Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Utah - Golden Spike National Historic Site

When we are going to be in a new area, one of the first things we look into are parks and monuments that offer Junior Ranger programs for the kids.  For anyone not familiar, this usually consists of an activity book that the children complete along with hands on activities (like the sea monkey program).  When all required activities are completed, the children earn their Jr. Ranger badges (sometimes patches, sometimes both).  It is a great learning tool that really helps teach the facts and history of the place you're visiting.

some of the kids Jr. Ranger badges & patches

On the list of places offering a Jr. Ranger program in Utah is the Golden Spike National Historic Site (NHS).  I have to admit, I didn't really know what this place was about other than trains.  I am really glad it is on that list or we would have missed out on a fun day!

We drove 1 1/2 hours north of our campground to Promontory Summit, the location of the NHS.  This place is out in the middle of nowhere.  That's ok, though.  We like those kinda places :).  We had just stopped at the first information board and were reading it when we saw an explosion in the distance.  Uh oh...what in the world?  Flames and a plume of smoke shot quite high in the air.  Nothing else happened, so we got back in the car and drove the rest of the way to the visitor center (the opposite direction of the smoke).  We asked when we got there if they knew what might have happened.  Yep, they knew.  Just up the road is a place that manufactures rocket fuel.  Periodically they have to burn some of it off, thus the shooting flame we saw.  Wow, totally didn't expect that!  I guess that's the sorta place you find in the middle of nowhere, huh?

Anyway, we were just in time to watch the 2 trains coming in.  They are replicas of the steam engines the Central Pacific Jupiter and the Union Pacific No. 119.  I love the sound their whistles make, not at all harsh like trains today.  The locomotives are stopped in place just as they were on May 10, 1869 when the last spike (the Golden Spike) was driven to connect the 2 railroads and form our nation's first Transcontinental Railroad.

The light colored tie marks the spot where the Golden Spike was driven

The men operating the locomotives were very patient and answered all of the kids questions.

One of the rangers gave a detailed history of the 2 railroads and all the work that led up to the completion.  He was an excellent speaker and really brought the entire thing to life for us.  We all learned a lot.  While he was talking, I saw Trevor's face light up.  He told me that what the man was saying (and everything we were seeing) had been in his school books.  How cool is that? 

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