Golden Spike National Monument is a must for railroad buffs.
But even if trains don’t make your heart beat faster, you can’t help but feel a little thrill to see the original cuts, fills, and trestles of the epic public works project that linked the nation and changed history forever.
In the 1860s the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads - paid by the government both by cash subsidies and land grants - worked toward each other from Sacramento and Omaha. They used shovels, dynamite, and horse-drawn graders to lay the tracks.
After the two railroads met on this site, they industriously (and sneakily) continued constructing parallel grades for almost 250 miles. Finally the government found out about it and told them to knock it off.
So the rails were joined at Promontory Summit and you can see the spot as well as exact, operating replicas of the locomotives that came together on that momentous day—May 10, 1869.
During the summer season (May 1 through Labor Day), the locomotives come out at 10 and 10:30 a.m. They demonstrate their stuff at 1 p.m. (and 3 p.m. on Saturdays).
On Saturdays, holidays, and on May 10, the trains and faithful volunteers re-enact the driving of the spike at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. And on the second Saturday in August, the park holds a big Railroader’s Festival (when you can race a handcar or compete in a buffalo-chip throwing contest).
The visitors’ center has good films and displays, but don’t neglect to get out on the railroad grades by foot, car, or bicycle—and be sure to take along a trail or road guide for a fascinating close-up look at history on the landscape.
At the Big Fill Trail, you will see how the railroads dealt with the steepest grade between Donner Pass and Omaha (believe it or not!)
If you pass through the town of Corinne on the way, pause to drive through the streets and see if you can find remnants of the time when this was a wild, 100-saloon railroad town. For one thing, you can find the oldest standing Protestant church building in Utah, the Corinne Methodist Episcopal Church.
Another good stop in the neighborhood shows a far different look at federally subsidized "transportation." Follow the signs to the Thiokol missile display to see a good outdoor exhibit of missiles and booster engines made by the company over the years.
Golden Spike National Monument is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fee is $5-$7 per vehicle (depending on the season). Call 435/471-2209 for info.