End of the Track, Start of a Story

How did we end up here?

Promontory Summit marks the spot where the Union Pacific (starting in the east) and the Central Pacific (starting in the west) railroad companies finally connected hundreds of miles of train tracks that eventually became the Transcontinental Railroad. The work began in 1863 and was finalized with the “Golden Spike” Ceremony on May 10, 1869 at this very site.

The huge undertaking was momentous and costly in terms of money, lives, and resources. It was a magnet for greed, graft, and corruption, and an engineering and human accomplishment that rivals the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids in scope.


So, you’d think there would be a huge freeway sign or a wide, six-lane highway leading to what is now the Golden Spike National Historic Park. You might want search lights or a water park or something. But no. Like many National Parks, the entrance seems at once anticlimactic and low tech. But then, that’s what makes this park visit-worthy and thought provoking. Here’s the thing: They didn’t have telephones much less mobile phones back then. They accomplished this feat with the aid of the telegraph, invented in 1838 not long before the Transcontinental Railroad (TCRR), with the Transcontinental Telegraph (1861) being an integral part of the Civil War and later the TCRR. The Pony Express was no longer needed. And as with many historical landmarks, there are acres of historical facts hidden in this off-the-beaten-path locale. This short video offers a quick introduction.

How’d We End Up Here? 

We went to Promontory Summit because we were visiting my brother and his wife in Utah, but it wasn’t on our touring radar at all. Guess what? It ended up being one of my very favorite places to visit because it sparked my interest in how the railroad got started, how it was finished, and how they overcame all the challenges in between.

“Traveling” can be a hard core launch into planning, hotels, meals, touring, and spending. Oh, yes, spending! Or it can be a spontaneous, serendipitous, didn’t-spend-any-money-except-the-gas kind of  trip down the highway that leads you to learning about any country–in this case, the United States.

I took the railroads for granted! And yet building the TCRR was a part of our history–for better or for worse–that I would not have been excited about but for this car ride to the historic site. It’s terrible to hear the stories about slavery, the unimaginably bad weather, hundreds of deaths, and unconscionable hardships that made this one of the most difficult undertakings. But it also demonstrates how humans with big dreams overcome many nightmares in the name of progress.

Soaking It In

Travel in your neighborhood or across the world! Be curious. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn and discover. As the kids say, “It’s dope. It’s sick.” I say, “It’s amazing.” From this end of the track visit, I started and finished a novel. It’s almost as big an undertaking (okay, I said almost) as the Transcontinental Railroad, so inspired was I by the story of it.

How about you? Can you find something in your travels that will inspire you? Maybe you write music. Or you paint. Or you’re writing your memoirs or a blog. Go traveling and start your story. Even if your travels are in your own town. There’s so much to see and do wherever you live.




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