East Meets West – Golden Spike National Historic Site

Golden Spike National Historic Site entrance sign
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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.

This is a convenient overnight stop if, like us, you’re road-tripping from Washington or Oregon to Utah.

A Quick History

The railroad shortened the coast-to-coast travel time from 6 months to 7 days! Imagine building all that by hand. The Central Pacific Railroad started from the west. The Union Pacific started from the east. After six long years, the final golden spike was hammered into place!

Why did the railroad tycoons decide to meet in Promontory Summit, UT? They didn’t. Apparently, no one had a plan as to where the railroads would meet until they were days away from actually connecting. That just happened to be Promontory Summit.

Jupiter approaching the “Last Spike”

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.

No. 119 approaching the “Last Spike”

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!

Historical Reenactments

From May 1st through mid-October, there is a locomotive demonstration.  The Jupiter arrives from the west at 10:00 am, followed by the No. 119 from the east at 10:30 am.  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, and more.  We shared a few of them here but kept plenty secret for your visit.

Jupiter’s engineer at work

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.

Hiking & Driving Tours

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 techniques and the history of the “Last Spike”  and was easily accomplished in our two-hour visit.

For junior rangers ages 3 to 5, they offer a special Junior Fireman Program.

If you need an introduction to the Junior Ranger program, check out our complete guide.

Look hard and you will only see 20 stars on the flag. In 1869 there were already 37 states.  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!

Where to Stay Near Golden Spike NHS

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 10:00 am locomotive demonstration.

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