A lesser-known Utah history museum
July 3, 2012
At first glance, the dome-shaped visitor center alongside Interstate 80 near Echo Junction appears to be a natural part of the rugged landscape. Other than the large "Welcome to Utah" sign in the parking lot, there is not much to differentiate this rest stop from the ones motorists pass on the Wyoming side of the border, less than 30 miles away.
Once inside though, visitors are treated to their first glimpse of Utah, its history and everything it has to offer. The walls are filled with maps pinpointing all 43 state parks, seven national monuments and five national parks. One wall displays Northern Summit County’s history, including the Mormon pioneers, Pony Express, and less notably, the Donner Party.
The large displays, pictures and bits of trivia make the hut feel more like a child-sized museum than a visitor’s center.
Coalville resident Donna Bryson is 84 and has been working at the center for five years. She can rattle off the must-see monuments, which national park is worth the trip to southern Utah and the best place to get a bite to eat.
"I was a truck driver for 10 years," Bryson said. "So I am good at giving directions, knowing how far things are and the best route to take to see the most parks."
Bryson said that between 600 and 800 visitors stop each day in the summer. Some just need a map or directions, while others want to check the board posted inside that shows which roads are under construction.
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"A lot of people even just want information on the surrounding area, they admire the cliffs on the way in and see the signs marking the Pony Express route," she said, adding that her great-grandfather built one of the first cabins near the visitor’s center and helped build the railroad that snakes alongside the Interstate.
Bryson said she almost always directs people to Temple Square and tries to make sure everyone learns a little something about Utah during their stop at the visitor’s center. Even if that lesson is a little one.
"We have people stop from Paris, Japan, I just helped a family from Indonesia," she said. "People ask me if this is the Grand Canyon, how we keep the rocks so red and one time someone inquired about the flying skunks outside. I guess he had never seen a magpie before. A lot of the international tourists are fascinated by the ground squirrels and want to feed them."
Everyone who enters the visitor center is encouraged to sign the guest book, leaving little comments about their trips and how great the center is.
One family from Tulsa expressed gratitude for the free granola bars they received, another person headed to Folsom, California said that after learning about everything there was to do in Utah, he would stop and explore the state on his way back.
"We are a lot of people’s first stop in Utah who are coming in on I-80 and I want to show them everything there is to do," Bryson said. "A lot of people who are from Utah stop and say they didn’t know we were here, and even they learn something."
The Echo Junction visitor’s center is located on the south side of Interstate 80 near Echo Junction. The visitor center is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.