Population = 190,884 (part of the SLC-Ogden-Provo Metro area with 1,153,340), elevation 4,280 feet, average January low temperature = 26.7, Average July high temperature = 90, average sunny days = 222, annual snowfall = 50.7”, annual rainfall = 11.4”, air quality index = 10.3, water quality index = 68, comfort index = 66 (indexes run 1 – 100, higher being better)
The highway from Boise to Salt Lake City leads through the broad, flat, and to my mind, desolate Snake River Plain. The farms run out, the towns run out, vegetation runs out, even phone poles run out. Not the middle of nowhere, but on a clear day you can probably see it from there. Eventually, the mountains start to close in; the Sawtooth range to our right, the Wasatch on the left. The Sawtooths soon drop off and there seems to be a haze over the landscape. Great Salt Lake? We’ll get a closer look later. Up ahead though, we are seeing snow capped mountains springing into view with tall buildings gathered about their toes.
Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young and his group of Mormons, who were looking for a place to practice their religion freely. Drill down into Wikipedia for the history and beliefs of the Mormons; it is a strange and fascinating story. The city is built around Temple Square, the heart and source of the city. The Square contains the Temple, Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, Visitors Center, and several other museums and offices.
The Temple rises tall and stately out of the Square but can only be entered those with a temple recommend. A detailed model of the interior in the Visitors Center reveals much of the interior detail to the public. This a unique building with many symbolic features.
Of course, we had to visit the Tabernacle. The exterior of this building has a plain metal roof, making the whole look like a hockey arena. Inside, the decor is simple and elegant. What is amazing is the acoustics. Our first visit was for a organ recital and the organ master demonstrated by turning off the microphone then ripping a pice of paper. From about 150 feet away, it sounded like it was at arm’s length. He continued speaking while turning around and his voice sounded the same whether facing toward us or away. Then he launched into a medley of classical and original works on the massive pipe organ. By the time he launched into the uproarious finale, the place was rocking and my bones were rattling, awash in an encompassing flood of sound and energy. Whew!!
Later in the week we went back to the Tabernacle again to listen to the Choir practice. Conductors aways seemed to me to be mere figureheads, glorified musicians waving little sticks to keep everyone on beat. During the practice session though, this guy would single out and correct parts of the orchestra or choir on tone, pitch, or pronunciation. He knew exactly what everyone up there should be doing and was coaxing it out of them, little by little. Finally, satisfied with the piece, the full orchestra and choir, 340 voices strong, ran all the way through it and blow the roof off the Tabernacle. To be there for that is not to hear it, but to be carried away by the storm of it crashing around and over your body.
The rest of the city is laid out in relation to Temple Square, in an odd system that takes a while to get used to. Let’s say you want to go to Fiddler’s Elbow for a buffalo chicken pizza. The address is 1063 East 2100 South. To break that down: 2100 South is a street that runs East and West, 21 blocks South of the Square. 1063 East would be between 1000 and 1100 East streets, which run North and South, 10 and 11 blocks East of the Square. Got it?
Salt Lake City is also the capitol of Utah. The Capitol building lies just North of the Square, on a hill with a commanding view of the city. It is another example of the marble palaces that politicians love to build for themselves. This one is beautifully decorated with paintings and colorful marble detailing.
We were advised that the Great Salt Lake was hardly worth the trip, but we had to go see it anyway. Interstate 80 runs about 20 miles West from the City until it hits the shoreline. Or what used to be shoreline. Several years of drought has moved the waterline back about 500 to 600 yards or more. The lakeside park we stopped at was practically vacant.
Our next foray was a lot nicer and much greener. The Red Butte Garden and Arboretum lies on the East edge of the city, at the end of a canyon. This is a classic garden where the plants are arranged for beauty and neatly labelled. Many of the species have been adapted by the scientists at the U of U to grow here. The paths meander through areas dedicated to medicinal use, fragrance, and herbs. One especially beautiful area has a rose garden surrounding a courtyard where wedding are frequently performed. Just down the hill is an amphitheater where big name bands give concerts.
Marylu is a big fan of cathedrals so we had to go and see the Cathedral of the Madeleine. This is the only Cathedral in the USA under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene. It was completed in 1909. To me, it is a great example of the ornate style of architecture that so many Catholic structure encompass. Love the stained glass. Kind of an interesting counterpoint to the relatively understated decor of the Mormon temples.
Salt Lake City is a big city with everything a big city could want; art, culture, food, scenic beauty. It runs a bit hot for me in the summer. And it has strange laws. Beer on tap, for instance, can be no stronger than 4% ABV. To get stronger, you have to buy it in the bottle. Sorry, that does not make any sense to me. The lawmakers lean to the right around here, but there seems to be a lot of counter weight to the left around the city and away from the Square.
Next up: Crossing the Rockies