Trains and Rockets

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“A telegraph signal sent from the tracks… signaled a truly transcontinental extravaganza. As the word went out over the wires, the nation went wild. In city after city, church bells rang, trains hooted, fire engines howled, gongs clanged and cannons thundered.  Citizens thronged the streets to watch parades. People sang The Star-Spangled Banner, prayed and shouted themselves hoarse. Countless orators hailed this as a ‘great day’ of national destiny.”

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We were just inside Utah’s border when we saw the sign for the Golden Spike National Monument at Promontory Point, Utah. While not on our planned itinerary, I knew that the 24 miles it would take us off track would be worth it. (And it would be cost-free with our America the Beautiful pass.)

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I told the kids I had visited there when I was attending college at Weber State University, and the kids couldn’t stop laughing and teasing when they heard that it was a date that brought me there. For some reason they found the idea of visiting abandoned railroad tracks for a first date funny. 🙂

As a fan of all things historical, I told them that I thought it was a perfect first date.

“Mom, you’re such a nerd,” was the reply.

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In a day when cars or airplanes can travel anywhere, anytime, it can be difficult to appreciate just how momentous the completion of the transcontinental railroad was to the United States in 1869. The railroad was a tremendous feat of engineering that cost the lives of many. The railroad made it possible for people to travel from coast to coast in a few days, instead of a few months. The railroad effectively ended a way of life for the American Indian as white settlements multiplied throughout the West.

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The first thing we noticed when we got to the rail line of the Golden Spike National Historic Site was the silence. With the midday sun high overhead the only sound we heard was the wind coming down from the Promontory Mountains. It wasn’t always like this. In 1869 this was where the first transcontinental railroad was completed.

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During the 1860’s the United States Congress ordered that a railroad be built across the nation in an effort to connect the sparsely populated western half of the nation with more established areas in the East. The connection would help build the economy, shorten travel times, and help the military control resistance by the native tribes. Two companies sprang forth to make this happen, Central Pacific Railroad (CPR) and Union Pacific Railroad (UPR). CPR would build a railway east starting at the city of Sacramento. Beginning in Omaha, Nebraska UPR would lay its line heading west. The last spike to join the two was driven by Leland Stanford, the President of Southern Pacific Railroad, at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10th, 1869.

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We explored the visitor center and learned much about the great sacrifices made to accomplish this historical feat. Then we went outside. The two train replicas that are normally on display were gone for maintenance, but we were able to walk the track and see the site where the two lines were joined together.

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And what do my children do when left unattended on abandoned railroad tracks?

This, of course!

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As we were leaving the Golden Spike National Memorial a park ranger made a suggestion of another site, only two miles away, that we should check out. The site he suggested was  the ATK rocket garden.ATK is the company that used to make the rocket boosters for the space shuttle. Outside of their building is a small “rocket garden” that is free to the public.

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There were many different displays of rockets including a shuttle booster and a Patriot missile. Each had an interpretive sign that explained what we were seeing and what it was used for. All though all the rockets on display were very interesting, the one that fascinated me the most was the rocket booster for the Space Shuttle.

I know the Shuttle is a very large craft but you have no idea how big  until you stand next to this booster, and it takes two to get the shuttle into space!

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 We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but it was definitely worth the stop if you are on your way out here for the Golden Spike National Historic Site.

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The little boys were especially enthralled.

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We were so glad we took that 24 mile detour off the beaten path to check out these two historically significant transportation monuments.

Within an 8 mile radius, we were able to experience one hundred years of transportation history by visiting the Golden Spike National Historic site, where the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, and visiting the rocket display at ATK, where scientists helped put a man on the moon exactly 100 years later in 1969!

From trains to rockets…a speedy, good time.

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