On May 10th, 1869, that all changed when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads met on a summit at a place called Promontory, Utah. This is the Golden Spike National Historic Site where on that fateful day a golden rail spike was symbolically tapped into the tie and the world was changed forever. The end of the frontier had arrived.
The railroads had labored for years to join the coasts. Thousands of immigrant workers, Chinese on the western side and Irish, Germans, and Italians on the east, fought through bitter winters and boiling summers to cross the mountains and plains. Land was graded, bridges were built, and tunnels were dug. Mile after mile of track was laid, at one point reaching a feverish 10 miles in one day. The site commemorates the moment the two locomotives met head to head: the Central Pacific Jupiter and the Union Pacific 119. Life-size working replicas of the trains sit on rails where the actual trains stood, 130 years ago.
Just down the road from Promontory are the headquarters for Thiokol. This is the company that makes rocket engines for the Space Shuttle, right here in the middle of nowhere. Theyíve also built the engines for just about every type of rocket and missile ever made: ICBMs, Minuteman, Sidewinders, and the Patriot, to name a few. A display with the actual rockets sits on the lawn in front of the factory entrance. When youíre riding down a deserted road and along comes a hundred-foot tall solid rocket booster, youíve just got to stop and take a picture.
I stop for lunch up the road at Mollieís Cafť in Snowville A cheeseburger, fries and some chili. This is one of those great little, local places where the entire community comes through every day. They've got no place else to go. It looks like itís been here forever, and so does Mollie.
An hour into Idaho, I reach the City of Rocks National Reserve, where massive granite rock formations provide a haven for climbers. The area also contains a section of the California Trail where emigrants headed west in wagon trains. The visitor center is just south of Almo where the road turns to gravel and rock. I decide to ride through the park, thinking I can deal with the unpaved route. BIG MISTAKE. 25 miles later, Iíve never been so thrilled to see asphalt. The trail (I canít really call it a road) was so bumpy and filled with gravel and stones that I though my teeth were going to fall out. This canít be good for a street bike. I wonít be doing that again, if I can avoid it!
But something I canít prepare for is a dust storm. Much of this area of southern Idaho is flat farmland and dust storms are a reality. Yesterday, just down the road in Oregon, a dust storm in Eastern Oregon left behind death and destruction. Six people were killed and two-dozen were injured when the winds caused three huge pile-ups on I-84. 50 cars were involved in the accidents. Visibility was reduced to zero forcing people to just stop their cars in the middle of the interstate. Traffic coming up behind them slammed right into the stranded vehicles. Chalk up another reason to avoid the interstate.
On second thought, maybe that cold and snow doesnít sound so bad. Letís get north, now.
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