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A land of extremes, Utah holds a special appeal for outdoor enthusiasts, encompassing a wide variety of landscapes and fascinating geological formations that offer unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation. Most of the state is situated on a plateau above 4,000ft, but the elevations rise and fall spectacularly across snow-covered mountains and deep river canyons.
The most dramatic sights have been formed by the forces of nature, creating ruggedly beautiful, multi-coloured canyons, eroded rock sculptures, red desert plains, forested mountains, and snow-capped peaks. Southern Utah has five breath-taking national parks, including Zion and Bryce Canyon, which draw the most visitors.
The Anglo settlement of Utah began with the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake area in 1847. Today more than 70 percent of the population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, congregants of which are known as Mormons. The Mormon heritage defines the state's modern culture and the region has a strong church influence, with emphasis on family values and a notoriously strict attitude regarding the drinking of alcohol. But the people are friendly and unpretentious, the crime rate is low and there are many beautiful places to visit.
Salt Lake City is a modern metropolis regarded as one of the top business environments in the country, as well as being the spiritual hub of the Mormon religion, home to the sacred Temple and the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Its proximity to the Wasatch Mountains makes it a popular base for winter and summer outdoor recreation, and nearby resorts like Park City, Sundance and Snowbird offer superb powder snow and Olympic-class skiing.
The Temple Square is the heart of Salt Lake City and the symbolic epicentre of the Mormon religion. Visitors marvel at its majestic six spires, topped by a golden statue of the Angel Moroni forming a striking silhouette against the skyline. Confirmed may enter but only for the most sacred of ceremonies, while non-believers can check out visitor centres containing religious murals, paintings and exhibits on the first Mormon pioneers. The Tabernacle houses the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, whose rehearsals are open to the public for free, while the Gothic-style Assembly Hall is a venue for concerts and lectures.
Modelled after the national capitol building in Washington D.C., the Utah State Capitol sits on a hill above the city surrounded by acres of landscaped gardens. Memory Grove to the east of the building contains statues honouring Utah veterans and the grounds are a favourite destination of joggers and walkers. The impressive granite structure of the Capitol is crowned by a copper dome and fronted by columns, representing one of the nation's greatest examples of Renaissance Revival architecture. A colossal chandelier illuminates interior walls covered with murals illustrating Utah's history while several busts proclaim the state's prominent figures, including the leader of the Mormon pioneers who founded Salt Lake City, Brigham Young.
The Pioneer Memorial Museum is crammed with artefacts from frontier life, its four storeys filled with the history of Utah. The relics are wide ranging, from doll old guns, doll collections and horse coaches to medical tools, a 1901 fire engine and the personal effects of Mormom leader Brigham Young. Many of the objects come with stories about the original owners with museum attendants happy to enlighten curious visitors. 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 while residents of Utah are also encouraged to come to the museum so as to research their family's past.
Founded in 1938 and one of the city's premier attractions, the Tracy Aviary is the oldest bird sanctuary in the United States. The space is a wonderful urban oasis, home to a huge variety of birds from across the planet. Residents range from kea parrots, flamingos and falcons to hornbills, macaws and condors, while shows include flight demonstrations, pelican feedings and even a special showcase of iridescent little birds from the Amazon. Visitors of all ages will enjoy personal encounters with the animals, as well as permanent displays like the South American Pavilion and Owl Forest. The aviary is a big supporter and promoter of conservation, and offers opportunities to teach visitors and to contribute to conservation efforts.
Utah has plenty of sunshine and low humidity. The Utah climate is semi-arid to arid, depending on the region, and most of the state is at a high elevation. Snowfall is common statewide, except in the Great Salt Lake Desert and at the southern border. The lower altitudes usually experience snow from November to March, while the higher altitudes experience snow from October to May, with snow cover on the mountains sometimes continuing until July. The Wasatch Mountains usually experience good snow, making the area's ski resorts popular with winter outdoor sport enthusiasts. Summer temperatures in Utah average around 79°F (26°C), with winter temperatures around 30°F (-1°C). In the north, spring is usually the wettest season, while summer and autumn are the wettest further south. Most of the mountainous areas experience more rain in winter. Sporadic thunderstorms, caused by monsoons, can occur during summer and autumn, creating flash floods and wildfires.
Thought to be the second saltiest body of water in the world after the Dead Sea, floating weightlessly in the water of the Great Salt Lake is one of the main attractions of the region. The huge lake is also a World Heritage Bird Sanctuary due to the numbers of migratory birds that eat the saline water's brine flies and shrimp. Antelope Island is the largest of the lake's ten islands and reached either by boat or causeway, offering excellent picnics, hiking and camping. It also boasts a herd of American Bison, introduced in 1893, and other interesting animals such as coyotes, bobcats and elk.
The Dinosaur National Monument straddles the border between Utah and Colorado, preserving the layers of rock in which dinosaur bones from the Jurassic period were embedded. Full skeletons were discovered at a newly-made quarry, as well as fossils of sea creatures up to three times older than the dinosaurs. 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 has been enclosed as a permanent exhibit. The surrounding area also has beautiful mountain scenery, with its deep mountain canyons, forests and hiking trails, on top of unique wildlife and thrilling Colorado rapids.
The holiday destination of Park City is famous for its three world-class ski resorts. The Canyons features eight mountains, 146 trails and 3,500 acres (1,416 ha) of diverse terrain, suited to every style and ability. Deer Valley Resort contains thrilling chutes and bowls, and caters to families and ski champs alike. Park City Mountain Resort also has something for everyone, from deep powder bowls and long groomed runs to world-class terrain parks and a superpipe. The historic district adds character, now home to stylish condos and a sophisticated resort community. There's a plethora of restaurants and bars, while the Sundance Film Festival is one of the most anticipated events on the film industry calendar.
Located 30 miles (48km) southeast of Salt Lake City, Solitude Mountain Resort is one of the smaller, quieter ski resorts in Utah and most popular with families on weekend getaways. Situated in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains, the resort boasts 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 (486 ha) and a wealth of high-quality lodging, shopping and dining facilities. It's consistently voted in the top 20 family ski resorts in the USA.
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