We spent a morning visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site (NHS) in Promontory Summit, Utah. The site commemorates the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869 when the Union Pacific Railroad met the Central Pacific Railroad. Why in Promontory Summit, UT? A good question when you look around at what could reasonably be called the middle of nowhere. The answer – that’s where they happened to meet. Apparently no one had a plan as to where the railroads would meet until they were days away from actually connecting.
The “Last Spike” ceremony actually used four ceremonial spikes: The Golden Spike, Nevada’s Silver Spike, Arizona Territory’s Gold and Silver Spike, and a second golden spike. Want to see one of these spikes today? You won’t find them at the Golden Spike National Historic Site. The Golden Spike and Nevada’s Silver Spike found their way to the Stanford Museum, Arizona Territory’s spike is in the Museum of City of New York, and the second gold spike is lost.
We found the history interesting and food for thought on the impact of technology. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was a huge technological accomplishment and opened the western states to settlement. It was also the direct cause of slaughter of the American Bison herds and ended an entire way of life for Plains Native Americans.
Things to do at Golden Spike NHS
Golden Spike NHS has a small Visitor Center with a film describing the events of May 10, 1869 and a good display of railroad building techniques. Outside is the real fun! From May 1st through mid-October, there is a locomotive demonstration. The Jupiter arrives from the west at 10:00am, followed by the No. 119 from the east at 10:30am. Make sure to time your visit for this demonstration!
During the locomotive demonstration, the ranger does a great job of sharing anecdotes about building the replica locomotives, the Driving of the Last Spike ceremony, etc. We shared a few of them here, but kept plenty secret for your visit.
Look hard and you will only see 20 stars on the flag. Why? Did you guess that there were only 20 states in 1869? A reasonable guess, but there were already 37 states in 1869. When they planned the ceremony, the organizers forgot to arrange for a flag. Luckily, an attendee happened to have a family heirloom flag with 20 stars in his knapsack. Voila, the official ceremonial flag was raised!
Saturdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there is a full reenactment of the Driving of the Last Spike Site ceremony. We visited on a weekday, but the reenactment sounds entertaining, especially if you know someone picked for audience participation.
There are also hiking and auto tours to view the transcontinental railroad grade that workers were building in 1869. We did not have time for any of these tours.
Golden Spike NHS Junior Rangers
Yes, the Golden Spike NHS does have a Junior Ranger badge. Batty and Falcon are enthusiastic Junior Rangers and try to complete them at every National Parks site we visit. The Golden Spike Junior Ranger book covered railroad building technique and history of the “Last Spike” and was easily accomplished in our two hour visit.
The closest lodging is in Brigham City. Because Golden Spike NHS is just 40 minutes off of I-83 you can stay in a variety of locations up and down I-83 and still make the 10:00am locomotive demonstration.