We love the history of the Old West. For us, nothing provides a glimpse into that world like a ghost town. Southern Utah during the 19th century was a harsh and dangerous place, and many settlements were abandoned for a number of reasons. Drought, flooding, and other natural disasters took their toll on the inhabitants. Indian conflict and lawlessness could force the entire population to abandon the town. At times the people just left without apparent reason and sometimes vanished without a trace.
These are three of our favorite ghost town sites. They can be easily incorporated into a trip from the Lodge at the Red River Ranch on your way to Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, or Zion National Parks.
Grafton, Washington County Located just outside of Zion National Park, Grafton is perhaps the most famous ghost town in the United States. It is definitely the most avidly photographed. Grafton was used in the iconic film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The town began as a Mormon settlement in 1859; it was intended to be part of a cotton growing experiment. Tensions arose during the Black Hawk War as murder and herd destruction on both sides forced the families to flee to neighboring towns. It was never resettled.
Paria, Kane County Paria has endured a volatile history of destruction and rebirth. It was originally founded in 1865. The Black Hawk War compelled settlers to leave their homes two years later. After the conflict dissolved, the families rebuilt their town. But the continued course of drought and flooding eventually led to complete abandonment in 1929. Paria enjoyed a second boom, beginning in the 1950’s. It was converted into a movie set and hosted scores of Westerns. Flooding in 1998 caused widespread destruction to the buildings. Community and government projects helped rebuild the sets, mainly for tourism. Unfortunately, in 2006, arsonists caused large amounts of damage to the town. Visitors can still see some of the original structures and part of the movie sets.
Fruita, Wayne County Now officially part of Capitol Reef National Park, the abandoned settlement of Fruita in one of the most visited ghost towns in the State. Fruita enjoyed prosperity from 1880 until 1955. At that point the remaining citizens moved in anticipation of the new national park. The orchards that still thrive in Fruita today gave the town its nickname “The Eden of Wayne County.” The structures are in remarkable shape thanks to the preservation by the national park service.
We at the Lodge at Red River Ranch hope you like these ghost towns as much as we do. Talk to us at the front desk to see the best routes to take when visiting these windows to the Old West.