims were staked in the area around 1888, and a formal mining district was organized 10 years later. Silver and copper were also mined in limited quantities, in addition to gold. At its heyday, the town boasted a hotel, a store, two restaurants, a blacksmith shop, a post office, and two saloons. However, the mines were closed in 1907 as a result of a nationwide financial panic, and the town died shortly thereafter. Even so, a few diehard miners remained on the mountain for decades afterward. A few log cabins and other structures still remain in the area.

Just down the mountain from Miner’s Basin was CASTLETON, a bustling mining supply center located not far from the present day town of Castle Valley. It was reportedly first settled by Doby Brown, a prospector, in the early 1880s. A post office was established in Castleton in 1882, and numerous other buildings soon followed. Castleton not only boomed along with Miner’s Basin, it also died along with it when the mines closed in 1907. Today, the remains of Castleton can be seen some 10 miles southeast of the Castle Valley turnoff of state highway 128. 


SEGO boasted a population of nearly 500 people more than 80 years ago. Located in Sego Canyon five miles north of Thompson Springs, Sego began its existence as a coal mining camp for American Fuel Company workers who had begun working Henry Ballard’s coal mine in the Book Cliffs area around 1912. The coal from the mine was loaded onto railroad cars and transported down a five-and-a-half mile railroad spur to Thompson. The town was originally known as Neslen at first, and was notable for its racially segregated housing. In 1918, the town’s name was changed to Sego (in honor of Utah’s state flower) when Chesterfield Coal Company bought out AFC. The mine, which struggled financially throughout much of its existence, closed for good in 1947. Today, a few ramshackle buildings remain, including the old store, a two-story wooden boarding house, along with a few dugout cabins, an explosives bunker, and several old foundations.

CISCO was a watering stop for railroad steam engines beginning in the 1880s. Cattle ranchers and sheepherders in the nearby Book Cliffs to the north later used Cisco as a livestock shipping and supply center. The town, which had a population of several hundred people as late as the 1930s, was also at one time the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the state. However, the town’s economy declined over the years, and the construction of the Interstate 70 highway (which bypassed the town entirely) proved to be the final nail in its coffin. Today, a few dozen dilapidated buildings are sprawled across a mile or so of land, interspersed with a few lived-in homes inhabited by Cisco’s few present-day residents. Cisco is about 6 miles southwest of I-70 Exit 220 and about 50 miles east of Green River.

PLAINSFIELD was located just south of the Grand-San Juan County line in the “Poverty Flats” area of southern Spanish Valley, somewhere near or in between the Old Airport hangar and Ken’s Lake. Virtually no evidence remains of the town’s existence. One of its earliest residents was noted pioneer John Henry Shafer, who settled the Plainsfield area in 1878 along with fellow rancher C.M. Van Buren. A petition for a post office was granted in 1879, but was discontinued the following year. Problems with hostile Native Americans caused the first Plainsfield settlers to close the fort and move closer to town. However, in 1883, four other families (Somerville, McConkie, Newell, and Johnson) moved from elsewhere in San Juan County to the Plainsfield area. Jennie Somerville, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Somerville, was reportedly the first baby ever born in the fledgling community. Throughout the 1880s, school was taught and LDS church meetings were held at the McConkie home in Plainsfield. Because water was scarce, Plainsfield residents had to go down the valley three or four miles to the Boren Ranch (now the George White Ranch) to obtain drinking water from the springs. By the early 1900s, however, Plainsfield was nothing more than a memory.

WILSON MESA, also known as simply Mesa, was located on the western slope of the La Sal Mountains. It actually consisted of two mesas, North Mesa and South Mesa, which were separated by a small canyon called Left Hand. These mesas, which still contain ranches, are accessible from the present-day La Sal Mountain Loop Road. Wilson Mesa was first settled by Joseph Burkholder and Herbert Day in 1891. Other early settlers included the Shafers, the Johnsons, the Diffendorfs, and the Fillmores. Wilson Mesa took its name from cattleman A.G. Wilson, who grazed about 500 cattle in Spanish Valley, the Sand Flats, and on the mesa itself. A post office existed in Mesa from 1907 to 1923. One notable accomplishment by Mesa settlers was the construction of an impressive tramway to lower 1,200 pounds of produce at a time from South Mesa to the Mill Creek area some 2,000 vertical feet below. The Murphy brothers built the tram around 1916. Supplies could also be hoisted up the tramway, provided that the down-going load was heavier.

RICHARDSON is a nearly forgotten town named after its founder, Professor Richardson, who in 1879 settled at the mouth of Professor Creek (also named after him). He built a cabin which later became a store when he built his home in nearby Professor Valley. Professor Creek was a strategic waterway used by early residents to float supplies from the railroad stop at Cisco down to Castle Valley. Richardson had an official post office from 1886 until 1905. Today, only a couple of ranches remain in the area.

VALLEY CITY, a few miles south of present-day Crescent Junction, was once a thriving farming community. It was born around 1905, when the Grand Valley Land and Mineral Company had men working on a reservoir near Thompson that would irrigate some 2,500 acres of land. However, because the company had little cash on hand (its treasurer had reportedly bet a bundle at the racetrack and lost) a dirt dam was substituted for the originally planned cement dam. Three years later, sixty acres of orchard were being irrigated with dam water. But a torrential rainstorm then washed away the dam, not to mention the dreams of those who had invested their time, money, and hard work into the project. The dam was later rebuilt, however, and the town of Valley City had a schoolteacher in the 1920s and early 1930s. However, the periodic flash floods proved to be too much of a threat, and eventually everyone moved away. Today, only traces of a single building foundation remain.


Other area ghost towns, some of which have a few modern-day residents, include ELGIN (near Green River), DEWEY (home of the famous Dewey Bridge, a suspension bridge constructed in 1916), and WESTWATER (which reportedly once seriously rivaled Moab as the county’s largest city the late 1890s). For more information on the history of Grand County and its various old towns, visit the Dan O’Laurie Canyon Country Museum at 117 East Center Street in Moab.

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