Wharton: Visiting Utah's 470 dots on a map
Upton • From Abraham to Zane, Mike Mower can now say he has visited every one of the 470 blue dots on a Utah highway map that signify the state's cities.
The quest ended in fitting fashion recently on a spectacular spring day.
Mower, the deputy chief of staff for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and state planning director, took some personal leave on a late April morning to complete his bucket-list journey. Driving east of Coalville up a scenic canyon road toward the Utah-Wyoming state line, he crossed Upton and Pineview off his list.
Like some towns on a map, Pineview may or may not have been there. There was a Methodist Church camp in the area, but no real sign saying Mower had visited the dot on the map.
Upton was another story.
There was a beautiful redrock sign with "Welcome to Upton" engraved in black on it. Local resident Margaret Bowman stopped to take Mower's photo and chat a bit. She said she and her husband helped pay for the sign by selling scones at the Summit County Fair to help a local boy with his Eagle Scout project.
Mower is a friendly Emery County native with an understanding of the importance of small-town values. He loves sharing stories with folks such as Bowman.
As an aide to Herbert, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Reps. Howard Nielson and Chris Cannon and former Provo Mayor Lewis Billings, as well as a campaign worker for former Gov. Mike Leavitt, Mower gets around the state.
As planning coordinator, he certifies relatively new Utah towns such as Bryce Canyon City, Hideout and Independence when they reach 100 residents.
Growing up in Ferron, a place he describes as "close to heaven on earth," and watching his mom work as a home health nurse in tiny burgs such as Emery, Cleveland and Elmo, he gained a love of rural Utah.
"I learned to appreciate that every town has a soul and every person has a soul while getting to know people and seeing where they were from," he said.
Sometimes, when traveling with governors and congressmen, he had a front-row seat at town meetings where people came to participate in the political process. He even once watched Huntsman change a flat tire as his security detail and staff watched in the middle of the west desert near Gold Hill.
He appreciates the small cafes that can be found in many rural towns, places such as Mom's in Salina, the Sunglow in Bicknell, Ray's in Green River or Mollie's in Snowville.
"I have eaten at just about every cafe in rural Utah," he said. "I view that as part of my patriotic duty working in the governor's office to eat in as many hometown cafes as possible. I've learned that the best place for pickled eggs in Utah is the Shell station in Helper and the best pickle pie is in Bicknell."
He counts Lakeside, a small two-trailer military area north of Interstate 80 in the West Desert with a friendly resident tomcat, as the most difficult place to reach because the only routes in are either on a railroad right of way or driving through secured military property.
Mower said death row at the Utah State Prison was the most somber place.
He loves tiny mercantile general stores such as those found in Kanosh, Koosharem and Coalville that carry a little bit of everything. Visiting the Grouse Creek Mall, a store he describes as having 10 cans of soup and a freezer filled of frozen food, was a highlight.
In fact, he lists little-known towns such as Grouse Creek and Ibapah, nestled at the base of towering mountains, as two beautiful places few Utahns have visited or perhaps even heard about. He loves just about any town in Cache Valley and the remote San Juan County community of Navajo Mountain. He counts Salt Lake County's Copperton as a fine example of a company town.
In addition to Upton and Pineview, Mower listed Fish Springs and Westwater as some of the last dots on the map to check off.
He said he suspects he will never run out of new things to see or do in Utah as he travels its back roads. Next on the list may be a road trip to the Hole in the Rock on Lake Powell or a hike to Lower Calif Creek Falls.