A friend once remarked that the richness of one's travel experiences is inversely proportional to the speed at which one travels. Planes and interstates are great for getting somewhere quickly, but back roads and meandering highways are ideal for serendipity. What these places often lack in grandeur or spectacle, they make up for in character. One such place is Helper, UT.
Our two-year-old son awoke suddenly. Hungry and perturbed by his short nap, he was in no mood to sit still long enough to go over Soldier Summit. My wife and I made a quick decision to detour to Helper to find food and calm our son before continuing our journey back to Salt Lake.
Like most small towns, Helper has a Main Street surrounded by shady residential side streets. As we eased into the parking space in front of the art gallery, we were charmed by the architecture and pleasant feel of the downtown. It was a sunny January day and the snow on the hills above town shone brightly. The town was quiet, as I expect it is most days.
We ventured into the Happiness Within coffee shop searching for caffeine and calories and were greeted immediately by a friendly woman behind the counter. While making our coffees, she explained that the coffee shop didn't serve food but the restaurant across the street could take our order and we were welcome to eat in the coffee shop. This unconventional arrangement hinted at the tight-knit nature of the community. Separate businesses working together to meet the needs of their customers. To expedite the process, we opted to walk across the street to the Balance Rock Eatery and Pub and, even though they were closed for a funeral party for a community member who'd passed, they offered to make us food to go.
As I waited for my order, I studied the historical pictures on the walls and saw the families filing in and greeting one another. In that moment, I couldn't help but wonder whether small towns, like Helper, have somehow managed to retain a sense of community that most places in America have lost.
As we headed back onto the highway, I reflected on our brief, but enjoyable visit to Helper. Even though it wasn't part of our planned itinerary, I will most certainly be back.