Recently I took a drive out to Promontory Utah, where the first continental railroad was completed and opened for traffic on May 10th, 1869. On any given day, driving out to the location is a lonely drive, the communities near by are sparse and mostly farm communities with houses few and far between. The area surrounding the actual Golden Spike visitor center is dry and unrelenting desert with not a lot to be said for it other than the, of course, historic event that occurred there.
Celebrated nationwide, the completion of the transcontinental railroad was a huge step for America and one that was critical in opening the remaining spaces in the west to settlement and trade. The completion was celebrated with a large ceremony attended by what was likely several thousand people at the site where the visitor center now stands, with the driving of several ceremonial spikes, including the famed “Golden Spike” or “Last Spike”, driven into the laurel railroad tie fashioned for the occasion by Leland Stanford, a key investor in the Central Pacific Railroad and pivotal to the transcontinental railroad effort. It is important to note that the actual Golden Spike does not reside at the Promontory visitor center but resides in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Sadly, though the laurel tie was also removed and preserved, it was later lost in the fires that consumed most of San Francisco after the large earthquake there in 1906.
A stroll through the visitor center reveals a museum that is full of interesting exhibits even though the actual spikes used in the ceremonies do not reside there. There are replica spikes on display and there are many other features worth seeing. A film is shown that explains more of the history behind the railroad and how it came about. My only complaint about the visitor center, other than not seeing the actual spikes used in the ceremony, would be that upon entering it I felt like I was being smacked in the face with the gift shop portion of it. A large part of the interior near the front desks is dedicated to the selling of trinkets and souvenirs. It is understandable that money has to be made, but a little less focus on that and a little more on the museum aspects of the center would be nice.
On the fun side, reenactments of the Last Spike ceremony can be seen during the summer season and are well worth seeing, bringing back a taste of what it must have been like to be there during the actual event. Volunteers portray the dignitaries who were here on that day in 1869. The reenactment can be seen on Saturdays and holidays from May 7 through Labor Day at 11:00 AM. and 1:30 PM. During the winter seasons, tours of the replicated train engines are offered within the large warehouse that houses them during the off season.
Another fun event that is coming on Saturday, August 13th 2011 is the 35th annual Railroader's Festival featuring games and fun for the entire family, including relay games, board games, handcar rides and much more. Events kick off at 9:00 AM and go until closure of the visitors center at 5:00 PM. More information can be seen at the Golden Spike Monument's page on the National Park website at http://www.nps.gov/gosp/planyourvisit/index.htm.
As a huge fan of the National Park and Monument system, I’d have to recommend that you visit this National Monument, if for nothing else the experience of seeing what the area was like when the railroads came together. Located near Tremonton, Utah, Golden Spike National Monument visitor center is open to the public daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Mountain Time, and is only closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day. Fees are reasonable and well worth it. During summer time a private vehicle is charged $7.00 and during winter only $5.00.