The Birth of Accidental Tourism: From mining to skiing in 100 years

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The Birth of Accidental Tourism: From mining to skiing in 100 years

Had you been a tourist visiting Park City, Utah, in 1869, you would have written, in your postcard (an ancient communications device requiring you to use a pen and lick a stamp) to back home, “Be glad you are not here.” ParkCity was all about silver mining then. Its citizens were rough-hewn, not a step removed from Butch Cassidy’s Hole In The Wall Gang which thrived 400 miles to the south.

You wouldn’t have skied outside ParkCity, in 1869. You wouldn’t have explored the many national parks (thank Teddy Roosevelt for that)—there were none. You didn’t hike or ride horses unless you were an outlaw or a mountain man. You bathed; you didn’t swim. Utah’s tourism came well after the mines had been exhausted.


Before there was a Park City there were Indians, principally the Utes (the first people), and to the south, the Anasazi, who built pueblo dwellings and made use of local selenite, a mineral in the crystal family, to make thick-paned windows, and whose artists etched beautiful images in sandstone boulders that can be seen today.

At the time of European settlement, there were 20 Ute tribes, small-group villages, in now-Utah and Colorado. The tribes gathered together for the annual Bear Dance but otherwise lived autonomously. They became horsemen (there were no horses in Pre-Columbian America), acquiring the animals from Spanish explorers in the 1600’s.

The Anasazi, a cultured and family oriented society, had been thought to have vanished, until forensic pathologists recently discovered evidence of terror on an unimaginable scale, including cannibalism, by unknown tribes.

During the silver craze, now-ghost towns such as Silver Reef and SilverCity sprang up. The established ParkCity, the more or less end of the line on the transcontinental railroad, housed immigrant miners who made up one-third of Utah’s population. Languages spoken included Chinese, Greek, Italian and Serbian. The nearby Mormons, having settled in Utah for privacy, were appalled.

Ah, the romance and lure of mining we see depicted in film. In reality miners made three dollars a day on good days, work days lasting from dawn to dusk. Mine owners did very well (ask “mining queen” ParkCity millionaire Susanna Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff), but you had a better chance being struck by lightning than becoming wealthy from mining. ParkCity, the most important American mining town of the 19th Century, was noisy, violent, congested, deforested and entirely without city services.

Then came the 60’s and environmental consciousness and love for wild places, and tourism became king. In 1969’s ParkCity, you would still be writing postcards, but the message was, “Wish you were here.” The Winter Olympics were coming. If you were a movie maker, you freaked on the scenery and filmed “2001 A Space Odyssey,” “Thelma and Louise,” “Forrest Gump,” “Footloose,” to name a few. If you were into extreme sports, you rock climbed and sky dived.

Today, you come for the Utah Symphony, the Utah Festival Opera, Ballet West, the Sundance Film Festival (see 2012’s winner, “In A World,” and laugh yourself sick), world class skiing and wilderness adventures in numerous national forests, and so much more.

Heck, even the Indians have tourism. You can make day trips to WildhorseCanyon to view ancient obsidian quarries, to DangerCave where the First People lived 10,000 years ago. If Indian history or Wild West Outlaws are your thing, you can rest up in ParkCity and enjoy the food and festivals then start a car trip to Four Corners to see the living history of the Anasazi, or to Hole in The Wall for the Outlaw Trail and “Butch Cassidy’s Bathtub” at SnowCanyonState Park. Follow this blog for details and vacation suggestions.

Whether Park City is your destination or your pit stop, your perfect resting place for all of the above is the inviting and affordable (silver is cheerfully accepted) Park City Peaks Hotel, with splendid mountain views, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the Rustic Creek Grille, the Upper Deck Sports Bar and much more. Park City Peaks Hotel is within three miles of a municipal golf course, Park City Mountain Resort and the Canyons Ski Area.