Wandering the West
May 14, 2008
On a quick trip to Southern California last week I saw the future and it isn’t pretty. Gas station after gas station had posted prices that started with the number four. And they didn’t want four dollars for premium or diesel only. The prices started at four and went up from there. I remember when gas passed a dollar and it was a shock. I remember when and where I was when I first saw gas hit $2 a gallon (Beatty, Nevada, April, 1999, $2.05). It seems like it hit $3 yesterday, and now $4 is the big-city price, and it is probably just around the corner here.
It’s now at the price point that Utah commuters are finally willing to loosen their grip on the wheel and hop on Utah Transit Authority buses, light-rail trains, and the new heavy rail line called FrontRunner. Ridership is way up in the past six months. None of this is very relevant here in Summit County, where mass transit is confined to buses in Park City and the run out to Kimball Junction. But it does open new gas-efficient possibilities for amusing yourself on the Wasatch Front.
When FrontRunner opened a few weeks ago, we hopped aboard at the Intermodal Hub (transitspeak for the new depot behind the Rio Grande Depot where light rail, UTA buses, Greyhounds, Amtrak and FrontRunner all come together). FrontRunner train cars are two levels, with comfy seats allowing ample legroom. From the hub we headed north (the hub is the terminus for now a southern line comes later) to Ogden. The trip took about an hour, with six stops along the way. On a good day you can get to Ogden faster by car on I-15, but in bad weather or bad traffic the trip can be frustrating and take far longer than an hour. And by train there’s no stress, and no gas consumption. You can watch the scenery (such as it is with refineries and junkyards) go by or hop on your computer as the trains have wireless Internet.
Ogden is a great, overlooked Utah destination. The fact that you can get there by train from the Intermodal Hub makes it all the better. When you get off in Ogden (at its Intermodal Hub), you’re just a block from historic Union Station. This station, and the Ogden rail yards, used to be the epicenter of rail transportation in the West. My father-in-law was one of thousands who rolled through Ogden on a World War II troop train. Family lore tells of how Art Murphy and his fellow thirsty travelers were let off the train to wet their whistles in 25th Street’s many bars, but were quickly hustled back to the train for a sudden departure. Art’s beer had to be abandoned on the bar, barely touched.
Before heading to 25th Street (nicknamed Two-Bit Street), check out Union Station. On tracks outside sit Locomotive #833, a steam behemoth used in the mountain states; postal and hospital cars; and the 2002 Olympic Cauldron Car that hauled the Olympic Flame cross-country before our Games. Inside are three more museums: the State Railroad Museum, with a fantastic model train layout where several trains chug through familiar western landscapes; the John M. Browning Firearms Museum showcasing the guns made by four generations of Ogden’s Browning family; and the Browning-Kimball Classic Car Museum.
Then head up Two-Bit Street, with art galleries, antique and collectable shops, women’s fashion boutiques and a number of restaurants. The dining options are great, from sandwiches to sushi. My favorite is Roosters Brewing Company for pizzas, pastas and home brews. The City Club is a bar chock full of Beatles memorabilia. (Check out the remaining bars before committing there are still some seriously seedy establishments hanging on in what was once Ogden’s skid row.) On Saturdays there’s a farmer’s market, and other events are scheduled through the summer. (Check the 25th Street Web site.)
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Ogden is one of Utah’s most diverse (because of the railroads) and historic cities. It’s worth a visit, and the fact that you can get there the traditional way by train makes it all the better.
Free-lance writer Larry Warren has been wandering the West covering news stories for television and magazines since he landed in Utah in the mid-1970s. In this column he writes about the favorite places he goes back to when he can.
Salt Lake-Ogden (via FrontRunner): 38 miles, about 1 hour
Insider tip: Take your bike along. You can wheel it onto the train and keep it by the door, and then ride Ogden’s trail system or cruise 25th.