Western USA 2023 – Day 2 – Ghost Towns

Today we explored the three ghost towns of Old Irontown, Silver Reef, and Grafton. We woke up around 7:00am and had a complimentary breakfast at our hotel. I had some fruit, bacon, and an omelette. After breakfast we drove about 75 minutes to Old Irontown.

Old Irontown, originally known as Iron City, was originally founded in 1868 when there was a second attempt at mining iron from the nearby Iron Mountain. The first attempt from Cedar City was not successful. The city didn’t last long, only until 1876, when the Edmunds-Tucker Act (religious crisis) and the Panic of 1873 (economic crisis) led to the closure of the mine, which eventually led to the demise of the city. At its peak, the settlement included a school, blacksmith, charcoal furnaces, and a foundry. The ghost town is now a protected historic site since 1971. 

After visiting Old Irontown we tried to visit a nearby historic aviation arrow, however the road was impassable, so we continued onto the second ghost town of Silver Reef, which was about 40 minutes away.

Silver Reef is a ghost town Northeast of St. George, Utah. It was established in 1875 when a silver vein was discovered in a sandstone formation by a prospector named John Kemple. Geologists were baffled by this, as silver is not usually found in sandstone. Originally established as the settlement called Rockpile, the town was eventually renamed Silver Reef. By 1879 over 2000 people were living in Silver Reef. Mines were starting to closed by 1884 as the worldwide price of silver dropped, and by 1901 most of the buildings had either been demolished or moved to Leeds.

In 1916, mining operations in Silver Reef resumed under the direction of a man named Alex Colbath, who started the Silver Reef Consolidated Mining Company to exploit the remaining mines in the area. These mines were eventually purchased by American Smelting and Refining Company in 1928, however due to the Great Depression, not much work was completed. In 1948 the mines were purchased by The Western Gold & Uranium Corporation, and in 1951 began mining uranium in the area. The mines were eventually sold again, in 1979 to the 5M Corporation. Today, the Wells Fargo office, the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, and the Rice Building are the prominent remaining structures of the ghost town.

It was time to get some lunch so we drove about 20 minutes to Hurricane and ate at Main Street Cafe. We both had a cranberry turkey sandwich, which was delicious. I chose a side of salad with blue cheese dressing.

After lunch we drove towards Silver Reef; the last ghost town of the day. Along the way we stopped at Matt’s Offroad Recovery, which is an off-road recovery operation outisde of hurricane. Matt has a YouTube channel which I have been watching on a regular basis for the last 2.5 years, so it was neat to see his crew and the Morrvair in person. They were fairly busy, so were not actively taking tours of the site. I did see Lizzy and Matt’s wife Jamie though. After a brief stop we continued towards Grafton.

Grafton is a ghost town just south of Zion National Park in Utah. It is likely the most photographed ghost town in the Western states, and has been used as a filming location for several movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The town was settled in 1859 as a cotton-growing project ordered by Brigham Young, an American leader and politician at the time. The town grew quickly in the first couple of years, featuring 28 families by 1864. Each family farmed an acre of land. Continuous flooding and large amounts of silt in the land quickly lead to the abandonment of the town, and only four families remained by 1890. The last residents left Grafton in 1944. In June 1997 the Grafton Heritage Partnership was organized to protect, preserve, and restore the remaining townsite.

It was around 4:00pm at this time, and we had accomplished everything that we wanted to see today so we drove back towards St. George. My dad had found another aviation navigation arrow that we could stop at, which was right in St. George. These large 50 foot “Chrome Yellow” concrete arrows were built between 1926 and 1932 to help to guide pilots of early airmail flights across the United States. All arrows pointed East on West-East airways, and North on South-North airways. In the middle of the arrow was a 50 foot tall steel tower that had a rotating beacon to help aid in navigation, especially at night. During World War 2 the steel towers were dismantled to supply metal for the way effort. Towards the end of the war aircraft navigation systems were starting to be utilized, so the arrows became bleached and started to crumble. The arrow that we visited today is painted pink, but its originally colour would have been that vibrant yellow.

After that we drove back to the hotel to relax for a bit before going out for dinner. We decided to go back to the same place as last night. This time I had a lamb burger and a salad, and Dad had a pulled pork sandwich. After dinner we went back to the hotel to relax for a bit before going to bed, as we have a fairly early day tomorrow because we need to go for our hiking orientation in Kanab for our hike on Thursday.