Explore Geology
geology fieldnotes title

Golden Spike

National Historic Site


cover of park brochure

park geology subheading
Two trains meet at the site of Golden Spike National Historic Site
Golden Spike National Historic Site, Utah

"Westward. . .
For generations, the edge of the American frontier had moved inexorably westward - over the Appalacians, into the valley of the Ohio, through the Cumberland Gap, into the bluegrass of Kentucky, and on until it reached the valley of the Mississippi. And there, for a time, it stopped, banked up against the edge of the North American interior, a high, semi-arid, treeless plain slowly rising to meet a series of seemingly impassable mountain ranges..." - Barry B. Combs

An expedition, led by Major Stephen Harriman Long, in 1820 traversed the wilderness in the middle section of the North American continent. Upon return of the expedition, it was concluded that the center of the country was "The Great American Desert." This name, albeit extremely inaccurate, stuck around for another 40 years after the expedition. This drove the pioneers of the day to push further westward to the fertile valleys of the west coast in present-day Washington, Oregon, and California. The continent was divided into two sections, separated by over a thousand miles of sparsely populated prairie. Trade across this wide expanse of land proved difficult and during that time, products had to cross the Isthmus of Panama or make the long trek south around Cape Horn.

Inevitably, the idea of a transcontinental railroad was in the heads of many the forward-thinkers of the time. In 1850, the Committee on Roads and Canals of the U.S. House of Representatives decided that the idea of the railroad connecting east to west was a worthwhile one and put federal support behind it. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies were established and from there began a race to the meeting point, yet undetermined, where the two lines would connect east to west. The Central Pacific began on January 8, 1863 in Sacramento and the Union Pacific broke ground in Omaha on December 2 of the same year.

The construction process for both companies encountered many difficulties. The Central Pacific had to acquire all their materials via the sea - including tools, rails, bolts, and rolling stock. The railroad also had to bypass the Great Salt Lake in its path. It was predicted that building the rail line near the lake would be problematic because of the possible flooding of the lake and thus the railroad. This prediction eventually played out and fortunately the railroad was left unscathed. During construction, the Central Pacific were able to use railroad ties that were from the Sierra, the Union Pacific had to import railroad ties throughout most of the construction process, until the line reached the Black Hills of Wyoming. In addition, bad weather, lack of labor, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, steep gradients, mountain passes, and vast expanses of land where resources were scarce added to the struggle towards completion of the railroad. Initially, the progress of the railroad construction was about one mile of track per day, but as labor availability increased, in the form of Chinese, Irish, and Mormon workers, the productivity grew topping out at 10 miles in one day on April 28, 1869 - the record held by the Central Pacific company. Photo of the sign that marks the record of 10 miles of track in one day

Golden Spike National Historic Site marks the location where the final connection of the two railroad lines occured on May 10, 1869. Ceremonial spikes were sent from California in order to complete the job. Three dots on the telegraph signaled to the nation that the railroad was complete. 1,776 miles of iron connected the east to the west and greatly increased the westward expansion of the U.S. The National Monument is located northwest of Salt Lake City close to the Promontory Mountains.

park maps subheading

The General park map handed out at the visitor center is not available.

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo album for this park can be found here.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.

Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading

For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for any park-specific geology education programs or activities.

General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/gosp/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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