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Offbeat resort being put together in Mystic Hot Springs, Utah

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

MONROE, Utah (AP) -- The Sevier Valley is about the last place you would expect a rock-music venue, a hot springs spa, a tropical fish farm and a pioneer cabin preservation project, all at the same spot.

But who would have thought Mike Ginsberg, a one-time Denver computer animator and lifelong Deadhead, would have stepped through the cultural warp to take over Mystic Hot Springs, a once-busy resort, to set up a little slice of the counterculture in the Mormon heartland?

Not Ginsberg. And yet here he is, following his bliss in central Utah, six years after stumbling across Mystic, which he bought from Provo-based resort operator David Grow.

''All the stuff we loved was here,'' said Ginsberg, referring to the springs, tropical fish, the salvage piles that have since yielded numerous treasures and the scenic valley that would be a subdivided real-estate bonanza were it in Colorado.

The property was first homesteaded by the Cooper family in the 1880s and a resort was established early on to take advantage of what were then known as Monroe Hot Springs, a thermal pipeline disgorging 200 gallons of 168-degree water a minute.

Its mineral-rich water packs nearly 3,000 parts per million of sodium, potassium, boron, nickel, magnesium, chloride, and even a little lithium. The water cools as it travels along an irrigation terrace to diversions feeding a series of old 7-foot bathtubs. Ginsberg found the tubs, rumored to come from a Nevada brothel, on the property and moved them onto the hillside where they command a view of the valley with the snow-capped Tushar Mountains to the southwest.

Over the millennia, precipitating minerals have built up a milelong travertine mound that rises about 100 vertical feet behind Mystic's lodge. This structure now houses an intimate concert hall for touring musicians, many of them from psychedelic bands who never guessed they would someday perform in a conservative agricultural town like Monroe.

Singer Ed McGee of Ohio memorialized his experience there in a poem titled ''Mystic Birth'' for his pregnant sister.

After playing to a tiny crowd, McGee floated by himself in one of the concrete pools, looking up at the night sky through an oval shape formed by the rocks and the mountains.

''All I could hear was the water dripping in the pool and my heart beat. I had the sense I was in this womb-like place,'' said McGee, whose band, ekoostik hookah, was the first to perform at Mystic in November 1999.

Ginsberg's own serendipitous journey to Monroe began during a Las Vegas road trip with his family to see a Grateful Dead concert in the summer of 1995, shortly before band leader Jerry Garcia's death. On the way home, Ginsberg's 25-year-old Ford school bus with a VW bus shell grafted on top was giving him mechanical trouble and he got off Interstate 70 in Monroe because the map indicated a hot spring there.

A serious fish hobbyist, Ginsberg's interest was immediately piqued by all the aquariums stacked in the office and the fish ponds on the property. It was not long before his wife was inquiring about buying the place.

''I said 'Forget it, even if it was for sale we couldn't afford it,' '' Ginsberg said. Later that day, a Tuesday, Ginsberg spoke to the real-estate agent in Price.

''By Friday, we had an option on the place,'' he said. ''It took me 11 months to raise the $100,000 down payment. It was an incredible deal.''

Needing to generate $8,000 in monthly revenue to make Mystic fly, Ginsberg saw lots of potential enterprises for his 133-acre property in addition to the existing campground and mobile-home park. He could raise tropical fish in the six ponds, which hold water at a constant 75 degrees year-round, raise plants in the massive greenhouse, and, of course, stage concerts and run his own ''Mars Hotel.''

But when Ginsberg saw these neglected historic cabins around the valley that were being torn apart for scrap or simply torched, he came up with the idea that could earn him the enduring gratitude of Sevier County residents.

Ginsberg began acquiring these cabins, 22 in all, built between 1860 and 1890 by the Scandinavian immigrants who settled the valley, and moved them to his property for renovation into a ''pioneer village.''

''It offered me an opportunity to preserve the past and increase my lodging accommodations,'' Ginsberg said. ''It may not be Holiday Inn, but then anyone can stay at Holiday Inn. At Mystic, you can stay in a hippie bus or a pioneer cabin.''

Maybe it's the dilapidated buses parked in front of the lodge or the huge empty swimming pool begging to be filled in and planted with fresh sod, but his neighbors are not exactly singing Mystic's praises, although Ginsberg strives to be respectful.

''I'm not impressed, but a lot of folks are going up there,'' said a waitress at a Main Street cafe.

Ginsberg moved many of the log cabins to a pasture across the street from the mobile home park, creating a truly odd juxtaposition.

''This climate is very friendly to these kinds of structures,'' Ginsberg said. ''As long as they were not sitting in the mud, these logs are like new. It doesn't take much to restore these buildings.''

He proudly gestured to the first one he fixed up and now rents for $35 a night.

''This is the Barney cabin, built in 1865. Five boys were born in it and none of them married,'' Ginsberg said. ''I love the idea of recycling, restoring and preserving. It recreates the experience of living in a single-room building with your whole family.''

Ginsberg is even prouder of what he has accomplished as a music promoter, expecting to stage 50 shows this year. Because Monroe is located near the juncture of Interstates 15 and 70, he has been able to lure musicians to the springs as a rest stop between gigs at larger venues.

''It could be a total oasis. I'm looking forward to going back,'' said McGee, the Ohio musician. ''It was essentially like playing in a living room, there were only 20-some people. We are definitely used to bigger crowds, but I'd rather play to 20 people who are all dancing than 800 people where only 20 are dancing.''

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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