Utah & Nevada: Salt Lake City, A Cursed Hotel, A Haunted Ghost Town, and Car Trouble

I had three initial impressions after driving around downtown Salt Lake City: 1) it was very clean, 2) it was very quiet, and 3) there was construction everywhere.

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Seriously, every single turn brought us to another two or three buildings going up in the heart of downtown:

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Even old buildings were going through significant renovations:

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We felt an obligation to at least check out the Church of Latter Day Saints headquarters in Temple Square (our guide book pointed out the interesting fact that street numbers and addresses are counted from here, and not the nearby State Capitol, just one of many indicators of the importance of the church in city life). We walked around the complex, saw the Salt Lake Temple (the main church, which was closed)…and, er, decided to move on.

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After, we stumbled on the the Downtown Farmer’s Market nearby, which turned out to be a lot of fun. Tons of vendors were selling all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables, every sort of food you could hope for, and a lot of interesting arts and crafts.

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It seemed like half the town had turned out, and it really made me wish New York’s Union Square market had as much room to stretch out.

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There was one stop in particular I’d been looking forward to visiting in SLC: the allegedly cursed Saltair Pavilion.

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When it opened in 1893, the gorgeous Saltair Pavilion was hailed as the West’s answer to Coney Island. Built on over 2,000 posts and pylons stretching out onto the Great Salt Lake, Saltair was one of the first amusement parks west of New York. It was entirely G-rated, however, as visitors were never out of the watchful eye of trusted members of the Mormon community.

The first Saltair building, pictured above, was destroyed in a massive fire on April 22, 1925. A second was built by investors on the exact location, but a number of different factors (the Great Depression, the advent of movies, change in travel routes, etc.) prevented it from reaching the success of its predecessor.

Then, in 1931, a second fire hit, causing over $100,000 in damage. Two years later, the Great Salt Lake receded, requiring the construction of a miniature railroad to bring bathers back and forth from the water. The resort was forced to close during World War II.

Saltair II reopened in the 1950’s, only to find that its clientele had moved on to more convenient entertainment venues. It finally ceased operations in 1958 and was boarded up. If you’d like a peak at what it looked like toward its bitter end, check out the awesome 1962 horror flick, Carnival of Souls, which director Herk Harvey wrote specifically for the abandoned property. Saltair II was completely destroyed in a fire in 1970.

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The above structure, Saltair III, was built in 1981 about a mile from the original and right on the water’s edge. The new owners initially had flooding issues – until the lake receded yet again. Since then, it has been intermittently abandoned and used as a concert venue. Cursed or not, I can’t imagine a worse string of luck for one venue.

Visitors can check it out today – a small gift shop inside sells tourist merchandise. This model was on display of the original Saltair:

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The interior of Saltair III:

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Since I was a kid, the idea of swimming in the Great Salt Lake has fascinated me. “You can’t sink!” I’ve always heard. “There’s too much salt!”

Before we left, I decided to do a bit of research into where the best swimming location was in SLC…and quickly found that locals consider swimming in the Great Salt Lake to be a pretty bad idea. According to numerous posters, the lake is muddy, smells like shrimp brine, takes forever to walk to a place deep enough to actually swim in, is infested with bugs, and will leave you coated in a disgusting layer of salt.

We decided not to swim in it…but we had to at least walk down to it, and the back of the Saltair seemed as good a place as any.

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So we started walking…and walking…and walking…

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The Great Salt Lake has moved back quite a distance since 1981, and it took us a while to get to the water’s edge. We amused ourselves along the way by taking pictures that made it seem like we were walking through a vast barren desert, which we sort of were.

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The ground is covered in a layer of brittle dirt clumps, which sound almost exactly like broken glass as you stomp across them.

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We finally made it to the water, and as warned, it absolutely reeked. I stuck my toe in the water, and was immediately swarmed by black flies. We ran back to the parking lot.

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I’m always wary about visiting cities on roadtrips because they require so much time to properly experience. I’d received a dozen really great SLC suggestions from readers, and had really been hoping to check them out. Unfortunately, with limited time, extra hours spent in SLC meant crossing off some places we were really looking forward to visiting later on in the trip…and we had to move on.

Great motto for a legal company, seen on a billboard while heading out of town:

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We met back up with US-6/Old US-50 and continued our journey west toward Nevada.

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After about an hour, US-50 took us through the town of Eureka, Utah (population: 766), one of my absolute favorite near-ghost towns of the trip.

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Originally known as Ruby Hollow, Eureka became the financial center for the thriving Tintic Mining District at the turn of the century. Up until 1930, millions of dollars worth of gold, silver, and copper was brought up from mines in the area. Then, as had happened in so many of the other ghost towns we’d passed through, the mines closed and the town dried up overnight.

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Eureka is now a National Historic District, and walking down Main Street is a step back in time. On the side of the Elk’s building…

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…an ancient sign for Levi’s (“A new pair free if they rip” – oh, how times have changed):

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An elk mounted on an old clock face:

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You can see right through this building:

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An outhouse (only for show):

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The City Hall, built in 1899 and still in great condition:

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Two more vacant storefronts:

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Yet another empty building:

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One interesting stop through town is this historic cabin dating back to the mid-1800’s, located on the side of the road with the door wide open for anyone to visit:

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The cabin once belonged to Porter Rockwell, a body-guard to Brigham Young.

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Inside is a really neat little shotgun cabin, complete with bunk beds, iron stove, and even a gun hanging over the door:

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The dining area:

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The cutest little mining car, stationed just beyond the cabin:

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As we drove west out of town, we could still see a number of mineheads boarded up in the hills:

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A former mine entrance:

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Another entrance:

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It was just outside Eureka that we had our first car problem: a flat. We rode over something loud, and within seconds, the tire was flapping loudly. Luckily, the donut was ready to go, and thanks to all the practice I’ve had changing flats after numerous NYC pot hole incidents, we were back on the road in minutes (and yet again, no AT&T reception – good to know I’ve got a service provider I can trust in the worst of times).

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We pulled into the town of Delta to get the flat fixed (God knows how we lucked out on an open tire repair place in the middle of nowhere at 7PM on a Saturday night). A kid in his 20’s was working in the garage, and as he fixed the tire, asked us in a thick western drawl, “So where you coming from?”

“Eureka,” I told him, and he got a funny look on his face.

“Huh,” he said. “Well, do yourselves a favor and never stay there overnight.”

“Really!” I said. “Why, is there something wrong with Eureka?”

“It…It just ain’t right.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“Well sir,” he said with conviction, “you might laugh at me, but I’m going to tell you the truth: Eureka is haunted. Something’s not right there. Couldn’t get me to spend the night there, no way.”

The conversation ended there. Without question, absolutely worth us getting the flat.

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I was half-tempted to spend the night in Eureka, just so we could play into the ultimate horror movie cliche of ignoring the seemingly ignorant local’s dire warnings of pure evil…but as far as I could tell, there wasn’t a place to stay in Eureka if we’d wanted to. So we continued on, occasionally catching glimpses of an enormous desert expanse on the horizon…

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…which, looking online, must have been the Great Basin National Park:

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Beautiful beige mountains occasionally rose into view…

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…and our route passed through one last high altitude climb to Wheeler Peak…

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…before hitting endless flat terrain:

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We crossed into Nevada…

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…and were greeted by some pretty impressive sun beams:

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We also passed by this bizarre antler gate.

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Maybe this sort of thing is common everywhere but the north-east. Apparently, the owner makes a living by constructing things out of antlers.

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More antlers:

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We then stopped in Major’s Place, Nevada, which seems to consist entirely of this roadhouse (seriously, search for it on Google, and while a marker and zip code will appear, its name will not appear on the actual map).

I went in to ask for the nearest gas station, and immediately felt like Peewee Herman in the bar scene from Big Adventure. This place is a den for real men (I’m pretty sure I was the only non-gun owner inside), men who wear flannel and Wrangler jeans and erect Coors and Budweiser signs for non-ironic purposes…and I definitely didn’t belong.

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As we were heading toward the nearest gas station, this guy stumbled out of the bar, completely wasted, and set off down the road with just a rolled up sleeping bag on his back.

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There is NOTHING down that road. I know, because we’d just spent 2 hours crossing it at 75 mph. I would love to know where he ended up, especially considering the sun was about an hour from setting.

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We pulled into Ely to gas up and saw our first rainbow of the trip. Aww…

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Sadly, it was here that we made a very difficult decision for the future of the trip: we would not be visiting California.

We had allotted a certain amount of time for our roadtrip, and as we looked over our itinerary, we began to realize that we were significantly behind in schedule. With another week, we could have done it, but it just didn’t seem sensible to bomb through a state as large as California only to miss about 95% of what there is to see (seriously, we would have had to visit both San Francisco and LA in the same day). The completist in me was really dismayed at not being able to see the Pacific at the very least (the crowning achievement for any western road trip), but like my friends at Major’s Place, I decided to be a man, suck it up, and follow the sensible path.

Thus, we said good-bye to our beloved US-50 at the US-93 junction, which would take us south to Vegas. US-50 had led us on a fantastic trip across the country, from the small towns of Indiana to the plains of Kansas, from the mountains of Colorado to the deserts of Utah, and I was sorry to leave its time-worn pavement. But I had a feeling we’d meet again…

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Depressing side note: the hours the flat tire cost us ultimately meant we wouldn’t be able to visit the legendary entrance to Area 51, and the kid inside me who used stay up on Friday nights watching The X-Files was devastated. Oh well. Here’s the sign, courtesy of a more intrepid Flickr user:

Air Force Installation - Go Away

One of the most incredible sights in the United States is the sudden appearance of Las Vegas on the horizon at night after driving hours and hours through pitch black desert. You see nothing, nothing, nothing, shit a fucking deer!, nothing…and then: an unbelievably bright oasis in the distance:

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It was really late when we checked in to our hotel, and we were exhausted from a full day of driving. As it happens, luck was on our side: because we were so late, the hotel was completely out our normal rooms, and had to instead give us an enormous suite…

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Very nice after all the Super 8’s, Motel 6’s, and Red Roof Inn’s we’d been staying at.

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Very large bedroom connected to an equally large bathroom.

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The next morning, for the first time in days, we began heading east.

-SCOUT

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20 comments

  1. Have a good trip home! Catch you in New York!

  2. The farmers market — which hosts some 10K visitors each Saturday, during the summer — you visited is in the park across the street from my loft (I live above the bike shop). I’m there each Saturday. We probably passed each other.

    Small world!

  3. You make me want to go on a roadtrip!!

  4. That mining car is actually a track speeder used on regular railroads, and subject of a whole huge hobbyist scene all their own. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speeder

  5. As soon as i saw the first picture of the Saltair boarded up, i knew you were going to talk about Carnival of Souls. What a great, creepy, ethereal movie, and what a fantastic set for it. I’m glad you stopped there.

  6. …Er, not boarded up, but that first picture of it behind the fence. *facepalm*

  7. In our great 1966 family trip west from Michigan to California and back (in two weeks), we stopped and swam in the Great Salt Lake. I remember it as a regular beach, with people and fun and showers to rinse off in, as well as the lake itself being incredibly buoyant. Thanks for reminding me.

    (A recent swim in the salt water of Mono Lake wasn’t as pleasant.)

  8. You made a hard, but wise decision – skipping California was the smart thing to do, because you’d need at least a couple of weeks for that state alone. However, I might have considered Oregon or Washington states, just to have reached the Pacific Ocean. But, I don’t know what your time frames are, nor do I know the specifics of the car you’re renting.

    Vegas is a great place to visit – but make sure you get both the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon in on your return trip…. I regret that on my trip through Vegas….

  9. Dude, too bad you came up short but I have had a blast watching you go from east coast to nearly left coast. There is always tomorrow. Can’t wait for the return trip. Personally wild horses couldn’t drag me to Vegas but that is me.

  10. One night in Vegas with a girl willing to go on a cross country road trip? Sounds to me like a night for spontaneous weddings.

  11. Bummer to hear your missing Cali….you could probably spend a whole month there alone. Is there no chance of making a speed run just to touch the Pacific? Good thing there’s no kids on board, they’d skin you. Best of luck on the return trip. Appreciate being able to peer in on the good spots.

  12. Being a transplanted New Yorker in Las Vegas, I have totally been enjoying your blog as well as your cross country trip. I recognize the place you stayed in Vegas, I live very close to there and was pleased to see it’s where you stayed. You had a great room. Sorry you didn’t make it to California, maybe next time! Thanks for showing us all the heritage of the cross-country trip.

  13. Think of all the opportunities for another spectacular road trip when next time you head to California. For one, you will be able to mimic Jeff Bridges in “Hearts of the West”, standing on the shore saying “Ah, the vast Pacific!” lol

  14. Sorry your experience with the Great Salt Lake wasn’t that great. The whole lake isn’t stinky, or covered with brine flies. It’s actually a great place to swim, well, if your an open water swimmer and desensitized to gross things in the water. Love all the pics of your trip. Looks like it was alot of fun!

  15. The northern end of Antelope Island is one of the better places to swim in the GSL. But not for ladies who have shaved their legs (or bodybuilders who have shaved whatever). 🙂

    Did you see any of the ancient bristlecone pines in GBNP? Speaking of which, there’s nothing there yet, but on the west side of GBNP is the planned site for one of the Long Now clocks: http://www.longnow.org/clock/clock-sites/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clock_of_the_Long_Now

  16. Glad you enjoyed Utah, my old stomping grounds. My grandpa was born in Eureka, UT, also known as Tintic. After seeing the wide expanse and mountains of Utah, you can see why some days I have a hard time living in the confines of New York.

  17. When I see a great article I do a few things:1.Share it with all the close friends.2.save it in all my popular bookmarking sites.3.Make sure to come back to the site where I read the article.After reading this post I am seriously concidering going ahead and doing all of the above…

  18. I’m from Eureka, I lived there for almost 7 years.(Then i moved to Tooele) There are stories about “ghosts” and it being “haunted” I promise you there’s no ghosts, and it is not haunted. If you don’t believe me, there is now a place to stay in Eureka,

  19. You should have swam in the Salt Lake. The locals are idiots. People travel from all over the world to swim in that lake. It’s quite the experience.

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