“Cisco Clifton had a fillin’ station
About a mile and a half from town
Most cars passed unless they were out of gas
So Cisco was always around.”
– Johnny Cash
Did you know that the American West covers more than half the land area of the United States and encompasses coastland, rainforests, mountain ranges, the Great Plains, and every desert area? A friend of mine likes to joke with me about how Denver, Colorado is in the Great Plains, when most people think only of the mountains that form a beautiful backdrop to the west. Denver, of course, is on the western edge of the High Plains, just east of the Front Range. It began in 1858 as a mining town established by gold prospectors seeking to make their fortunes, and was soon transformed into a frontier town with an economy based on gambling, saloons, livestock and goods trading. Denver is now the 16th most populous urban area in the country.
Surprisingly enough, after living in the Denver area most of my adult life, I finally ventured into the great American West which, for me, meant leaving the state of Colorado with my Great Dane, following Interstate 70 until we finally decided to head south on State Route 128. Before long, we stumbled upon a real ghost town that today offers real estate ruins that can be purchased for next to nothing as “fixer uppers.” Cisco, Utah, is a photographer’s dream for those who love relics of an old west railroad town. In spite of the fact that vandals have heavily damaged the former homes of those who drilled for oil and natural gas in 1924, there is still plenty of fodder for photos of broken down vehicles and dwellings strewn with old tires, wood and assorted junk. A railroad track passes through town, still serviced by the California Zephyr passenger train that periodically rolls on through without stopping.
Today Cisco is a landing point for white river rafters planning trips through Westwater Canyon, but others may be familiar with this ghost town from Vanishing Point (1971), Thelma and Louise (1991), or Don’t Come Knocking (2005). Johnny Cash was apparently so taken with the town that he wrote the song “Cisco Clifton’s Fillin’ Station” about a man living in Cisco who “fixed lots of flats” and directed people back to the state highway. Locals whiled away the morning playing checkers by the depot stove until, one day, a bulldozer roared into town to build the interstate that soon put the fillin’ station flat out of business. Cisco resorted to doing odd jobs at night to pay the bills and the checker games continued as the cars flew past and all the neighbors “had sold out and gone.” By the way, keep your eyes open for all the old, abandoned gas stations in Utah, with their ridiculously low fuel prices frozen in time on the pumps.