Sego Canyon - History &
Located north of
Sego Canyon, also
known as Book Cliffs and Thompson Wash. This side trip off of I-70
west of the
line provides not only a peek at prehistoric rock-art, but also the
remains of the old coal town of
Sego, a once thriving
coal mining camp.
About 3 ½ miles north of
Thompson Springs, on Sego Canyon Road, are the
pictographs left by several different cultures. The Fremont culture
thrived from A.D. 600 to 1250 and was a contemporary with the
culture of the Four Corners area. There is also rock art from the
Archaic period dating from 7000 B.C., the Barrier Canyon period from
around 2000 B.C., and the Ute tribe dating from A.D. 1300.
efforts are continual, unfortunately, there is quite a bit of graffiti and
damage to the art.
Barrier Style rock art is estimated to date
back to about 2000 B.C. It is distinctive in life-size mummy-like human shapes without arms
or legs, Kathy Weiser, April, 2008.
American designs can be seen
amongst the later graffiti
caused by 'later societies' Kathy Weiser, April,
After viewing the historic rock art, head
north on Sego Canyon Road. After about ½ mile, the road forks, with the
left fork headed into Thompson Canyon, and the right fork heading into
Sego Canyon. Take the right fork, which quickly leads to Sego's old
ghost town of Sego is about another mile or so on up the
Sego got its
start in the early 1890s when an affluent farmer/rancher named Harry
Ballard discovered coal on land adjacent to his ranch. Keeping his
discovery a secret, he began to buy the adjacent property and started coal
operations on a small scale.
The small community that sprang up around the
operations was first called Ballard, for its owner. The coal was initially
dug out manually and hauled down the narrow canyon by wagons. Soon, news
of the high quality coal in Sego Canyon reached Salt Lake City. When a
hardware store owner named B.F. Bauer heard of the find, he bought out
Ballard’s property and formed the American Fuel Company, selling stock
valued at $1 million.
In 1911, the company began to develop the area
in earnest with aggressive plans for long-term coal production. They built
the American Fuel Company Store, a boarding house, mining buildings, the
first coal washer west of the Mississippi River, and a tipple.
They also renamed the settlement Neslin,
for the general manager of the American Fuel Company, Richard Neslin.
In 1914, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad built a
spur line from Thompson to the coal camp, which crossed the stream 13
times in its five mile journey. Almost immediately, the camp was plagued
with water problems, which continued throughout the life of the camp. On
numerous occasions, the water table was so low; the coal washer could not
be operated. The camp also experienced problems with the railroad spur
trains, which were often off their tracks.
By 1916, primary investor, B.F. Bauer, was not happy with
the low profits and fired the general manager, Richard Neslin. The town’s
name was then renamed Sego, for the
state flower of
Utah and the
mine’s name was changed to the Chesterfield Company. Up until 1927,
the camp had supplied its own power for mine operations, which also
created numerous problems with break downs. That year, they secured
electricity from Columbia,
100 miles away at a cost of more than $100,000, placing more financial
strain on the company. At times, the company was unable to make the
payroll and paid their miners in scrip, which could be spent at the
American Fuel Company Store, Kathy Weiser, April,
2008. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Several of the old railroad bridges remain
standing in Sego Canyon, Kathy Weiser, April, 2008. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
The financial problems finally got so bad,
that the miners reorganized under the United Mine Workers Union in 1933
and with the union’s help, were finally paid regularly. At its peak, the
mine employed about 125 miners and the town supported about 500 people.
1947, the company’s financial struggles came to a head, when the mine was
ordered closed and the property offered for sale at a Sheriff’s auction in
Utah. By that time, only 27 miners were employed, many of whom had
worked at the mine for decades and were devastated. The remaining miners
agreed to pool their money and make bid. They were successful when they
were able to purchase the equipment and property for $30,010. They changed
the name to the
Utah Grand Coal Company and once again began operations.
However, tragedy struck in 1949, when a fire burned the tipple,
drastically decreasing production. That same year, the railroad ceased
operations to Sego, which required the new company to purchase dump
trucks, and loading ramps, as well as building a new tipple. But, the
employee-owned company persevered and recovered.
However, there was nothing they could
do about the final blow, when in the early 1950’s, the railroad began to
use diesel engines, replacing the coal powered steam engines and reducing
the need for the mine’s products. In 1955, the
Utah Grand Coal Company
sold all its holdings for $25,000, to a Texas based company who had no
interest in the coal mines, but rather in the 700 acres of land that
showed promise for both oil and natural gas. At that time, some of the
then moved to Moab and Sego became an official
For several decades, the
canyon was still lined with many homes and buildings, but in the spring of
1973, nature's worst enemy -- people -- destroyed much of what was left.
On that terrible day, two carloads of treasure hunters were seen searching
the old town with metal detectors. Unfortunately, later in the day, many
of the buildings lay in smoldering ruins, as the treasure hunters sifted
through the cooling ashes. Very sad that the greed of a few destroyed much
of what was left of this old mining camp.
Today, the old site continues to
display numerous signs of its prosperous past. The stone walls of the old
American Fuel Company Store continue to stand, though its windows and roof
are long gone. Nearby, are the walls of another stone building, as well as
the two-story, crumbling wood "American” boarding house.
Throughout the canyon can be found
numerous other crumbling structures, mine shafts, foundations, and the old
railroad bridges that crossed the creek. The cemetery provides an
overgrown look at the past in its few marked and unmarked headstones.
The drive into the canyon requires a
high clearance vehicle and should never be attempted if storms are
expected, as flash floods are common. During recent rains, a 4-wheel drive
is recommended to navigate rocky and muddy roads.
The exit to
Sego Canyon is 25 miles
east of Green River,
Utah on I-70. Take exit 187 and drive north on the
main road through the town of Thompson Springs. The rock art is located 3
½ miles north. Beyond the rock art, the road continues about ½ mile before
it comes to a fork, with the left fork heading into Thompson Canyon, and
the right, towards the Sego Cemetery. The
ghost town of
Sego is about a mile north of the cemetery.
Please respect the town of Sego and its
structures, as well as the native American rock art, as all are on private
property. Your respect will guarantee that future visitors will be able to
continue to see these historic remains.
The American Boarding House looks like it could
totally collapse any day, Kathy Weiser, April, 2008. (Update April 2012 - John
in Colorado, a frequent visitor of this Ghost Town, says as of Summer 2011 this
building is "officially a pile of kindling."
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
of America, updated September, 2010.