A Haven For People With Metal Detectors

The Historic Town of Marysvale

When Randy and Katie Moore showed up in Marysvale a few years back it's safe to say they had no intention of buying the oldest hotel in Utah.

The two were thinking of retiring here and were thinking about buying some property. Then they saw the Pine Hotel, a much-loved two-story hotel built just off the town's main street - the great U.S. Highway 89. The 1882 structure was in need of a major renovation.

But it wasn't exactly the inn itself, nor the promise of a great project, that attracted the Moores. Randy's grandparents lived in Marysvale, and as a kid he would come in the summers to visit them. Those years were influential, he said.

'This is just where as a child I have so many wonderful memories,' he said one recent bright Saturday morning as he served us a great breakfast and mugfulls of rich coffee.

Randy, an insurance agent, and Katie, a pharmaceutical representative, were living along the Wasatch Front and getting tired of the bustle. In Marysvale they found a sort of meta-small town, one where the single gas station carries all the food you can buy locally, old tractors are parked just off Main Street, a '20s-era outdoor dance hall is still used on holidays, and the gurgling waters of Bullion Creek trickle through town. And of course they found the Pines. Soon, they had both quit their jobs and moved south. That was 1994.

'I got an itch,' Randy said. 'I wondered if I could make it work.'

That itch grew into an all-encompassing job where the duo and a set of contractors built walls and tore down others, installed bathrooms, laid down wood floors, and restored the hotel to what it might have looked like a century ago. It was actually later that they found the hotel was the oldest continuously occupied hotel in the state. They gave it a slightly new name, Moore's Old Pine Inn.

'We've never regretted it, even one day,' Randy said.

History likely has not regretted it either: Randy and Katie say the Pine was home to a bevy of historic figures, including Zane Grey, whom Katie said wrote parts of 'Riders of the Purple Sage' while staying in one of the upstairs single rooms, and Butch Cassidy, who may have stayed here.

Actually, the history of Marysvale goes much deeper than that - back perhaps all the way to the 1600s, when some say Spanish gold seekers were (illegally) scouring the West for precious metals and Indian mines.

Spaniards in Utah in the 1600s? Let me elaborate:

The official line in history textbooks and museums says the first Europeans to explore Utah were a group of Spaniards led by Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Fray Francisco Silvestre Velez de Escalante, who left Santa Fe in the spring of 1776, hiked up across southwestern Colorado, entered east-central Utah and crossed the Green River near the modern day town by the same name, then ascended Soldier Summit and arrived in Utah Valley, where he befriended local Ute Indians. Searching for a way to San Bernardino, the troupe walked southeast from Utah Valley but were caught by a big early-season snow storm in September and made a hard choice - head south and east back to Santa Fe, or cross an unknown number of miles and mountain ranges to reach California. They headed back to Mexico.

But there is a second group of historians who contend that Dominguez and Escalante were not looking for a road to California, and who insist that at least 18 Spanish explorers made it to Utah before them. Those early explorers, who if they came made the journey in defiance of orders from the Spanish crown, were looking for gold.

The notion that the Intermountain West was crawling with Spaniards more than a century before they 'officially' arrived is intriguing, to say the least. But this second group of historians is less interested in the idea of this surreptitious expeditioning than they are in what could be left behind.

These explorers came in fast and hard, according to George A. Thompson, a Park City writer who has authored a number of hotly debated books on pre-Escalante expeditions, including 'Lost Treasures on the Old Spanish Trail.' If they did not sign peace treaties with the local Indians - which they apparently usually didn't - then they enslaved the Indians and put them to work either in Spanish mines or in mines the Indians had already located and begun.

The wealth that poured out of these mines was surely extraordinary, said Thompson, but naturally not all of it could be taken home. Utah, he says, along with other western states, is littered with lost Spanish mines, where the explorers cached their gold in hand-dug mines, many of them with boulders rolled in front of them, until they could return. Most didn't return, he said.

The evidence of these explorations, in my opinion, is shaky, and appears to rely heavily on second and third-hand tales and the diaries of early explorers. And yet, there are some tantalizing facts - like crude mines that recent arrivals say they did not dig, or, in the case of Bullion Creek above Marysvale, an arrastra.

An arrastra is a flat rock that was used as a base for pounding rocks into smaller pieces in an attempt to remove valuable ore. If the arrastra in Bullion Creek is pre-Escalante, it would show that Spaniards had cased the area of south central Utah enough to know where at least to look for gold. And at Marysvale they would have likely found it, since the arrastra now sits among a handful of more recent mines. Indeed, gold was first found by modern explorers in Bullion in 1869, and later found in Kimberley, both of which became prominent towns that faded when the gold ran out. That set the stage for the settlement of Marysvale.

The first families arrived here in 1864, 18 years before the Pine Inn was built, said Randy. But within a few years the site had been abandoned as tensions escalated with Indians in the Black Hawk War, which pitted Indians against settlers throughout central Utah. But by 1869 prospectors had found waterfalls, gold and the arrastra in the foothills west of town, and the gold rush was on. The importance of serving the mines brought more people to town, as well as the Denver and Rio Grande railroad. Interestingly, Marysvale is one of the few towns in Utah that does not owe its settlement directly to the Mormon church.

Like the West itself, Marysvale and surrounding Piute County has been boom then bust. At one time, places like Bullion City, up the canyon from town and today accessible by car or on foot, had a population of over 1,600 people - that would have made it one of the largest towns in the state. The population there dwindled to 259 just ten years later, in 1891, but when a new mill was built in 1922, the population rebounded - temporarily, of course.

Though mining continued on and off at Kimberley until the early 1950s, Marysvale was by then already a pretty quiet place. It stayed that way until the 1980s, then Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and private groups began to promote the Paiute ATV trail (yes, there are two spellings of it - Paiute and Piute). This triple loop ride loop covers 260 miles of mountain, forest, meadow and canyon trail riding, with side rides that cover another 1,200 miles. The trail begins in the north at Salina, then takes off south into the Pahvant Range, the Tushar Mountains, and Monroe Mountain, among others, with trails that lead into the towns of Richfield, Koosharem, Marysvale and Circleville. When Laura and I were in Marysvale the trail was still snowed in, and things were quiet, but I've been through here in July, too, where there are more all terrain vehicles than there are automobiles.

Randy rode the trial once to Bryce Canyon National Park - 10 hours on an ATV. The Paiute Trail connects to the Fremont and Great Western trails.

'It was the best ride of my life,' he said. Though ATV riding is the biggest draw today, there are other attractions to the area, including fishing in mountain lakes and streams, water sports on Piute Lake and Otter Creek Reservoir State Park, snowmobiling in the high country, horseback riding, seeing fall colors, visits to the Butch Cassidy childhood home in Circleville, and seeing Big Rock Candy Mountain, an anachronistic family vacation spot along the Sevier River a few miles north of Marysvale.

But the area has an attraction all its own, an attraction separate from the trails, the hikes, and the history. Randy said, 'This place is a haven for people with metal detectors.' But I think he meant not only for people who look for metals buried in the ground - in a way that's indicative of a place that has kept its history, has preserved a way of life, and still holds some sort of mystery. It's like the best of Utah ...

For more on the Inn, head to their website.

Check out this week's photo gallery.

Jeff's Bio

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