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Day 2 – Mon. Apr. 13th: Rocks, Tracks & Dusty Roads

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<– Day 1 –  Sun. Apr. 12th: On the Road Again, Finally | TRIP OVERVIEW | Day 3 – Tues. Apr. 14th: Winds and more Winds –>


City of Rocks National Reserve

Today’s goal was to drive from Twin Falls to Salt Lake City, which normally takes about 3 hours. I’ve traveled this route so many times that I mark my progress by familiar cracks in the road. And, every time I pass by a sign that announces the exit for City of Rocks, I tell myself I’m going to take that some day. Well, that ‘some’ day was today.

Knowing that at least some of the roads would be unpaved (turns out most were), I calculated the drive would be much longer than three hours. In fact, the drive took 9 hours, some of which included map checks, photo ops, and very short walks. I don’t advise doing this trip unless you have good maps. We lacked cell coverage for most of the day and there are very few helpful signs (not many roads either).


Today we drove from Twin Falls to Salt Lake City via the City of Rocks and lots of gravel roads.

We took off about 8am from Twin Falls and drove east on I-84, before turning on State Highway 77. We quickly found ourselves following the old California Trail, a spur taken by wagon trains that left the Oregon Trail for California.

The first interesting town we encountered was Albion. Near the entrance to the town an old and abandoned Normal School loomed eerily by the road. We weren’t a bit surprised the a nearby sign boasted how spooky the place was. However, if this is your thing, you should check out this website.


Haunted? Easy to believe.


Normal? She’s trying awfully hard to make me believe that!

When we got to the City of Rocks area, we stopped by the visitor’s center.


The ranger was friendly and helpful. She explained that travelers heading west on the California Trail found the City of Rocks a unique diversion from the long travels. Wagon trains would camp among the lower rocks. Several of the large rocks have carvings dating as far back as the 1840s.

As for rocks inside the visitors center, we didn’t find many. However, we did find this unexpected gem:


Idaho State Park poster with a Willys Wagon!

With poster and a few other goodies in hand, we left the paved-road world for gravel and dust.


I did some research on the City of Rocks, but what I learned about the place based didn’t inspire me too much, Yet, I still thought it might be a fun place, even just for camping with the kids (it’s a nice middle location between us and my kids in Salt Lake). It turns out there are plenty of camping spots, mostly for tents. And, many of the spots are in beautiful locations. Here’s one example:


I’ve climbed up a sloped rock to shoot back down at the camp site. The rock to the right is hollow and is perfect for sleeping — no text needed here. Plenty of privacy and a killer view to the left (out of the picture).

The drive into the densest-rock-portion of the City of Rocks takes you uphill and parallels a canyon of  rock formations begging to be explored. It really looked like a fun place. At one point we hiked a few hundred feet and found this cool outcropping:


This section of rocks made me think of a dinosaur spine.

On our way out of the park we continued west on the California Trail until we passed the Twin Sisters. They don’t look like twins when coming from the East, but when you look back at them their similarities are obvious.


Twin sisters from the east side


Twins looking to the east. Those look quite a bit a like.

After leaving the City of Rocks, we drove south on Junction Valley Road toward Lynn. The unmarked dirt road looked recently widened and graded. It was much better than I expected.

We’d drove 10 miles south, crossed the Utah border, and then went another 10 miles or so when we ran into this sign. 2015-04-13-transcontinental-grade3

Now, usually I tend to follow the signs. But, to me the sign didn’t seem legit. Besides, some vehicle had left fresh tracks, so there had been traffic of some kind. With no option other than to turn back and drive a couple hours out of our way, we decided to go forward. We could always turn around and go back.

It was a good thing we ignored the sign, because the road was just fine. Moreover, we only passed one vehicle and one ATV rider for the next 20 miles. So, why the sign was placed there was never clear to either of us. We eventually left the dirt roads behind, landing on Highway 30 running east.

The reason taking the closed road was important was because we’d planned to drop down onto the the old transcontinental railroad grade (originally finished in 1869) and drive that over to Golden Spike National Historic Site. Once again, if you don’t have some good maps, I wouldn’t recommend trying this.

We took a right off Highway 30 at Kelton Road, driving south straight for the Great Salt Lake. When we finally reached the abandoned Kelton Townsite it wasn’t altogether clear we were in the right place. Even my map wasn’t clear about it. Then we noticed a tiny brown plastic sign on the road that indicated that if we headed east we’d be on a National Scenic Byway. We took a chance and eventually found a couple signs that reassured us we were going the right direction.


Looking west, we are driving east on the transcontinental railroad grade.

In fact, at certain points we were driving on the original transcontinental grade. The best map we had at this point was a BLM not-drawn-to-scale map that I found on the internet.


Not the best map, but it was the best map we had of this area.

Driving the grade and imagining riding a train through the area in 1869 was fun, I was disappointed by the immense number of shotgun shell remnants on the ground and the destruction of signs (that would have been helpful to us). Here’s an example of a sign that was readable (others weren’t).


Sign used as target practice by numbskulls

Eventually we made it to Golden Spike.


Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor’s Center


However, we were disappointed to discover the trains weren’t sitting on the tracks. The park service sometimes will place two trains opposing each other just as they were when the golden spikes were ‘hammered’ into place at the commemoration of the joining of the Central Pacific with the Union Pacific. Without the trains it looked a bit empty.


The telegraph wire marks the spot where the tracks were joined. Without the trains, the scene looks pretty empty.


Thankfully there’s a wall to support her. We don’t need any damaged legs at this juncture of the trip.

When we finished with the visitors center, we headed for Salt Lake, but not before a brief stop at an outdoor rocket museum. There’s no cost to park and look at Orbital ATK rockets (formerly Thoikol I believe and post 2018 owned by Northrop Grumman).


The large rocket in front is one of the Space Shuttle booster rockets. If you look at the very bottom of the rocket you can see Ann standing underneath it.

Our last stop of the day was dinner in Salt Lake. Ann had been wanting to try Peruvian food, so we consulted YELP for the best option. We settled on Del Mar al Lago, located at approx 300 West and 2200 South. The food was fantastic! They specialize in seafood and everything was fresh and full of flavor (see menu here). We tried the Chorito Rellenos for an appetizer. It was finally diced seafood with onions, cilantro and other good stuff. Served on small spoons (see bottom pic) it was great.

We also tried the Cebiche Mixto and the grilled fish in a cheese sauce. The cheese sauce was unexpectedly fantastic (as was the grilled fish — an entire side of fish), while the Cebiche Mixto was fresh and full of different seafood. We’ll be coming back to this place on our next visit.



Tomorrow we will have breakfast with Karson and then begin our trek south. We don’t know have a specific destination. We’ll be heading through Moab and may try to visit Mesa Verde National Park, weather permitting.

<– Day 1 –  Sun. Apr. 12th: On the Road Again, Finally | TRIP OVERVIEW | Day 3 – Tues. Apr. 14th: Winds and more Winds –>


18 Comments on “Day 2 – Mon. Apr. 13th: Rocks, Tracks & Dusty Roads

  1. Idaho Todd

    Oh the old “city of rocks” trip. Yes sir, I could spin yarns of entertaining stories of my youth there. My wife and I used to fill up the old vw rabbit and go wander aimlessly around the south hills in the summers (we’ve been buddies since we were 12 years old). We loved driving up to Diamondfield Jacks then looping around through the city of rocks and ending up at Nat Soo Pah hot springs. Nice place to visit in the spring to early summer. Trees are gorgeous in the fall but mid summer is hot. You could bake a casserole on the dash! There are several locations around the area where wagons left grooves in the lava rock along the Oregon Trail. That’s pretty cool. Albion is a neat little town. That’s where my old bank, DL Evans Bank, was founded. South of town is the Pomerelle ski mountain. We used to ski there in high school and we taught both our daughters to ski there too. I love your new poster and it is a very accurate representation of a willys wagon. One piece front window says ’60 or newer and it even has the fresh air intake hole on the grill. I would like to see some original wheels though…kidding! (not really). Oh ya, sorry about the roads, pavement is still a new concept for Idaho. Promontory summit looked pretty nice or as they call it Golden Spike. Hey, if that baby is still in the ground, grab it! It could pay for all your meals, and gas, and hotels and your kids college education. Just kidding, don’t grab it, that’s stealing. You’ll spend some serious time in prison for taking from a national park. Moving on honestly, the rocket center looked awesome. Still can’t look at a SRB the same way after the Challenger. ;( Dinner looked fantastic! Would like to try that someday. Don’t forget to try some Cubby’s on the way through Lehi! Sorry such a long comment but you’re shy on updates so I have to get my ewillys fix somehow…enjoy and drive safe!

  2. mmdeilers Post author

    I hadn’t forgotten Cubby’s, but we plan to head south right away after a quick bagel bite @ Einsteins with my son. There’s a storm watch today for the mountains. It doesn’t look too bad right now, but better to get over while the getting is good.

    I figured since you grew up in Jerome that you probably knew those areas. This summer I’m hoping to get to Silver City and South Mountain. I have an account of my great great grandfather taking the stage from Winnemucca to Silver City and then down to South Mountain around 1871. What a dusty dry trip that must have been!

    We figured you’d already scouted for that golden spike in your younger days. If it was there, we knew it would be gone anyway. Did you and Chris split the spike in half and buy jeeps with your treasure? Speaking of treasure, the rumors (always rumors) are that there are still several buried treasures within the City of Rocks: I forgot to bring my shovel on this trip …. You can dig in a National Reserve, right? Wait, we’ll call it mining. Mining for stolen treasure.

  3. Joe in Mesa

    Good commentary, Todd. Not sure you need to apologize: the comments (esp. yours and Chris’) are a great aspect of the daily eWillys fix for me 🙂

    Always love hearing about the epic journeys you and Ann take, Dave. Truly epitomizes “the road less travelled” making all the difference. Of course that poster was the highlight. I want one!

  4. Idaho Todd

    Dave, don’t go digging and claiming treasures too fast. I think, at least in the state of Idaho, its now illegal to take from the ground. There used to be a great artifacts museum south of Twin Falls. I guess the fella and his wife met up with some strife with the authorities about his collection. It was closed down. What a shame. It was a great place to visit and learn about the area and the Indian cultures.

  5. Joe in Mesa

    I agree with Chris! That strategy could have funded your whole trip, Dave. I’d pay $20 (maybe $25 because of shipping and it probably needs one of those mailer tubes). Or would it need to cost more? If you made $10 per poster, times even 20 of us… or better still: 100 of us!!! And offer to sign them, of course…

    It might not be too late, Dave. Call back the visitors center and cut a deal with them 🙂

  6. Idaho Todd

    Weeeeeeeeee! Yes sir, I would buy a signed one. Matter of fact, Dave can buy 20, sign them, add 10 bucks to each, sell all of them to me, I’ll matte and frame them, and then sell and ship to all the ewillys fans. I love this country!

  7. Roy1959Cj3b

    Todd you live in one of my favorite spots. My buddy of 43 years moved to Troy Montana in 1981. I snowmobile in the Priest Lake and Troy area for years. Was going to retire there. But things don’t always work out. Everybody have good day!

  8. mmdeilers Post author

    The wagon on the poster is accurate enough that i am wondering if Pete from the Old Willys Forum (who lives in Idaho) had a hand in its design. I’ve emailed him to find out.

    That’s a good idea regarding the posters. I’ll see if I can find them on the way back home from our trip. I still have some other vintage posters left. I need to purchase some more. In fact, I haven’t advertised any of this stuff in a while. You can check them out here:

  9. Roy1959CJ3b

    Dave If you still have these two posters The Willys Jeep and The Sign of the Times. I’d like to buy one of each. Might even trade you one of Connie’s for two of yours 🙂

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