A lot of people expressed surprise when we said that we were going to spend two weeks in Utah last summer. My family asked “Why do you want to go there?”, the only thing certain that they knew about Utah being its association with the Mormons. In Calgary, the main question asked was “Do you have family there?” It would appear that Utah was considered an odd choice of holiday destination. But I can wholeheartedly say that it was one of the greatest holiday adventures I have ever had.
In this blog, I plan to tell you about our epic trip across America with our trailer/caravan from Calgary to Utah, concentrating in each post on the different areas we visited and activities in which we indulged whilst we were out and about. As winter is now here in Ontario and we will be limited by the weather as well as the virus as to what we will be able to do, I thought it might be quite good to revisit summer travels in 2019.
Firstly, we’ll start with Salt Lake City or rather Butte which was actually our first destination.
Utah is quite a distance from Calgary and so, we had to have a stopover in a place called Butte, Montana. For those of you not in the know, this is pronounced “bute” or “beaut” if you’re Australian and not “butt”, which is a relief as I am forever amazed by the names of places and the images that are conjured up by them.
A butte is in fact a geographical feature, a rock, usually quite large with steep sides and a flattish top, and they have the most impact when they are found on a plain. I think they are the remnants of something volcanic but I’m not totally certain. I don’t remember seeing one in Butte but that’s not to say that there wasn’t one around. It was a stopover after all so we didn’t explore that much.
We got to the KOA (Kamping of America – I’m not sure why the special “k” spelling (excuse cereal pun)) site, pitched up and then the kids were desperate to get in the pool and you couldn’t blame them. We had been on the road all day, trundling in our truck, stopping only for comfort breaks and eating and the border crossing so they needed to relax, splash around for a bit, while I thought about what to cook for dinner.
Whilst we may not have noticed a butte in Butte, we did spot one of its curiosities on the hillside on the way into the town: a statue nestling invitingly in the hills above the town, a bit like Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil but maybe not quite as well known nor as imposing.
Our Lady of the Rockies, as that is what she is called, is a benevolent presence, her ever present gaze directed towards Butte with a maternal watchfulness. However, her stark whiteness at twilight gives her an almost eerie quality as the sun lowers and she reflects what little of the light there is left – it is quite ethereal. It stands to reason that this is probably the effect desired for a statue of a religious figure, to appear otherworldly, and well done, Butte – it has been achieved.
We spent a peaceful night, perhaps as a result of having The Lady of the Rockies keeping an eye on us and being, for once, in close proximity to other considerate travellers and so, we woke the next day with the prospect of another long drive ahead of us on our journey south to reach Utah. Idaho was the next state to drive through and was merely a green blur out of the truck window as we sped to our destination of Brigham City, outside of Salt Lake City and our base to explore the Salt Lake area while we were there. We would explore more of Idaho on the way back to Canada.
Boy, was it getting hot! The air conditioning on the truck was ramped up to top whack and still we were breaking a sweat. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It was the boys in the back of the truck who were doing the sweating, the capabilities of the air conditioning system not really extending enough to cool them. Hubby and I were fine. But like the good parents we are, we intermittently opened the windows to try and cool them down with a blast of tepid air and so, had to strike a fine balance between not bursting the eardrums of the adults in the front whose delicate hearing instruments were being buffeted by the fast moving air whilst making sure that the offspring were not overheating in the back. A tricky endeavour indeed.
Eventually though, a little dehydrated and with mild tinnitus, we arrived at our second KOA campsite and, you’ve guessed it, it was time to head to the pool again, and what a welcome relief that was. Heavenly!
After a good night’s sleep, we got up ready to explore the spires of Salt Lake City. But first, there was some very important business to attend to, which was the Riding of the Bull. No, this is not some obscure festival in Utah nor some initiation rite for those wishing to enter the city of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. No, this is something far more essential or, at least, it is in the lives of boys.
I had bought a new inflatable to replace the punctured doughnut that had let us down and itself (through a small hole) earlier in the summer and it was in the shape of a bull. My youngest had been pestering since he had spotted it to try it out as soon as he could and the very kind campsite owners advised that as long as there was no-one in the pool, he could give it a go. We asked what time the pool was open which was 9am and so, straight after “Fruit Loops”, the breakfast of champions, we headed to the pool.
Much frivolity ensued with the bull proving extremely difficult to mount, never mind master, but in the spirit of all holiday antics, my boys gave it the best attempt they could.
Suitably exhilirated from the rodeo-style excursion to the pool which was some great physical activity post-breakfast, we decided to find the salt lake after which the city was named and find out what the city itself held for a humble tourist.
Salt Lake is a massive expanse of water in the valley where the city sits and it is quite a site to behold. I had no preconceived idea about it at all except that it was a lake, indubitably with salt content. I had wondered if we could spend the day there and immerse ourselves in its saltiness, cooling ourselves under Utah’s scorching sun. Maybe there was a beach. It seemed likely.
The lake did all the right things: it shimmered, it was a glorious blue, it had an air of otherworldliness about it too, like something unknown that is begging to be explored but feels the wrong (or right, depending on how you view it) side of sinister. The distant island seemed to hover above the water’s surface due to the heat haze and gave the place an atmosphere of a Star Trek episode. I liked it and the unusual way it made me feel.
What I hated though were the flies. So many flies, like a plague carpet on the rocks. You stepped and a cloud of insects left a foot-sized shape where your shoe had been and you were conscious of your vision becoming distorted as little winged things tried to come close to investigate your eyes, your mouth and your nostrils. It was grim.
There was going to be no swimming there today.
After a brief look at some of the informative boards – It is actually a remnant of a much larger salt lake known as Lake Bonneville which has literally evaporated. Salt Lake is one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth and more than four to eight times saltier than the ocean – we retreated to the relative cool of the truck, grabbed some lunch and decided to head into the city.
On our way from the lake, we spotted the most curious building; it looked like an Indian themed hotel or conference centre perched on the shore of Salt Lake and was most out of place, like it had been transplanted there by accident in some fight between gods. It was in fact a tribute to the original Victorian Saltair Pavilion which had been constructed to perch on the lake but had been flooded and corroded to such an extent that it no longer existed. This building tried to retain the essence of the first but just looked a bit weird.
But you know, all that that building did was just add a little more uniqueness to a place that was already full of it.
Salt Lake City
I didn’t have more than a preconceived idea of what to expect in Salt Lake City. I had already been wowed by its setting.I knew that it had held a Winter Olympics at some point, which in the heat seemed unlikely but once you saw it and realised that it was surrounded by the most picturesque mountains in a valley, it became clearer. It looks so sheltered and protected and bloody beautiful.
I knew a little about Mormons but not a lot. My knowledge extended to knowing that polygamy wasn’t frowned upon, that Joseph Smith was one of the original leaders of the religion and one of their prophets was Brigham Young, all of this learnt from a novel called The 19th Wife – he actually had 55 in total – in which Brigham’s portrayal was less than complimentary. I knew that there was a musical called The Book of Mormon which must be based on the religion somehow but I had never seen it or heard music from it. Finally, I had chanced upon a reality TV programme called My Sister Wife which showed a husband and four wives and of course, multiple children all cohabiting and having lots of discussion about how best to proceed with their chosen life in a society that may not understand it. There was also the knowledge of Warren Jeffs and the cult side of Mormonism but this was on the periphery of my consciousness.
I found it all very interesting and I was very keen to see what the home of this religion was going to be like.
It has to be said that it is quite the spectacle. There is an eagle soaring above a gate which its talons appear to be pulling up from either side of the roadway and heralds entry into the core of the city. Temple Square’s spires soar above the skyline. Like any religious building, it creates a sense of power, awe, something of which to be in thrall and so it was natural that we headed towards it.
We found Temple Square. It was a magnificent setting. Coloured beds with formal pathways, buildings architecturally distinctive with their many spires but also tipping a nod to previous European Christian architecture with arches and statues and a Gothic air – and it was immaculately kept. The buildings looked like they had just been bleached so bright and clean did they look, testament to hours in the Utah sun in all likelihood but also giving the square a pristine, untouchable quality which was unsettling in some ways as it looked too good, almost contrived. However, there was no denying its ability to instil a sense of reverence in followers and, in tourists, a curiosity about the religion, its origins and its originators.
I really wanted to see a statue of Brigham Young, him being the prophet with whom I was most familiar and Salt Lake City did not disappoint. He was the founder of this city and also helped to spread the word of the religion to other states. He was politically astute as well as being a businessman and whilst you may not agree with the amount of wives he chose to take, there is no doubt that he was a man of some character.
There was much to think about after our visit to Salt Lake City. I left it feeling beguiled but unsettled and not really sure why as, by all accounts, it was a city of wealth, culture, stature. I was glad to have seen it first hand but also happy to leave.
We headed back to our trusty trailer/caravan, another bull wrestling session expected from the boys and the indulgent humorous spectatorship of us parents a guaranteed prospect.
Also, there was much to look forward to on Day 2 of our Utah adventure as we were about to be introduced to the wonder that was Bonneville Salt Flats.
Blogger’s note: I apologise for the quality of some of the photos used in this blog. Due to mild technological inhibition, I couldn’t access them on the device I wanted to use and so, resorted to the taking pictures of pictures from my scrapbook. I quite like the effect – some of them look like they are vintage; however, the shadows are caused by bad angles of lighting in my kitchen. If you didn’t notice – good. If you do, please accept my apologies for subjecting you to such bad images. I will try and do better in the future.