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The Jim Bohannon Show included a short bit of news on a woman who had bought a Utah ghost town, in which this artist is now the only resident. Looking up Eileen Muza and the town of Cisco yielded a story that, like the radio show segment, was obviously incomplete, or should have been so. See if you can spot the problem in the Denver Post/AP story:
Eileen Muza is the sole resident of Cisco, Utah, a scattering of old buildings in the high desert 30 miles west of the Colorado line, KUTV reports. The town was created in the 1880s as a fill-station for a railroad, but died off when Interstate 70 was built a few miles north.
Think about it. A fill-station for a railroad was a logistics node where water and coal would be loaded into steam locomotives. The arrival of an interstate highway would have nothing to do with the railroad. So, we need to fill in the rest of the story.
The railroads transitioned from steam to diesel-electric between the mid-1930s and early 1950s. Any town dependent on the direct revenue of railroad water and coal supply, plus the effects of passengers or cargo customers meeting trains at these necessary stops, was in for a huge economic downturn. Cisco still has a Union Pacific railroad track, but the Union Pacific ended steam locomotive operations in the late 1950s. However, Cisco had some economic diversification [do view the richly illustrated linked story]:
Cisco got its start in the 1880s as a railroad town — it was an invaluable station for cattle and sheep ranchers and served as a water stop for the steam-powered locomotives of the time.
In the 1920s, the discovery of oil and gas kept the town flush, and by the 1950s, road trippers were using Cisco as a stopping point for gas and a tasty meal.
Cisco died when I-70 bypassed the town. The tourists found other places to stop along the Interstate, and by the 1990s the town was deserted. The California Zephyr still goes through Cisco, but doesn’t stop.
So, Cisco died because the oil and gas ran out, the railroad no longer stopped there, and the Interstate swept travelers past this small town that had relied on the traffic of the old road network. The people of Cisco had done their best, but the location was no longer economically viable for any number of people to make a living and was too remote from larger towns to become a bedroom community. Oh, the town does have economic value still; Cisco has been used three times as a movie set:
It’s also become one of America’s most iconic ghost towns, featured in the classic films Thelma and Louise (1991), Don’t Come a Knocking (2005), Vanishing Point (1971), and Johnny Cash’s song, “Cisco Clifton’s Filling Station.” The nearest towns are Moab and Grand Junction, both roughly an hour away.
Eileen Muza took advantage of the exceptionally reasonable property values to buy the town outright, almost. In taking it private, she aimed to build a remote art colony. This is not an entirely eccentric idea, following in the line of a century’s experience of artists gathering together in settings away from urban distractions. Time will tell if there are enough artists interested in an artist in residence program named “Home of the Brave.”
What is with the “almost?” Dig a little deeper and you notice a general store reopened in October 2019: Buzzard’s Belly. How would such a place hope to be viable? By servicing the needs of outdoor adventurers, rafting the Colorado or hiking, mountain biking, and skiing in the area served by those older roads leading away from the Interstate. So, perhaps the ghost town will come back to life as a resupply point for people while remaining quiet enough to become something of an artists’ colony.Published in