Northern Utah – National Parks Road Trip – Day 11 – Golden Spike National Historic Site & Salt Lake City

Monday morning had us going south from Jackson Hole, Wyoming before heading off to the west on a small state highway reaching a town called Freedom on the Wyoming/Idaho border. If ever there was a town that looked like a stereotypical redneck Idaho/Wyoming town it was Freedom. You had the feeling everyone was carrying a gun for ‘Freedom’.

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But we proceeded through without incident and made our way into the mountains past Tincup Mountain. As we were sailing down the canyon next to a creek we came around the corner to find a herd of sheep on the road, and some dogs attempting to control them onto the hillside, which eventually they did. Little did we know this was a precursor of things to come.

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A few miles further and we could see in the near distance a herd of cattle being driven down the road, lead by the farmer in his pickup truck. We had nowhere to go and asked a rancher what to do. He answered just drive slowly and the cows will go around us. The ranchers were on ATVs, in trucks, and on horseback moving a large herd.

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We inched forward and the cows worked their way around us but one brown cow stood stubbornly in our path and would not move. The stubborn animal stared at us only a few inches from the hood of our car. Then unexpectedly the stubborn cow started licking the front of the car. She seemed to enjoy licking the car swiping her tongue back and forth across the front of the car while the rest of the herd moved along the side of the car surrounding us from all sides.

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The cow licked the car hood and front grille working her tongue to eat the bugs stuck to the car while we laughed so hard we had tears in our eyes. When she had enough bugs we inched ahead still laughing at the odd incident. The ladies at the end of the herd pulled up and asked if we were ok. Still laughing, we replied we were, just not something that happens to you in Ohio, or most anywhere else I have ever been. Later I had the opportunity to stop and inspect the car afterwards to find cow slime over the hood, taking a photo as evidence.

By mid morning we arrived in the small resort town of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho for a rest stop. Two buses of Korean tourists were finishing their baths in hot spring water pools which they believe to be therapeutic. The staff informed us they get many bus tours coming up from Los Angeles to Yellowstone from the Asian community and they all make a stop for a soak. It was a nice facility and the hot spring pools did not smell like rotten eggs like Thermopolis, however since we experienced hot springs before we moved on to Interstate 15 towards Utah.

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We took a detour from our itinerary to see the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah. The spike represents the last spike to complete the first transcontinental railroad joining the Central Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska and the Union Pacific Railroad from Sacramento, California on May 10, 1869.

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Pressure from Congress forced the two companies to reach an agreement on a meeting place. After negotiations they finally decided to meet at the midway point at the end of track for each railroad company, which was at Promontory Summit.

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Promontory means the high point projecting into a body of water. Leland Stanford tapped four ceremonial spikes commemorating the event where the two railroads met. The actual golden spike is at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The Golden Spike site is part of the National Parks system displaying two working replicas of the train engines with tenders for the ceremony. The replicas #119 and Jupiter are nearly exact to the originals in style. The replicas are ornately painted and have brass bells and fixtures. The original locomotives were outmoded and sold for scrap long ago.

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We drove the auto tour that allowed us to trace the railroad noting important points of interest along the way at Promontory. Noted points such as the last climb, the parallel grading, cuts, and areas blasted to make this remarkable engineering project were marked on the trail.

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A memorial stood at one of the interest points honoring the Irish and Chinese laborers who worked on the rails. We drove the entire west and east stretch of rail line and saw a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake in the distance from the rail bed high point.

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We got into Salt lake City about 3 pm to check into our hotel room at The Little American. The room had an excellent rating on Trip Adviser but when we entered the room it seemed as if we time warped to the 1950’s. The bath had very old fixtures and pink ceramic tile everywhere. The bed had a fluffy pink country flair to it and a very stained pink carpet. We left the hotel to explore the city wondering if we could get a beer in a city populated with Mormons who vow against alcohol. We found the Beerhive Pub and stopped for a beer, which we found amazing that a pub was about a block from Mormon Central. I had a Red Rock Honey wheat that was very good. Then we went to a Scottish store called The Edinburgh Castle looking for a mug for Beth. The store did not have a mug but did sell, tams, hats, kilts and other Scottish items.

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At the one end of downtown we came upon Temple Square, the location of the Mormon Tabernacle Church (temple as it is called here) which is only opened to Mormons.  A visitor center displaying a model of the temple showed the multiple levels of the temple that seemed to set a hierarchy for seating. Mormon women at the temple dressed in western 19th century clothing of bonnets and long skirted gowns assisted tourists and people who have made a pilgrimage to the temple.

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The display model also had cows at the lowest level in the temple facing outward in a circle. We learned that the twelve cows represent the twelve tribes of Israel. As we walked away from the temple, we noticed that many buildings were associated with the Mormon church and saw its influence throughout the city. Overall it was a surreal experience, sort of like a bad movie where everything looked like paradise before they took you hostage and brainwashed you – but perhaps I just watch too many movies, but best experiencing none the less after a stop at the Beerhive Pub.

We walked toward the Capitol building but it started to rain so we ran into an H& M store and shopped until it stopped. We found good traditional Utah fare for dinner, well perhaps not, but it was an excellent Italian restaurant, Michelangelo’s. The fettuccini dinner  and spicy pasta were excellent. As we ate, a movie was being made across the street. Actors were dressed in winter apparel and cotton batting lined the sidewalk as snow while Santa acted in the Hallmark movie.

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Wyoming – National Parks Road Trip – Day 7 – Bighorn Canyon, Legend Rock Petroglyphs and Thermopolis

Day 7 began in the early morning, leaving Billings to go south to Wyoming.

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After passing through a few small town we reached Lovell, Wyoming, home of (among other things) Pryor Mountain Mustang Ranch. Just at the edge of town is a small visitor center with information and photos of the ponies.  The range is a refuge for a significant herd of free-roaming Mustangs, called “wild horses”, located in the Pryor Mountains of Montana and Wyoming. The horses run freely through an open range of nearly 40,000 acres which is the first protected refuge dedicated exclusively for Mustangs; it lies within the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The visitor center host, Linda, has named each wild horse and would identify them as she showed us their photos. After providing us some excellent guidance, she sent us on our way.

After a short drive, we arrived at the entrance to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, where Pryor Mountain is located . While we did not see wild mustangs running through the cliffs and valleys, we did see beautiful colorful mountains on the winding road along the way. Our first hike on a trail up a cliff lead to a great viewing spot, but we were unable to spot the wild horses. The 40,000 acres gives the horses a lot of land to roam without being seen.

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Further into the park we went back into Montana, noted by a small wood sign. Our picturesque drive rose more than 9400 feet in elevation as we made our way into the mountain range. Just ahead we reached a parking lot for the Devil Canyon Overlook. Little did we know when we got out of the car we were coming up on a 1000′ drop to the lake at the bottom of the canyon. Other than the Grand Canyon this view is the most impressive canyon we have ever seen. We stood breathlessly at the overlook trying to capture a photo of its exquisiteness.

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When we told Linda that we were headed for Thermopolis she asked how much time we had, as there was a scenic route and a fast route. We opted for the scenic route, and are very happy that we did. As we left Bighorn Canyon we were greeting with very colorful mountains, lakes and rivers, and excellent curving roads.

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US 14A ascends the Big Horn mountains, peaking out in a pass at over 9400′ elevation, continually providing overlooks. Once we reached to alpine valley at the top we reached the turnoff to go back down the mountain.

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After descending a four mile stretch to a rest area with walkways at Shell Falls, a spectacular waterfall in the Bighorn National Forest on Shell Creek. The falls drop 120′ over the granite rock.

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The town at the bottom of the mountain is Greybull, Wyoming. As it is the only town for miles they had a good selection of restaurants for such a small town; we opted for lunch at Historic Hotel Greybull, built in 1916, with a small dining room. The small dining room was very busy, and we enjoyed a casual lunch before continuing south.

First stop after our arrival in Thermopolis, Wyoming was the visitor center. I had two venues I wanted to see while there; Legend Rocks Petroglyphs and the Thermopolis Hot Springs. Once again the visitor center attendant, Kay, was very helpful and recommended we go to Legend Rocks first as it closed early.

We drove the 20 miles or so out of town, down some dirt roads before arriving at a small gravel parking lot with a cabin and a huge RV. The cabin/office was open but unattended – we picked up a pamphlet and headed out. Heading down the hill we found 15 separate sets of petroglyphs and pictographs made by Native Americans. We carried the pamphlet outlining where to find the rock art because some of them were faded and hard to see. Marker 3 had etchings that were 11,000 years old while others were 6,000 to 8,000 B. C. Elk, bison, people, turtles, rabbits, hawks and dark figures with short arms were carved in stone. Some art was painted

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. After completing our tour we returned to the car and headed back to town, passing through an oilfield called Hamilton Dome, complete with vacant buildings.

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Arriving back in Thermopolis we found that the hotel I had made reservations at, a Best Western, was in a restored building in the Wyoming State Park that contained the springs. After checking in we walked over to the hot springs, where it constantly measures a temperature of 135 F degrees as it spouts out of the earth and is has a rotten egg smell due to the high sulfur, magnesium, and carbon dioxide content of the water. People flock to Thermopolis believing that the hot spring water has healing power. The hot spring supply here is not from magma but trickles down from the surface into deep fissures in the rock where it is heated and then resurfaces through the spring. The walk to the spring to see the bubbling water surface then slowly flow over flat surface rocks to a public bath and pool was scenic, but smelly.

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We ate dinner at the Safari Club of Days Inn. The dining room was decorated with hundreds of stuffed animal heads mounted to the walls. These animals were from hunting exploits of the owner, Mr. Mills, who personally bagged 85% of all the animals displayed. How do I know this, well it is bragged about on the inside of the menu. It felt creepy sitting underneath taxidermy heaven. It was a Noah’s Ark of the animal kingdom on display for all to see. Elk, tiger skins, leopard skins, fish, bobcats, swordfish, deer, bear, and more were mounted. Perhaps it was the decor here that was famous because it sure wasn’t for the taste in food.

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Our Best Western hotel had a hot tub with water from the hot spring. We spent about 15 minutes soaking in the hot tub of green-tinted water, then about 30 minutes taking a shower to get rid of the smell.

It was a great day, difficult to choose which was the best moment, Bighorn Canyon or the Legend Rocks Petroglyphs.