I’m now well into the Utah trip and we’ve shifted our focus from the mountains to the desert.
Golden Spike National Historic Site
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The Golden Spike National Historic Site marks the point of completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States in 1869. It’s in the middle of nowhere. I am not exaggerating. The nearest major road is about twenty five miles away and I found myself surrounded by complete emptiness upon arriving at the park.
The Central Pacific Railroad built from the west while the Union Pacific Railroad built from the east. Their meeting in northern Utah launched celebrations nationwide. It was perhaps the first national media sensation, its progress having been reported continuously via telegraph during construction, and reported in newspapers coast-to-coast. In that one moment, travel times across North America dropped from months to days. The Golden Spike for which the park was names was the ceremonial "final" spike that connected the two lines.
There are at least two oddities I observed, albeit perhaps more historical than geo-oddities:
First, the history books that many of us used during our school days were wrong. I’d always heard about this event taking place at Promontory Point. However, Promontory Point is the tip of the peninsula that juts into the Great Salt Lake, some forty miles to the south. This event actually took place at Promontory Summit, the highest rise of the valley extending through the Promontory Mountains.
Second, the two railroads were competing against each other and this led to some dysfunctional behavior. They each received huge financial incentives and land grants for every mile of track. Obviously it was in their respective self-interests to build as quickly as possible to lay more track and gain more money and land than their rival. However they couldn’t agree on where to meet so their construction teams graded, cut and filled paths directly past each other well out in advance of track work. They were each trying to squeeze every last mile to their own advantage. We hiked through some of these dueling paths which were ridiculously close to each other. I could have thrown a stone easily from one to the other. The government had to step in and declare Promontory Summit as the final spot or the two sides probably would have kept on going indefinitely.
I got some great ideas for sites to visit from the loyal readers of the Twelve Mile Circle. One of the most interesting came from Marc Alifanz who recommended the ATK Rocket Park. He suggested that the rockets could be combined easily with a trip to the Golden Spike site, and he was absolutely correct. It adds maybe five minutes of extra travel time.
This used to be the Morton Thiokol rocket park but it’s now part of the ATK Launch Systems Group. They have a huge facility in the middle of the Utah desert, which I imagine would be for safety reasons given the volatility of rocket testing. Out front they display a large sample of rockets they’ve produced for the United States government.
It’s not something I’d travel hours out of my way to see but we were already in the middle of nowhere and it was practically no detour at all. Thanks for the great suggestion, Marc. The kids loved it, as did I.
Also, if you’re not tired of my videos, I finally uploaded one for a site in the previous installment: a video from Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
The Interstate 84 Oddity
I discovered this oddity along Interstate 84 as I searched for driving routes in advance of our trip.
This occurs just east of Ogden, Utah. Heading westbound, drivers are in Weber County (pronounced Wee-ber, oddly enough) while eastbound drivers are in Davis County. Here I-84 straddles both banks of the Weber River which marks the boundary between the two counties. The anomaly last for probably two or three miles.
A special thanks goes to my wife who was a good sport and took this photograph even though she thought it was supremely silly. This view is westbound, so we are in Weber County. The tractor-trailer on the hillside is in Davis County.
I had no idea we were planning to come to Utah during their Pioneer Day holiday. In fact I’d never heard of it before. It’s an official state holiday held each July 24 (or this year on July 25 because the 24th fell on a Sunday) that celebrates the arrival of the first Mormon Pioneers on July 24, 1847. To me, as an outsider, if feels like the Utah equivalent of the 4th of July: lots of fireworks; parades; patriotic displays and the like.
There are religious undertones but with plenty of secular trappings as well. Anyone who arrived in the Salt Lake Valley between 1847 and the coming of the transcontinental railroad is considered a pioneer for these purposes, and that is the heritage being celebrated here. Not every early settlers was a Mormon. This is how it can be rationalized as a secular State holiday.
We did learn about this event early enough in our travel planning to take it into account. Everything is closed so instead of sitting around wondering what to do, we decided to partake in as many Pioneer Day activities as possible. The rodeo in Ogden was particularly enjoyable.
Other Parts of the Utah Adventure