Golden Spike National Historical Park and Bonneville Salt Flats
After a restful night of camping, we headed off to our final NPS site. Day 4 was the longest drive day of the trip and we needed to get an early start. We were also leaving Idaho this day and finishing off the trip in Utah.
We got to Golden Spike a little later than we had hoped, but were able to catch the next showing of the park film right as we walked in! I thought we would also be able to request to watch the classic ‘The Great Train Robbery’, but it didn’t seem like that was possible and it was too busy, so I didn’t ask.
After checking off the film and stamp, we headed out to the trains. The Jupiter and No. 119 sit facing each other, after arriving about an hour earlier (a demonstration that we missed). The Jupiter ran along the Central Pacific tracks and No. 119, along the Union Pacific. A set of tracks that have been reconstructed for this National Historic Park. That is, because during WWII, the original tracks were salvaged for war supplies.
The story of this transcontinental feat is kind of interesting. In 1862, Congress authorized two railroads to be built, coming from opposite directions, to meet in the middle. The Central Pacific would build-out from Sacramento, CA and the Union Pacific began their westward trek from Omaha, NE.
With both side’s labor consisting of thousands of immigrants, the two pushed towards each other at very fast rates. The more track that was laid, the more money and land that was given. Because no meeting point was declared for so long, both sides continued work for 200 miles passed each other, in order to gain more of the rewards.
Finally, Promontory Summit in Utah was declared the meeting place between the two lines. On May 10, 1869, the two locomotives reached the end of the rail of their respective sides and a golden spike was ceremonially tapped to celebrate the feat.
In the end, the Central Pacific laid 690 miles of track through the rugged Sierra landscape and the Union Pacific laid 1,086 miles across the Great Plains. A trail of 1,776 miles of track now connected the East & West, marking the end of the American Frontier.
After soaking up some knowledge of the first Transcontinental railroad, we took to the auto tour and some lookouts. We didn’t realize that to actually understand the auto tour, that we needed a guidebook from the park store🤦🏼♂️. We enjoyed the scenic drive nonetheless and decided against any real hikes. It was another 3+ hours to our next stop.
To reach the Salt Flats the way that we wanted to go, meant going back north, nearly back to Idaho, and then south through Nevada, before crossing back into Utah. We drove some beautiful backroads and saw some crazy “towns”. The border town of Wendover (and West Wendover) was the typical Nevada sate line. Casinos. From desert emptiness to casino haven in just a matter of moments. Right on the state line was our first quirky stop - ‘Last Splice in the First Transcontinental Phone Line’. First trains, now the telephone. There’s a commemorative phone line and small plaque describing the story, sitting in the corner of a parking lot of, of course, a casino.
Then, it was back to Utah and a stop that is called ‘See the Curvature of the Earth’. You can drive halfway up a radio tower mountain in the back of a neighborhood and cemetery, just across the border in Utah. Looking over the Salt Flats, apparently on a clear day, you can see the curvature of the Earth. It was pretty cloudy, but it was still a cool view!
Lastly, it was on to choosing a campsite. I had two dispersed areas to pick from and we drove by both to check them out. We ended up with Volcano Peak because it was a better view and was more private. With mountains behind us, we faced the Bonneville Salt Flats and I-80 in the distance.
It was nice to have camp setup early, especially with rain on the radar. Thankfully it didn’t come down for too long or hard, but the wind was brutal. The constant gusts ended our fire early and made for a rough take down the next morning. Still, we enjoyed our last night of camping and were excited for a real shower the next day!
Stay tuned for one last post, of our last day of the trip, in Salt Lake City!