As we started our eastward return leg from Ogden toward Colorado, we had one more stop to make in Utah. Dinosaur National Monument straddles the eastern Utah and western Colorado border. The park’s primary claim to fame is the Fossil Quarry, located on the Utah side near the town of Jensen, UT. Jensen lies along US-40, roughly halfway between Park City, UT and Steamboat Springs, CO.
The Quarry Visitor Center contains numerous exhibits about the history of the area, including the quarry wall itself that is now housed within an impressive building. The building itself was operating at a greatly reduced capacity with reservations required. We made our reservations several days in advance and had no trouble getting in. Interestingly no one actually asked us for documentation of our reservations, although I’m certain they are checked randomly.
The dinosaur fossil beds were discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass, a paleontologist working and collecting for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He and his crews excavated thousands of fossils and shipped them back to the museum in Pittsburgh, PA for study and display. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the dinosaur beds as Dinosaur National Monument in 1915. The monument boundaries were expanded in 1938 from the original 80 acres surrounding the dinosaur quarry in Utah, to 210,844 acres in Utah and Colorado, encompassing the river canyons of the Green and Yampa. It’s hard to believe that the fossils that remain today are the “leftovers,” as it still makes for a very impressive display.
While the quarry is the main attraction, I was in many ways more impressed by the stunning scenery of the area surrounding the visitor center. We saw only a tiny portion of the 210+ thousand acres, and it would be quite easy to spend a lot more time exploring. But alas, we were on our way to Colorado and could only devote a few hours to the park. It’s not the kind of place you just happen to pass by, but we may decide to detour that way the next time we head west. The drive along US 40 is much more pleasant and scenic than I would expect I-70 or I-80 to be!
While Ogden has a long history as a railroad town, there is more in Ogden than trains. There’s food! And churches, shops, baseball and many other things. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore, having gotten to town late in the day the first day, then spending the following day at Golden Spike. But we did have time both evenings to walk around and explore the town a bit.
25th Street is the epicenter of the historic district and home to many of the restaurants and bars in Ogden. And 25th street meets Wall Street just across Wall from the historic Ogden depot, so it was a nice destination on a beautiful evening. The mountain air made for a nice walk before and after dinner.
The second evening we had a bit of a wait for dinner at a highly-recommended Italian restaurant. I had my camera with me so I made some photos of the passing traffic while we waited. Between that and time to just chill, it was quite relaxing. Once our names were called, the owner himself seated us at a window table, sold us a nice bottle of wine and made a couple of recommendations for entrees. It was a nice dinner and we enjoyed it a lot.
Ogden is a vibrant town, plenty to do but not overwhelming like a lot of larger towns. That’s why we decided to stay there rather than in or closer to Salt Lake City. We had to navigate our way through SLC on our way to Colorado, and other than a wrong turn and eventually a stop at a neighborhood restaurant for breakfast, it was pretty uneventful.
I would like to return someday and actually visit Salt Lake City once the Tabernacle is open for tours and their daily organ recital. But for this time we made do with trains and traffic in Ogden.
We spent two nights in Ogden, UT in order to have plenty of time to visit Golden Spike National Monument. Ogden is just north of Salt Lake City, a good-sized town but not as huge as Salt Lake City. Ogden has a rich railroad heritage, once known as a major passenger railroad junction due to its location along major east–west and north–south routes, prompting the local chamber of commerce to adopt the motto, “You can’t get anywhere without coming to Ogden.”
Ogden’s Union Station houses a large collection of historical locomotives in an outdoor display area, plus a museum full of historical artifacts in a space inside the museum. Located within the museum is one of the original “Golden Spikes” complete with its own Diebold vault.
Another one of those historical place I learned about when I was a child was the story of The Transcontinental Railroad and The Golden Spike. The meeting of the railroad lines from the east coast and the west coast met at Promontory, UT on May 10, 1869.
As is often the case with history, the actual events leading up to and surrounding the eventual joining of the eastern and western routes is a lot more dramatic than we learned in grade school. Although the two railroads had agreed to meet somewhere in the western US, it literally took an act of Congress to actually get the tracks to meet. Instead, the two companies laid miles of track in opposite directions through the area, sometimes within sight of each other! Wikipedia has a pretty good summary and pretty much agrees with what we were told when we visited.
At the visitor center, replicas of the two original trains make demonstration runs. These runs often occur daily but the schedule varies seasonally. We planned our visit to coincide with the runs, since seeing the trains in operation was one of the highlights of being there. The trains don’t actually run at the same time, as the same engineer and fireman operate both trains. At the end of the second run, the trains are parked nose-to-nose in front the observation area, making for a scene that is reminiscent of the original, albeit with people wearing much more modern clothes today!
In addition to the trains, there is an auto tour route that traces a portion of the original railroad bed. The tracks are long gone, but there are places where the road travels through cuts made in the terrain to accommodate the tracks. In some areas it is easy to see both sets of parallel rail beds within sight of each other. Especially noteworthy is an area where 10 miles of track were laid in one day, in response to an unofficial challenge between the two crews to see who could reach the meeting place first.
Promontory is practically in the middle of nowhere in Utah, which makes it really out there! It was worth the time and effort, however. And it gave us a great way to document our visit to the state of Utah for our quest toward all 50 states!
For anyone wishing to see more photos, I have created a photo gallery on my Adobe Portfolio website.