A Utah realtor’s quest to sell a ghost town

  • A sign that once drew travelers off the highway to the geyser in Woodside, Utah, now lies in the weeds.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Utah realtor Mike Metzger has had to get creative in order to sell the unusual property: a once-popular roadside attraction turned ghost town. Woodside has a multimillion dollar price tag.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Once a thriving railroad stop, Woodside today consists of little more than an abandoned service station in the shadow of the Book Cliffs along US-6.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Metzger, an affable realtor, says he enjoys the challenge of trying to market Woodside. He has approached film studios and courted a Hmong community in his attempts to find a buyer.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Mountains reflected in the window of a trailer on the property.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Metzger sits next to Woodside's geyser, which once erupted reliably and was a tourist draw for the town. The geyser is not currently active, having been clogged with trash by vandals, Metzger says.

    Andrew Cullen
  • The old highway running through Woodside served as the set for a scene of the film "Thelma and Louise" featuring the explosion of a tanker truck.

    Andrew Cullen
 

Woodside, Utah

Mike Metzger strides through a row of cracked wooden headstones decorated with faded plastic flowers. The 35-year-old wears a button-down shirt and gray pants. He has lightly-gelled short dark hair and a trim goatee. "These graves are silent now," he says, staring wistfully at the camcorder. "But if they could speak, the stories they would tell." Metzger's gaze drifts toward the rusting fuel tanks and busted-up RVs that dot the desert beyond. Railroad tracks disappear behind crumbling hills, and a black horse limps across an abandoned bridge.

This is Woodside, Utah, population zero, and Metzger, a realtor, is trying to sell it for $3.9 million.

Six years ago, weary from declining health and wanting to spend more time with his family, the town's owner and sole inhabitant, Roy Pogue, decided to sell. There were no takers. People thought Metzger was crazy for taking over the listing last summer, the realtor says. "But I enjoy day-dreaming about how I market a property." Woodside, a former railroad re-supply stop with a geyser that was briefly a kitschy roadside attraction, is a more challenging sell than the modest ranch homes in nearby Price that Metzger usually lists. But he's not easily daunted: His first time in a whitewater kayak, he ran a class V section of the Price River and swam nearly every rapid. "We almost died!"

Metzger quickly realized few buyers would splurge for a vandalized gas station, a solitary patch of cottonwoods and 700 acres of sparsely vegetated desert in eastern Utah. (For $3.9 million, one could instead buy an eight-bathroom Park City mansion or a 10,000-square-foot trophy home on a western Colorado ranch.) He needed people drawn to the romance of owning their own town.

Last July, he took out an ad in the Sun Advocate, Carbon County's local paper: "Sheriff, Judge and Executioner Wanted For the Town of Woodside." It intrigued an editor, who wrote a story about Metzger's peculiar property listing. Soon, Metzger was giving reporters from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles tours of Woodside. The story even ran on a Hmong talk radio station in Minnesota. Metzger got a call from a realtor with Hmong clients looking for a place to preserve their heritage. (The Hmong are an ethnic group from China and Southeast Asia.) After touring the property and picnicking by the gas pumps, the Hmong visitors decided Woodside, in the Price River's floodplain, was a risky place to settle.

The next serious inquiry came from a production company looking for a movie set. The town has already made several silver screen cameos: A sleazy driver's truck exploded on its abandoned highway in the 1991 hit Thelma and Louise, and John the Baptist dipped Jesus in the Price River in a Mormon church film. But Woodside's remoteness, while appealing for certain shoots, proved impractical for a permanent set.

Woodside also caught the eye of Painless Productions, the L.A. company behind HGTV's Posh Pets: Lifestyles of the Rich & Furry. Painless was not interested in buying the town but in making a reality show about the ghost town realtor. Though the company won't confirm or deny it, Metzger says a producer asked him to send footage of himself showing the property, and I offered to film him during my tour.

In one shot, Metzger stands next to a collapsed billboard advertising the geyser, now dry. "Fifty to 60 years ago, this was quite the site," he says emphatically. He shakes his head. "I got nothing else." I suggest he talk about how Lady Bird Johnson's highway beautification campaign helped cripple the town by eradicating billboards. After 30 seconds, his screen presence dissolves into a goofy smile. "This dude's going to have to send me to school to do this," he sighs.

Next, we shoot a lightbulb-edged red arrow pointing to the service station -- "a real piece of Americana," Metzger boasts. We cross U.S. 6 to Woodside's residential side, where nearly 300 people lived before the railroad consolidated its operations up the road in Helper and the people left, too. At a weathered house, Metzger rests his hand on a rusty ladder. "A ladder," he muses in a profound tone, "but to where?"

It's been eight months since the media frenzy. There still haven't been any offers. But Metzger is optimistic. While he still plans to market Woodside as a whole town -- a generous description, he admits -- he's convinced the owner to sell the old gas station separately. And perhaps Woodside's mineral rights will interest an oil and gas company.

As for reality TV, Metzger doesn't seem cut out for it. Big sales are exciting, he says, but what he really likes is working with first-time buyers, who are thrilled to move into an $80,000 home. "I love seeing the twinkle in their eye," he says. "Little things like that keep you going."

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...