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Old Central Pacific Rr Trail In Utah

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I first visited Promontory, the site of the Golden Spike Park commemorating the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, in 2008. While there, I was told by a park ranger that the old Central Pacific grade could be followed for nearly 100 miles west of Promontory. Being a huge rail buff, I was excited, but figured that I'd never get to do it.

 

Thankfully, I was wrong.

 

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My gal Sarah and I decided to visit a couple of friends in Salt Lake City. She, as usual, left the trip planning to me. Bless her heart. And her Toyota Yaris.

 

Though I posted a bit about it in my blog, I'll recap here.

 

We started from Seattle, hitting a few fun spots along the way. The most fun was Emigrant Hill near Route 30 in Oregon. I've not been able to find out if it was actually part of the Oregon Trail, but I believe it was originally US Route 30. Quite a bit of fun. You can see photos from that here.

 

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We made it to Twin Falls, ID the first day, visiting the canyon and the Evel Knievel jump site on the morning of the next. After accidentally blowing by an old alignment of Route 30, we dipped south, past City of Rocks on Lynn Road. This seemed to be some sort of emigrant trail called the California Trail, but it was kind of hard to tell.

 

Anyway, we entered Utah on a dirt road, which is quite fitting. Every trip with me somehow involves trains, old highways, the civil war and dirt roads. I'm pretty good at hitting all four.

 

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We were in Sarah's new Yaris and the dirt was piling up. She was a little nervous. The road was rutted here and there, but otherwise fine.

 

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Finding where the Central Pacific RR trail starts was difficult. It's not well marked and I completely failed at doing my research. Turns out, it's five miles off Utah State Route 30 near Lucin, which is just a name, not a town. We arrived with about a quarter tank of gas. This was bad news. According to the GPS, the nearest gas station was 45 miles away on I-80 via dirt roads. Using my intuition, I decided two things. First, we needed gas and water. Second, gas was closer than 45 miles away.

 

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We hit State Route 30 again, headed south and into Nevada, which we had already been to in looking for the old rail bed. Twenty miles later, we found Montello, a town with an interesting history and thankfully a gas station. We filled up, got some water and headed back to the rail bed.

 

From here, I could describe the next 90 or so miles, but wouldn't do it justice. The photos can't do it as much as it deserves, but they are much better than words.

 

For that, I direct you here.

 

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We traveled the old railroad grade as much of the way as possible, even getting a bit lost during a detour. I was trying to get to the Golden Spike Park before it closed. I failed, but we had a bunch of fun.

 

There's not much out there. Some old town sites with a LOT of debris, and just open land. It's beautiful and dangerous. If anything went wrong, you were stuck there for awhile. We saw no cars the entire five or six hours that it took us. Two ATVs zoomed past us, but that's it.

 

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We faced a decision concerning a very large mud puddle that engulfed the entire road. To go through it meant that we stood a good chance of getting stuck. Without cell reception, getting stuck meant walking 30 miles to get to a phone (at least). Turning around would mean driving 60 miles and then 150ish to get to Salt Lake City. Also, it would be a huge bummer.

 

Since it was her car, I let Sarah decide what to do. She suggested we take the little thing off roading. We did and made it. There's a video of that with the photos. You'll see.

 

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That night, we made it to our friends' house and to some wonderful veg Chinese food. Salt Lake City!

 

 

The next day, we went back to the Golden Spike Park, saw the reenactment of the ceremony (which was cheesy and quaint all at the same time - but hey, they have two working steam engines, so I let it slip). We also stopped at the Spiral Jetty, which needs to be seen to be believed. Also, more veg food in SLC. We also visited Temple Square. Pics of that are here.

 

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The following day was mostly US 50 through Nevada. I've done it before, but it's always wonderful. You can see such things here. The highlight for me was the stop in Ely to see a working steam railroad machine shop. I was in heaven. I might do a separate post about that in the LH forum. We shall see.

 

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-Eric

Edited by sit properly

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Great, as always!

Yes, the California Trail branched off of the main Oregon Trail and headed W/SW to the gold strike area of Northern California. The infamous Donner party was on said trail when they were snowed in in the Sierra Nevada (due to leaving too late in the spring and a disastrous 'short cut' in Nevada).

I visited Golden Spike NHS back in '99 and also recall the abandoned rail bed/primitive road headed westward from the site. Decided that a rented Grand Prix was not the proper vehicle for such a road trip and did not explore it!

The mud puddle story reminds me of exploring the remote but beautiful Tuweep/Toroweap portion of Grand Canyon National Park in the summer of '03. Access is from either Fredonia or Colorado City AZ (yes, that infamous polygamist settlement) and requires at least an hour of pure wilderness dirt road driving from either starting point. The end result is worth it: No crowds (ever), no guard fences at the edge of the canyon, and a totally different aspect of the canyon than at either of the more visited rim areas.

Many, many mud puddles were either splashed through or driven around on the trip in and out, but I had foreseen such road conditions and had rented an AWD Mitsu Outlander for the trip at the LAS airport, so no problems going through the mud. Alamo in Vegas got the car back with plenty of dried mud on it, though!

The picture with the ATV zooming by you on the long, straight dirt track looks so much like many of the "Area 51" pictures that one sees that are shot from the edge of the restricted area. Any strange sights in the sky? ;)

Edited by mga707

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Thanks!

 

So the California Trail that we were on (or near) was the same one used by the Donners? Neat. I've been a huge Oregon Trail fan for years, but haven't had a lot of time to check out original alignments (aside from a few in Idaho and near Walla Walla). Most markers and signs just say that the Oregon Trail was "somewhere near here," which is pretty useless to an obsessive roadie. :)

 

Oh, I definitely recommend doing the abandoned RR bed in a high clearance AWD. But when in a pinch, apparently a Toyota Yaris will do. Next time, it'll be on my Vespa (with a LOT of extra gas).

 

The Grand Canyon trip sounds like something I will end up doing. And visiting Colorado City/Hilldale is actually on my list of things to do. I've become kind of obsessed with the FLDS lately (in a research sort of way, I mean - one gal is enough for me, thanks).

 

I had a similar mud puddle (lake) experience on the Vespa in Texas on an old Route 66 alignment west of Amarillo. A storm was coming up, so I couldn't turn back, but going forward meant getting stuck in Texas mud, which mean that I would be a resident of Texas for an indefinite amount of time. Luckily, some pushing, pulling, cursing and praying got me out of it. I'd do it again though. Obviously.

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Eric,

 

This was also part of the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway. I could dig maps from their guide out of storage if you like.

 

You and Sarah were bold to take that route in a small sedan, I'm glad you had no problems.

 

Roadhound did it a couple of years ago in a pickup. I have read about guys coming to grief on that road. I have been only as far as Montello myself.

 

You mentioned the Oregon Trail. Elsewhere on the forum I posted a couple of pages from a 1910 Oregon auto map, the earliest ever for Oregon, that follows a section of the Oregon Trail to the McDonald Ferry Crossing of the John Day River. east of Wasco. I have been on the Oregon Trail down to the ferry site on the west side, and plan to do a trip to the east side this year.

 

You and Sarah might like to meet me, or do it when your interest permits. Beyond being the Oregon Trail, it was also the first west east auto road east of the Cascades in Oregon.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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Thanks!

 

So the California Trail that we were on (or near) was the same one used by the Donners? Neat. I've been a huge Oregon Trail fan for years, but haven't had a lot of time to check out original alignments (aside from a few in Idaho and near Walla Walla). Most markers and signs just say that the Oregon Trail was "somewhere near here," which is pretty useless to an obsessive roadie. :)

 

I dug out my NPS California Trail (California National Historic Trail, to be precise) map to answer your question. While visiting Scotts Bluff National Monument (NE) a few years back, I grabbed all of the National Historic Trail maps that they had there: California, Oregon, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express. All four passed by the bluff.

Anyway, from what I remember of my Donner Party history, I don't think that they passed through the section of trail that you followed, or were even in what is now Idaho at all. After the California Gold Rush started in earnest in 1850, the California Trail became rather braided-looking, as various scouts and guides blazed new 'cut-off' routes, some of dubious safety or value, in order to get the travelers across the mountains and Great Basin via shorter and supposedly faster routes. While the main California Trail branched off from the Oregon Trail by the Snake River in southern Idaho, near where I-86 branches off from I-84, the Donners, IIRC, took the so-called "Hastings Cutoff" which left the main trail much farther east, near South Pass in SW Wyoming, and continued through the Wasatch Range, around the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, and then crossed the vast, waterless Great Salt Lake Desert before rejoining the main trail near Elko NV. It roughly paralleled the present I-80 route. The dangers of this cutoff route are obvious just from looking at the map, and I believe the hard-luck Donner Party lost people, livestock, and wagons crossing the desert. But, they realized that they had to cross the Sierra Nevada before the first snows and they were in a hurry. Needless to say, their bad luck continued.

 

Oh, I definitely recommend doing the abandoned RR bed in a high clearance AWD. But when in a pinch, apparently a Toyota Yaris will do. Next time, it'll be on my Vespa (with a LOT of extra gas).

 

The Grand Canyon trip sounds like something I will end up doing. And visiting Colorado City/Hilldale is actually on my list of things to do. I've become kind of obsessed with the FLDS lately (in a research sort of way, I mean - one gal is enough for me, thanks).

 

If you want to really feel like an outsider, turn off of the main highway (AZ389/UT59) and go into the town(s). You will be watched! On my last trip through there, going from St. George to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we stopped at a gas station/convenience store for a snack, with a bit of trepidation. But once we saw the young female clerk's clothing and demeanor (not to mention her tattoos) we knew she was definitely not one of the locals!

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Dave - Which road used to be part of the PPOO? Sarah and I (and just me, by myself) have taken a lot of chances that could have easily turned bad. We try to assess the risks before going down that road, but often it's a game of "don't think about it." So far, we have survived. For example, when we were on the old RR bed, I decided that it would be a bad place to take the Vespa. Now, I am itching to do it. Same goes for La Bajada near Santa Fe.

 

I'll look for the Oregon maps that you posted, could be fun. I like to know exactly where things happened/existed. The "nearby this location" stuff that most historical markers provide is just frustrating. That said, the OT main branch through Idaho is very well marked.

 

MGA- Studying the Civil War has led to an interest in the Pony Express trail, as well. I accidentally followed a bit of it in Nevada in 2008, past Fort Churchill. We passed a few markers in Utah this past trip, too.

 

Thanks for the info on the Donner Party. Hastings Cutoff does jog the memory, but it's always hard to think of where things are when you're there in person.

 

I've heard that the FLDS-filled Police force in Hilldale/Colorado City have been replaced by nonFLDS members now. Since the raid in Texas, things seem to have calmed down there a bit. Though with the Warren Jeffs trial coming up next month, who knows. There's another Utah community that caught my eye.

 

I was planning on taking Old Route 6 & 50 through western Utah and came across the town of EskDale. Residents are followers of the Aaronic Order, which is kind of a spin off of LDS (though they don't practice plural marriage). I've always been interested in intentional communities (even lived on one for a bit). This one has a bunch of fun old photos. One caught my eye:

 

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In the older pics, they appear to be wearing the FLDS style dress, but in the more modern pics, they look like normal folks.

 

I guess I digressed from talking about highways a bit. :)

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I was planning on taking Old Route 6 & 50 through western Utah and came across the town of EskDale. Residents are followers of the Aaronic Order, which is kind of a spin off of LDS (though they don't practice plural marriage). I've always been interested in intentional communities (even lived on one for a bit). This one has a bunch of fun old photos. One caught my eye:

 

In the older pics, they appear to be wearing the FLDS style dress, but in the more modern pics, they look like normal folks.

 

I guess I digressed from talking about highways a bit. :)

 

On US 89 just west of Lake Powell--the first place one hits in Utah after crossing the AZ/UT line--is a tiny community called Big Water. I noticed the large houses and women/girls in the old-fashioned dresses there as well, so I guess it is another place where polygamy is common.

But the interesting thing about Big Water is that there is a visitor center there that has the most amazing locally dug dinosaur and other prehistoric animal fossils in it. Is actually the second time I've found big museum quality fossils in tiny little town museums. The other is in the equally tiny town of Ekalaka, Montana, way down in the southeast corner of the state. They have a duck-billed dinosaur skeleton that could be at home in the American Museum of Natural History!

I guess it helps that both places are located in areas where fossils can be easily found just sticking out of the ground, especially in places like cliff faces and stream beds where the rock has eroded away.

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I've actually been through Big Water, but missed the museum AND the polygamists! But since then, I've found that Big Water is sort of the "good" polygamists (as opposed to the ones making the headlines). They even seem to have the support of NOW (National Organization for Women). They seem to be working to decriminalize it and making the community healthy and not so culty, even allowing openly gay couples. When he died, their leader and town mayor listed his occupation as "pirate" on his death certificate. It's still not for me, but hey, good for them, at least they seem to be having fun with it.

 

Big Water used to be called by another name and was featured in Edward Abbey's book Monkey Wrench Gang.

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Big Water used to be called by another name and was featured in Edward Abbey's book Monkey Wrench Gang.

 

Glen Canyon City. Like nearby Page, AZ, Big Water/Glen Canyon City owes it's existence to the late 1950's construction of Glen Canyon Dam, which formed Lake Powell. Prior to the dam's construction, US89 did not even exist it this location. The current 89A (alternate) was the original 89, which crosses the Colorado River at Navajo Bridge by Lee's Ferry and continues westward to Fredonia AZ and Kanab UT along the lower edge of the Vermillion Cliffs.

Big Water is also the closest community to the old Mormon settlement, now ghost town, of Paria. It's some miles down a bumpy dirt road off of 89 west of Big Water, but is a neat place if you like ghost towns. What makes it even more interesting, or confusing, is that the actual Paria townsite is on the opposite side of the Paria River from a 'fake' ghost town that was constructed in the 1970s for a western movie--I think "The Outlaw Josey Wales".

Hope I'm not boring you, but I just happen to know some of this stuff! :)

 

Thanks for the further info on the Big Water residents--I did not know that!

Edited by mga707

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Not boring at all, I love this kind of stuff. And that area is simply beautiful.

 

Totally agree! Discussing this is making me want to get up to the Grand Staircase area above the Grand Canyon again.

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I'll admit, when I saw the Grand Canyon in 2006 (the only time), I just wasn't impressed. Seriously. The first time I saw it, sure, I was awestruck. But after about five minutes, it was just a big hole in the ground. I'm not sure what that says about me.

 

In my defense, the trip was incredibly strange. It was a crosscountry, Route 66 trip that my girlfriend at the time and I had been planning for about a year. Two weeks before we left, she broke up with me, leaving for another guy.

 

We decided that it would still be okay to make the 7000ish mile trip.

 

We were wrong. Sort of. I mean, we did get a crosscountry trek out of it.

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I'll admit, when I saw the Grand Canyon in 2006 (the only time), I just wasn't impressed. Seriously. The first time I saw it, sure, I was awestruck. But after about five minutes, it was just a big hole in the ground. I'm not sure what that says about me.

 

In my defense, the trip was incredibly strange. It was a crosscountry, Route 66 trip that my girlfriend at the time and I had been planning for about a year. Two weeks before we left, she broke up with me, leaving for another guy.

 

We decided that it would still be okay to make the 7000ish mile trip.

 

We were wrong. Sort of. I mean, we did get a crosscountry trek out of it.

 

I've visited the South Rim three times (four if you count the first time, when I was two!), and the North Rim twice. And then there was my previously-mentioned 2003 trek to the remote and wild "Northwest Rim" at the Toroweap Overlook. That was definitely impressive!

I do enjoy the less-visited (and higher) North Rim more, but I still like the sometimes-overcrowded South Rim as well. I love the old lodges like the El Tovar and Bright Angel, much as I've loved the historic lodges at other 'signature' parks like Yellowstone and Glacier.

I do think that the circumstances of your visit have probably put a damper on your enjoyment of it.

And then there's my older brother: On our family's first Canyon visit in 1960 (the one when I was two), my then 8-year-old brother, according to family lore, took one look over the railing and stated "OK, we've seen it, let's go home now!"

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