Though we love doing bike tours in far flung places and appreciate the opportunity the bikes provide to really get immersed into different cultures, we also like the challenge and fun associated with creating fun new adventures that start within an hour's drive of SLC. We've had great tours that have started in Heber City, Huntsville, Eden, Victor (???), and even home. With that in mind, with perfect weather, we decided to do a lap around the northeastern arm of the Great Salt Lake.
The GSL seems to be an under appreciated resource for many Utahns, though our friend Lynn DeFreitas of the Friends of the Great Salt Lake has done a great job of defending it against development pressures. It's one of the world's foremost migratory bird refuges, affects our weather (and thus skiing), is pretty beautiful in a raw, austere way, that austerity provides plenty of opportunities for remote adventures, and it has a pretty rich history.
We started in Plain City, a western suburb of Ogden, and indeed, it's fairly Plain:
|or is it on the GSL's plains?|
We missed the turn of the main road to join the causeway and had to do a little cyclocrossing:
But soon enough found our way onto the causeway:
|heading towards Promontory|
|Looking back towards the Wellsville mountains.|
|Some water, some salt flats|
The GSL is somewhat famous for it's bugs; at times they can be unbearable. The Antelope Island state park update didn't mention that they were out (which they typically do) so we figured they were ok, but they were indeed out. One kind of fly out there is so prevalent that they create loud clouds, and while they were present on the causeway, they were tolerable. However, when I had to fix a flat, we also realized that the smaller but more voracious gnats were also out.
The Cutoff passes over the end of Promontory, and there's a weird little private farm/RV graveyard there to enable getting off the Cutoff and onto the gravel road that heads north along the Lake. I wouldn't say that it wasn't private and that we weren't trespassing, but we didn't as permission nor did we linger there, and quickly enough were on another nice gravel road with a bit of a tailwind.
|who's happy that there are no cars for miles?!?|
Along this 20 or 30 mile section there are a handful of scrappy little farms:
it seems like a pretty tough go out there; I'm no farmer, but trying to do crops on a saline lake bed seems challenging.
At the northern end of the lake is where the original railway went. We did a short steep climb on a road to assume all the elevation that the original train track did over 11 miles:
Then found ourselves at the Golden Spike Visitors Center
Of course, the center is closed due to The Plague, but there's a fair bit of stuff to see outside, and you can get the gist.
|This guy is still working, and one of his (few?) jobs is raising and lowering the flag. But the day before was broken up by answering questions on the phone by annoying wannabe cyclists who can't understand why there's no camping there!|
One website I saw said something to the effect of "Every American knows the story of the Golden Spike" but honestly I didn't beyond the simple fact that it was the meeting point between the East and West rail building efforts. I didn't really fully understand the logistical challenges nor the huge significance that this effort represented. Legislation and funding was created during the Civil War, and construction started right after the war's end even though worker numbers and raw materials were therefore in much shorter supply, which was why Italian, Irish, German, and Chinese workers were critical to the success. I kinda figured that the reason that the meeting point was so far west was because the easterly section was so much easier to lay tracks than the mountainous West and this was mostly true, but also ALL of the materials for the western section had to be shipped around the tip of South America before being transported eastward across California and Nevada.
|Again, a lotta wood being used in an area that doesn't have a lotta wood....|
|Ash on the abutment at the same point, 150 years later|
Despite the logistical challenges, however, there were two companies (Central Pacific and Union Pacific) literally doing side-by-side tracks:
|Ashley is riding on one track bed, the other is below and to the left.|
It's hard to imagine how weird that must have felt to be working literally alongside another company doing the same thing, when it's so slow and challenging.
Ironically, it was Congress that decided on the Promontory meeting point for the East and West efforts (it's difficult to imagine the Dems and GOP agreeing on that kind of thing today) and thus it was finished in May of 1869.
The two guys shaking hands (one of them was Leland Stanford; future Gov of California and namesake for the university) both tried to drive in the Golden Spike, and both actually missed! Might have been a good idea to have a bronze spike for them to practice on....
In addition to being able to transport people and goods across the country in days versus weeks, which was a huge deal, the railroad was also paralleled by a telegraph line, which of course enabled transcontinental communication that was faster than the nearby Pony Express route (that we rode a coupla years ago). And when the Golden Spike was finally driven (by more-accurate assistants!) they sent a telegram to President Grant and the Associated Press, and there were huge celebrations both in the East and in San Francisco. It was a big deal. Here's an fun article on it that ran in the SL Tribune last year on the 150th anniversary.
While there is "No Camping" within the park and it's surrounded by private lands (as the flag bearer had told me the day prior) and I'd never admit we were on private land, we were able to make something happen:
|It's no pleasant Euro campground with showers, shitters, and a cafe, but it worked.|
And we were back on the road
|This is the Chinese Arch, which was formed by ancient ocean waves?!!?|
The route I had originally cooked up goes through the mountains to the north of the Thiokol (rocket-making) facility, but given our history of being a bit overzealous early in the season we opted to cruise the flat highway back east to Brigham City, where there's some nice riding through orchards:
And were able to finish on a nice section of Rail Trail right into Plain City
|celebrating no traffic again!|
|The Google won't acknowledge the Lucin Cutoff on the south end; there is another shorter causeway that I think also works.|
Yet another quick, easy, and nearby bicycle "adventure" on mostly-empty roads with some fun history lessons for dullards like us! What's next?