Crossing Utah: Ghost Towns, Dinosaurs, Arches, and a Home in a Rock

After leaving Blanding, Utah, we didn’t even have to travel to a national park to see our first arch of the day, which was right along the highway:


Our goal was to travel north to Arches National Park, then rejoin old US-50 (renamed US-6 in Utah) and spend the night in Salt Lake City.


Of course, we had to first stop at the quintessential roadside attraction: Hole N’ The Rock.


In 1940, Arthur and Gladys Chistensen decided to build their home inside this enormous rock. Over a 12 year period, Arthur blasted 50,000 cubic feet of sandstone, creating a 5,000 square-foot living space inside the rockface. This is the front door to the kitchen:


The door to the main living area:


Crazy, right? When Albert died in 1957, Gladys opened a diner to raise money to finish the property, and later gave tours. The diner is now a gift shop:


The tour lasted only about 12 minutes, but at $5 a ticket, it was worth every penny. The furniture hasn’t been changed since the 1950’s, and pictures would not do justice to the other bits of weirdness you find inside, like absolutely bizarre taxadermied animals, and Arthur’s many paintings of Jesus and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A peak at the living room (pictures were not allowed):


In fact, Arthur liked FDR so much, he chiseled a two foot tall likeness on the front of his house.


Arthur also blasted his own burial site into the rock face…


…while Gladys made the headstone.


Again, I can’t recommend Hole N’ The Rock highly enough. There’s also a ton of kitschy stuff on the property that you can explore. For example, follow the many signs leading to Bigfoot, and hey! There’s a big foot!


A bizarre jeep sculpture by a famous roadart guy whose name alludes me:


More random junk:


We continued north and finally reached Arches National Park. Our single hope was that we’d have more fun than at Monument Valley. Thankfully, the National Parks Department is on top of their road maintenance, and we had no trouble driving in.


We were in luck. Arches was pretty damn amazing, with insane rock formations everywhere you turn. We followed a hiking trail down into this valley…


We then took a trail up to Balanced Rock (deja vu from Garden of the Gods…):


The formations are the result of a salt bed, over thousands of feet thick in some areas, deposited by a sea that once flowed through the region. The subsequent geology is a bit complicated, so I invite you to read about it on Wikipedia…or maybe just assume it’s all magic. Did I mention the opening scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed here?


We took a short hike to see one of the park’s cluster of arches known as The Windows…


Through the window:


The most famous monument in the park is the Delicate Arch, seen on Utah license plates:


Sadly, it was a 3 hour hike and the temperature was well over 100, so this is as close as we got (you can just see it in the middle):


We grabbed lunch in town, where I noticed this flyer on a billboard at the supermarket. If I had a knife sharpening service, this is totally what I’d call it:


We continued along US-50, stopping in Price, the largest city in eastern Utah. We hit the awesome Prehistoric Museum, located at the College of Eastern Utah. Far from a kitschy roadside attraction, the museum houses an extensive look into the people and animals that once called the region home. Some of those animals were of the dino variety:


The Prehistoric Museum in Price has some of the best dinosaur fossil displays I think I’ve ever seen. While the Natural History Museum in NY certainly has a LOT of bones, I really hate how they shove them into one big room with no artistry.


Even better, many of these skeletons, like the T-Rex above, were actually found within 25 miles of the museum at the Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry. A stegosaurus:


And of course, an infamous raptor! Better known as a Utahraptor (those in Jurassic Park were modeled after a variety found in Mongolia), this skeleton was also discovered near the museum…


…and man does it look a whole lot sillier when you add on the feathers it was believed to have had. Oh well…

The museum even has a neat case describing the raptor inaccuracies in Jurassic Park, including comparing the actual size of a claw.


The museum is also home to one of the most pristine Mammoth skeletons ever discovered, found near Price at an altitude of 9,000 feet. Copies of it can be found at museums throughout the world:


We continued through downtown Price, passing an original J. C. Penney store (the company was once based nearby in Salt Lake City)…


…and the interesting Price Theater.


A little further down the road, we made one last short detour to see the very interesting town of Helper, Utah.


Founded in 1892, Helper was once a coal boomtown until the 1950’s, when trains switched to diesel and the town essentially went out of business overnight. Despite the amazing number of turn of the century buildings on the main drag in excellent condition, nearly every single one is empty, and has been for decades. Even so, Helper is still a charming look into the past.


The old La Salle lounge:


The sign advertises a Dining Room and Barber Shop:


The connecting La Salle Hotel and Cafe:


The New House Hotel (for sale):


The awesome Strand theater.


Built in 1922, the Strand last showed a movie in 1955. It is now used for storage and, according to the current owner, it would cost less to build a new theater than it would to restore the Strand.


An abandoned gas station at the western end of town:


Coal veins that once made towns like Helper wealthy can be seen in the rock face along the highway:


We pulled into Salt Lake City several hours later. Our first stop? In-N-Out, where we had the only fast food dinner on the trip that didn’t leave us feeling sick afterward.


Love those hidden biblical messages…



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  1. If you really liked that dinosaur museum you should have traveled to Vernal,Utah to the Dinosaur National Monument. It is extremely cool, the dinosaurs are shown in situ and you can watch the scientists working. That is the place that furthered my decision (I was 12 the first time we went) to become a geologist/archaeologist!

  2. Welcome to Utah!

    I love Hole in the Rock! Such a crazy little place.

    If you’re in SLC for any time at all, I could recommend several AMAZING places to eat!

  3. Just couldn’t wait until the end to tell you what a lovely job you’re doing sharing your road trip with us. I am really enjoying your pictures and descriptions. You know, anybody that has driven across the country in the manner you’re doing it, can feel the road-tedium and then the excitement of coming across great things, even not-so-great things that make it all worth while. I absolutely love the dinosaur/cultural museum. What a great stop. And I’ll bet you wish you could move all those wonderful, movie-theater time-capsules closer to New York so you could make use of them in your work.

    Thanks for providing us with a high-quality ride-along. I, for one, really appreciate it!

    DW, Nashville, TN

  4. In-N-Out is the BEST!

  5. How did you like the in-n-out fries? I never cared for them too much but the burgers are awesome.

    • I think the thing about In-N-Out is, I eat the food and think it’s solid, very good fast food…Then, as I’m eating, I read the side of the bag about fresh meat, no artificial ingredients, hand-cut fries, made fresh on the grill, and all the other positive bullet points…And I leave thinking it was the best fast food meal I’ve ever eaten. I swear, it’s got the powers of a cult!

  6. The dino you named a Stegosaurus looks to be Chasmosaurus, a cousin to Tricertops. That mammoth looked huge as hell! Thanks for stopping by some kind of dinosaur spot. They’re like the chocolote sprinkles on the big vacation ice cream cone.

  7. Scout, incredible stuff! In 1971, two friends and I traveled from
    nyc to venice ca. in 42 hours. you’re bringing back a whole bunch
    of memories. great pics and stories! save journey

  8. What Janet said – Vernal is definitely worth the visit. I’ve been to the Price museum as well, and I agree, one of the best of its kind. Glad you got to see it!

  9. Oh, forgot to mention, in SLC, visit Trolley Square Mall. Very cool place, with the original trolley car barns. Different kind of atmosphere than your usual mall. (they had a shooting here a couple of years ago; but it was always a safe kinda place when I was there.

    Oh, and while you are there, tune in to KRCL 90.9, Radio Free Zion, for an eclectic mix of music, news and features.

  10. I do not want you ever to end this trip.

  11. Nice! So glad you made Arches. May very well be my favorite national park. We skipped Hole in the Rock in March, but we’ll definitely do it next time. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about a great little roadside burger joint in Moab. Right up your alley.

    In-n-Out is good for fast food. I used to miss not having it in NJ-NY. But now we have Five Guys, so I don’t miss it anymore 😉

  12. This seems like America’s answer to kapadokya…

  13. Loving the road-trip.
    Brings back to life memories of a roadtrip we did in April around Colorado. That was our first taste of America aside from NYC.
    Can’t wait to see more.

  14. Holy moly, those desert scenes are sooooo Red Dead Redemption. Love it!

  15. That’s our crowning glory–the cliff above Helper! Thanks for photos and effort.

  16. Wow. A hidden scripture? That’s Utah, for sure.
    Can you believe I’ve lived in Salt Lake City my whole life and never been to any of these places? Definitely planning a road trip to cure that. Great pictures. You make Utah look interesting. 😉

  17. Hey, you made it to my town! (Moab) Hope you enjoyed your quick trip through my neck of the woods.