The Union Pacific met the Central Pacific at Promontory Summit in 1869, tying America together by rail, and you’ve gotta wonder if one side didn’t stall a little to make sure they finished in lovely Box Elder. The county was already dotted with all kinds of natural beauty (3 soon-to-be-designated national forests and binoculars-full of migrating birds, for instance), and plenty more attractions have been added since the Golden Spike hit home.
Pomp, circumstance, railroad executives, a polished laurel railroad tie and an engraved golden spike (or two) converged on May 10, 1869 for what’s been called one of the first national media events. Then this site of so much symbolic significance was slowly undone as the Golden Spike and laurel tie were taken to museums in California; a new, shorter rail line was built across the Great Salt Lake, rendering the Promontory section obsolete; and the original rails were claimed for the war effort in 1942.
National interest only returned after WWII. The line was reconstructed, replicas of the original Jupiter and 119 locomotives began reenacting the event (see it yourself every May 10 and throughout the summer) and a museum and visitor center were built when the site came under federal administration to display this remote little section of Utah’s great big moment in U.S. history.
Who knew that four 22-ton concrete pipes in the middle of Utah’s west desert actually have a purpose? Nancy Holt did. That’s why she collaborated with engineers, astronomers, pipe manufacturers, drillers, truck drivers, and others to create one of the most fascinating art and astronomy exhibits you’ll ever see. Holt says that her beloved tunnels bring the sky down to earth. Visit during the summer or winter solstice for the most dazzling displays, but really any old time to experience this wonderful oddity.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
If birding were a metaphorical hero’s journey, the Bear River Bird Refuge would be the monk at the top of the mountain who has been expecting you, who speaks your name before you’ve even introduced yourself. Maybe you didn’t even know you’d end up here when you began with nothing but a pair of binoculars and a dream. But the Refuge knew, because the Refuge always knows. And what it knows is this: You didn’t invest in this floppy hat and field guide and church whisper just to sit around and not see the avian promised land. So what are you waiting for? Onward to winged victory.
We recommended Willard Bay to our boating friends who are just bird-watching, treeloving, animal-calling weirdos at heart. It’s not only a great place to take the boat; you can spend an entire weekend underneath the tall-stretching cottonwood trees and stars. If you’re constantly deleting Facebook because you want to get away from it all but then re-downloading it because you have too many awesome bird photos to share, Willard Bay is for you.
Northrop Grumman Rocket Garden
If you’re going to visit Golden Spike and the Sun Tunnels, tack this onto your agenda. It’s a real blast. Northrop recently acquired ATK, which used to make the rocket booster for the space shuttles back in NASA’s heyday as well as missiles for the Department of Defense. To show off their work, they’ve established a rocket garden outside of their facility that’s free to the public and contains a shuttle booster and a patriot missile among other things we hope we never have to use. Doesn’t take long to see everything, but you may harvest a few memories from the experience.
Pro Tip: If you get hungry, we recommend Maddox Steakhouse, Peach City Ice Cream, Idle Isle, and Bert’s Café. Yes, you should eat at all of them.