Utah’s Unique Museums- Two Steps Forward One Cool Step Back…In Time

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It doesn’t take long for an inquisitive visitor to Park City to hear tell of the little resort town’s storied past. The remnants surround you; of the silver mine boom and bust, the historic structures that pepper Park City Mountain and multi-colored “shacks” built into the hillsides. Eventually, history buffs find their way to the unique museums like Park City’s for a nostalgic immersion of all things turn of the century.

Museums are often overlooked in small towns but some of the most fascinating artifacts are curated by locals with a passion for everything from bullets to bugs and they can’t wait to show you around. Here are some of the more unusual collections found in Utah.

Tom Whitaker’s Cowboy Museum- Ol’ Tom Whitaker, the founder of the Heber Valley Cowboy Poetry Gathering, opens his Cowboy Museum in Midway to the public only twice a year- during the Gathering and on the Fourth of July. But if you just can’t wait to walk through time into the railroad room, Indian and cowboy room, western brothel housed in a restored pioneer cabin, then send him an email. Tom and wife Linda are happy to show you around. Even the exterior with cactuses and windmill from Iowa reflects the wild west. Free Admission 510 N. River Rd Midway next to Midway Memorial Hill. whitakers777@gmail.com.

Heber Valley CAF (Commemorative Air Force ) Wing Air Museum  The Utah wing of the national non-profit aviation association exists solely to immortalize the big birds of WWII and share the past with plane buffs. The focus of this museum is on aircraft like the Boeing PT-17/N2S Stearman but volunteers will graciously tour you through displays on women in aviation and commercial aircraft as well. You can also book a ride in a bi-plane if you plan ahead.

CAF Hangar on the Russ McDonald Field, Heber Valley Airport. Open Thurs.-Sun. May 1- Oct. 31. 435-709-7269

Price Museum of speed (SLC) – For those with a thing for wheels over wings, there’s this ode to vintage race cars. The more than 30 international speedsters housed in this downtown Salt Lake City space either won or placed well in renowned events like the Grand Prix and Le Mans and date back to 1904. Ogle the 1929 Bugatti 35B Racer and 1938 Mormon Meteor III by appointment only. 165 E 600 S; Salt Lake City, (801) 906-0157.

Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage – The west was won by John Ford and John Wayne if you ask the curators of this museum inside the Red Cliffs Lodge in southern Utah. The area served as a backdrop to cowboy classics like Wagon Master, Rio Grande, and Son of Cochise and hosted golden era stars like Rock Hudson, Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara and more. The self-guided, free unique museum displays memorabilia like movie posters and costumes from the early films to the present, all shot in the Moab area. When you’re done looking around, cozy up to the Castle Creek wine bar, also inside Red Cliffs, for free wine tasting from noon- 7 p.m.  The museum is open 8 a.m.- 10 p.m. (866) 812-2002.

Photo by Tricia Simpson

Western Mining and Railroad Museum–  The Denver and Rio Grande railroads established Helper, Utah, as a hub for coal miners and their families in the late 1800s and their story continues to be told through the exhibits housed in the Old Helper Hotel building, built in 1913. You get three stories plus the basement of railroad and mining memorabilia, as well as exhibits on the company store life and the war years. The third floor is said to be haunted. Free tours upon request, Mon.- Sat. 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Utah State Railroad Museum – This one is for the kiddos, fantasy conductors and general train buffs. Outside Union Station is a free exhibit of full-sized rare locomotives and autos including a gas-turbine train. Inside are more displays and stories of the development and construction of the transcontinental railroad. Union Station, 2501 Wall Avenue, Ogden, Utah. (Inside) $5, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mon. – Sat.

Utah Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum– Yes, this is Utah so there must be an authentic Utah Cowboy Hall of Fame. It’s tucked inside the heritage museum amid the exhibits that honor artists, entertainers, musicians, ranchers, and writers that celebrated those true western values.  Union Station, 2501 Wall Avenue, Ogden, Utah. $5, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mon. – Sat.

utah museum

John M. Browning Firearms Museum– Also inside Ogden’s Union Station is a tribute to Mr. Browning and his original firearms from mini pistols to sporting rifles. Winchester, Colt, Remington have all based their guns on Browning’s designs. Give yourself time to wander among the tremendous array of guns and family history. Union Station, 2501 Wall Avenue, Ogden, Utah. $5, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mon. – Sat.

Art Robinson Transport Museum – When you love trucks as much as Art does, you set up five barns’ worth of all makes, models and years. This truck fancier’s paradise is a must see and houses such lovelies as a ’72 Brockway and a ’44 Mack.  875 W Main St., across US50 from the Robinson Transport Yard, Salina, Utah.  435-529-4354.

Goulding’s Trading Post Museum– This small museum in Monument Valley tells the story of trading post days, the corralling of famous western films of the time, as well as Navajo tribal art history. For anyone visiting the area, old west film buffs and John Wayne fans (they show classic John Ford films in the Movie Room), take an hour from your day for a free self-guided tour. Inside Goulding’s Lodge, 1000 Main Street Monument Valley, Utah. (435) 727-3231.

John Wesley Powell River History Museum– Ever heard of Lake Powell? Well, this compact but unique museum in Green River celebrates the explorers who first discovered and mapped the Colorado and Green rivers and canyons in Utah, and all things related- geology, navigation, environmental impacts. There are photos and interactive displays, as well as dinosaur replicas and fossil records in the basement. Admission is $6. 765 East Main Street, Green River, Utah. 435-564-3427. Open daily in the summer.

Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum– The irony for this free educational “life science” museum is that the large collection of animals aren’t alive. The taxidermied zoo impresses with full-sized giraffes and a bull elephant. There’s also a touch and feel area for kids and free weekly shows with live animals at 7:30 p.m. Open Mon.-Sat. 645 E 1430 N, Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University. (801) 422-5050

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