I could almost hear the clank of train car couplings in this deserted canyon. Old trestles from the early 20th century, heavy with their massive lumber legs and horizontal supports, stood in various states of washed-out-ness along the creek bed. Scrap metal lay in odd places, rusting silently. Dollops of blackened ancient coal were draped on ridges, giving a tough and dirty feeling to the site.
A good-sized collapsed wooden structure invited guesses about its original use — hotel? boarding house? brothel? Rusted-out automobiles riddled with bullet holes taunted my imagination.
Sturdy rock buildings scattered about the area for a couple miles — dwellings with fireplaces and even rude bedframes built into them — helped me connect with residents from a hundred years ago as I photographed a large rock-and-mud oven outside and wondered what they had roasted. Throughout this area, cattle were grazing and mooing as I walked and pondered. Cowpies paved the landscape of old Sego Town.
The biggest mystery was a HUGE sandstone block building that looked for all practical purposes like a former community center or church or civic building. For a town whose population peaked in the 1920 census at 198 persons, it was entirely out of proportion. In contrast to the lower levels, its topmost tiers of stone were so expertly dressed, so beautifully laid, that it made me wonder if a skilled stonemason had moved to town most of the way through the project. Massive openings on the front suggested a grand entrance. An ancient boiler sat forlornly encased in the crawlspace mud. What could this have been???
I went to our little Arches National Park reference library and found A History of Grand County, by Richard Firmage. The notations about Sego read like a soap opera. The various mining companies that had coal and manganese claims in the area were not financially sound, and left their workers holding empty promises for five months’ back wages. Employees were forced to buy from a company store, whose prices were double those of the general store in Thompson, six miles south. They were fired if they complained, and no other jobs were available in the area. Even the company doctor quit over the utter mismanagement and heavy-handed control.
The town eventually died in the 1950s. Some houses were moved to Moab — to aid in the housing shortage caused by the uranium boom. A small untended graveyard with barbed-wire fence and unmarked headstones hides mute histories of past inhabitants.
I still wonder about this beautiful stone building. I hear that one of our employees who works in the entrance booth lived in Sego as a small child; I need to interview her. There are stories — colorful, emotion-laden stories — waiting to be told.
Addendum: my supervisor found further details and photos at this site. Check it out for more back-story. http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ut-segocanyon2.html