Travel-Curious

Travel Curious

For independent travelers who want to dig deeper

Cisco Ghost Town

The ghost town of Cisco Utah was established in the 1880s as a water-refilling stop for the Rio Grande Western Railroad (now known as the Union Pacific)

 
During its early years of growth, there were hotels and saloons and it was a natural provisioning center for the sheep ranchers and farmers in the area, and was a hub for shipping wool from the area.
 
Eventually, the railroad didn’t need the stop anymore and things got even worse when I-70 was built in 1971 a few miles to the north detouring travelers past the town.
 
You’ve heard of how the Interstate system in the American west either blessed small towns by passing through them or cursed them by bypassing them? Cisco is one of those towns.
 
Old wooden buildings in Cisco
 
Back in the day of steam engine locomotives water was an important ingredient to make steam and trains needed to stop at regular intervals to refill their water supply from the water tanks next to the rails. Cisco was ideally located and the Cisco railroad station kept the tank filled by pumping water from the Colorado River 3 1/2 miles away from 1883 to the 1940s.
 

Cisco had a small boom in 1924, with the discovery of oil in the nearby Cisco and Utah desert oil and gas field, one of the oldest oil fields in Utah and for a time one of the largest producers of oil in the state. The town of Cisco regrew to a population of almost 200 residents.

Ghost town building made out of railroad ties

 

By the 1950s diesels replaced steam locomotives and Cisco was no longer an important water stop. However, the bust due to the loss of the railroad was offset by the boom in Uranium prospecting and mining in the area. 

 

Over the decades there were many businesses in Cisco, one of the most well-known up until its closure in 1978, was Ethel’s Cafe in the old Shell gas station run by the cranky Ethel Hall and her husband Spanky, but now long gone.

 

Travelers began passing by Cisco with the building of the Interstate just north of town, and the town slowly died through the 1980s and 1990s. The post office closed in the 1990s and Cisco officially became a ghost town.

More cabines and old buildings

 
Recently there was a short-lived small revitalization of Cisco by artists. There is even a quirky general store called the Buzzards Belly open again worth a visit and spending a few bucks to help sustain the fragile existence of Cisco.
 

Johnny Cash wrote a song said to have been inspired by Cisco and its demise caused by the interstate called Cisco Clifton’s Fillin’ Station.

 

The police car chase scenes of the movie Thelma and Louise were filmed in Cisco.

 
 

Getting there

  • Traveling west along I-70 take Exit 214 ( 39.038058, -109.283339 ), pass back under the highway and turn right onto the dirt road, continue 5.5 miles to Cisco ( 38.970314, -109.321104 ). From Cisco, you can continue west and then south on highway 128 scenic byway all the way to Moab the backway


  • Traveling east along I-70 take Exit 204 (38.938367, -109.408438 ) , follow the dirt road, and continue 5.5 miles to Cisco. From Cisco ( 38.970314, -109.321104 )you have to double 2.7 miles back the way you came and then head south on highway 128 scenic byway all the way to Moab the back way
 

Notes

The Cisco Ghost town is a nice option to include in your itinerary when traveling from Denver to Moab or vice versa, as it takes you the back way to Moab from I-70 and along the scenic byway 128 along the Colorado River, and takes about the same amount of time if you take the main highways to or from Moab
 

Howard Burnett post office in Cisco UtahSnake van art installation in Cisco Utah

 

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