In The Pleasure of Ruins, Rose Macaulay wrote about the narratives of travelers who visited the ruins of Troy at Hisarlik. Their imaginative speculations turned the visible ruins into scenes from Homer’s Iliad. That individual response—built on imaginative investment—was for Macaulay an important part of the pleasure of ruins. Macaulay wrote: “Travellers, from Homer onward, have gazed on Troy and on Troy’s ruins because Troy was great, but more because Troy was ancient, ruined and fallen. They would have preferred, we should prefer now, to see the great city as she was; but, gazing on her ruins, we build her in our minds.”
Do we do the same when we look at Cisco? Neither ancient nor great, Cisco, Utah, is more likely to be called a ghost town than a ruin. Ruin is tragedy and connotes a higher fall than must be possible for a ghost town. Still, I wonder what imaginative investments are possible in Cisco.
Cisco is on the road to Moab and has traffic, most passes quickly past; a few rafters and mountains bikers slow in the town for a turn that takes them to adventure destinations. From my cursory look it was hard to tell if Cisco was as dead as Troy; some of the cars looked still drivable and the mobile homes were level.
Cisco sits on overgrazed plain between the Book Cliffs and the Colorado River but is several miles from both and neither probably played much of a role in its history. At least that’s what I imagine. The derelict town faces the railroad, and I wonder whether the railroad brought Cisco into existence and perhaps also led to its death. When trains shifted from steam propulsion to internal combustion engines that provided for a longer haul many towns like Cisco must have died. The overgrazed plain may also provide some hints to Cisco’s dereliction. Too many cattle or sheep may have been run on this plain to sustain its long-term viability; it’s one of the most exhausted looking landscapes I’ve ever seen. The town isn’t far from the Yellow Cat area where Uranium was mined for the Cold War, but other towns, Moab and Thompson Springs, are closer. There are also signs of drilling rigs and machinery of oil and gas extraction. Natural gas pipes and pumps spot the plain between the Book Cliffs and the Colorado River, and the resource surveys and drilling may have provided the last economic hope for Cisco. The town doesn’t seem to have changed much since the drilling, although it looks as though junked cars continue to accrete.
We don’t imagine less at Cisco than at Troy, if we stop. The decay of Cisco’s wood may hold less elegance than the stones of Troy. Troy’s stones also echo Homer’s mythologies; the wind in the rusted cars and windowless buildings at Cisco is less eloquent. We must imagine Cisco less grandly than Troy but not with less poetry. Cisco has immediacy, a closeness to touch, that Troy lacks. While Priam’s anguish in Troy can be readily sensed, his daily life is beyond grasp; the quick in Cisco can be imagined with a look through the glassless windows of decaying houses. The tumbled-down facades of Cisco’s stores are near enough to what we know to hear the ring of quarters on the counters.