Week 46.1: Salt Lake City
In mid-may we traveled southeast from Twin Falls, headed for Salt Lake City. It was a long day’s drive, but for once, we didn’t mind the distance. We were finally in Utah! The Promised Land of our road trip, mountainous Utah is home to five national parks, numerous state parks and national monuments, and – indisputably, in our opinion – the most beautiful scenery in the continental United States.
We spent a month in Utah, beginning in mid-May, and we took a lot of photos – a whopping 8,633, to be exact.* It’s a mind-blowing place, and we are pretty excited to finally get to share it with all of you. In fact, 11 of our next 13 blog posts are about national parks – so stay tuned.
* Heather deals with all the photos for our blogs (Jake does the writing), so… sorry, dear.
The drive to Salt Lake City is absolutely stunning, in every direction. The city sits on a broad plain, but it’s surrounded by mountains, especially to the east. Of course, being Utah rookies, that’s exactly where we had made reservations to stay. We didn’t realize it when we booked our site, but our campground – located in nearby Park City – was at more than 6,100 feet! Salt Lake City is only at about 4,000 feet, and there was a LOT of vertical climbing to get up to our spot. Luckily, our RV made it just fine, and we got to enjoy staying in a beautiful Utah state park, one of the nicest we had seen since Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico.
We took a day trip down from the mountains to visit Salt Lake City, the last large city we would see for two months, and we actually came away pretty impressed. The city itself is clean and pretty, with lots of trees for shade and intentionally wide streets. There were a lot of people on bicycles – always a good sign – and even some hipster types, with piercings and tattoos and beards. That was a little surprising to us, because Salt Lake City is the center of the Mormon world, and they are a particularly clean-cut group. If you didn’t know, Utah is something like 98% Mormon – primarily because nobody else wanted to live in what used to be an unforgiving desert.
As the headquarters of Mormondom, there is a lot of work and money put into the city. It’s particularly concentrated in and around the Mormon Temple, a beautiful series of structures with exquisite landscaping. Some areas were off-limits to us heathens, but frankly, the outside was pretty enough to satisfy. And we weren’t the only ones who liked it – we counted at least six wedding photo shoots in the half-hour we were there.
We had planned to tour inside the Tabernacle, a round dome with perfect acoustics. Jake visited as a child, and vividly remembers sitting in the back seats and hearing a pin drop on the altar. However, we got a little scared off, and never went in. See, every tour comes with a recruitment pitch, and, well… Heather isn’t great at saying “no.”
We’re happy with our current religious status (and we like alcohol and caffeine), so we skipped out on the tour. With some time to kill, we instead headed out to the beach. The Great Salt Lake isn’t the ocean, but it’s as close as you’re likely to find in the interior of the country – big, blue, and briny.
There wasn’t a lot to do there, though, so we headed back into the mountains. We spent a few hours touring Park City, a classic ski town. This is where the 2002 Olympics were held, and while the Olympic Village is now just big box stores and coffee shops, many of the athletic facilities still exist. Unfortunately, the Olympic Park was still closed for the season – we were there one day early! – so we didn’t get to try out any of the attractions, like the zip line that runs down along the ski jump ramps (!!). D’oh!
Stymied, we drove over to the older part of Park City. It was actually quite cool – or, in what we can only assume is the local parlance, “chill, brah.” There were lots of charming little shops, and the whole area reminded us of a Swiss ski town named Zermatt we visited a few years ago. There weren’t a lot of people around yet, but we found something better than people: a brewery serving real beer!
If you’ve never been to Utah, you might not realize how exciting this is – even in bars, beer sold in Utah is typically 4.2% alcohol (or lower) by law. Drinking a glass of the good (read: strong) stuff while relaxing on a mountain patio was a rather nice way to finish the afternoon.
As a bonus, as we walked back to our car, we found some street art, courtesy of the one and only Banksy! We were amused (but unsurprised) to find it protected by glass and a metal frame.
That was pretty much it for our first visit, but our tour of Utah was a big loop, and we returned through Salt Lake City a month later. We had originally planned to go back to the Olympic Park, but the vagaries of RV campsite reservations left us north of SLC, in Ogden. We took advantage of our new location to visit Antelope Island State Park, a large island in the Great Salt Lake connected by a causeway.
The island was beautiful. It’s surprisingly mountainous, and many locations offered striking views of the water and Salt Lake City. We intended to hike up to the peak at the center, but… it was hot. Really, really hot.
So, we cut our hike short to go wildlife watching. A herd of bison roams free on the island, and they are fun to photograph.
While we were watching and taking photos with our zoom lens, we got to see a real Planet Earth moment. A coyote came out of the brush and approached one of the young bison, obviously hoping for a snack. However, a full-grown bison noticed and charged full-steam at the coyote, which wisely retreated back into the brush. You can see this below – the coyote is the blotchy grey spot in the lower left.
The coyote wasn’t going home empty-mouthed, though, and it trotted over to a different part of the herd, prowling around while two bison eyed it. It was hard to see what happened next, but the coyote must have found a bird’s nest in the tall grass, because suddenly some birds started swooping at the coyote aggressively! Unfortunately for the birds, the coyote didn’t seem too bothered, and we’re guessing it ended up with some eggs or chicks for dinner.
Good for the bison, good for the coyote, bad for the birds. Nature can be rough.