Let’s say you’re not interested in milking a cow or gathering eggs. You don’t like baby lambs, bison and pigs, woodworking, pony rides, panning for gold, train rides, Native American teepees and a herd of buffalo. As unlikely as that may be, one thing is certain — you’ll want to visit the American West Heritage Center in Wellsville, Utah, if only for the spectacular drive and unsurpassed views.
“It’s beautiful, it’s breathtaking and the view of the Wellsville Mountains is unsurpassed,” says Sarah Gunnell, administrative assistant at the center. “I like to say, ‘We can’t guarantee the weather, but we can guarantee the views.’”
The American West Heritage Center was created to inspire visitors to learn about the American West and the diverse cultures that shaped Cache Valley and the surrounding region from 1820-1920. It’s been a working farm since 1917 and now draws approximately 70,000 guests per year, mostly from Cache County. However, special events such as the popular Baby Animal Days in April and the Corn Maze and Haunted Hollow in October draw crowds as far south as Utah County and north from Star Valley, Wyoming.
“Everyone should participate in our school fieldtrips to see why it’s so important to show kids what life used to be like and how important the farm is to our country,” Gunnell says. “It’s such a needed thing. I want everyone to experience what we have here. It’s educational and fun, but also important. I get tears in my eyes when I talk about it. People often say, ‘I’ve driven by so many times but never stopped till now. It’s amazing!’ That’s my soapbox.”
Kids get down and dirty inside the pens during the three-day Baby Animal Days during Cache County Public School’s spring break. “We let the kids hold and cuddle the animals,” Gunnell says. “They’re so cute to watch. ‘It got poop on me!’ they’ll say.”
Throughout October, the corn maze, haunted hollow and Fall Harvest Festival (Oct. 21-22) draw huge crowds. “In addition to our usual activities, we fire the old steam engines and threshing machines,” Gunnell says. The focus is to show how a farm was prepared for winter. There’s an apple cider press, corn shelling, root cellar, smoke house, candle making, gun fights, corn-husk doll making, kettle corn and food vendors. The cost is $9 for adults and $8 for kids. (Everyday pricing is less, at $7 adults, $6 kids 3-11, which includes trains, horse rides and hands-on activities. A one-year membership is $80 for a family and $150 for a grandparents pass.)
“The air is crisp,” Gunnell says, “and the drive through Sardine Canyon with the fall colors is amazing.”
New this year is a reservation-only chuck wagon dinner and bison tour. “We take a wagon ride right into the bison enclosure,” Gunnell says.
A Regular Day at the Farm
“At first I was afraid, but then I tried it and I wasn’t anymore!” boasts 4-year-old Otto Wilhelmsen after attempting to milk a cow. “You gotta try new things.” There’s enough to do and see on the 200-acre farm to keep kids (and adults) busy all day.
And the setting is idyllic for more than just the views. A tree-lined stream meanders through the property. Old-time barns and shops are scattered throughout, and there’s a pond stocked with fish. The peacocks make their entrance in April, strutting boastfully before molting about mid-June.
Volunteers don historic clothing and are smiling and anxious to share information, give demonstrations or just have a rootin’ tootin’ good time with the visitors.
Picnic lunches are encouraged with plenty of tempting spots to eat in the shade, preferably facing the mountains. There are no concessions on-site but plenty of food in Logan just five minutes away. And don’t worry about getting back in; your pass is good all day.
“It feels like you’ve come to grandpa’s farm,” Gunnell says. “It’s so good for kids to get involved in things they’ve never done before, free from electronics. It’s an escape from everything really. And while you’re up here, spend the day and visit the cheese factories and enjoy some Aggie ice cream, Fat Boys and Pepperidge Farm goodies.”
For hours, directions and pricing or to book a reunion, wedding or corporate retreat, visit awhc.org.
By Gail Newbold
Photos by Kevin Kiernan