Facebook Page
Golden Spike 150 - Day One

Adventurers in Utah for Spike 150

 Promontory Summit - 150 years later

A Sesquicentennial

Chapter One

Afton Canyon Train

 Nevada Southern Railway Museum, Bolder City

Drive the Northshore Road, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

 and Valley of Fire State Park

May 2, 2019



Robin Bowers

Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent

Comments are appreciated


    The month of May is ordinarily not chosen as a month for the National Railway Historical Society to hold its annual convention. But one day in May holds a special place in the hearts and minds of train enthusiasts and history buffs. It was the day our nation had the first transcontinental railroad completed. A person could now travel from sea to shining sea in several days instead of several months as in the past.

    On May 10, 1869, two locomotives - Central Pacific's Jupiter and Union Pacific  No. 119 - pulled up to the one-rail gap left in the track. After a golden spike was symbolically tapped, a final iron spike was driven to connect the railroads. Central Pacific had laid 690 miles of track, Union Pacific 1,086. They had crossed 1,776 miles of desert, river and mountains to bind together East and West.

    So it was decided that the 2019 NRHS annual convention was to be held in "The Beehive State" so to participate and witness the festivities of  a 150 anniversary celebration.

    Both Chris G. and I were excited about making a trip for the 150 celebration and going to Salt Lake City. Chris would take a one week vacation plus two more days off work and be able to make the trip. Our first day would start on Thursday, Friday and then the next week, returning on Sunday night so he could be back at work on Monday.

    This morning would find me packing the last bag, making sure the apartment was secure, and the refrigerator made ready for a ten day absent. I drove over to Chris's house but was delayed by big accident in the HOV lane on the northbound 55 freeway. After arriving I parked in his driveway and packed my bags in his car to start our journey. We made our way east to I-15 and headed north to Las Vegas and then on to Salt Lake City. I-15 is very busy northbound on Friday nights to Las Vegas and then southbound Sunday afternoon. By leaving on Thursday we hoped to avoid the northbound traffic but coming home on Sunday night be busy but unavoidable.

    We had left Barstow, CA and were about half way to Baker, when Chris spotted a eastbound train near Manix so we got off at Afton Road exit. Thirty five miles east of Barstow is the Afton exit south. After driving south three miles on a graded dirt road, we passed the Afton Campground. From there it was about another three miles to Chris' unsuspected photo spot. We climbed a slight hill and waited.





Union Pacific 7464 East passes by our location at the west end of Afton Canyon.


    Afton Canyon's surface water makes it unique in the southern California desert. Known locally as "The Grand Canyon of the Mojave" for its dramatic geological formations, this is the only place where the Mojave River flows above ground year-round - providing significant riparian (riverbank) wildlife habitat amid the desert. Since prehistoric times, the natural bounty created by this water source has made Afton Canyon a focus for living things. Dense willows and cottonwoods shaded the river, and thickets of mesquite produced bean pods for food. The ponds, marshes and streams provided habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species.




From here we drove back to I-15 and continued north pass Baker and onto our first stop on this trip at Boulder City.


Located along I-15 near the California and Nevada state-line.


The Ivan Solar Farm in Prim, New.

Boulder City

    "The town that built Hoover Dam" sprang from the Mojave Desert in 1931 when a site was needed to house the thousands of Depression-era workers constructing the concrete behemoth on the nearby Colorado River. Aiming to keep the crews and project on schedule, gambling and alcohol were outlawed within the city limits. This is still one of only two Nevada cities that prohibit gambling.

    Hoover Dam is along SR 172 about 8 miles northeast of Bolder City. Soaring 726 feet high (about 60 stories), this curved wall of concrete is one of the highest dams ever constructed. It's also a hugely popular day trip from Vegas, and with good reason. The Depression-era engineering marvel (built 1931-35) sits in Black Canyon, a ruggedly dramatic Colorado River chasm that's home to the dam, its mega-wattage hydroelectric power plant and a visitor center/tourist complex with all the bells and whistles.

    After my mother graduated from nurse's training (1935), one of her first positions was as a private duty nurse to a rancher returning home to Montana from Ohio. One of their stops was in San Diego where she fell in love with California. Another stop was at Hoover Dam, under construction, that she said it was amazing to see with all the workers and the huge size. Two of the most memorable occurrences of her trip, she related.



Union Pacific GP-30 844.


Train consist ready for next trip of excited passengers.


Pacific Lumber 2-8-2 35.




Jackass & Western L-2, GE-25 Ton.


Union Pacific 2-8-0 264.


Union Pacific United States Railway Post Office car.





Union Pacific caboose WP 449.





bolder rr


DYRX F-40PH 231.


NSRM H12-44 1855.






Passenger cars.






    As I was finishing up taking my photos, the site manager approach on his electric cart. I thanked him for the great display he had here at the museum. Told him we were on our way to SLC and the Spike 150 activities. He said some of the locals were disappointed that their railroads were not asked to participate. Guess they weren't on UP's "A list." I notice that they had calendars on sale and asked the manager that I would like to get one if it was convenient as everything was closed and locked up. No problem he said, and walked over to the ticket office, open the door and there close by and handy was my calendar. After I made my donation to the cause, I had my new calendar. Then Chris walked up said he was finished and asked if I was ready to leave. Yes, I was satisfied with my shots and ready to go. We drove over to a near-by A&W stand. It was 2:30pm and hungry so I had a hamburger, fries and for sure - a root beer float. Good, Good. As we travel across country, we try to stop at an A&W when we see them.

    I have visited Boulder City twice before - in the late 60s. Once alone and the other with a brother and we were camping at the rim of the Grand Canyon. I remembered going to a drug/souvenir shop where in the back of the store there was a small theater and we watched old new reels and historic photos on building the dam. Also remembered the lone empty main street, a sleepy little town several miles from the highway. I was disappointed that could not spend more time here and see how many or if any memory's from 50 years ago could be reconnected.

     We also put fuel in the car and then we were off on our journey. From here we headed to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

    Lake Mead, extending behind Hoover Dam, is 110 miles long, averages 200 feet deep at normal capacity and has a 550- mile shoreline. Due due to recent drought conditions, the lake's surface elevation is 1080 feet (1,229 feet is considered a full pool).

    As I forgot to bring my America The Beautiful Senior Pass, we had to pay the entrance fee and then began our drive on Northshore Road. This road would take us to the entrance station to Valley of Fire State Park. Along the way we passed several picnic areas and overlooks around the lake.


Lake Mead.






Northshore Road.







The north end of Lake Mead. From here we drove into Valley of Fire State Park.

Valley of Fire State Park

    Valley of Fire State Park is a public recreation and nature preservation area covering nearly 46,000 acres located 16 miles south of Overton, Nevada. The state park derives its name from red sandstone formations, the Aztec Sandstone, which formed from shifting sand dunes 150 million years ago. These features, which are the centerpiece of the park's attractions, often appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun's rays. It is Nevada's oldest state park, as commemorated with Nevada Historical Marker #150. It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968.

    Valley of Fire is located 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, at an elevation between 1,320-3,009 feet. It abuts the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the east at the Virgin River confluence. It lies in a 4 by 6 mi basin.


    Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape. The rough floor and jagged walls of the park contain brilliant formations of eroded sandstone and sand dunes more than 150 million years old. Other important rock formations include limestones, shales, and conglomerates.


    Prehistoric users of the Valley of Fire included the Ancient Pueblo Peoples, also known as the Anasazi, who were farmers from the nearby fertile Moapa Valley. Their approximate span of occupation has been dated from 300 BC to 1150 AD. Their visits probably involved hunting, food gathering, and religious ceremonies, although scarcity of water would have limited their stay. Fine examples of rock art (petroglyphs) left by these ancient peoples can be found at several sites within the park.

    The creation of Valley of Fire State Park began with transfer of 8,760 acres of federal land to the state at Nevada in 1931. Work on the park was initiated by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. During the years of their employment, which continued into the early 1940s, the CCC workers built campgrounds, trails, stone visitor cabins, ramadas, and roads. The park opened in 1934; it achieved official designation by the state legislature in 1935.


    The Valley of Fire State Park has a dry and warm climate typical of the Mojave Desert in which it lies. Winters are mild with daytime temperatures ranging from 54 F degrees to 75 F degrees and over night lows in the mid 30 F degrees to mid 40 F degrees Storms moving east from the Pacific Ocean occasionally bring rain during winter months. Daily summer highs usually range from 100 F degrees to 115 F degrees and on occasion may reach near 120 F degrees. Thunderstorms from the Southwestern Monsoon can produce heavy showers during summer. The average annual precipitation is 6.50".

Valley of Fire Road

    Valley of Fire Road is the main road accessing and traversing through the park. The 10.5-mile section of the road between the east and west entrances of the park was officially designated as a Nevada Scenic Byway on June 30, 1995.

Activities and amenities

    The park has a visitors center plus facilities for picnicking, camping, and hiking. Petroglyphs are seen throughout the park, with Mouse's Tank and Atlatl Rock two areas in particular with numerous petroglyphs that are relatively easily accessible. The park also preserves three stone cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Our Visit

    We drove by the east gate then stopped to take some pictures.













   Seven Sisters.





We went to the Visitor Center as they were closing and paid the state park entrance fee. We then drove the White Domes Road with stops along the way.













End of White Domes Road Scenic Route. Sandstone formations with brilliant contrasting colors, picnic area, and a 1.25-mile scenic trail with a slot canyon. White Domes is a 5.5-mile (20-minute) drive from the Visitor Center. After we parked, I started down the scenic trail but only proceeded some several hundred feet due the trail being thick sand. It was very tiresome to walk far. Beach sand and desert sand seemed no different.



After cutting my hike short, I returned to the parking lot and met up with Chris and then we drove back through the park to the east entrance with a several stops along the way.









After exiting the park, we went north on Highway 169 through Overton, where the Union Pacific still has an active branch line. and then on to I-15 northbound.



Highway 169.


Arizona rocks.


After going through a slip of Arizona, shortly we were in Utah and on our way to tonight's stop in Cedar City.


Snow on Utah mountains.

After arriving in Cedar City, we stopped to refuel the car, then a stop at Subway for a sandwich to eat later in the motel room for after checking into Knights Inn.

California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah all on our first day. A good and busy day.

Thanks for reading.

Next Chapter - Tooele, Salt Palace and Bingham Canyon Copper Pit.

Return to Table of Contents

Return to Home Page

Very Fast Return to Top

Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent.

Comments appreciated at ....