Utah Highway 12
In 2002 the National Transportation Secretary added 13 All-American Roads to the National Scenic Byways Program that was initiated in 1991. In the Press Release for these roads it was stated, “To receive an All-American Road designation, a road must possess multiple intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere. The road or highway must also be considered a ‘destination unto itself.’ That is, the road must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.”
If you, our readers, saw the National Park TV special commemorating the 100th year anniversary of the the National Park Service, you understand the kind of vacations that Roger & I took as children and those we eventually took with our son (to his chagrin). Well, now in our travels we also have All-American Roads to traverse, as well as national parks, seashores, lake shores, historic parks, etc. I just don’t know if we can fit it all in.
For some time now I’ve been wanting to travel Utah Hwy 12, an All-American Road. We traveled some or all of it on our first major RV trip in our first RV, a Winnebago Brave motor home, when Chris was about 4. But I don’t remember much of that trip.
|Utah Hwy 12|
|Wide Hollow Reservoir|
Escalante Petrified Forest SP sits next to the Wide Hollow Reservoir. It is a nice place to spend an hour or two, more if you have a boat. There is a small visitor center but the most interesting site is a whole petrified tree. That finishes up the first segment. Roger will cover Capitol Reef later.
In Boulder we visited Anasazi State Park. It has a small but interesting visitor center, really a museum, and outside there is a reconstructed pueblo building completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also some excavated pueblo ruins. Like the other Ancestral Puebloan ruins we visited, they were abandoned for unknown reasons around 1200 CE. There is also evidence that these people traded with Mexico, other Ancestral Puebloans and Pacific Coast inhabitants of the time.
|Excavation at Anasazi State Park|
|Looking down from Hell's ackbone|
On another day we took the Burr Trail Scenic Drive that heads east from Boulder. It was a road built to explore and haul ores and minerals out of the area. Most of the road now travels through Grand Staircase Escalante NM. It is the largest NM and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rather than the NP Service. Its mission here is to facilitate scientific study, conservation and ecology of the area, as well as supporting the tourist trade.
|Along the Burr Trail|
|The west end of Capitol Reef|
boulder with a rounded top that might look a little like a flattened dome... maybe. This is supposedly a common shape for this kind of rock, but damned if we could find any other examples. So from this they got Capital. Some of those early settlers were sailors. The guidebooks say that
|Cliffs that make up the "reef".|
|Layers pushed up|
|Twin Rocks at Capitol Reef|
|Vicki heads into the pie house in Fruita|
By now you’ve learned my passion for scenic drives so since we needed to stop before we hit Salt Lake, Nephi seemed a good choice. We stayed near Nephi back in our 1st year of full timing in a lovely campground at the base of the Wasatch mountains and we made reservations there again. Looking online for things to do near Nephi we discovered the Mt. Nebo Scenic Loop. (I don’t know what the loop is.) It is part of the National Scenic Byways program and is touted as a lovely place to see fall colors. So not a lot of people go in the spring. In fact, almost nobody was on the road when we went.
|Lake near Payson|
|One lousy deer|
Promontory Summit is out in the middle of nowhere, just over 50 miles from Ogden, Utah. You may recall from your history books that this is where the East met the West at the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Actually, since they were getting paid by the mile, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific track prep crews passed each other and kept right on going for nearly 200 miles before congress decided where the official meeting place would be. On May 10, 1869 Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific Railroad Company was given a gold spike and a silver headed hammer to drive in "the last spike". He missed. Then Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific took a whack at it. He also missed. They finally had to bring in an actual rail worker to do the honors. His name was not recorded.
|Vicki standing in front of Jupiter|
We arrived at the visitors center one sunny day in June, just in time to see smoke belching out of a train stack. We had no idea they actually had operating steam engines here, but it turns out that in
|Union Pacific engine 119 heading for its rendezvous|
There were no copies of the plans for the engines that met at Promontory Point in 1869, so O'Conner had to re-engineer the trains from black and white photographs of the Golden Spike ceremony and knowledge of other trains in use at the time. In the end, the park service claims that these two reproductions are within a half inch of the originals. The Jupiter represented the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento and was a wood burning model, which you can tell by its big funnel smoke stack. The Central Pacific's route went through the Sierra Nevadas where there were plenty of trees to chop down for fuel. The Union Pacific, on the other hand, came across the great plains from Council Bluffs, Iowa and trees were pretty scarce along their route. But they had pre-existing railway lines to bring them coal from Pennsylvania and other parts east. So their engine, the 119, was a coal burner with a thin, round stack. These two steam trains met cow-catcher to cow-catcher for the great continent joining ceremony in 1869 and their modern model progeny now meet the same way daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and on special occasions in the winter. Quite by accident, we got there just in time to see the show.
The trains are brightly colored , which was apparently de rigueur at the time and look very impressive moving along the tracks. I snapped way more pictures than I really needed. I even took a short video, which is rare for me. A ranger gave a fairly informative talk about the trains, then we went back to the visitors center to go through the less than stellar exhibits. We could have had a plastic replica Gold Spike for just $25 but decided to give it a pass.
|The refurbished concrete monument|
Out in front there was an interesting item. The "powers that were" in 1870 set up a concrete monolith at the site some months after the ceremony, then everybody departed for Ogden and forgot about it. Water exposure began eroding away the cement and the pylon slowly settled into the prairie. In 1903 the No. 119 engine was sold for scrap and the Jupiter met the same fate 3 years later. By the early 1940s the railroads had long since quit using the line in favor of more direct routes, so the steel rails for 100 miles in each direction were pulled up and re-purposed for the war effort. With the concrete pylon gradually decaying into rubble, soon there would be nothing to mark the site of one of the most significant moments in our history. But then Harry Truman decided to set up a National Historic Site here in 1947. They found the concrete monument and it was restored and set up on a pedestal where it now sits in front of the modern visitor center. The original bronze plaque was too corroded to fix so it got a new one from the park service. As monuments go, it's actually kind of ugly but I'm glad it is still there.