Explore Historic Helper

My last Carbon County post: last but not least as the little town of Helper is up there on one of my favorite parts of the area. If you like small towns with artsy vibes, historic buildings, amazing locals, and delicious food, this town is for you! 

After my short off-roading/ hiking adventure around the Pinnacle Peak area in the morning, I regrouped with Katie and my favorite tour guide/ new friend Tina. We met up just off hwy 6 at the Big John statue which starts the historic town’s main street. After all the history and stories we’d been hearing about coal mining in the area that weekend, it was cool to see the spirit of the coal industry embodies in this statue
Big John is a must see as he really embodies the heart and soul of Carbon County which got its start with railroads and coal mining. Big John was crafted in CA and arrived at his permanent home of Helper in 1964 alongside the railroad/mining museum. He was named after the hit  1961 song “Big Bad John” as no other name really fits this 20 foot tall miner. 
Next up we headed down the street a little ways to the new Harley Davidson museum that is being built (and almost finished) It was beautifully done with a variety of bikes and other HD memorabilia. We just had a quick look around at the work in progress but I’ll definitely have to come back when it’s all finished up.
Helper Points of Interest 
The Western Mining and Railroad Museum
Next door: The mining equipment and museum yard 
Balance Rock: A little too strenuous of a hike to attempt on any given day but easily seen from the town’s main street when just looking to the north
Big John statue
Spring Canyon: An easy walk where you can see the remains of coal camps that helped form the foundation of Helper 
The front entrance to the Harley Davidson museum 
A Short History of Helper 
Helper was first settled in 1881 by Teancum Pratt and his wives and was followed closely by the railroad only 6 months later. Helper was then named after the team of “helper” coal-powered steam engines that assisted freight trains up the neighboring Price canyon (a 15 mile long climb with a 2.4% grade) to Soldier’s Summit. With the railroad came the need for coal and thus the need for man power and immigrants. In 1900 Helper’s population reached 385 people made up of at least 16 different nationalities and after coal worker strikes in neighboring mines like Castle Gate, the population grew to 850 between 1912-13. Helper essentially became a “hub” with multiple businesses surrounded by several coal mining operations. Even with the Great Depression, the town’s position as a railroad center provided stability and through WWII the town had additional stability provided by the increased demand for coal. Now, even though the need for coal from the mines has declined (the actual Carbon power plant was closed just in 2015 after 60 years of running), the town survives and has become a center for art with several galleries lining its main street. The main street also plays host to a summer art and music festival, monthly markets called “first Fridays” and soon its own film festival
A short ways down the street we passed a fun “alchemy” art studio that had chalk out front so you can grace the sidewalk with your own art. There were lots of beautiful art studios along the street that worth are window shopping and peeping in. 
I loved all the fun artsy elements of main street Helper. 
Continuing on you pass loads more old buildings that all have descriptions of what they were when first constructed as well as a sign leading to what will be a nice waterway beach spot for playing during the warmer months
And then you come to the museum yard with old mining and railroad equipment. 
While you can’t climb up ON the equipment, a lot of the pieces were interesting to learn about and make fun photo props. Right next door is the Western Railroad and Mining Museum which is certainly called for (when it’s open) We unfortunately hit a Monday which during winter hours, it’s closed on. 

There were lots of beautiful old buildings to enjoy
The historic street is framed by 2 made over Conoco gas stations that again are fun to walk around for photos and admire that Cars land vibe. 

 After the gas station we turned and headed back down main street. 
I love how nestled it is among those desert cliffs. 
 After window shopping more art galleries, adding some sidewalk art, and all that walking, we worked up an appetite and obviously had to get lunch in the Balance Rock Diner. (review in my where to eat post here
And after lunch, we hit up the coffee shop across the street Happiness Within for some caffeine before our drive back to Utah County thus concluding a wonderfully relaxing afternoon stroll along the historic Helper thoroughfare. 

So whether passing through or looking for a close by weekend getaway, I definitely recommend stopping in Carbon County for museums, playing in the wonderfully diverse outdoor landscapes, gawking at ancient American rock art, and eating! 
Katie and I with our Happiness Within Helper hats (and not shown here: Balance Rock Diner t-shirts) and definitely Helper fan girls now. I can’t wait to come back and explore more of this area. 

Where to eat and sleep in Carbon County

First and foremost: Let’s start with the food 
GROGGS Pinnacle Brewing Co.
 Our first night in town we headed to the local brewery/ pub (because after ATVing all day, that seemed the natural progression). GROGGS while sounding medieval, turned out to be quite delicious. They had decent prices, and fantastic food. I got my usual bacon cheese burger (which I would put on top 10 burgers ever) and Katie’s in-house smoked prime rib sandwich looked pretty fantastic as well. This place is open 7 days a week (though closes at 8 on Sunday) so if you’re looking for a place to eat, particularly on Sunday, I recommend.

Tangerine Eatery
 If you’re looking for grub on a Sunday, again options are limited but one of those options includes the Tangerine Eatery. FanTASTIC sandwiches at a decent price. I got the Chicken Bacon Avocado sandwich that has a unique pesto aioli on it and plenty of the good stuff. Add a soup for only $1. 
*Skip the frozen yogurt here and get some ice cream from downtown helper. I’m usually a big froyo fan but none of the flavors were creamy or really stuck out to me. 
Udderly Ice Cream
Set on adorable Helper main street in the old Emporium building this ice cream shop serves up delicious Leatherby creamery options in a vintage ice cream setting. *ALSO OPEN SUNDAY! 
Family Fave: Balance Rock Eatery & Pub
Historic pub located on main street in Helper, the menu has it all. Breakfast served all day, sandwiches, burgers, salads, you name it. The portions are giant and prices reasonable, making this a stop I’d hit every time I pass through Helper. I loved the historic building, the incredibly- friendly service, and don’t get me started on the food. 
I got a bacon and cheese sandwich (wow… I stick with a status quo don’t I?) that was basically an entire chicken breast, amazing bacon, and a ton of cheese. It was SOOO good. Also try their in house made “rock chips” which have a light BBQ seasoning on them and there perfect crisp to pair. 
My #1 favorite eating spot in Carbon County. 
Happiness Within Coffee shop
If you aren’t hungry when passing through or don’t have time for a meal, then check out Happiness within for your caffeine fix. I loved the ambiance of the interior with exposed brick and art to gawk at. They had a nice range of offerings and I especially loved their October specials. Again small town friendliness adds to the appeal. 

Unfortunately that’s all we got to try that weekend but other honorable mentions based on local recommendations include:
1. Greek Streak for your Mediterranean craving
2. Los 2 Amigos
3. Sherald’s Drive in

Where to Sleep 
We stayed in the luxurious Holiday Inn Express that’s a mere 4 years old, has super comfortable beds, and a crazy good breakfast so as far as hotels go… that’s my top recommendation. BUT if you’re feeling adventurous, here’s a few of my favorites to check out. 
Nine Mile Ranch Bunk and Breakfast
$80-$95/ night for hotel room
$60-$95 for cabins *pet friendly 
Campfire songs, cowboy poetry and Dutch oven cooking are all part what make the Nine Mile Ranch bunk ‘n breakfast unique. Situated in the mouth of historic Nine Mile Canyon, “the ranch is a perfect place to get away from the busy world,” explained owner Myrna Mead. The location has camping, rooms, and even a Teepee with an all you can eat breakfast and dutch oven dinners. They offer tours, horse back riding and on foot. 
Next time I come down, I’m probably going to check this place out. 

Historic Knight’s Landing Apartment on Helper Main Street $99/night
Sleeps 4, book through AirBnb
Upscale apartment located in a historic 1918 building on Helper’s main street. Within walking distance to the local, market, two restaurants, art galleries, museum, the river walkway and everything else Helper’s historic main street has to offer.
Historic Helper House $96/night
Sleeps 4, book through AirBnb
Helper House is a cozy, single level home located on Helper’s Historic Main Street. Located close to the River Walkway, this charming house is in an ideal location for all of your explorations in Central Utah. Across the street is our famous “Big John”, Utah’s tallest coal miner, and less than 10 miles away is the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum. You also will have a front row seat for the annual Helper Arts Festival and Utah’s Christmas Town’s Main Street Light Parade.

Artist’s River House $115/night
Sleeps 4, book through AirBnb
100 year old family home, restored with modern aesthetic yet maintaining original charm. King bed in bedroom with fold-down couch in living room and floor space for air mattress.
One block from historic downtown Helper with easy access to two diners, western mining and railroad museum, artist studios and antique shops.

2 Bedroom House $59/night
Sleeps 6, book through AirBnb
Entire upstairs of a house with Stylish decor – stainless appliances, warm blue interior paint, laminate flooring, & full tile shower with glass surround. An affordable place for a whole family.

Airbnb Guest Suite $35/night
Sleeps up to 5 guests, book through AirBnb
A 375sq ft space with a private secure entrance and private bathroom. There are no shared spaces. There’s a king size bed, sleeper sofa, and space for additional travellers! Perfect for budget minded travelers looking for a clean, safe and cozy space. Enjoy WiFi and Netflix.

Desert Thunder Stock Car Races

Another Carbon County Success story: Getting to watch closing races of a 3 day event: The Castle Country Clash at the Desert Thunder raceway. Some of you who knew me years ago would know I was a big NASCAR fan back in the day. (I mean I made NASCAR board game for a 5th grade math project once…I was serious about it) 
So when Tina asked us if we would be interested in attending the weekend’s stock car races my answer was an easy YES! Saturday with our ATV ride, we were wiped out but luckily we finished our hike Sunday just in time for me to check out the afternoon races. 

The raceway is maybe a 5 minute drive from the highway in Price but feels completely out there in the desert. Tons of free parking and the entry booth exchanges your ticket for a raffle ticket at the start. There’s just a few buildings for concessions, announcers, and porter potties. LUXURY. 
Luckily I wasn’t there for comfort, I was there to see some racing! 

Concessions were decently priced and provided by the town’s historic Frosty Freeze (drive up). Everything looked pretty delicious I have to say!
My impression of the stands was awesome, while you can’t bring any food/ drink in you CAN bring a camp chair, blankets and the like. The main stands are actually giant concrete steps so you set you camp chairs up on that (or just recline/ spread out on one like I did) They did have bleachers around 3/4s of the track as well. 
Make sure to bring with you to ANY race: SUNGLASSES, SUNSCREEN ( I was really getting toasted), and if you attend a legit NASCAR race, hearing protection isn’t a bad idea.
*The cars were loud here, but not too bad. I could shout at the person next to me and somewhat hear their reply. 
A short history on Stock Car Racing:
It was born in the Southern Appalachians as people had a need to transport loads of illegal moonshine while evading the revenue agents. The 1934 Fords would get decked out/ modified and driven on twisting dirt roads in the dark, often exceeding 120 miles/hour. It became a popular event to find out who had the fastest car which lead to weekend races on make shift dirt tracks. From this start, NASCAR ( one of the most popular forms of Stock car racing) was born in 1948. Other forms of Stock Car governing bodies also started budding up. Dirt Track racing such as the Desert Thunder Raceway. have a more decentralized way of governing. There are some National boards for dirt track racing, but most are regional.
“Before there was a need for speed, there was a need for shine.”
~ Compliments of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. 
NASCAR/ STOCK CAR Racing Fun facts:
1. Today stock car racing is the second (arguably almost first) largest spectator sport in America, drawing ten million fans annually
2. Nearly all tracks are oval and less than 1-mile (1.6 km) in length (not withstanding tracks like the Daytona 500 which are 2.5 miles around)
3. Drivers do not typically need to wear diapers, regardless that their races last half a day sometimes.
4. During NASCAR races, the temperature in the car often exceeds 100 degrees, reaching as much as 170 degrees by the floorboards. Thus during a NASCAR 200 lap race, drivers can lose 5-10 lbs merely through sweat.
5. The first lady of Racing title goes to Louise Smith who secretly entered a 1947 race using her husband’s Ford Coupe. She raced until 1956 and won 38 races in various divisions.
6. Dirt tracks are much less difficult on tires allowing drivers to go several races without having to replace them. An asphalt track however will require at least one full tire change and many more in
a complete 500 lap NASCAR race.
7. Races can be anywhere from 20 laps to 200 lasting a mere 15 minutes to hours on end depending on how many cautions/ what kind of cautions are thrown.
8. At 200mph a Nascar goes the length of a football field in a second.
9. The top 5 NASCAR racing venues all have a bigger capacity than the biggest soccer stadium in the world. ** my favorite fun fact.. take that Soccer

The race I got to see had several divisions going on and I got to watch 5/7 of them. The one most of these photos is from is the hobby stock car division which had the MOST number of cars out of any of the races, ran a full 40 laps, and had the most wrecks. (At least 6 cars were towed out before the race was over) The other divisions included: Modified, Sport Modified, Classic Stock, Hobby, and my personal favorite: Dwarf. (bottom photo on this post has them identified in a photo) 
The video below shows 1 lap after the cars were coming out of a few caution laps (following a wreck) as they are just getting to take off and start racing again. 
Stock Car Racing for Dummies… At least know the flags:
1. Green Flag- Used to start the race and indicate when drivers can race again after a caution
2. Yellow Flag- Caution, used when unsafe conditions are on the race track: usually debris from crashes
3. Red Flag- Rarely used but potential in inclement weather or completely blocked tracks. Flag indicates to pull off into designated areas
4. Black Flag- Used for specific drivers to indicate they need a pit stop (leaking fluid or loose body work) or that they have disobeyed a rule
5. Black flag with white cross- Used if a driver ignores the black flag for more than one lap and indicates they can no longer be scored.
6. White Flag- indicates one lap left
7. The chequered flag- indicates the race is finished

While there are dirt track races and sophisticated NASCAR races happening all year round, every weekend, the Desert Thunder Racetrack only hosted 4 major events in 2018so it was perfect timing for me to check out the closing race of the year. 
Cost for the day is only $8 an adult, $6 for kids, with 5 and under being free. There’s also family passes for 2 nights around $25. 
Check here for the race track’s facebook page to follow along if interested in attending the next event. ( I know I am) Sunday races aren’t the norm down here so it wasn’t nearly as busy (which I liked) but if you come down for a Friday or Saturday event, make sure to come early to get a good spot. I heard the night time races were PACKED. 
Pano of the race track that is 3/8 mile long by 80 feet wide (the longest dirt track west of Denver)
The winners came out at the end of the race along with a few from the last race that just hung around. 
All of the events and divisions were fun to watch with lengths ranging from 20-40 laps. The Dwarf and Hobby were my favorite, but all cars have special techniques to racing that is just captivating to watch, particularly on a crazy dirt track like this one. 

A few days relaxing in Stonington Borough

After the craziness of flying multiple times within less than a week and seeing SO many sites, a couple days of R&R at my gal pal Katie’s house was definitely due. She lives in the cutest little New England town called Stonington Borough. Monday,Tuesday, and Wednesday I spent the majority of my days sitting on the couch like a bum  blogging and trip planning but I did make it out on the town when it wasn’t raining.

As Katie lives right on the edge of the borough, no car needed to explore the town which is itty bitty and very walkable. Points of interest: Museum Lighthouse and Stonington Point (for history buffs) the shops and little streets for those looking for shopping or charm, and of course the cute little beach! (which I was dying inside that it turned so cold for the time I was there. I really wanted to swim!)

Stunning super expensive homes on the water
The cute Old Lighthouse museum

The museum is just before you reach Stonington Point and while I’d like to claim I went in, the $10 entry price was a bit steep to me for the size but for here’s a bit of info on it: The lighthouse itself was built in 1840 and was in active service until 1889 when beacons were added to the breakwaters, but even then it housed the light keepers until 1909 when it was abandoned. It was purchased by the historical society and made into a museum in 1927 and houses numerous lighthouse artifacts (from other lighthouses) and

other pieces of maritime history. Most interesting artifacts involve cannonballs and artifacts from when the British attacked Stonington in 1814 (part of the war of 1812, more on that later) It has been open 6 months every year since then (besides most of WWII which I found interesting) and visitors can climb the 29 steps to the top where the view lends itself to 3 states.
Hours of operation: May 5 – October
Open Daily from 10am – 5pm, CLOSED Wednesday

And as I was saying just past the lighthouse you reach the point with a fun little beach and wonderful bench area! I had a lovely relaxing sit watching a few divers come in on the beach.

(still wish it had been warm enough to swim.. or sunny to sit on the beach but alas, I was cursed with no great weather… more on that later. haha)

HISTORY LESSON* The battle of 1814 (part of the 1812 conflict still.. I know I know…. the years don’t match but yall the war of 1812 was actually.. longer than a year. Officially started in 1811, it went until Feb 1815 when a peace treaty was signed) 
ANYWAYS, so as alluded to in the memorial at Stonington point, on August 9th around 3 PM, the Brits arrived from Fisher’s Island Sound and stopped just off Stonington Point. Captian Hardy of the British sent a message via two rowboats offshore that the residents had 1 hour to leave as he did not want to “destroy the unoffending inhabitants residing in the Town of Stonington.” HOWEVER Those brave defenders of Stonington would not abandon their town and decided to fight so they pulled out their two cannons (Kept from previous skirmishes during the Revolutionary war) to return fire on the British. The whole conflict here lasted 3 days with the two sides intermittently firing at each other. Clearly the British were off to a better start as they had much better guns and many more cannons but after all was said and done, the Americans had a fire brigade so efficient, that out of the many buildings the British artillery flew through, not a single one burned down. The British in turn lost a few men and sustained enough damage to their ships, they turned around and left. 

The lovely beach at Stonington Point
If you couldn’t tell from the 1st picture in this post, I’m obsessed with those purple flowers (called Wisteria) It was EVERYWHERE, but undoubtedly this tree was my favorite
The very famous 2 cannons that defended the town in both the Revolutionary War, and war of 1814 1812

One of my favorite things about this town is how so many of the building have the date they were constructed and who the original family is plus their occupation. As this was a seaport you can imagine a large majority of the “big” houses were Captains, rope makers, and merchants. The oldest house I came across was 1767!

A picture of the lovely feline Abby who kept me great company while I blogged and laid about. 

Also I didn’t tack this onto Sunday’s Boston post (cause well it was after we got back from Boston) But I had an AMAZING time riding Katie’s horse, Bradley in Old Lyme. For those of you who know me, you know I LOVE animals and I’ve loved horses forever, Having such a terrific friend like Katie, finally gave me the kick in the pants to finally start taking lessons. Those lessons paid off big time when I got to ride her beautiful horse! (and not fall off him cause he was seriously HUGE)

So cost breakdown: (and I apologize cause this is INCREDIBLY convoluted as I’ve split my Connecticut activities into multiple posts with more to come.) Basically priceless on everything!
Lodging: Wonderfully comfortable bed in a guest room at Katie’s mansion of a cute old house
Meals: I ate groceries all day long and will have more info on the post on Mystic from when we went Happy hour hopping there: But I think we can just round to like $35 for 2 dinners out…. (This is not very exact… I apologize)
And walking around Stonington was obviously a free activity (with more Connecticut free activities to come!)
Total cost for Monday-Wednesday: $35ish