A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the process of building this project. Add some fuel if you'd like to keep me going!
Several years have passed since Action Team had a good road trip, or even a Desert Camp for that matter. Our last trip was up to Oregon for the Eclipse. Planning for our road trip began back in late 2017 when announcements were made for the 150th Anniversary of the Golden Spike driving. I had never visited Promontory, Utah and figured this would be an excellent time to do so. It would also allow for crossing another National Park off my list.
We went through several ideas for the trip, ranging from renting a big RV and a party of 7 people, or a trip that was two weeks long. In the end we settled on a week-long trip, but rented a SUV to give us as much space as possible. The party for this trip consisted of: Myself, Liza, and Jared. In the end we didn’t camp nearly as often as we had planned, and even when we did, we never once made a fire in camp.
May 8: Grass Valley to Rye Patch
Our journey began in the afternoon and we hit the highway. We debating driving through to Utah in a single day. Instead, we left after lunch to cover as much ground as possible. We decided our best bet was to stay at Rye Patch and get an early start the next day. I first stayed at Rye Patch back in 2008 and discovered it was a nice little campground tucked along Interstate 80. Our camp site was located on the north side of the river among a grove of Cottonwood trees complete with grass and running water. We opted to skip preparing dinner and a camp fire, instead we drove up the road to the little bar and restaurant located near the entrance. In 2008 I do not remember this place being open, so this was a treat. The bar was very much the usual country bar filled with locals. The people were friendly and the pizza we ordered was quite delicious. After dinner we returned to camp and got some sleep.
May 9: Rye Patch to Antelope Island, Utah
With a long drive ahead of us, we wasted little time packing up and grabbing coffee before hitting the road. Stopped in Elko, Wendover (for booze). Liza and I took turns driving most of the distance across Nevada and into Utah.
We try to keep a limit on how much time is spent cooped up in the car. Every two hours we take a pitstop for food, a restroom, or just to stop and stretch. One stop took us briefly into Imlay to drive through the town and take a look at the former house my Great-Grandmother lived in. Other stops included Elko and Wendover. At Wendover we visited a giant liquor outlet store so we could stock up for the rest of our trip.
We arrived at Antelope Island in the late afternoon. This gave us a chance to setup camp and head back to town (we were about 5-10 minute drive away). Instead of preparing dinner at camp, we drove in to town and had a burger at a pretty decent place called Crown Burgers in Layton. We picked up water and other basic supplies and returned to Antelope Island to watch the sun go down across the lake. Afterward we turned in early, we had a long day ahead of us.
May 10: Antelope Island – Promontory – Ogden
May 10th, the big day! Our morning started before dawn. We had to make the trip up to Ogden to pick up my friend Michael and his father. With space limited at Promontory for the event, we shared a parking pass and loaded up the SUV. We had a nice drive in the morning talking to Michael and his father. Traffic was light until we reached Corinne, and then the nature of what we were getting into became apparent.
The Golden Spike National Historic Monument is in a remote location. As a result it normally doesn’t get many visitors. When the Golden Spike event was 100 years old, only a few hundred people ventured to Promontory in 1969. This time around it was heavily advertised by Union Pacific and the state of Utah. The result was a scene more like a rock concert than we expected. It took us nearly two hours to get from Corinne to Promontory, a distance of 25 miles.
As we were lead into a parking spot in the field opposite the park, it became apparent the event was packed. Union Pacific supplied massive displays and concert grade speakers. A canned recording was broadcast for all to hear, including the pledge of allegiance (hourly). Beyond the cars that drove up, many tour busses were bringing visitors in. Trying to find Randy and Gael as they arrived required a lot of patience as things were not marked as well as they should have been.
The event had it all! Games for the kids, all the local news, food vendors, and an ocean of people in folding chairs. Those of us that dressed up in appropriate attire for 1869 were dismayed at how a-historic it all was. By the time we arrived there was no room close to the main stage. We setup our chairs in a good spot with a decent view but within an hour that view was blocked by everyone who thought they could pack in. Then the dignitaries began to talk…
If you want to watch the entire thing, it is available online. Among the dignitaries, Historian Jon Meacham and the Chinese Ambassador to the United States gave the best speeches.
After the dignitaries were finished. the real chaos began as every parent and local visitor tried to be the first one to get out of there. So, we let them try and stayed around the site as it began to thin out. Unexpectedly. a fireworks display was set off (from the parking lot) and at the end of it, a squadron of Air Force jets flew overhead. It was probably the most ‘murikcan I have experienced all year. There were cheers, there were laughs, and there was confusion as to what jets had to do with 1869 or railroads. Nonetheless: ‘murika!
When the crowd was thinned, we loaded up and drove down to Ogden. There, at the railroad museum/depot downtown, Union Pacific was displaying their “Big Boy” locomotive, the largest operating steam locomotive in the world. We dropped off Michael and his father, then headed downtown to see the Big Boy. As expected, the ocean of people rivaled that at Promontory. We walked along the locomotive, looked at a few exhibits and left for dinner. Randy, Gael, Michael, his father, and several others gathered at Hearth on 25th and enjoyed a great dinner with a view. Afterward, we returned to Antelope Island, and spent the rest of the evening watching the sun go down across the Great Salt Lake.
May 11: Antelope Island to St. George
Starting in the morning we packed up camp as soon as possible. Biting midges hatched on Antelope Island around the same time we arrived. Since we were away from the island during most of the day, this wasn’t an issue. First thing in the morning however, was peak midge time. By the time we escaped, we were covered in bites that would last for the next week. On the upside, we found a great coffee place before hitting the freeway.
Our first stop of the day was to visit Gardner Village in West Jordan, UT. The plan was to find the St. Joer cabin which is preserved on site. This cabin was built by my ancestor Ephiram St. Joer. Amazingly the cabin survived, got moved, and is now well cared for at Gardner Village. We chose a magical time to visit, as the entire village was decked out as a fairy village. Little displays were scattered around the property as they played soft fantasy like music throughout the grounds. To top this off, cottonwood fluff was all throughout the air, making for a surreal, but enjoyable experience.
The journey from Salt Lake City south was uneventful. We took a pitstop in and marveled at Eagle Landing Petting Zoo, complete with a camel, in Scipio. The camel is Action Team’s mascot, surely a sign of good luck on this trip. By the time we reached St. George we were all exhausted and glad to be out of the car and out of the wild.
May 12: Zion National Park
We gave ourselves an entire day at Zion. In the morning we drove to the park entrance and hand a nice lunch in town. We took the shuttle up to the entrance and entered the park. It was peak season and parking within the park was full. This isn’t an issue because Zion has a fantastic shuttle bus system that takes visitors through the park, for free, to all the major stops. The shuttle runs a regular schedule and you only have to wait a few minutes before the next shuttle arrives. Other parks should take advantage of systems like this.
It was still early in the season, so many trails were still blocked by landslides. We planned on taking the hike up to Angel’s Rest but Jared’s back muscles were not cooperative that day. With some quick thinking in the morning, we were able to get a hold of Randy and Gael, who were heading south on their way back to Henderson. They took a slight detour and came to Zion to meet us for lunch. We had a great lunch at the lodge, and enjoyed the calm of the park.
May 13: St. George to Ely, NV
The drive from St. George toward Ely was a relaxing highway drive. We passed what appeared to be a cider cone and found a town which featured a pie store with a nightmare fuel mascot. Our plan was to reach Pioche, NV for lunch and do some exploration there. We took a pitstop along the way at Cathedral Gorge State Park. It turns out, Cathedral Gorge is a great little park and well worth the stop, even if it is to enjoy your lunch.
Pioche is a fun little ghost town full of character. It is remote compared to other mining camps and this was my first time visiting. We had lunch at the Silver Cafe right downtown. Afterward we walked up the street to the historical society museum and enjoyed a neat look at the items contained inside. Like many older museums it is filled with artifacts connected to the fabric of town. I personally found interest in a number of the household items from the 19th century. There was not nearly as much about the railroads that once operated to Pioche as I had hoped.
After the museum, we continued up the main street toward the mines. At one time Pioche was served by 3 different railroads. Not missing the chance to investigate the remains, we took a walk along the railroad grade above town. A number of interesting artifacts were strewn around, more than I had previously heard, including the boiler for a Shay locomotive. On our way out of town we stopped at the Court house, where a locomotive that ran on one of the local railroads is displayed.
From Pioche we had a few hour drive to Ely. Instead of camping. we decided to book a room in town. Our first stop was to visit the Nevada Northern Railway, which was largely closed for the day. We talked to a fellow working in the depot and mentioned that we wanted to get a picture with their celebrity shop cat, “Dirt”. The fellow told us to stick around, he was going to go feed him, and we were welcome to come along. Dirt hangs out in the locomotive shop and we got a nice evening tour that was free of other visitors. Dirt however, knew something was amiss and eluded us on this visit.
May 14: Ely to Grass Valley, CA
We returned to the Nevada Northern shops in the morning and were able to find Dirt hiding on the wrecking car. After that we wandered around the yard for a while taking photographs and investigating the outbuildings and equipment we didn’t see the day before.
Our original plan was camping a final night as we returned home. In the end we decided to just drive straight home, but we took our time along Highway 50 on the way. We all picked up Highway 50 Survival Guides in Ely and began the journey west and home. To save time we reduced the number of stops along HWY 50, but we planned to get lunch in Eureka. We had to make additional stops in Austin an Fallon to get our guides stamped.
Shortly before reaching Eureka. we took a stop along side the highway to collect fossils. We all brought back a few nice ammonite specimens and other minerals. Sadly, I did not take many photos on this day as I was driving part of the trip.
We reached Fallon in the afternoon and stopped for gas. I noticed we were right next to KHWG. If you made it to Desert Camp in the past, you were subjected to classic country music by way of KHWG. In 2015 the station went off the air and lost its FCC license in 2016. It seemed fitting that we’d see an old friend on our trip home.
After Fallon we pushed on to get over Donner Pass before a coming storm hit. Otherwise the rest of the trip was uneventful