Snowville, UT, is located off an unassuming truck stop exit along I-84, about 110 miles north of Salt Lake City. I glided into the Earp and James Hitching Post RV park, pulling my ATC travel trailer with my 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally secured inside. This type of moto hauling is new to me and much more luxurious than my past trips, when I hauled all my gear on the bike and slept in dirt wheel ruts. My good friend, John, arrived soon after me carrying his historic 1994 Honda XR250 on the back of his SUV.
Go West, Young Man
The transcontinental railroad and the unique geology of southern Idaho had lured us to this charming RV park within earshot of I-84. Late June is wonderful here with cool morning temperatures and modestly warm afternoons. The low 40s chill outside created little motivation for me to come out from under the pile of wool blankets. Once John awoke, he found his way to the trailer which was 60 degrees inside—much warmer than his SUV. During breakfast, we discussed routes and logistics along with the lingering threatening clouds.
Flawless navigation is overrated so we, of course, came to a locked gate within a few miles of camp. But, thanks to John’s sharp map reviewing, we had a Plan B—a quick spin down I-84 to the next exit. Hansel Valley rolled out in front of us with near perfect gravel roads, scattered ranches, green fields, and far off views of Great Salt Lake.
Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, a trip “out west” from Independence, MO, was no easy feat. After loading a wagon and hooking up oxen, you’d walk the 2,400 miles over four to six months, crossing 10 states following the Oregon or California Trail. When the transcontinental railroad opened, the trip could be done in just over four days.
East of Promontory Summit, we stopped at the Last Cut to view the final grading work that was done during the railroad construction. As we learned, the Union Pacific Railroad built west from Omaha, NE, and the Central Pacific Railroad started in Sacramento, CA, building east. The two rail lines ultimately connected at Promontory Summit. A short pathway took us to the overlook with a view of the rail cut along with the piles of rock that had been blasted, broken up with picks and chisels, loaded in mule-drawn carts, and transported to the edges of the rail grade. The rock piles still looked like Chinese and Irish laborers had just recently built them, even though it’s been more than 150 years.
Despite our late start, we arrived at the Golden Spike Historical Park just in time for the Golden Spike celebration. During the event, replica Union Pacific and Central Pacific steam locomotives came together as they did on May 10, 1869. A small crowd observed and clapped. Interestingly, this part of the Transcontinental Railroad did not last for long. In 1906, a causeway was constructed across the Great Salt Lake, eliminating this nearly 50-mile northerly loop.
Motorcycles & Gear
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally
1994 Honda XR250
Today, this rail bed makes up the 90-mile Transcontinental Railroad Backcountry Byway and our goal was to explore as much of it as possible. Numerous kiosks along the byway describe former construction camps and key accomplishments during the work. Riding through some of the loose sandy soil, I avoided something in the road that looked like a rail spike. After the second one, I turned around and, sure enough, there was one in the middle of the road. It was much smaller than the spikes used today.
Not A Lick of Shade
After hiccups in yesterday’s planning, like leaving camera batteries in the trailer, the second day felt much more organized. The crisp morning air and blue skies made for some wonderful riding. We arrived at Locomotive Springs and resumed our route west following the edges of the salt marshes.