As an airplane prepares to land at Salt Lake City International Airport,
a passenger glancing out a window gains a quick perspective on the valley’s
attractions. The Wasatch Mountains on the east rise from the valley
floor as if to guard the prosperous valley below. The Great Salt Lake
and its bird refuges stretch to the west. A glittering downtown filled
with restaurants, museums, and history stands on the valley’s northern
edge, almost miragelike in what was once a desolate valley.
The Mormon Zion offers many stories for those who look. This is where
Martha Hughs Cannon became the nation’s first woman state senator in
1896. It is a place that once boasted a socialist mayor, and where people
eat more ice cream per capita than in any place in the United States.
A Salt Lake City policeman invented the world’s first traffic light
and Utahn Philo T. Farnsworth invented the television.
A visit to Salt Lake City should include a mixture of the culture,
history, and natural beauty of the city. Look for a variety of beehives
on the sidewalks and in many of the buildings. Mormon leader Brigham
Young, who brought the pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, used
the honeybee as a symbol of the new state because early pioneers viewed
the beehive as a symbol of industry and the virtues of thrift and perseverance.
The beehive is on Utah’s official state emblem. Most visitors begin
with the state’s most popular tourist destination, Temple Square, in
the heart of Salt Lake City.
A stroll through the square’s manicured gardens and a tour given by
one of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) missionaries
is a good place to begin. While only Mormons in good standing are allowed
inside the granite temple itself, there is plenty to see, including
the Mormon Tabernacle, two large museums, an Assembly Hall, and the
Make a point of getting inside the Tabernacle. A bridge builder, Henry
Grow, designed its famous roof by resting huge wooden arches on top
of 44 cut sandstone buttresses. The arches, beams, and supports were
pinned together using wooden pegs and rawhide thongs. Since that time,
a metal suspension system has been added to reinforce Grow’s work, and
the roof of 400,000 wooden shingles has been replaced with aluminum.
Plan on listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform inside the
Tabernacle to get the full effect of the famous choir, the enormous
organ, and the incredible acoustics.
The original organ featured 2,000 pipes. The present organ includes
11,623 pipes made of wood, zinc, tin, and lead. It has five keyboards
and a 32-note pedal board. “It took five men to operate a hand-pump
mechanism for the original organ in Salt Lake Tabernacle,” says Glen
M. Leonard, director of the Museum of Church History and Art. “Sometime
before 1875, this mechanism was modified for use with a large water
wheel installed in the Tabernacle basement and powered by City Creek,
which ran along North Temple Street.”
There is much to see and learn about Utah while visiting Temple Square
and the surrounding Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “campus.”
This area is to Mormons what the Vatican is to Catholics. A new 21,000-seat
conference center, located just north of Temple Square, is worth seeing
if only to enjoy the flowing waterfalls and gardens on the roof. For
one of downtown’s best views, ride the elevator to the 26th-floor observation
deck in the white Mormon Church office building, the tallest structure
in the city. (For more information on tours
If you are curious about the Mormon’s practice of polygamy, you can
ask the tour guides at the Lion House, Brigham Young’s original residence.
It was home to a handful of his wives and children. Mormons in good
standing do not believe in or practice plural marriage. Polygamy delayed
Utah’s entrance into the United States until 1896, about the time the
Mormon Church’s then-president and prophet, Wilford Woodruff, banned
polygamy. Still, pockets of believers living in the Salt Lake area and
in more rural parts of the state call themselves fundamentalist Mormons
and practice polygamy. A recent crackdown on the practice continues
to make big news both nationally and locally.
Join our tour at the Family Search Center in the basement of the Joseph
Smith Memorial Building and get started researching your ancestors by
here for more information.) If you get hooked, you can
find more help and family history at the Church’s Family History Library
located just west of the Tabernacle. The library includes two billion
names, 400,000 microfiches, and 250,000 books.
Visitors to the city often marvel at the width of the streets. One
legend has it that the Mormon leader made them wide enough to allow
a team of mules to turn around without backing up. Young laid out the
city as a grid with the Mormon Temple at its center, making wayfaring
easy. Most streets in the city run north-south and east-west. They are
numbered according to their direction and distance from the southeastern
corner of Temple Square. Thus, the first street to the south of Temple
Square is First South. The street five blocks east is Fifth East.
A light rail system called TRAX links downtown Salt Lake with the suburbs
to the south and the University of Utah to the east. You may ride free
in the downtown area. The Salt Palace, site of the ASEE convention,
sits central to major shopping areas and a budding restaurant and nightclub
district. Conventioneers using the 365,000-square foot convention facility
named after an earlier pioneer-era building can walk to 90 restaurants
and three major shopping areas. What’s more, engineers might be interested
to note some of the convention center’s quirks. For example, the world’s
top roller coaster company—located in Utah—built the curved metal trusses
that hold up the ceiling. The major entrances, lit up at night, are
designed to resemble salt shakers. And windmills built on the West Temple
side of the building are designed to play chimes inside the street’s
entrance when the wind blows even slightly.
The Salt Palace offers good access to the ZCMI and Crossroads Malls,
sitting across from each other on Main Street. Both feature food courts
for a quick lunch. The newest addition to the Salt Lake City scene is
the Gateway, a 30-acre shopping, restaurant, and entertainment district
filled with upscale shops and restaurants. The Gateway is the newest
kind of mall in that visitors walk along wide outdoor sidewalks on two
levels. The Clark Planetarium, located at its southern end, features
state-of-the-art computer technology found in few other places in the
world. It also houses the state’s only IMAX theatre. Retail staples
such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap are here. So is a two-story climbing
wall inside the Galyan’s Sports & Outdoor Adventure store.
The Olympic Snowflake Fountain, a favorite of photographers during
the 2002 Winter Olympics, sits on the northern end of the Gateway. Playful
jets of water shoot from the snowflake-shaped fountain, accompanied
by music on the half-hour. Take time to watch kids of all ages frolic
in its dancing waters. Also consider a look at the murals inside the
Union Pacific Railroad Depot Building. They are original to the depot
and depict the colonizing of Utah. The depot, once bustling with folks
waiting for the train, now hosts social functions and partially houses
a Virgin Records Superstore. Ever since the Mormons came into the Salt
Lake Valley, it has been a cultural oasis. During late June, for example,
those attending the convention might want to see the Broadway Touring
Company production of ‘Phantom of the Opera” at the historic Capitol
Theatre, a renovated vaudeville gem that makes a perfect place for falling
chandeliers. To reserve tickets, log on at
Although a library might seem like a different kind tourist attraction,
engineers should take a gander at Salt Lake City’s new city library.
Completed in 2003, the library was designed by architect Moshe Afdie.
The six-story glass wall of the library was designed to resemble the
Roman Coliseum. It features, among other things, a three-story fireplace
and atrium lined with shops.
BEYOND THE CITY
There are dozens of hiking and mountain-bike trails leading up the
canyons of the Wasatch Mountains. In fact, trails that lead up City
Creek Canyon or along the foothills of Salt Lake City are all within
a two-minute drive from downtown.
Plan to attend the ASEE picnic at the Place Heritage Park and the “Old
Deseret Town” on Sunday, June 20. (For more information,
Heritage Park commemorates where Brigham Young looked out the back
of a wagon where he lay ill and declared that “this is the right place.”
A large monument honors the small band of 143 men, three women, two
children, 70 wagons, one boat, one cannon, 93 horses, 52 mules, 66 oxen,
and 19 cows that entered the valley on July 24, 1847, as well as the
mountain men and Catholic priests who came before them.
The town of “Old Deseret” is located across from the monument. During
June, volunteers dressed in period costumes bring the daily hardship
the pioneers faced to life. Historic buildings from throughout the state
have been moved here, including the home where Brigham Young’s farm
wives and children lived. Young chose this valley for his followers
because he believed that if they could have 50 years of isolation, their
church would survive. They had 20 years until the railroad came in 1869,
but it is obvious things went well when one looks from the foothills
at “Old Deseret” below at the city’s modern skyline.
Hogle Zoo, the state’s largest, is located south of the heritage park.
Visit Red Butte Gardens and Arboretum to gain another perspective of
the city. On the University of Utah campus, the gardens highlight native
Utah plants as well as drought tolerant plants from throughout the world
in brilliant displays of color and fragrance. Outdoor evening concerts
are given here throughout the summer.
No trip to Salt Lake City is complete without a drive up one of Salt
Lake County’s canyons. Each canyon along the Wasatch Mountains is actually
a distinct geologic story. For example, the I-80 freeway winds down
Parley’s Canyon past red sedimentary layers of the Jurassic and Little
Cottonwood Canyon shows granite once molten hot inside the Earth. This
granite was quarried to build the Salt Lake Mormon Temple.
The fact that these mountains provide the city’s precious water has
meant that development of homes and resorts in the mountains has been
limited. The ski resorts of Brighton, Solitude, Alta, and Snowbird,
however, claim real estate in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. If
you question your legs’ ability to hike the 9,000-foot plus mountains
of the Wasatch, a ride up the tram at Snowbird is an easy and breathtaking
way to savor the view from the top.
To the west of Salt Lake City lie the Great Salt Lake and the Oquirrh
Mountains. In the Oquirrh Mountains lies the world’s largest open pit
copper mine, Kennecott which is visible from space. A visitor center
at the mine describes its operation, while outside, house-sized trucks
carry ore up the spiral of the ever-deepening pit. How big is the pit?
It is twice as deep as the world’s tallest building and is nearly two
and a half miles wide. It and the Great Wall of China are the only man-made
structures visible from space.
The Great Salt Lake collects water from throughout the Great Basin.
It is salty sometimes because there is no outlet to the sea from the
lake and the salts carried by its tributaries stay in the lake. Fluctuating
lake levels have frustrated attempts to develop tourism around the lake.
However, there are two great ways to experience this wonder of the world.
Take a lunch or dinner cruise around the lake hosted by Salt Island
Adventures. Chances are you will be the only ship on the lake. Or, visit
Antelope Island State Park. Plan a day to hike the island and float
in the salty waters off the picnic beach. The heavy salt content makes
swimmers more buoyant than in normal water. Floating in the Great Salt
Lake with its feathery orange brine shrimp is one of those lifetime
experiences that everyone should have. But don’t be surprised if your
body and head become encrusted with salt. (For more tour information,
Salt Lakers love to eat out, and there is no limit to dining choices.
Downtown visitors need only walk the area from 400 West to Main Street
and South Temple to 500 South to find a sampling of the city’s best
dining. (For the restaurant guide, click
here.) Nightlife in Salt Lake City is thriving despite
Utah’s quirky liquor laws. Visitors to clubs must become members so
they may order drinks but that is easy to do. Port O’Call, Squatters,
and the Red Door are among the most popular watering holes downtown.
Salt Lake has come a long way from its pioneer beginnings. Skyscrapers
define the skyline. Suburbs spread along the Wasatch Front. And yet,
visitors to the city can see what the original visitors, the Mormons,
saw. The Great Salt Lake still provides wide-open spaces to the west.
The Wasatch Mountains still inspire, shade, and refresh all who venture
up their canyons.
Gayen Wharton is a freelance writer based in Salt
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.