If you want to know how the West was won, don’t look to traditional western movies. While gunslinging cowboys and star-emblazoned sheriffs certainly played a role in history, you can thank the railroad for taming the wild, wild West. And there’s no better way to show your appreciation than participating in Box Elder County’s Golden Spike Sesquicentennial celebration.
It may be hard to say, but the sesquicentennial commemorates 150 years since the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined together on May 10, 1869. Sealed with a ceremonial 17.6-karat gold spike at Promontory Summit, the resulting transcontinental railroad essentially joined the Eastern United States with its younger, wilder western side. The result is, well, the West as you now know it: the booming Salt Lake City valley, sunny Southern California beach towns, the glittering Las Vegas Strip, stunning seaports of Portland and Seattle and Colorado’s snowy Rocky Mountain resorts to name a few highlights.
If all that (plus more) sounds like something to celebrate, Box Elder County would agree. That’s why they’ve planned a celebration worthy of a drive (or train ride) to the area where it happened.
Kicking off with a parade and a hoedown
Spike150.org calls it “one of the most iconic and life-altering events in America’s history,” so it’s no wonder Box Elder County is starting the Golden Spike anniversary celebrations a week early. On May 4, the county hosts the official opening ceremonies of Spike 150, complete with a horse parade, traditional period costumes and an evening of music and dancing in a traditional western hoedown.
The horse and wagon parade includes entries from each of Utah’s 29 counties. It begins at 1 p.m. on Main Street in Brigham City starting at 300 North and ending at 400 South. The hoedown follows at 7 p.m. at the Box Elder Fairgrounds Event Center in Tremonton. Admission is free, so bring your friends (and your dancing shoes).
Take a step back
into history — and find out how the West was fun. Forget pocket watches and three-piece suits in the summer sun; this was the era of poor men striking gold and cowboys spinning stories by the light of a desert campfire. The Golden Spike Sesquicentennial celebration pays homage to a simpler time, with a host of activities and events for the entire family.
May 10 events are sold out, but you can catch the broadcast that day at 12 p.m. on KSL Channel 5. Events at Golden Spike National Historical Park include the Jupiter and #119 replica steam engines chugging in, replicating the historic photo taken to mark the railroads’ official connecting point exactly 150 years ago. The official Sesquicentennial Celebration ceremony starts at 11 a.m., featuring a keynote address and premier performance of “As One,” an original musical production created especially for the event.
Stick around for the official Spike 150 Celebration Festival, featuring music, storytelling, historical reenactments, train demonstrations and the chance to explore a genuine frontier village — plus a whole lot more. The festival continues Saturday and Sunday, May 11 and 12, so bring the family and make a weekend of it.
Explore the West
The West might not be as wild now as 150 years ago, but Box Elder County still has wildlife in spades – all for your viewing pleasure. While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to explore the more natural pleasures of Box Elder County. When railroad workers trudged into the area with their hammers and spikes, they likely saw more than a few fine-feathered friends. To this day, Box Elder remains a birder’s paradise, with myriad species promising to catch your eye.
Check out the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, which offers more than 250 species of birds a stop to rest, nest and feed. With the largest colony of white-faced ibis in North America, as well as cinnamon teal, American white pelicans and tundra swans, you’ll want to bring your binoculars and notebook for a world-class birdwatching experience.
If manmade wonders are more your style, you’ll find some intriguing – and abstract – creations in Box Elder County. Take a trip to the Northrup Grumann Rocket Garden, which uses the term “garden” quite loosely. Rather than flowers and veggies, you’ll find, well, rockets blooming in the Utah soil. Featuring shuttle boosters, patriot missiles and other unearthly creations, Northrup Grumann is paradise for the budding astronaut in your life.
From rockets to rock formations (kind of), Box Elder has it all. Head over to the shores of the Great Salt Lake to experience the Spiral Jetty, a 1,500-foot long, 15-foot wide coil of mud, salt crystals and basalt rocks created by American sculptor Robert Smithson.
And while you’re experiencing art that imitates nature (or is it the other way around?), you may as well take in Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, a series of four 18-foot long, 9-foot diameter concrete tunnels located just outside the ghost town of Lucin. Each tunnel features small holes in the top that represent constellations Draco, Perseus, Columba and Capricorn and they’re sure to leave you, well, starry-eyed.
Make it a state affair
There’s only one place in the state to see the Golden Spike — and that’s Promontory Summit in Box Elder County. But that doesn’t mean you can’t commemorate the event that changed the nation just because you’re not in the neighborhood. Localities around the state are gearing up to celebrate Spike 150, with special events and exhibits spanning the state.
From commemorative musical performances to historical museum exhibits to good, old-fashioned parties, there’s a sesquicentennial event in your neck of the woods — and if not, you can always take the train.