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Transcontinental Railroad: Northwest Utah Road Trip Day 1

  • Written by Lindsey Huster
  •  / 
  • 8 min read
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  • Last updated 5 months ago

Last Fall, Keith was taking a new job and decided to take a week off between jobs for a short trip, actually, I convinced him to take this time off!! There are several locations just northwest of us that we had been wanting to check out. We thought driving the Transcontinental Railroad and the Pony Express Route would be the highlights of the trip, but there was so much more along the way! This adventure ended up being way cooler than we expected!

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Transcontinental Railroad - Road Trip Day 1

Our weekend itinerary

Thursday: lunch in Odgen, ATK Rocket Garden, Golden Spike National Monument, drive the Transcontinental Railroad, Spiral Jetty, Sun Tunnels, stay the night in Wendover, NV (small casino strip)

Friday: Historic Wendover Airfield, Bonneville Salt Flats, stay in Wendover

Saturday: drive the Pony Express Route back near our home, stopping at the geode beds and hopefully seeing wild horses that are known to be in that area

We used this guide from for Day 1 – Northwest Railroad Trail Expedition

Taking some time off between jobs

Keith and I were already been enjoying his time off between his jobs. We spent each day doing something from our summer list; for example, we hiked, went out for lunch, did a little shopping, and went to a Bee’s game. It was nice to have a week to ourselves and not be worried about anything related to work. Keith was anxious to start his new job, but that’s not the same as having work waiting to be done.

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Kicking off the long weekend

Our long weekend started on Thursday and we enjoyed a relaxing and equally slow-paced morning. After sleeping in, we dropped off Lexi at the boarding facility and then headed to Ogden for lunch. We really hadn’t been north of Salt Lake City so it already felt like a vacation even though we weren’t very far from home. Ogden is located about 40 miles north of SLC and we enjoyed getting a preview of the city, especially historic 25th Street. It’s such a fun area full of restaurants and shops. Pig and A Jelly Jar was the perfect first stop on our trip. We loved the vibe of this restaurant and our breakfast was absolutely better than our already high expectations!

ATK Rocket Garden

The ATK Rocket Garden in Corrine, Utah is a must-stop if you are heading to the Golden Spike National Historic Park. Located only a couple miles out of the way, it’s very impressive. The “garden” features rocket boosters and missiles that each have plaques of information for a self-guided tour.

Of course, Keith was super excited to read all the plaques and tell me everything he already knew about rockets. It was definitely an unusual site. It felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere, yet this is a large rocket facility and you just know big things are happening inside the building.

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Golden Spike National Historic Park

Golden Spike National Historic Park was up next on the agenda and this was so much more interesting than I thought it would be. On May 10, 1869, the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit, Utah with the last spike driven into the railway. I started to remember what I was taught in grade school about this event. It’s pretty cool to think I’d read about it once in a book and now I was at this landmark.

The visitor center offers a great small museum of artifacts that really have you imagining what it was like on that day. You can walk out to the site of the golden spike where two replica steam locomotives give you a feel for the history there. We didn’t get to see it, but they have live reenactments of this event.

Note: The original golden spike is on display at Stanford University.

Keith is standing at the Golden Spike with two historic locomotives
Keith is standing at the Golden Spike with two historic locomotives 
The "last track laid" on the transcontinental railroad
The "last track laid" on the transcontinental railroad

Driving the Transcontinental Railroad Back Country Byway

The Transcontinental Railroad Back Country Byway is a 90-mile old rail bed road passable by high clearance vehicles. The desolate landscape seemed haunted at times, but eerily peaceful too. Basically, nothing remains of the railroad towns on this stretch of railway, yet it’s an interesting drive.

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Important notes about driving the byway

  • Narrow roadway with gravel and dirt surfaces; driving is limited to the byway corridor, do not drive off-trail.
  • Only high-clearance vehicles are recommended.
  • Carry at least one spare tire; old rail spikes often surface and cause flat tires *this did happen to us!
  • Detours around culverts and old railways exist, be alert and aware of the speed.
  • Desert temperatures easily exceed 100 degrees in the summer and can drop below zero in the winter.
  • No services are available; take plenty of food, water, and fuel. It is recommended to carry additional fuel.

The Spiral Jetty

The Spiral Jetty is an “earthwork” sculpture constructed in 1970 by Robert Smithson. It’s located on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake and is made from mud, salt crystals, and basalt rocks. It is sometimes visible and other times submerged depending on the water level of the lake.

When we were there we were able to walk out onto the jetty. It was a strange mix of natural materials. My mind started to play tricks on me, the sand seemed solid, but it also sometimes felt squishy and I kept thinking I’d start to sink into it. It was a weird feeling and added to the whole experience. Upon arrival, there was one person taking pictures. He left as we were walking down onto the jetty so we ended up having the whole place to ourselves. It was fun to explore and see the little creations previous visitors left behind. Some people wrote their names in the sand, drew pictures, or even created mini spiral jetties of their own.

The Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake
The Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake

The Sun Tunnels

After leaving the spiral jetty we were off to see Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. These are four concrete tubes laid in an open X configuration. Each tunnel is 9 feet in diameter and 18 feet long and is actually an astrological gazing station. The pierced holes depict constellations and the sun’s horizon is centered through the tunnels during the summer and winter solstices. This has been on my list to see since I learned of these pieces of artwork. I love the simplicity and complication woven together in the Sun Tunnels.

The Sun Tunnels art installation in the middle of nowhere
The Sun Tunnels art installation in the middle of nowhere
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We have to make a difficult choice...

By this time it was getting dark and we were running VERY LOW on gas! Consequently, we had two choices: 1. Continue on the railway road, which was fewer miles, but if we did run out of gas we’d likely be stuck until someone found us and who knows when someone might be passing through. While on the railway, we’d only seen about 4 cars the entire day. 2. Drive more miles, but hit the main road in hopes that someone could help us and/or that there might be a gas station google maps wasn’t picking up. I made the final decision for option 2. I did not like the idea of being stuck out so far and not knowing when someone would be able to help us.

Would we make it to Wendover?

By this time we got to the main road with hopes of finding a gas station, but the only one we found looked like it hadn’t been functional in quite some time. We continued on the main road and finally got to Interstate 80. By this point, Keith was quite concerned about making it to Wendover, NV. At least there were people around us, but we still didn’t want to depend on someone else for help. Keith actually ended up drafting behind semis until we reached the Wendover exit. We nearly coasted into the gas station just in time to fill up!

It had been an exciting day and although we were in Wendover, a small gambling town across the Utah border into Nevada, we were pretty wiped out. We certainly didn’t want to miss out on seeing the casinos, so we took a stroll around our hotel and a couple of nearby casinos. Keith and I aren’t really gamblers, so it wasn’t hard to just head back for a good night of sleep.

The sun is setting over the desert as we near Wendover, NV
The sun is setting over the desert as we near Wendover, NV

Still more to come

Check back next week for more about our trip!

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