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’. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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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Then 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. 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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Idaho and Wyoming – National Parks Road Trip – Day 10 – Yellowstone to Jackson Hole

Another early start found us at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. As usual the early start allowed us to avoid the crowds for some excellent views, along with the other dedicated morning photographers. Why buy a postcard when you can take the picture yourself.

Since we missed it the day before we returned to the Norris Geyser Basin and began our hike along the boardwalk through the back basin. Steamboat Geyser fumed so high and huge that it could be seen from most of the back basin. This geyser erupted last year and it was evident of the violent destruction that was left for us to see. As we toured we found many other geysers vending significant steam. The hot water from the earth combined with the cold air of 35 degrees created a steamy low-lying atmosphere.

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The loud gurgling sounds of the geyser from Puff N Stuff was a visitor’s favorite as well as ours. It is caused by steaming vents in the earth among the dead trees in the white sulfuric basin gave an eerie feeling and a creepy setting. The tour continued on the other side of the basin where there were more geysers in the Porcelain Basin. This basin is more open and the area was crowded with tourists, along with a number of geologists and park rangers hiking back to where we had been carrying technical equipment for analysis.

Warning sign inform tourists not to toss debris into the geysers (morons of the world unite) as exemplified in the Minute Geyser located in Porcelain Basin, which was damaged by tourists and now no longer erupts as it once did nearly every minute. Over the years, tourists clogged the geyser with twigs and stones that they tossed into the geyser.

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The Artist Paint Pots turned out to be our last stop in Yellowstone. The loop surrounding the paint pots was disappointing due to the lack of variety of colors that decorate the pools, primarily due to the overcast day. You could however see a variety of pools, or paint pots, nestled in a hillside with mountains in the distance.

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Our plan was to go to Midway Geyser Basin while heading out the south exit toward Grand Teton’s, but instead we got stuck in a huge traffic jam. Sunday was much busier with tourists than the previous days. After an extended period of no movement I gave up, turned around and exited the West Entrance.

As we proceeded on the West Drive we came across a magnificent elk wading in the river. Everywhere in Yellowstone you see wildlife you see traffic jams, including our last as we were exiting, this one caused by a bison  walking in the middle of the road and refusing to move aside. As motorists inched around the bison, it came to be directly in front of us so we shot a photo from our windshield of the bison’s butt moving very slowly almost as if it meant to do this just to say he owns the place. Eventually the bison moved off the road allowing us to leave the park.

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We ended up in West Yellowstone, Montana at noon and stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. From here we drove south across the Continental Divide again and west into Idaho. The view of large mountains was spectacular and we passed many, potato fields which I had not seen before. We followed Idaho State Route 32, also known as the Grand Teton Scenic Highway.

We crossed Teton Pass back into Wyoming to reach our hotel in Jackson Hole. Since there was still plenty of daylight we drove into Elk Range outside of Jackson Hole to spot wildlife but were unlucky on that adventure so we went back to explore the town. The center of Jackson is Antler Park, named for the unusual arches made of elk antlers at the four entrances into the park.

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Surrounding the park are a number of art galleries. Life-size bronze sculptures of Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, George Washington, and elk stood outside a gallery and seemed to be a popular spot for tourists to pose with the statues. The town is well known as a resort for its outdoor adventures but our stop was to take in a short visit and overnight on our way to Salt Lake City.

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We chose to have dinner at the Gun Barrel Steak and Game House fitting for the western aura of Jackson Hole. The restaurant use to be a western museum and taxidermy shop and it shows from the many animals mounted on the walls. The restaurant also had a full-sized stuffed bison named Wyatt, and a 1800’s buffalo coat owned by Hank Williams, Jr. We were game to try the game on the menu so we had a sampler of elk steak, bison prime rib, and venison bratwurst, as well as elk medallions; I had mixed results with my dinner. Game meat is not fatty and needs to be eaten slightly rare so half of the medallions were overcooked and tough. The waitress brought two more medallions and only one of them was tender but I had enough to eat and it was a good experience to have eaten in a nice restaurant. The evening was cool, but the day had been long so we called it a night.