Situated in a basin between the snow-covered Wasatch mountain range to the east and the Great Salt Lake to the west is Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah. Its scenic backdrop frames a pleasantly spacious and hassle-free city that is surprisingly down-to-earth for a growing state capital.
The vast salty wasteland that ultimately became one of America's prize cities was originally picked out by a band of Mormon pioneers who were searching for a quiet spot where they could follow their faith undisturbed by the world. Led by Brigham Young, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the followers surveyed the desolate-looking valley of the Great Salt Lake basin and declared it to be the peaceful haven they had been seeking. 'This Is The Place' Heritage Park commemorates the site where they ended their trek, named after the famous words uttered by Young in 1847. To this day the city is dominated by the Mormon influence, with more than 40 percent of the population belonging to the Latter-Day Saints. Visitors come to listen to the singing of the exceptional Mormon Tabernacle Choir and to see the fascinating Temple Square that is the spiritual headquarters of the Mormon faith and the heart of the city.
Despite being steeped in religious tradition, Salt Lake City is rapidly emerging as one of the foremost business locations in the country, attracting large numbers of high-technology firms and software corporations, and a favoured venue for major corporate and professional conferences and conventions. The city is also growing in reputation as an outdoor recreation centre. Throngs of outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the nearby mountains where world-class skiing is offered at top resorts, as well as miles of stunning mountain trails for hiking, biking, and rock climbing. Salt Lake City is also within a day's drive of numerous national and state parks, rivers, forests, and canyons, offering endless opportunities for outdoor recreation.
The four-hectare (10-acre) Temple Square complex includes the Mormon Temple, the Tabernacle, and the Assembly Hall. It is at the heart of Salt Lake City, in location and spiritual importance, and the symbolic epicentre of the Mormon religion or Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. Temple Square is the city's biggest attraction, particularly the majestic six-spired Temple, topped by a golden statue of the Angel Moroni, which forms a striking silhouette on the city's skyline.
The Temple was completed in 1893 after 40 years of heavy labour and the expenditure of millions of dollars. It is a holy place closed to the non-Mormon public. Confirmed believers may enter the Temple, but only for the most sacred of religious ceremonies, and non-Mormons can learn about temple activities at the visitor centres. The Tabernacle is home to the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, whose weekly rehearsals and organ recitals are open to all free of charge, and illustrate the outstanding acoustics of the Tabernacle building. The Gothic-style Assembly Hall, constructed from granite left over from the Temple, is the venue for concerts and lectures. The two visitor centres, North and South, contain religious murals and paintings, exhibits, and presentations about the Mormon faith, a film depicting the arrival of the first Mormon pioneers in Salt Lake City, and photographs of the Temple interior.
Modelled after the national Capitol building in Washington DC, the Utah State Capitol sits on a hill above the city, a prominent sight surrounded by acres of landscaped gardens. The building was designed by Richard K.A. Kletting in 1914, and was ahead of its time as the plans included reinforced steel, lifts, and extensive use of natural light. Memory Grove, to the east of the building, contains statues honouring Utah veterans, and the grounds are a favourite destination for joggers and walkers.
The impressive granite structure of the Capitol building is crowned by a copper dome and fronted by columns, representing one of the greatest examples of the Renaissance Revival style in the nation. A colossal chandelier illuminates the interior walls that are covered with murals illustrating Utah's history. Several busts proclaim the state's prominent figures, including Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon pioneers who founded Salt Lake City. Marble staircases lead to the third floor where the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court of Utah are based. The state legislature meets in January and February and visitors are welcome to sit in the galleries overlooking their chamber. Visitors can choose to wander through the building alone or join a guided tour.
Devoted to objects connected with history, the Pioneer Memorial Museum is crammed with photographs, furniture, textiles, toys, and a doll collection from the daily lives of the pioneers that have been painstakingly collected by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. All four storeys are full of relics of Utah's history, including personal effects of Mormon leader Brigham Young. Among the artefacts are paintings by famous Utah artists, guns, quilts, flags, furniture, books, clothing, samplers, medical and dental tools, coaches, a 1901 fire engine, sewing implements and much, much more. Many of the artefacts come with stories about the original owners that the museum attendants will be happy to enlighten visitors regarding these histories.
The museum collection is said to be the largest collection in the world focused on one subject. A short film is shown every half hour. Residents of Utah are encouraged to come to the museum, to research their family history with the help of museum attendants.
Situated on eight acres of land in Liberty Park, the Tracy Aviary, founded in 1938, is the oldest bird sanctuary in the United States. The space is a wonderful 'urban oasis' among the hustle and bustle of downtown Salt Lake City. Home to more than 400 well cared-for birds, with 135 species, including bald eagles, flamingos and hawks, the aviary is popular with visitors of all ages, bird-lovers or not.
With daily shows, including flight demonstrations given by professional handlers, pelican feeding, and a special showcase featuring iridescent little birds of the Amazon basin, it is not hard to see why the Tracy Aviary is consistently voted one of Salt Lake City's premier tourist attractions. Some of the permanent displays are Destination Argentina, the Kennecott Wetland Immersion Experience, the Southern Ground Hornbill Exhibit, and the Owl Forest. Visitors can get up close and personal with the birds through free-flight encounters, feeding, keeper talks and pelican encounters. The aviary is a big supporter and promoter of conservation, and offers opportunities to teach visitors and to contribute to conservation efforts.
The climate of Salt Lake City is fairly extreme, with a low annual average temperature of around 52°F (11°C), and a high of 90 °F (32.2 °C). Between November and April snow is common, with snowstorms moving in from the Gulf of Alaska. In mid-winter temperature inversions cause pollution and fog to hang in the valley for up to weeks at a time. Spring is the wettest season with numerous rain showers, but summers are generally hot and dry, with occasional monsoons during August and September, which can bring thunderstorms, tornadoes and flash floods. Autumn is also prone to rain, and very variable temperatures.
The Utah Transit Authority provides extensive public transport coverage in Salt Lake City by means of a light rail system called TRAX, and an excellent bus service. One-day passes are available for use on both TRAX and the city buses, and there is an extensive Free Fare Zone for both forms of transport downtown around Temple Square. A one-way fare is $2.50, and a day pass costs $6.25. During the winter a ski bus connects the city to nearby ski resorts. Metered taxis are freely available throughout the city and can be hailed on the street or ordered by telephone. Self-driving in Salt Lake City is fairly straightforward as the city is designed on a grid system with wide streets and a freeway system connecting the suburbs and surrounding areas.
It may have been founded, and still largely exists, as the headquarters of a devout religious community, but anyone who enjoys a holiday in Salt Lake City will attest to the fact that it is not all about conservative Mormon tradition. While the spiritual can be uplifted by the voices of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Temple Square, it is also possible to have an indulgent meal in a top restaurant, and a rip-roaring night on the town. The city welcomes those travelling for business, and is a popular destination for conferences. Of course, Salt Lake City is also in a beautiful scenic setting with winter sports and summer trails on the doorstep. The famous ski resorts of Utah, including Deer Valley and Solitude, are just beyond the city. Even the ruggedly beautiful state parks of the south are only a few hours away by car.
Those planning some sightseeing in the city should consider buying the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass, which allows discounted access to about 13 top attractions, saving tourists between 50 and 80 percent on admission charges. The Connect Pass can be purchased online.
Outdoor enthusiasts travel to Salt Lake City in summer, between June and August, to head for the nearby hills and hit the hiking trails. Winter sports enthusiasts' holiday in Salt Lake City between December and February, when the snow is thick on the mountains providing world-class skiing at a number of top resorts.
This huge, shallow lake is thought to be the second saltiest body of water in the world after the Dead Sea, and is several times saltier than the ocean as well as rich in minerals. Floating weightlessly in the water of the Salt Lake is one of the main attractions of the region. However, although this natural wonder is worth seeing, the facilities are somewhat limited. The Great Salt Lake State Marina has a beach at one end and boat launching ramps, but there are seldom boat rentals available. The northwest arm of the lake contains a work of land art by Robert Smithson, called the spiral Jetty that only becomes visible when the lake's water level sinks below 4,197.8 feet (1,280.2m) above sea level.
Great Salt Lake has been declared a World Heritage Bird Sanctuary due to the numbers of migrating birds that are attracted to the brine flies and brine shrimp that survive in the saline waters. Antelope Island is the largest of the lake's ten islands and can be reached either by boat or by a causeway, offering excellent picnicking, hiking, and camping opportunities. The island also boasts a herd of American Bison, introduced in 1893, and other interesting animals such as coyotes, bobcats, deer, and a small herd of elk. Early mornings along the shore of this vast expanse of water can be extremely beautiful.
The Dinosaur National Monument straddles the border between Utah and Colorado. The reserve was created to preserve the layers of rock in which Jurassic Era dinosaur skeletons and bones were found embedded at a site in the Utah section of the Monument area. In 1909, an exposed sediment riverbed was found to contain layers of prehistoric plant and animal fossils. A quarry went into operation on the site, where full dinosaur skeletons were discovered, as well as fossilised remains of sea creatures up to three times older than dinosaurs were excavated. A visitor centre has been built over the quarry to protect the fossils. Forming one of the walls is an exposed rock layer containing more than 2,000 dinosaur bones that have been enclosed as a permanent exhibit.
Although the quarry is often the main reason for visiting the Dinosaur National Monument, the area also contains acres of some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the north, with colourful sandstone cliffs, deep river canyons and forests, a number of scenic hiking trails, unique wildlife, and thrilling white water rafting on two of the Colorado River's fast-flowing tributaries.
The holiday destination of Park City is famous for its three world-class ski resorts: Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley, and The Canyons. Together they form one of the USA's largest ski areas. The Canyons resort features eight mountains, 146 trails, and 3,500 acres of diverse terrain, suited to every style and ability. Deer Valley Resort contains thrilling chutes and bowls, and caters for everyone, from families to individual ski and boarding champs. Lessons and child care are available. From deep powder bowls to long groomed runs, gentle beginner slopes to steep chutes, four world-class terrain parks and the 2002 Olympic Superpipe, Park City Mountain Resort has something for everyone.
Park City was a former silver mining town in the 19th century. Its Main Street is a restored historic district that adds a different dimension to the character of the town, which is now home to stylish condos and the state's most sophisticated resort community. Main Street is lined with quaint shops and galleries that make for very satisfying browsing. The town has a wide variety of shopping opportunities, everything from handmade furniture, books, and art collectibles to brand-name bargains in a factory outlet mall. Sportswear, particularly ski-gear, abounds. Each of the three holiday resorts in the town also have their own shops for visitors.
Park City contains a plethora of restaurants, at least 100 of them, catering everything from fast food to haute cuisine, budget to bank-breaking, steak to sushi. Despite Utah's rather stringent liquor laws, there is no problem having a well-oiled night out in Park City, with more than 20 nightclubs and bars. Most operate as private clubs and visitors may purchase temporary membership for a nominal fee. Apres-ski is just as lively a party here as anywhere else in the world.
Solitude Mountain Resort, located 30 miles (about 50km) southeast of Salt Lake City, is one of the smaller, quieter ski resorts in Utah, and is popular with families on weekend getaways. Situated in Big Cottonwood Canyon, in the Wasatch Mountains, the resort's slogan, 'Refined by Nature', highlights its incredible natural beauty. As far as skiing is concerned, Solitude caters mainly to the beginner and intermediate markets, with 70 percent of its slopes being graded at these levels. Solitude contains about 64 trails on 1,200 acres, a wealth of high-quality lodging, shopping and dining facilities, and has consistently been voted in the top 20 family ski resorts in the USA.