For many western snowbirds, U.S. Interstate 15 is the most direct route south, especially for those heading to Arizona. And I-15 cuts right through Utah (and the state capitol, Salt Lake City) making its way to Nevada and on. But, for those who want to spend some time in Utah, it will be time well spent; and that is the reason for this “blogue” entry.
Beautiful – is it not? The photo is of the Delicate Arch, prominent in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, (some refer to the park as the “Holey Land”). Moab is about a four hour drive from Salt Lake City.
We arrived in Utah with some trepidation some twenty years ago, and left with much reluctance eight years later. Our reluctance is perhaps easy to understand. There is the beauty of the state, highlighted by a disproportionate number of state and national parks (there are 6 national parks in Utah; more than any other state; and some of which I will come back to); a climate that features lots of sunshine, with mild winters and hot summers; fascinating cultural characteristics; and people who are quick to offer their friendship.
Here are some facts about Utah:
- More than 60% of Utah’s 3 million plus residents are of the Mormon faith – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
The State of Utah has profound religious underpinnings, having been settled in the late 1840s by Mormon pioneers. The church patriarch was Joseph Smith, but it was Brigham Young who led the Mormons to Utah. Brigham Young established Salt Lake City and its environs, and entrenched the LDS Church in business and in the government of the State.
- The Great Salt Lake, slightly northwest of the capitol, is four times saltier than the world’s oceans. Were you to completely boil a quart of water from the Lake, a cup of salt would result.
- Utah residents most often refer to themselves as “Utahns,” not “Utahans” as dictionaries might suggest.
- After Nevada, Utah is the sunniest state in the U.S., with more than 300 days of sunshine annually.
- Utah has more plastic surgeons per capita than any other state, and Salt Lake City has more than any other U.S. city. The results were quite visible, according to my sons during their visits.
- Utah is known as the “Beehive State,” a moniker that is attributed to the early Mormon settlers – productive workers who regarded themselves as the “hives of industry.”
- Utah has the highest consumption of Jello in the U.S., and as such, Jello is the State’s official snack.
- Utah has some quirky liquor laws. Alcohol is purchased in State stores, although 3.2% beer is available in supermarkets (except on Sundays). Downing a 6 pack of 3.2 beer might give you a slight buzz. (Thankfully, 3.2 beer may soon disappear). In 1998, upon arriving in Salt City City, I was unable to order an alcoholic beverage without first ordering a meal (if you were a member of a private club, the need to order food was waived). Many of the liquor laws were loosened prior to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games held in Salt Lake City. That being said, I found that Utah bars and restaurants are still home to the world’s smallest martinis – just enough gin to cover an olive. Nothing like these. Two are just right, by the way …
- The State bird of Utah is the California Gull. In the late spring of 1848 as farmers’ crops were maturing in the Salt Lake Valley, swarms of insects (referred to as “Mormon crickets”), began to devour anything in their paths, only to be thwarted by swarms of gulls. The crops were saved; the gull is revered.
- Above is the seagull statue in Salt Lake’s Temple Square.
- Polygamy was banned by the LDS Church in 1890, as a condition for gaining statehood. But it is estimated that 40,000 polygamous marriages remain in the state, mainly among fundamentalists who have broken away from the LDS Church. I can say from personal experience that a visit to a local Costco will prove that polygamy is still quite visible. One guy, seven wives, three carts.
- In May 2000, the town of Virgin, Utah, passed a law was that required every homeowner to keep and maintain a firearm. Exceptions to this law included, “the mentally ill, convicted felons, conscientious objectors and people who cannot afford to own a gun.”
- Love this photo. Robert Redford and Paul Newman as the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. Their real names were Harry Longabagh a.k.a. Sundance, and Robert LeRoy Parker as Butch. Harry and Robert headed a gang known as the “Wild Bunch,” specializing in robbing trains and banks. Apparently the pair met their fate in Bolivia, as the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” would suggest. Great movie, and wouldn’t be the same were the title “Robert and Harry.” The movie, of course, spawned the Sundance Movie Festival held each year in Sundance, UT and Park City, UT. Upon reflection, how cool are these guys?
- In Utah, the town Levan lies pretty much at the centre of the state. “Levan” is “navel” spelled backwards. “Ylleb Nottub” obviously would not work.
But back for a moment or two to visit some of the treasures of Utah:
That is Zion National Park in the foregoing. Spectacular. A short distance from St. George, UT, which in itself is a winter getaway from Salt Lake City. In January, Salt Lake City Utahns take the four hour trip to St. George to enjoy the 60 to 70 degree F weather, as we often did. On one occasion we stayed at the “Seven Wives Inn,” a bed and breakfast across the street from Brigham Young’s winter home.
Brigham Young led a caravan of pioneers west and, upon seeing the Salt Lake Valley, according to legend, proclaimed, “this is the place.” The date was July 24, 1847, and the 24th is a date that is celebrated in Utah each year as “Pioneer Day.” Following the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young had taken on the presidency of the LDS Church. Smith had published The book of Mormon in 1830, but was killed in 1844. Young headed the LDS Church until his death in 1877. There is much to the life of Brigham Young worth researching, and I will leave that to your own curiosity. But among other accomplishments, Brigham Young was a husband to 55 women. Which has led me to wonder; were there 54 local guys who went through life wifeless? Were they left wandering aimlessly through the Utah desert in search of marital bliss?
OK. While you ponder that … here is Bryce Canyon National Park. Famous for its formation of “hoodoos.” Also spectacular and just 5 hours from Salt Lake City.
Utah has a National Basketball Association franchise dubbed the Utah Jazz. Jazz itself has no real underpinnings in Utah. The Jazz were relocated from New Orleans (which is all about jazz) in 1979. The Jazz have had some good years, but never good enough to win an NBA championship. But Utah is a basketball crazy state, and the Jazz are sold out – always.
A higher percentage of Utahns are married than any other state in the country; but Utah has a higher divorce rate than average in the country as well. It has the youngest population in the U.S. and the highest birth rate.
Utah has one the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S., and I can tell you from personal (albeit, professional) experience, that Utah had one the highest rates of consumption of anti-depressant drugs (this from data several years back).
Above is the Mormon Tabernacle in Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake. A must see while in Salt Lake City. The Tabernacle is famous for its choir, and for hosting the semi-annual general meetings of the LDS Church.
Below: Canyonlands National Park. A mere four an half hours from Salt Lake City. Close to Moab. The landscape was carved by the flow of Colorado and Green Rivers. Certainly worth getting off I-5 for a few hours.
That’s Butch on the left, with Sundance.
Then there are Steve Young, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, who is a great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young; Loretta Young, movie star of the 30’ and 40s and an Oscar winner (and best seen in “The Bishop’s Wife,” with Cary Grant); Billy Casper and Johnny Miller, former professional golfers; Robert Redford (actually born in California, but lists Sundance, UT as his home); Roseanne Barr (enough said); and Donnie and Marie Osmond, toothsome brother and sister act, and still wowing them in Vegas (and enough said).