Stephanie Vermillion
Stephanie Vermillion

A Ghost Town Side Trip in Southwest Utah

Stephanie Vermillion
Stephanie Vermillion

Smack dab between Zion National Park and Red Cliffs National Conservation Area lies a small, abandoned town that was the place to be, be seen, and get rich in the late 1800s. Silver Reef, Utah, one of the Southwest’s most popular ghost towns, was a flourishing mining spot back in the day, filled with western saloons, old prospectors, and plenty of shoot-outs.

While Silver Reef is all ruins, no riches today, its crumbling rock walls hold an interesting history for visitors who take the time to stop by.

Silver Reef’s story starts in 1866, when the prospector John Kemple uncovered a vein of silver in the town’s sandstone—a first-of-its-kind discovery. Geologists spent years refuting his claims, until a group of bankers from Salt Lake City caught wind of the breakthrough and staked their mining claims in the Silver Reef region.

Silver Reef quickly evolved into a flourishing mining town, with 33 mines that produced more than 7 million ounces of silver. During 1879, its peak year, the town boasted a hotel, boarding houses, stores, saloons, restaurants, banks, a newspaper—the Silver Reef Miner—and a population of more than 1000 people.

And, like all good ghost (town) stories, Silver Reef was full of seedy characters who brought gambling, prostitution, shoot-outs, violence and all those The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly-isms to town. After a major fire and many miner strikes, Silver Reef went on the decline in the 1890s before turning into the abandoned roadside ghost town that it is today.

While it’s not a destination where you’d want to spend more than a couple hours, Silver Reef is an interesting stop-off for Southwest road trippers. Four key sights to add to your itinerary include:

1. The Silver Reef Museum is housed in the oldest Wells Fargo Express Station still in existence. Built in 1878, silver was guarded at and exported from the old station, which made it an integral part of Silver Reef’s prosperity. Today, the museum houses old bottles, guns, carpentry tools, and other historical items that help illustrate the mining life of yesteryear.

2. The Cosmopolitan Restaurant was owned by a Bavarian woman who is said to have made some of the best hash in the west. The original building was dismantled in 1895, at the tail-end of when locals were in a mass exodus from the imploding Silver Reef, but a replica of the Cosmopolitan still stands today.

Stephanie Vermillion

3. Silver Reef’s Main Street was filled with flourishing, bustling businesses, such as the Louder General Store, which was run by the town newspaper's editor. Today, it’s everything you’d expect from an abandoned old ghost town—tumbleweed, cactuses, crippled buildings, and an eerie desert silence.

4. The Elk Horn Saloon was once easily recognizable because of the giant elk horns mounted to its front sign (which are now on display at the town museum; the saloon is no longer standing, and is now marked by a large sign). For about 15 years, the bar was run by a successful German owner who gave out free food to get people drinking. According to Silver Reef historians, the saloon owner’s business luck nearly wore out when he ousted a man for eating—but not drinking—at his bar. The angry patron came back with a vengeance and a gun, and in typical old west fashion, initiated a shoot-out. Fortunately for the community, the man missed five times, so the staff kept working and the drinks kept a-comin’.

Stephanie Vermillion

Silver Reef is located in Leeds, Utah, right off I-15. It’s 40 minutes west of Zion, 30 minutes northeast of Red Cliffs, and—ironically for a ghost town—is adjacent to an upscale neighborhood with satellite dishes and swimming pools. Someone’s gotta keep the tumbleweed in line, right?

Big Questions
How Are Rooms Cleaned at an Ice Hotel?

Cleaning rooms at Sweden’s famous ICEHOTEL is arguably less involved than your typical hotel. The bed, for example, does not have traditional sheets. Instead, it’s essentially an air mattress topped with reindeer fur, which sits on top of a custom-made wooden palette that has a minimum of 60 centimeters of airspace below. On top of those reindeer hides is a sleeping bag, and inside that sleeping bag is a sleep sack. And while it’s always 20ºF inside the room, once guests wrap themselves up for the night, it can get cozy.

And, if they’re wearing too many layers, it can get quite sweaty, too.

“The sleep sack gets washed every day, I promise you that. I know it for a fact because I love to walk behind the laundry, because it’s so warm back there," James McClean, one of the few Americans—if not the only—who have worked at Sweden's ICEHOTEL, tells Mental Floss. (He worked on the construction and maintenance crew for several years.)

There isn’t much else to clean in most guest rooms. The bathrooms and showers are elsewhere in the hotel, and most guests only spend their sleeping hours in the space. But there is the occasional accident—like other hotels, some bodily fluids end up where they shouldn’t be. People puke or get too lazy to walk to the communal restrooms. Unlike other hotels, these bodily fluids, well, they freeze.

“You can only imagine the types of bodily fluids that get, I guess, excreted … or expelled … or purged onto the walls,” McClean says. “At least once a week there’s a yellow stain or a spilled glass of wine or cranberry juice … and it’s not what you want to see splattered everywhere.” Housekeeping fixes these unsightly splotches with an ice pick and shovel, re-patching it with fresh snow from outside.

Every room has a 4-inch vent drilled into the icy wall, which helps prevent CO2 from escalating to harmful levels. Maintenance checks the holes daily to ensure these vents are not plugged with snow. Their tool of choice for clearing the pathway is, according to McClean, “basically a toilet brush on a stick.”

When maintenance isn’t busy unstuffing snow from that vent hole, they’re busy piping snow through it. Every couple days, the floor of each room receives a new coat of fluffy snow, which is piped through the vent and leveled with a garden rake.

“It’s the equivalent of vacuuming the carpet,” McClean says.

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Warner Bros.
Rent an Incredible Harry Potter-Themed Apartment in the City Where the Series Was Born
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Muggle city of Edinburgh has deep ties to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the book series while living there, and there’s even a pub in Edinburgh that named itself after the author for a month. Now, fans passing through the Scottish capital have the chance to live like their favorite boy wizard. As Digital Spy reports, a Harry Potter-themed holiday home in the city’s historic district is now available to rent for around $200 (£150) a night.

Property owner Yue Gao used her own knowledge as a fan when decorating the apartment. With red and yellow accents, a four-poster bed, and floating candles adorning the wallpaper on the ceiling, the master bedroom pays tribute to both the Gryffindor dormitory and the Hogwarts Great Hall. The Hogwarts theme extends to the lounge area, where each door is painted with a different house’s colors and crest. Guests will also find design aspects inspired by the Hogwarts Express around the apartment: The second bedroom is designed to look like a sleeping car, and the front door is disguised as the brick wall at Platform 9 3/4.

Pieces of Harry Potter memorabilia Gao has picked up in her travels are hidden throughout the home, too. If visitors look closely, they’ll find several items that once belonged to Rowling herself, including the writer’s old desk.

Take a look at some of the photos of the magical interiors:

The apartment is available to rent throughout the year through And if you can tear yourself away from the residence for long enough, there are plenty of other Harry Potter-themed attractions to check out in Edinburgh during your stay.

[h/t Digital Spy]


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