We decided to take a few days in Ketchum and its neighbor Sun Valley to rest, recuperate and write. A resort for the rich and famous (and now us) since the 1930s, it still is a major ski resort with expensive houses and condos and better than average restaurants.
But as it is in our nature never to go anywhere in a straight line, we went via Promontory, Utah – a town that no longer exists – Twin Falls and Jerome, Idaho. The last stop was simply because Alie’s mom was born there 101 years ago. We were pleased to see it is doing better than when we stopped in 2000 with her mom. On the other hand, the newspaper where her mom became publisher in 1930 is now gone although the building still stands. Cargan women were pioneers, liberated long before the women’s liberation movement.
We went to Promontory because that is where the “golden spike” uniting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads was driven on May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad. It was truly responsible for the “opening of the west.”
Promontory was just a “hell on wheels” construction town, which is why it ceased to exist after the railroad was completed. Today, the area is part of the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
The two railroads were competing to get the furthest along they could before they met. Some things have always been the same: because Congressional leaders and railroad owners could not agree on a meeting point, both railroad’s grade builders built beyond the meeting point and you can still drive on the old Central Pacific roadbed and look down at the Union Pacific roadbed.
Like most federal sites, there was a good film about the building of the railroad. But what really caught our imagination was the arrival shortly after we stopped of the recreation/restoration of Locomotive Number 119. It steamed in on a siding close to the visitors’ center, backed up and steamed in facing the restored Locomotive Jupiter.
Every photo of the historic moment was in black and white, but of course for such an occasion, the locomotives would have been brightly painted and decorated as
they are today. We saw the engines, we saw one of them running, and we had an interesting talk with a locomotive fireman who had been in a machinist in the aerospace industry subject to its ups and downs when he saw an ad for this job; he wasn’t a train buff, but thought it would be a fun job – and it is.
Not far down the road, we came to a huge ATK facility. I didn’t recognize the name ATK, but it turns out it was created when Honeywell spun off its defense businesses. Later the company acquired Hercules Aerospace and Thiokol. Honeywell, which merged with AlliedSignal in the 1980s, is now back in the aerospace and defense businesses.
This particular site builds solid propellant rocket motors. They had a nice display including the huge motor used in the space shuttles (looks like a rocket itself). While we were there, they had a fire drill, so we got to talk to some of the employees.
Just short of Twin Falls, we stopped to see Shoshone Falls (the twin falls). Although a small hydroelectric dam was built above the falls, it did not detract much from the beauty of the city operated park. The water was a “mid” level but was still high enough to be beautiful. Later in the year, it is often almost dry as most of the river is diverted for farming and hydroelectric uses. Nearby was the spot Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River.
We were intrigued to learn porous lava in the area soaks up rain and snow to create an aquifer deep under the ground the size of Lake Erie. It is this aquifer that supplies much of the water for famous Idaho potatoes.
Between fifteen and two thousand years ago, this was a “hot spot” in the earth’s crust often opening to volcanic eruptions. The latest eruptions were within the memory of today’s Shoshone Indians’ ancestors and are part of tribal lore. The hot spot has now moved on to Yellowstone National Park.
There were a lot of cars at the visitors’ center, but we think most people just looked at the exhibits, watched the films; saw a little bit of the lava flows on a loop road, and moved on, probably also to Yellowstone. There were some vigorous souls hiking back trails and going into the lava tube caves. But for the most part, we had the short trails to ourselves and found a picnic table back a side road under one of the few large trees around – it was beautiful.