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.