Southwest ghost towns
tend to range in character and authenticity from the complete but restored and overtly commercialised such as Calico
(along I-15 near Barstow in California) to genuine, neglected sites that have very little of the original settlement remaining, for instance Old Irontown
near Cedar City in Utah. Grafton
is somewhere in between; a few old buildings in good condition stand in tree-lined fields near the Virgin River just south of the boundary of Zion National Park
, and nearby there is a well-preserved cemetery with many graves dating from the 1860s. The site is just 1 mile from the busy approach road to the park, but is rarely visited as it lies on the opposite side of the river, and reached by a 4 mile dirt track which is not well signposted.
To reach Grafton, drive to the sleepy town of Rockville
along UT-9 and turn south on a side road (Bridge Lane) that crosses the Virgin River on a historic, single-track iron bridge, then turns due west. This soon becomes unpaved and follows along the foot of the low cliffs that separate the lush river valley from the arid rocky land beyond. After 2 miles the main road curves back south, climbs into the hills and becomes the Smithsonian Butte Road
, a 9-mile scenic backway through a land of colorful mesas and canyons that eventually meets UT-59 and so provides a useful short-cut between Zion National Park and the Arizona Strip, as well as offering many good free campsites. At the point where Bridge Lane bends south, a right turn continues roughly parallel with the river to the ghost town.
The first point of interest is the old cemetery - this has a few dozen graves from the period 1860 - 1910, with telling inscriptions that give some insight into the harsh life at that time, such as the three Berry brothers (and one wife), all killed by Indians on April 2nd 1866, or the five children of John and Charlotte Ballard, all of whom died young between 1865 and 1877, none living for more than 9 years. A track past the cemetery leads up the side of a sandy wash and has places to camp. Judging from the hundreds of expended cartridge cases, this is also a popular place for shooting at things.
Grafton was established in 1859, to provide a settlement for people to grow cotton on the fertile plains next to the Virgin River. Frequent floods and Indian attacks caused problems for early pioneers, but some persisted and the town became quite successful, lasting until the 1930s when residents moved away to better land in Hurricane, 30 miles west. The town site is a few hundred meters beyond the cemetary - several large buildings including a two-storey private residence and a combined church/schoolhouse built in 1886. A few people continue to live in other houses in the neighborhood, and some parts of the former village are fenced off yet the site is still quite atmospheric and authentic, with peaceful surroundings and with the high, colorful cliffs of the national park providing a dramatic backdrop to the north.