Wharton: Many dots on a Utah map are worth finding
The small green sign off U.S. 89 just north of the Mount Carmel Junction has stood for years as a challenge. Always in a hurry to get somewhere else, I've passed it dozens if not hundreds of times, always wondering just what this little town of 138 residents was like.
I thought about it again a few weeks ago when driving home on a quiet spring Sunday, recalling a recent conversation with Utah State Planning Coordinator Mike Mower.
Mower had introduced himself a few months ago at a news conference and we spent a few moments chatting. It quickly became obvious that we both loved Utah and, through a lifetime of exploring, thought we knew the state quite well.
Mike told me he thought he was down to the last five towns in his quest to visit every one of Utah's cities. By my calculations, there are 461 of them.
That got me wondering how many towns I had not visited in over 40 years of traveling the state for The Tribune. Between covering high school sports I once had visited nearly every school in the state and outdoors, I felt certain that there weren't many places I hadn't seen.
Was I ever wrong.
Perusing a Utah road map, I made a list of the cities I had not visited or might have driven through without realizing I had visited. From Abraham to Zane, I counted 46 cities or about 10 percent of the state that, to my knowledge, I hadn't set foot in.
I might have visited Angle, Austin, Arcadia and Bauer or driven through Penrose, Salt Springs, Standrod, Sugarville or Low without realizing it, but I just wasn't certain.
There were some places on the map where I have been close without driving a few miles out of my way to see a small town. That's especially true of West Desert towns such as Gandy, Garrison, Eskdale and Trout Creek.
And I didn't realize there were so many tiny towns in Duchesne and Uintah counties. I might have seen Monarch or Whiterocks, for example, but I couldn't be sure. It seems like I have visited Venice in Sevier County or Greenville or Adamsville in Beaver County. Who knows for sure?
That said, I am proud to have visited some of the most remote places on the Utah map, many of which are no more than ghost towns. Have you, for example, been to Lucin, Kelton, Etna or Grouse Creek? How about Thompson Springs, Mercur or Modena?
Few Utah places are as difficult to reach as Navajo Mountain, but my daughter took me there once to meet a family she had worked with for a college service project. The Oljeto trading post near Monument Valley was worth a short drive. Koosharem and Antimony are off the beaten track, but I loved meeting folks in the tiny general store and restaurant in those two towns. I think I even bought a tea set for a granddaughter at a craft sale in Koosharem once while taking a side trip one rainy Easter weekend.
All of which brings me back to Alton.
Coming home from a recent trip to Lake Powell and driving by myself, I looked at the sign again and decided I just had to turn up the little road and drive the few miles out of my way to see this town. As is often the case in my wanderings around Utah, the reward was worth the extra 20 minutes it took.
I was greeted by two beautiful little reservoirs, home of a few geese and ducks that had just hatched their young. The town itself looked like a place where hard-working ranchers lived. There was a little city park and a church, but no store that I could see. The most unique thing was a stop sign that, instead of saying "Stop," had the word "Whoa" written across the traditional red design. I couldn't see any sign of the Alton strip mine I had read about, but the cliffs of what I imagine was Bryce Canyon National Park could be seen in the distance.
All in all, it was a pretty little side trip on a long Sunday drive.
So I guess I need to take a trip to the West Desert soon and explore Garrison, Trout Creek and Gandy, dots on the map that look more than a little intriguing.