This site is near where workers drove the last spike which completed the railroad between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Los Angeles, California. It was driven on January 30, 1905. This was the last “transcontinental” line to Southern California and one of the last lines built to the Pacific Coast. There was no formal celebration at the time of the last spike. The men on the spot gave some recognition to the event.
Las Vegas owes its existence to the railroad, then known as the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, as the men in charge laid out the town and established a division point there, taking advantage of a good supply of water.
Located at N 35.82381 W 115.28747
Nevada State Historic Markers
Another historic marker about the same thing located nearby, from what I can tell at the actual location is this one:
The Last Spike
Track crews constructing west from Salt Lake City met track crews constructing east from Los Angeles January 30, 1905.
The Yellow Pine Mining Company Railroad, a historic marker in Jean, Nevada.
Built in 1911, the Yellow Pine Mining Company Railroad was a twelve and a half mile long narrow-gauge railroad connecting the town of Goodsprings to the Union Pacific Railroad here at Jean. The railroad was built from material purchased from the defunct Quartette Mine Railroad in Searchlight, Nevada. The Yellow Pine Mining District covered the area around Goodsprings and the Sandy Valley area. The primary ores mined were zinc and lead. Other mines produced gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, vanadium, molybdenum, nickel, cobalt, and uranium. The district went through several booms and busts, and be 1930 the railroad was out of business. The rails were torn up in 1934, but the right-of-way can still be seen along the road between Jean and Goodsprings.
The first automobile road to connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas was the Arrowhead Trail Highway. Planned, promoted and built beginning i the second decade of the twentieth century, this was one of the named interstate highways of the Good Roads movement. The Arrowhead Trail Highway eventually connected Los Angeles, across the desert to Las Vegas, and then north to Salt Lake City. The road was later numbered Highway 91, and parts of the road are now part of Interstate 15. The final route of the Arrowhead Trail Highway entered Nevada at today’s Primm, and followed a dirt road to Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, it became Fifth Street, and later Las Vegas Boulevard. You can still follow the 1920s route from Jean through Las Vegas, by taking Las Vegas Boulevard from here.
At the west end of West Wendover, NV in front of the city building and next to Wendover Will is a little area with many historic markers, signs and plaques.
Some of what you can see there is listed below.
Transcontinental Telephone Line
On June 17, 1914, AT&T erected the last of some 130,000 poles at Wendover, and the wires were spliced, joining more than 3,400 miles of telephone line. This splice connected the first telephone line from the East Coast to the West Coast across the United States. The completion of the first trans-continental telephone line was accompanied with little fanfare. The last splice was made, flags were placed on the cross-poles, and photographs were taken. (more on this page…)
Ancient Lake Bonneville
Lake Bonneville was a large ancient Pleistocene-era lake that existed about 32,000 to 14,000 years ago. For thousands of years, Ancient Lake Bonneville was contained by mountains acting as natural dams, occupying the lowest closed depression in the eastern Great Basin. The largest area covered by the lake was more than 20,000 square miles, about 325 miles long, 134 miles wide, with depths of just over 1,000 feet. (more on this page…)
Historic Wendover Field
The history of the Wendover Field began when the United States Army designated the area near the town of Wendover as an additional bombing range. Though isolated, the area was well suited to fit the needs: the Western Pacific Railroad served the area; the land for the airfield was located near virtually uninhabited areas of the Great Salt Lake Desert in western Utah and eastern Nevada; the generally excellent year-round flying weather allowed safe and frequent training flights for aircraft. (more on this page…)
Vegas Vic is the smaller twin to Wendover Will, both completed in 1952 and both greeting people from Nevada Casinos. In 1980 Vegas Vickie joined Vegas Vic on Fremont Street in Las Vegas and in 1981 River Rick was erected at the Pioneer in Laughlin.
The high, symmetrically shaped mountain seen rising to the north is Pilot Peak, named by John C. Fremont on his expedition of 1845. Previously, the Bartleson-Bidwell party camped here in 1841. These emigrants had traveled one day and night across the Great Salt Lake Desert to find their first water here.
In the period 1845-1850, the peak was a famous landmark and symbol of hope and relief to the Reed-Donner Party and all other wagon train pioneers who traveled the 70-odd miles of deadly, thirst-and-heat-ridden steps across the Great Salt Lake Desert. This desert represented the worst section of the infamous Hastings Cutoff of the California Emigrant Trail.
Imagine Lake Bonneville some 10,000 years ago as a cast lake larger than the present Great Salt Lake. Its eastern boundary would be the Wasatch Mountains at Salt Lake City and its west boundary the Toano and Goshute Mountains to your left.
The last major glacial period in North America began about 23,000 years ago. During that time the water level of Lake Bonneville rose because of colder temperatures and a wetter climate. This freshwater lake was over 1,000 feet deep and covered 51,530 square miles – an area the size of Arkansas. If you were standing in this spot 15,000 years ago, you would be more than 500 feet underwater! Pilot Peak, the pyramid shaped mountain in front of you, was merely a small island surrounded by a freshwater lake teeming with fish.
About 15,500 years ago, water rushing through a break in a natural dam along Lake Bonneville’s northern shore dropped the lake level over 300 feet in just a few months! These raging floodwaters deepened the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. A warmer and drier climate over the next 5,000 years slowly caused the lake to shrink even further. Look carefully at the surrounding hills, especially east toward Wendover. You can still see the beach terraces left at the different high water marks as the lake receded. The Great Salt Lake is all that remains of this once vast lake.
Can Anything Survive Here?
Summer temperatures in this high desert can exceed 100 degrees; winter temperatures may fall below zero. Rain and snowfall total a mere six to eight inches per year. Only drought tolerant plants such as Indian ricegrass, shadscale, and greasewood can grow in the valley around you. The jackrabbit and pronghorn antelope are just two of the many animals that have adapted to living in this harsh environment.
This area wasn’t always a desert. Limber pine trees covered the Leppy Hills to the east from 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. As the climate became drier, pinyon pine and juniper trees replaced the limber pines at the lower elevations. Pinyon pines are relative newcomers to the surrounding mountains. They didn’t arrive until about 7,000 years ago. Today, limber pine and subalpine fir grow only at the higher, cooler and wetter elevations on Pilot Peak and nearby mountain ranges. Animals you might encounter in these forested areas include bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk and mountain lion.
In the fall thousands of raptors (birds of prey) migrate south along this valley. The Great Salt Lake Desert’s lack of food, water and lifting air currents form a migration barrier for these birds. Food, water and roosting sites are easy to find in the Toano and Goshute Ranges. Air rising over these mountains to the west provides the lift these birds need to soar. Conserving energy by soaring as much as possible during their long journey is a key to their survival.
Tough Traveling in the Desert
The Bidwell-Bartleson wagon train was the first emigrant party to see Pilot Peak in 1841. Four years later, Captain John C. Fremont also saw this distinctive landmark, but from the Cedar Range in Utah – some 75 miles away. He wanted to establish a trail from the Great Salt Lake to the existing California Trail along the Humboldt River. Fremont sent Kit Carson, a member of his expedition, ahead towards this peak to scout for a safe passage across the salt flats. Carson’s smoke signals from the mountain assured Fremont of a safe route and that the area contained food for the livestock and water for all. To recognize the importance of this mountain in crossing the desert, Fremont named it “Pilot Peak”.
In 1846 the Reed-Donner Party crossed this valley, following the Hastings Cutoff to the main California Trail. Crossing the salt flats just east of here was extremely difficult. Stock animals perished, wagons broke down, and the emigrants barely reached the life-saving springs at the base of Pilot Peak. This “short cut” slowed their progress and helped to set the stage for the disaster that lat 400 miles ahead of them in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
As travelers today along Interstate 80, you’re following the same route as these early explorers and emigrants. On a good day, they worked hard to cover 10 to 15 miles through this harsh landscape. In the comfort of your air conditioned vehicle, you can cover in 10 minutes the distance it took these earlier travelers all day to cover!
Wendover Will has been greeting travelers to Wendover since 1952. His name comes from the founder of the State Line Hotel and Casino, Mr. William “Bill” Smith, who started the State Line Service, a cobble stone service station, on the Utah/Nevada border in 1926. Prior to Wendover Will arriving, visitors were greeted by a shimmering light atop a tall pole that provided a signal of sorts to weary travelers crossing the Great Basin Desert, that they were within reach of this small but important oasis on Highway 40 called Wendover. With gaming legalized in the State of Nevada in 1931, State Line Service grew into the State Line Hotel & Casino, a company which until its sale in 2002 to the Wendover Nugget Hotel & Casino, was on record as the single longest held gaming license in Nevada. As this growth took place, in 1952 after 26 years that light atop the pole was retired making way for what has become a community and State icon, Wendover Will.
Wendover Will was constructed and erected by Young Electric Sign Company out of Salt Lake City, Utah, who has been providing electric and other signs services since 1920. At the time Wendover Will was created, his smaller twin “Vegas Vic” was also completed, who today stands adjacent to Las Vegas’ famous Fremont Street. Wendover Will made the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s largest mechanical cowboy”. At the time he stood some 63 feet tall, had 1,184 lineal feet of neon tubing with his two large waving arms powered by a single 3/4 horsepower motor, his eye winking and cigarette flicking. The original pedestal of Wndover Will proclaimed proudly “This is the Place” “Where the West Begins”.
Wendover Will through time proved to become not only an icon of the State Line Hotel and Casino, but as well became an icon of the community itself. When West Wendover, Nevada was incorporated in 1991, Wendover Will took a prominent position in the creation of the City Seal which proclaims proudly “Come Grow With Us”, a true reflection of the original light atop a pole and later the waving arms of a towering mechanical cowboy, welcoming all to this desert oasis.
Wendover Will was given to the City of West Wendover by Wendover Nugget Hotel & Casino in 2004 and now he once again stands tall representing to all, the heritage of our community as “this is the place”, “where the west begins”.
This monument is hereby dedicated in loving memory to two important founding members of our community, William “Bill” and Anna Smith.