A woman ditched city life to spend 5 years living alone in a Utah ghost town where there’s no running water

Cisco Ghost Town

  • A chat with a woman sitting next to her on a plane changed Eileen Muza's life forever.
  • Muza was headed to Utah on vacation when the woman suggested a pit stop at a funky little ghost town.
  • Muza visited the ghost town and became so enamored by it that she ended up buying it.
  • She traded life in Chicago for living alone in Cisco, Utah, which has no running water, and summers that are as brutally hot as winters are freezing.
  • She's been fixing up the place bit by bit, and launched a thriving artist's residency in town last year.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

When Eileen Muza, 36, awoke one morning to the sound of a crying baby her first reaction was that she must be hallucinating — or hearing ghosts.

That's because Muza lives in Cisco, a ghost town without running water located in the Utah desert, entirely by herself.

Eileen Muza, a visual artist and floriculturist, traded Chicago for Cisco in 2015 and hasn't looked back

Rima in the log cabin Muza refurbished and lives in.
Eileen Muza

A casual plane conversation changed the trajectory of Muza's life, leading her to the tiny abandoned town, which was built in the 1880s as a railroad service station, and was once home to hundreds.

She was on a plane to Utah for vacation when the lady sitting next to her mentioned Cisco as a fun stop on the way to Canyonlands National Park, where Muza was headed.

Muza not only visited Cisco — she bought it.

Muza described Cisco as looking like "a scattering of trash that has been thrown out of a car window into a field."
Eileen Muza

"A suggestion can change the course of someone's life, which is definitely what happened to me," she told Insider.

"She's changed a lot of people's lives," Muza added, speaking of the woman she met on her flight. 

When Muza first visited Cisco she said she was scared, unsure about whether the town was actually abandoned. She said some of the structures looked sort of new, and that she spotted a satellite dish: unusual considering the town was mostly abandoned by the 1970s, when Interstate 70 was built nearby.

Cisco has garnered a few mentions in pop culture. The town made a cameo in films like "Vanishing Point" and "Thelma and Louise," and Johnny Cash recorded a song named "Cisco Clifton's Filling Station" in 1967.

Cisco was once a bustling town with hundreds of residents.
Eileen Muza

Muza described Cisco as looking like "a scattering of trash that has been thrown out of a car window into a field."

There's a handful of dilapidated structures, dozens of derelict shacks, broken-down cars, a small former post office, an old school bus, and a '70s Winnebago.

There's electricity and Wi-Fi now, but no running water; Muza says she collects rainwater and has a solar shower.

Long after she returned home, Muza said she couldn't stop thinking about the tiny town — so she bought it

"I don't want to re-create an Old West town," Muza said.
Eileen Muza

"You know when you travel and something strikes you? I went home and just kept on thinking about this place and wondering about it," she said. "I found it really strange that all this stuff would just be left here — there's a ton of stuff here. Why would everybody just leave? And that's what it looks like, people just up and left."

Unable to shake Cisco, she found the owner of the land it sits on and bought it.

While Muza sidesteps questions of how much land for how much money, she told High Country News it cost her around as much as a used car.

The old post office is a remnant of busier days in Cisco.
Eileen Muza

"I was always surprised that no one else has done this. To me, it seemed really obvious," she said about buying the abandoned town.

"I guess that's the difference between me and everybody else that comes here because I certainly wasn't the first one to visit," she said. "I'll always try something rather than not, otherwise it'll drive me crazy."

Despite Cisco being a private property with ample warning signs, Muza said she's surprised by how many people wander through town (the crying baby mentioned earlier was part of a group of tourists). 

While she doesn't mind visitors that are respectful and ask permission to take pictures, she says many engage in what she calls a "ghost town narrative" in which they think they can do whatever they want, like break windows because they see broken windows, or break into some of the buildings she's clearly fixed up that sometimes friends are living in.

Muza has been refurbishing the town bit by bit since 2015, transforming it into an artist's residency

Muza likes to work with materials already found on-site.
Eileen Muza

Muza said that she wasn't really all that handy before taking on this project, but that she's since probably fixed, replaced, or built pretty much anything a person can in a house, from putting in windows to installing a stove. She's currently renovating a trailer and building a sauna.

"That's how you learn right? Immersion school," she said, adding that she just figured it out along the way since she didn't have electricity or internet at first.

"There's something really freeing about looking at a project and knowing that you can't make it any worse, you can only do something good, or creative," she said.

Winters in the Utah desert can be brutally cold.
Eileen Muza

Muza said that as an artist, all she could see was the town's potential, and the many materials she could work with.

While she said that Cisco "has been looted a million times over" and filled with unwanted trash people left behind, to her that stuff is the jackpot.

"I don't want to re-create an Old West town, I'm not interested in making a set for a movie or something. I'm more interested in building the things that are around and have some kind of presence," she said, adding that she loves the history everything in Cisco seems to have.

Muza has a PO Box onsite, and can even get Amazon packages delivered, which is a big plus since the nearest towns, Moab, Utah, and Grand Junction, Colorado, are each about an hour away. Thanks to the distance as well as the coronavirus pandemic, she tries to limit her grocery runs to once a month.

Muza has not been alone in her ghost town much as her artist's residency, called Home of the Brave, has taken off lately

The artist launched her residency, Home of the Brave, in 2019.
Eileen Muza

Since launching Home of the Brave in 2019, Muza has had a rotating cast of artists stay with her, as well as friends who use the space for their work.

"I don't want to say that I can't keep people away, but it's rare that I get time alone," she said. "I have to actually leave Cisco if I want to be alone. And that's great. That means the thing that I'm doing is working, it's drawing a lot of people."

Muza keeps busy with project after project.
Eileen Muza

The residency welcomes two artists for a month each per year, providing them with groceries, art supplies, and a $500 stipend, paid for by the $20 fee they charge applicants. Runners-up get invited for three weeks without a stipend, an offer Muza said has yet to be refused.

While 2020 artists were pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic, currently, applications for a May 2021 residency are open through February 14.

Besides having a distraction-free space to get work done, Muza hopes visitors get a new perspective on life, from how many resources, such as water, they use in their-day-today lives, to "learning how to live outside in a way." 

Muza has learned a lot in her 5 years in Cisco

"You become more confident as a person when you're comfortable with yourself," Muza said.
Eileen Muza

"Learning to be comfortable with myself is probably the most valuable thing that I've learned out here. Because from there you lose a lot of fear," she said. "There's a lot of anxiety around social things and approval. You become more confident as a person when you're comfortable with yourself without the approval of others." 

She said she was initially scared, and unsure whether she had made the right choice in buying Cisco, but filled her days with work.

"I had to keep telling myself, 'just because there's no one here right now doesn't necessarily mean that there never will be. Just because I'm alone right now doesn't mean I'll be alone forever,'" she said. "You can only be afraid for so long. Eventually you just get tired of it. Eventually you have to sleep, and then you realize no ax murderer showed up." 

"I knew that if I wanted to, I could always leave," she said.

Five years in, however, it looks like Muza doesn't plan on it.

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