Johnson Mill – Midway, Utah

August 13, 2009

I drove north on Interstate 15, leaving the lights of Las Vegas behind and replacing them with the rich, red geology of Southern Utah. I passed through St. George, followed a little while later by Cedar City, with plenty of time left in the day for driving. But eventually the day wore on, as did the driving fatigue. I called ahead and found an available room at Johnson Mill in Midway, UT.

I’d had my eye on Johnson Mill for a few years, since visiting a handful of restored gristmills in Kentucky and Georgia. I turned off the Interstate in Provo and followed Hwy 189 through Provo Canyon and around Deer Creek Reservoir, pulling into Midway just after seven in the evening. The office was closed for the evening, but a welcome letter and key waited for me in the front hall. I followed the innkeeper’s directions and made my way around the side of the building to an exterior entrance to the Courtyard, my room for the night.

Described on the inn’s website as “cozy,” I found it to be spacious, especially for a solo traveler. The high queen bed with step-up stool was flanked by oak nightstands bearing colorful Tiffany lamps. An oak dresser and a small sitting table with two chairs rested against one wall and an armchair was nestled into a corner by the front window. A rock wall opposite the bed held a gas fireplace and TV. The entry area offered a large closet to one side and a private bath to the other, complete with jetted tub. For a cozy room, it felt like a castle. High ceilings, luxurious bedding, an exquisite duvet with embroidered birds, flowers, and squirrels,  and dried floral arrangements all added to the overall impression.

The grounds of the inn were equally impressive, with picture-perfect gardens, vine-covered arbors, a pond with canoes and paddleboats for guests’ use and small decks and sitting areas tucked away in various places on the 30 acres of property.

Midway is a small town and dining options for dinner were limited, but I found a comfortable table and a good individual pizza and salad combination at Café Galleria, a casual eatery with butcher-papered tables and framed artwork on the walls. For a very small upgrade fee, the basic cheese pizza included in the combo was replaced with a more exotic variety, mine having roasted mushrooms, fontina cheese, caramelized onions and pine nuts.

Being the night owl that I am, I returned to Johnson Mill and sat outside until well after midnight. Having a room just around the corner from the front porch turned out to be convenient, as I easily slipped into the cushioned rattan chairs by the inn’s front door and breathed in the cool night air. Garden lights illuminated the steps leading up to the front porch. A few cars cruised by on the highway, but they were infrequent, and the tumbling of the inn’s waterfall upstaged the sound of the vehicles passing by.

A clever sign in the office announced that “Breakfast is served from 9:00AM to 9:10AM.” It made its point: there would be one seating for breakfast, at nine. I set an alarm to make sure I wouldn’t oversleep and woke up early, anyway, taking a seat on the outdoor patio behind the inn. Ice cold juices and coffee were available for guests to serve themselves, while the hot entrée was brought out from the kitchen, in this case French Toast stuffed with strawberry cream cheese and topped with blueberries, blackberries, and whipped cream. Fresh melon slices and strips of bacon accompanied the main dish.

Over this morning meal, guests chatted with each other, coffees were refilled, and plates were finished and removed. Beyond the breakfast seating area, the morning sun beamed down on a gazebo, surrounded by a pond. Swans floated across the water. Birds hopped along branches of nearby trees, chirping morning greetings. The waterfall provided background music to it all. Cliché as it sounds, it was idyllic.

Johnson Mill was a working gristmill originally, though it operated with a flat wheel in the basement area, as opposed to the decorative water wheel now found in the yard. Lani, the manager, pointed out that flour still seeps out of the exposed original beams inside the inn. The evidence was right in front of us both in tiny white specks on the floor.

Two albums in the lobby detailed the extensive renovation the owners did to turn the old mill into the elegant inn that now greets guests. Clusters of concrete were pulled from the blocked waterfall area. Retaining walls were built with bricks from the town’s old courthouse. Much of the mill was gutted and rebuilt, with decks added for larger suites. A tree trunk was inserted in the middle of a circular stairway that leads to a lower lounge area and common space. The gazebo was built in the center of the pond, with access provided by a wooden walkway. The waterwheel was brought in and extensive landscaping was done, making Johnson Mill a premium location for weddings now.

I couldn’t resist stopping in at The Spicy Lady on my way out of town, an old saloon from the 1870’s, located in Heber City, just a few miles from Midway. I’d seen a copy of their menu at the inn and I just had to find out if they really did serve kangaroo quesadillas, as their menu stated. I’d been traveling for years and had yet to see kangaroo of any sort on a menu. It turned out to be true. The meat is flown in from Australia and touted as high in protein and low in fat. I stuck with a conservative order, though, and had the lunch special: fish tacos and green salad.

There’s more to see and do in the Midway/Heber City area, including a visit to the Heber City Railroad, which offers excursions through scenic Provo Canyon, among other areas. Hiking and biking rate high on the list of area activities too. I wouldn’t have minded venturing out on a local trail just to explore the area a little more. But it was time to move on.