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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Golden Spike National Historic Site. Promontory Summit, Utah

Visiting Golden Spike National Historic Site

March has been the month of the Utah Bucket List. It was about some classic Utah sights that I really needed to nail down and add to my priority list. Visiting the Spiral Jetty on the northern edge of Great Salt Lake was definitely on that list. Only problem is that it seems a little crazy to drive nearly 2 hours to look at a bunch of rocks in a spiral formation. And while the drive is beautiful through Northern Utah (and I have been dominating the libraries selection of free audiobooks) it is still almost 4 hours round trip to see the jetty.  But, you can easily justify the trip if you throw in another Utah classic, like visiting Golden Spike National Historic Site.  
Two awesome Northern Utah sights, one tank of gas.

If you really want to get a bang for your buck, you can also stop at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge  (half hour out of the way) and make it a trifecta Northern Utah trip. 

Drive to Golden Spike
Drive to Golden Spike 

Now, you are probably wondering "Katie, what the hell is Golden Spike" as I certainly was when I first heard the name. Well, lets go over a quick history lesson on the American West.  Listen up kids. 

"On May 10th, 1869 the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory and forged the destiny of a nation. Golden Spike National Historic Site shares the stories of the people and settings that define the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad."  This would be the first time the two coasts were connected, and the railroad spanned across the country. 

 While there were already rail lines throughout the East, there was nothing connecting the two coasts. The transcontinental railroad was 3,500 miles long and nearly 2,000 of miles of track were added to connect the coasts. 


So what about the party?   The Golden Spike Ceremony celebrated the completion of the countries first transcontinental railroad. The railroad was completed and celebrated right here in Promontory Summit (home of the GSNHS).  This is the spot where the Central Pacific Railroad met the Union Pacific Railroad.  The Union Pacific line started in Omaha, Nebraska and the western starting point was the Union Pacific in Sacramento, California. The two lines met in Promontory Utah where the ceremony was held. 
Promontory Point
Promontory sign, outside the visitors center

Promontory Summit, where the ceremony was held, was known to be a wild town with gambling, looting and "sporting women". When the junction moved to Ogden in 1870 Promontory became primarily a helper station, housing mostly railroad workers and their families. And now, there is nothing but the historic site.  Even the closest gas station is 26 miles away in Corrine.  

Educational signage outside at the visitors center
Laurel tie at Golden Spike
A special tie of polished California laurel was chosen to complete the line where the spike would be driven.

The ceremony consisted of driving the last "ceremonial" spike into the ground to complete the railroad. And whats in a name? The Golden Spike, also known as the Last Spike, was ceremonially driven into the ground to join the two railroads in Utah. The spike was actually made of solid gold, and can be seen at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.

There were actually four commemorative spikes presented during the ceremony, one spike for each of the Central Pacific's Big Four (the famous men who funded and help make the railroad happen) was driven in the pre-bored laurel tie.

  1. The golden spike is a 17.6-karat (73%) copper-alloyed gold, and weighing 14.03 troy ounces (436 g). It was dropped into a pre-drilled hole in the laurel ceremonial last tie (driving would have ruined it), and gently tapped into place with a silver ceremonial spike maul. The spike was engraved on all four sides. 
  2. A second, lower-quality gold spike, supplied by the San Francisco News Letter was made of $200 worth of gold and inscribed:With this spike the San Francisco News Letter offers its homage to the great work which has joined the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
  3. A silver spike, supplied by the State of Nevada; forged, rather than cast, of 25 troy ounces (780 g) of unpolished silver.
  4. A blended iron, silver and gold spike, supplied by the Arizona Territory, engraved: Ribbed with iron clad in silver and crowned with gold Arizona presents her offering to the enterprise that has banded a continent and dictated a pathway to commerce. Source
entrance to Golden Spike
Entrance signage before entering the park

Is this railway still used? Nope! In late 1903 the Lucin Cutoff trestle was completed across the Great Salt Lake, straight west from Ogden. Now it is just a historic site to visit.  You cannot ride any trains to, from, or around here. 

Visitors Center at Golden Spike
Visitors Center 

So what is actually at the Golden Spike National Historic Site? 
 Well, not the spike as you read, that is in a museum. But there is a lot of family friendly activities. The visitor center is chock full of awesome information about the Site, as well as movies about the history, historic memorabilia, and the mold used to make the golden spike. Outside, you will see the railroad, a commemorative laurel tie, and educational signage along the tracks.   Depending on the time of year, there are a few activities outdoors. 

In the winter, you can see the replica locomotives in the Engine House, Jupiter and No. 119. The two rails met at Promontory for the "Wedding of the Rails" ceremony. Head into the visitor center to go on the guided tour in the Engine House They originals were scrapped in 1903 and 1906.  COST:  $5 a car is good for 7 days in the winter. 

Jupiter Replica at Golden Spike Source

In the summer, you can even see reenactments, and model trails on the tracks. "The Driving of the Last Spike" is reenacted during the summer season allowing visitors to relive this celebration. Volunteers portray the dignitaries who were at the ceremony on May 10th, 1869. Reenactments are held Saturdays and holidays, starting the first of May through mid-September, at 11:00 a.m. and following the 1:00 p.m Steam Demonstration.
COST:  $7 a car is good for 7 days in the winter. 

Locomotive runs will be held on a daily basis, starting the first week of May 2015. These runs will include arrivals of the Jupiter and 119 at 10:00 and 10:30 AM, a steam demonstration at 1:00 PM, and departures of the 119 and Jupiter at 4:00 and 4:30 PM.

Visitor center sign at Golden Spike
NPS plaque outside the visitor center

Things To Know Before You Go!
(From NPS.Gov)
  • The fee is $5 a car in the winter, and $7 a car in the summer.  You can also pay per person if you are coming off a tour group.  Your National Park Pass (America the Beautiful Pass) works here so if you have that, bring it with you.
  • Dogs are allowed outside (on leash), but obviously not in the visitor center. 
  • The nearest gas station is in Corinne, 26 miles east via highway 83. Travelers coming in from the east, out of Logan Utah, will pass the last available gas station in Tremonton traveling on Highway 102. Any travelers coming in from Idaho on Interstate 84 will pass the last available gas in Snowville Utah, when they take the Highway 83 exit to Golden Spike.
Last gas station and servics, small town of Corrine. 
  • Visitors relying on GPS Units, in order to direct them to our site, need to be cautious once they turn off State Highway 83. These systems have misdirected several visitors headed to our site. Road signs are more reliable as you approach the site.
  • If you plan to spend several hours visiting, bring food and drink - visitor center only has water and snack food for purchase. There are picnic tables and a water fountain outside.
  • There are well kept bathrooms on-site
  • Be prepared for any type of weather; mosquitoes can be a nuisance.
  • This is a great place to stop if you are heading to the Spiral Jetty (and the last bathroom stop before the jetty).
  • Contact: Visitor Center (435) 471-2209 ext. 29.

Driving into Golden Spike
Driving into Golden Spike

Views driving into Golden Spike

My GPS on my phone got me here easy peasy. I just plugged in Golden Spike National Historic Site and it took me right there. It is about one hour and twenty minutes north of SLC. There are also signs along the way to make sure you are heading in the right direction. If you are coming from SLC, head Northbound on I-15 and take exit #365. Off the exit, turn right (west) on Hwy. 13 to Hwy. 83. Follow signs to Golden Spike. (32 miles).

benches at golden spike
Seating area at GSNHS for the reenactments and events in the summer
A lot of history, a great stop on your way to the jetty, and gorgeous scenery.  You can only imagine the party that happened here when the transcontinental railroad was done.  We visited in March when there wasn't a whole lot going on, but I can imagine this is a great place to visit in the summer, especially with the kids. Demonstrations and trains, a fun destination or pit stop on your way to the Spiral Jetty. 

Posing on the rail


  1. Where are your pics of the Spiral Jetty? I went in August last year. It was sooo hot, and we didn't even think about bringing sunblock and the reflection of the salt fried my skin. I thought this whole area was blah. Good to see it once, but that's all for me. - Alicia @

    1. I take a lot of pictures so that will be a separate post Friday (ha!). I thought the drive there was really pretty in the winter with the snowy mountains. The spiral jetty was cool (good time of year because it wasn't hot, I can only imagine in the summer!) but yeah I agree. Definitely something you see only once :)

  2. All of your articles are always so detailed, I love it! Gorgeous photos too, looks like a stunning area to explore.

    XO Naomi in Wonderland

    1. Thank you Naomi! It is a beautiful spot full of history and far far away from civilization :)


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