Photo by Kirk Marshall

Helper is a strange name for a small town, but it actually makes more sense than some as it is home to many engines that ‘help’ trains over the steep grades of nearby Soldier Summit.

Photo by Kirk Marshall

When plentiful coal was found in the area, the town sprouted, providing the manpower and fuel for the Denver and Rio Grande Railways. Mining camps sprung up in the 1890s and the European and Asian immigrants who came to make their fortunes helped make Helper the commercial hub for the area. In its heyday, Helper was a town of 20,000 with 33 bars and 19 houses of ill repute (Not bad for small town Utah). Today trains still ply the rails through this historic hamlet. The Western Mining and Railroad Museum is a must see for the full story.

In recent years, Helper has become a hub for miners of a different ilk. Once an economically depressed town with a decaying main street, the town has been rejuvenated by an influx of artists who search for peace and quiet to practice their craft. One such man is David Dornan. Credited with Helper’s rebirth, he holds summer workshops and master classes in a building he bought and renovated 15 years ago. The former brothel turned hotel turned studio, now houses students who can fully focus on art without big-city distractions.

Photo by Pippa Keene 

Helper is easily explored on foot, and a path by the Price River is a wonderful place to stroll. A swinging bridge begs to be explored, benches provide rest in the shade and plaques erected to the area’s history stimulate the brain while the walk stretches your legs. Heading back to Main Street, look for Big John, a giant miner. Painted coal black, he is one of the Muffler Men statues from the 1960s. He stands proudly in front of the Civic Auditorium, pick in hand.

Photo by Kirk Marshall

If your walk kicked up your appetite, head to The Balance Rock Eatery. They may possibly have the best potato chips you will ever eat; made to order from scratch, they are dusted with a special seasoning blend that is a well-guarded house secret. Across the street the Happiness Within Coffee Shop will make you a cup of java and a believer that luxuries can be found in unexpected places.

Many side trips can be made from Helper. Price, just seven miles south, hosts the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum. The Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, where much of the museum’s bounty was discovered just 20 miles away. Scenic Huntington Canyon, Nine Mile Canyon, Buckhorn Draw and the Wedge Overlook are all within striking distance.