Monday, May 22, 2006

The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad

Nothing Like It In the World : The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869This summer, I've embarked on an ambitious reading campaign, mainly aimed at consuming spare time and increasing my exposure to material outside of my engineering vocation. So, far, I'm averaging a book a week, with the latest victim being Stephen Ambrose's Nothing Like It In the World : The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869.

I found it an enjoyable read. As its title would indicate, the book tells the story of the American Transcontinental Railroad, from conception to completion. Although he does get into the business aspects of building the railroad, Ambrose focuses mainly on how the men actually built the road, the logistics behind organizing and funding a vast labor army and of conquering imposing mountain ranges. He tells the story as it was seen from the men laying the track at the end of the line, from the Irish and Chinese immigrants, to the Mormon workers near Salt Lake.

Like most of Ambrose's work, I found the book well researched and easy to read. At almost 400 pages, Nothing Like It In the World can be a bit lengthy for some, and I got bogged down a couple of times wondering when the workers would just finish the railroad. The feeling didn't last long, and overall, I enjoyed learning a bit more about this fascinating piece of American history. After finishing the book, I figure it's time for another visit to the Golden Spike National Historic Site.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Visit to Arches

Delicate ArchAs one of our summer ideas this year, Heather and I wanted to go to Arches National Park in Southern Utah. After other plans fell through, this past weekend turned out to be the perfect time to go. The weather was a little warm, but not too hot, and we were both able to get Friday off of work. Plus, Heather's pregnancy is not to the point which precludes us from doing active things.

Arches National Park is just north of Moab, Utah. I have driven past it many times during the course of family vacations, but never had the chance to stop and see it. This time, we decided to make the three hour drive south and we were rewarded. We left Provo around 11am on Friday, and made good driving time. We arrived at Arches around 2pm, and stopped by the visitors' center. Finding a place to stay the night was a priority, but unfortunately, the campground in the park was full. Instead, we managed to find a lovely spot along the Colorado River just outside the park.

Campsite along the ColoradoWe spent most of Friday afternoon and evening working out way through the park, admiring the giant stone monoliths and arches. Along the way, we stopped and read all the interpretive displays which describe the process of arch formation, the kinds of rock which are currently visible and the other geologic processes at work. We ended the evening by hiking out to Delicate Arch, the unofficial symbol of Utah.

After a restful night, we again went back to the park to see more arches and formations. After seeing Broken Arch, Sand Dune Arch and Skyline Arch, we finished our stay with a hike to the extraordinary Landscape Arch, which spans over 300 feet. The sign at Landscape Arch, which is only 6 feet thick at its thinnest point, shows a picture from 1991 when a 60-foot slab of rock broke off. The arches in the park are still forming, and geologic processes continue.
Dead Horse Point

On the way home, we stopped at Dead Horse Point State Park, just a few miles out of Canyonlands National Park, and admired the views. The point overlooks a sweeping turn the Colorado River over 2000 feet below, and, according to legend, was used as a corral by cowboys in the 19th Century.

All-in-all, the trip was well needed and a great time for both of us.