150th Golden Spike anniversary closes with Steam Festival

PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE The meeting of the locomotives portrayed May 10, 2019, at Golden Spike National Historical Park. That date marked the 150th anniversary of the driving of the transcontinental railroad’s Golden Spike north of the Great Salt Lake and west of Logan, Utah. Railroad tracks and trains then connected the east and west coasts of the U.S. for the first time.
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I wish we could have known this past year about this National Park Service (NPS) unit in Utah – and especially its anniversary events of 2019.

At least the NPS has named Golden Spike National Historical Park as its National Park Getaway for December. The information provided by the NPS follows.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the nation was joined at the rails at Promontory Summit in present-day Utah. A crowd gathered on May 10, 1869, to witness the driving of a ceremonial golden spike connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad lines to complete the Transcontinental Railroad. At 12:47 p.m., a telegraph flashed across the country: D-O-N-E.

Golden Spike National Historical Park in northern Utah, https://www.nps.gov/gosp/index.htm, tells the complex story of how the Transcontinental Railroad united the nation in many ways, ultimately changing life for every person on the continent.

Building the cross-continent railways was a grueling, arduous task for thousands of workers who came from many different backgrounds, including formerly-enslaved African Americans and immigrants from Asia and Europe hoping to build a new life.

The tracks often crossed lands of American Indians growing increasingly concerned of the continuing influx of settlers.

Once completed, the Transcontinental Railroad revealed a modern engineering marvel. The nation was forever united from the east coast to the west coast.

Trips across country that once took months, now took days passing through terrain that was unreachable by most people except now through daring engineering ingenuity.

American innovation and business expanded west at a rapid pace dramatically changing life in the territories and western states for all peoples.

Take a trip

First stop on your journey — the Visitor Center. Get all the information to plan your trip around the park.

Then head to the Engine House to see replica 19th-century locomotives that traveled the legendary railroads of the West.

The No. 119 and Jupiter are fully-functional replicas of the originals that met at Promontory Summit for the “Wedding of the Rails” ceremony on May 10, 1869.

Ranger-led and self-guided tours of the Engine House tell the story behind the two famous locomotives, how they operate, and give a peek into life on the transcontinental railroad. https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/event-details.htm?id=5EA2DE17-F96F-6A4...

During the summer months, see No. 119 and Jupiter pick up steam on the tracks for demonstrations.

Read more on the two steam locomotives at https://www.nps.gov/gosp/learn/historyculture/everlasting-steam-the-stor....

Re-enactments of the “Driving of the Last Spike Ceremony” also take place throughout the summer. You may even be recruited to join in the festivities of the historic event!

Learn more about maintenance of Victoria-era locomotives October through April, when staff and volunteers work on preserving the park’s locomotives – and ask how you can get involved as a volunteer, https://www.nps.gov/gosp/getinvolved/volunteer.htm.

Winter Festival

A Winter Steam Festival will be held Dec. 28-30. Get details here, https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/event-details.htm?id=5EA2DE17-F96F-6A4.... The cold air allows the visitors to see more steam pour from the locomotive than they would in the summer months. This is a unique opportunity to see a steam locomotive in winter.

The Jupiter will make five demonstration runs throughout the day on Dec. 28 and 29 at 10 and 11:30 a.m., and at 1, 3, and 4:30 p.m. On Dec. 30, the Jupiter will have a standard run schedule of 10 a.m., and 1 and 4:30 p.m. A hand car and motor car will be available for rides Dec. 28 and 29.

A ranger program, "It's Snow Challenge: Snow Removal on the Transcontinental Railroad" will educate visitors on how snow was cleared from the tracks and the difficulties encountered by the Central Pacific Railroad as crews built across the Sierra Nevadas. 

An additional ranger program, "Reaching for the Stars: The Naming of the Central Pacific Locomotives" explains the eclectic collection of names that graced the sides of CPRR locomotives. 

Discover more

Getting back to nice, summer weather, explore the historic tracks on foot by walking the Big Fill Loop Trail, a 1.5-mile path on the original Central Pacific and Union Pacific grades.

The trail includes a section of the Central Pacific’s Big Fill, where you can walk through cuts, over fills, and see drill marks of where workers blasted rock away – giving appreciation on how these feats were accomplished with simple tools and a lot of endurance.

Drive the transcontinental railroad grade on an auto tour to see what railroad workers in 1869 were building.

The East Auto Tour brings you past cuts, fills, and culverts in a two-mile drive. The seven-mile West Auto Tour is home to the “10 Miles of Track, Laid in one Day” sign where the Central Pacific Railroad built 10 miles and 56 feet of track on April 28, 1869.

Remember to look both ways when crossing railroad tracks in case there is a locomotive demonstration in progress.

For interesting facts on the site, terminology, and history, go to Frequently Asked Questions - Golden Spike National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service).

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this Journey vs. Destination column weekly for over 15 years.