Discover a small piece of land known as Babylon or Stormont Mill in Washington County, 12 miles northeast of St. George. Babylon sits along the Virgin River, a river that feeds Lake Mead in Southern Nevada, all of which, lies in the Northeastern portion of the Mojave Desert. As a point of interest, the Mojave Desert covers approx. 48,000 sq. Miles. It drapes across four states; primarily California, southern Nevada and small parts of Utah and Arizona. Babylon, the small mining town of roughly 40 to 50 people in the late 19th century, has long since been abandoned. Before 19th century pioneers, this area meant home to indigenous peoples from the Paiute and possibly the earlier Anasazi tribes as is proudly displayed on the looming rocks next to the sometimes torrential river.
Mormon settlers occupied most of southern Utah during the 1800s; however, the booming mining town of Silver Reef brought diversity and contrasting religious dogma. One such group settled Babylon in 1877, where they would establish a mine, a mill, and smaller refining kilns. Ultimately, Babylon was just too far away from the action to have a lasting impact, and its location would lead to its eventual demise. The Virgin River was the most significant impediment to its success. At times the river would flood and destroy crops and homes, and other times it created an obstacle that would take a herculean effort to merely cross and make it into town to gather essential supplies for everyday survival.
The Name Remains
Other than remnants from the old stone buildings and a 20th-century building effort, the one thing that remains is the name. And in its name, we find the attitude of its occupants. The people who lived there were not Mormons. They chose the name Babylon to distinguish it from St. George. At that time, Babylon signified sin, petulance, carnal nature, oppression, degradation, and those whom would seek pleasure rather than adhering to the word of God. The name was a simple ploy to keep others out. The people of this small town must have laughed at the irony as the etymology of the word itself, simply means, “The Gate of the Gods.” It was a three mile per hour world, and Babylon was just too far away from St. George and other populated towns, its location rendered it untenable.
Watch Your Step
We talk of early settlers, pioneers, native peoples, and the river that runs through it. But above the river, above the structures, above the desert sod, the creepy crawlers, above the fauna and flora (including creosote, see note) are another hidden surprise. If one were to look at the macro picture of the mountains above it all; one would gaze upon the tracks and footprints of a more ancient inhabitant, the dinosaur.
In plain site are several dinosaur tracks etched in the side of the mountain. Until erosion takes its toll and decimates their remains, we are exposed to an outdoor museum, free of charge. Yes, Babylon sits below an ancient trove of dinosaur history. As you are driving on the road down into Babylon look at the cliffs, look for abnormalities, you can spot the dinosaur tracks from the road. Providing an exact location of the tracks will take away from the exploration and the adventure. There are many things to discover, spelling it all out would take away from experience.
Written in Stone
The old stone remnants make one feel nostalgic, and a quiet reverence was felt upon gaze. The modern structure was built and abandoned in the 1980s. John Vought, the man behind the unfinished house, became discouraged when Geraldine, his wife, died. He forged on and was determined to finish the home. Towards the end of construction, the home caught on fire. It may have been arson, but it was never proven. It is now covered in graffiti. Some say its an “eye-sore,” but I beg to differ. It’s a newer piece of history with a story of its own.
How to get to Babylon:
From St. George, head North on i-15. Exit Leeds. Drive through Leeds (east), drive all the way through Leeds, take a right on 900 North also known as Babylon Rd. Stay on this road and follow the signs. You’ll find the building remnants about 5 miles away from the initial turn off. 4wd is not required but recommended.
We used a two-wheel drive, but it was rough. When we went the desert was dry, it hadn’t rained in weeks. If it were to rain I doubt you could drive out of Babylon with a 2wd, and you might not be able to get out with a 4wd. The decent into Babylon is steep with a cliff on the North side of the road. As always, take plenty of water. You’ll need it if you decide to hike around, plus if you happen to get stuck or overheat, you will need water.
(Note: Creosote bushes decorate the desert floor. Some creosote estimates are 11,700 years old. I add this note as a reminder of the desert’s ancient history. When we learn the history and age of certain things, we tend to respect them more. As you gaze upon the fantastic desert keep in mind the changes, these rocks and plants have witnessed over the centuries and millennia. If only they could talk! The history is mind-blowing.)
(Note: “Geraldine Ruth George b. September 4, 1932, in Los Angeles, California. In 1935, her parents moved to Leeds where she grew up at “The Mormon Hotel” – the home of her grandparents, Brigham Young & Ada Parker McMullin. John was an official in the U.S. State Department. He met and married Geraldine who was the first female diplomat from southern Utah. They had three children, all sons.” WCHS)