The ghost town of Cisco, Utah is one of the most iconic ghost towns in all of America. Its been featured in movies like Thelma & Louise, Vanishing Point, and Don’t Come Knocking as well as the Johnny Cash song, “Cisco Clifton’s Filling Station,” and Roadtrippers couldn't pass up the chance to visit this spooky, snake-infested, could-get-shot-at-any-moment by some nut job little ghost town...
We were cruising out of Arches National Park on one of the most beautiful drives ever as part of MINI Takes the States, a cross-country road trip for MINI Cooper owners (and lucky for us, press), when the eerie town snuck up on us in the middle of vast nothingness. Thankfully, our co-pilot, Mark “Stretch” Batchelor, with drivingthenation.com thought it was just as cool as we did so a long stop was necessary. Just our pictures are enough to make you a little lonely inside…
The gas station from Johnny Cash's song:
The gas station in the climactic ending of Vanishing Point (note the “Kowalski Lives” graffiti):
Are you a Vanishing Point fan? Here's the Roadtrippers Guide to Vanishing Point Filming Locations. Get yourself a Challenger and have at it!
The general store featured in Don’t Come Knocking:
More pictures and the sad tale of Cisco, UT:
Cisco didn’t used to be such a lonely place… The town saw life as a pit stop for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad trains in the 1880s, and this connection to a rail line proved to be very valuable to cattle and sheep ranchers in the extremely desolate Utah desert. In fact, Legends of America says as many as 100,000 head of sheep were sheared in Cisco at the turn of the century.
The 1920s kept the town growing as oil and natural gas were found and the 1950s love of the automobile brought even more to Cisco. The need to service this new influx of road travelers led to restaurants, gas stations, bars, and more popping up in the little town of 200.
When trains abandoned steam power for diesel, they no longer needed towns like Cisco for water, but the business from the railroads was replaced by uranium and vanadium prospectors. The town kept servicing road trippers and travelers just as it had done for years.
That all changed, however, when I-70 skipped by the town. By the 80s and 90s the town was practically deserted. Perhaps no better example of the town’s abandonment after I-70 is Johnny Cash’s “Cisco Clifton’s Filling Station,” a song written after H. Ballard Harris fueled up Johnny Cash’s car with $7 worth of gas…
Cisco Clifton had a filling station about a mile and a half from town. Most cars passed unless they were out of gas so Cisco was always around.
Usually he’d give them water or a tire or two some air and once a big black Cadillac spent $7 there.
In winter time there was a deep coal stove and a table for the checker game. And every morning at sun up the same checker players came.
One morning at 8 the checker players heard a big bulldozer roar like a freight. And Cisco said “I hope my kids stay fed when they build that interstate.”
He’d managed to pay for the property where his little filling station sat. And friends still came for the checker game so Cisco settled for that.
He wouldn’t say so, but Cisco knew the interstate was too much to fight. But to keep his will and pay his bills, he did odd jobs at night.
He still opened up at a sunrise and the checker game went on. The cars flew past on high-test gas, and the neighbors had sold out and gone.
If a car ever did go by, he was lost. And if they stopped they were treated the same.
So at Cisco Clifton’s filling station, there’s a howdy and a checker game.
Legends of America also claims one of the town’s last gas station owners shot a biker who rode off without paying, was jailed, and then his terribly mean wife only served people she felt like serving, often letting her giant dog bite them first. We can’t seem to find anything to confirm this, but man, it’s a hell of a story. (We’re also not sure if it’s the same gas station Cash visited. Don’t worry, nice Mr. Ballard wasn’t the owner, just worked there. He later owned and lived in a gas station up the road.)
As you already know, the town is now a pile of rubble and falling down shacks. The last residents appear to have fled in the 90s as determined by the age of the abandoned cars, but the somewhat freshly painted “Keep Out” signs on many of the buildings gave us the eerie feeling people do still occasionally swing back to their little shacks in Cisco. Thank God some anti-government militia type didn’t stumble upon us in a little MINI Cooper photographing their rusted out treasures.
Cisco isn’t necessarily a place you make a big trip to see, but the surrounding Moab and Arches National Park most certainly are, so when you leave there, why not take a little detour to one of America’s most iconic ghost towns and act out scenes from Vanishing Point, Thelma & Louise, or Don’t Come Knocking?