THE SALT LAKE AREA
If I’d been a pioneer, the Wild West might never have happened. I’m not sure I have the wherewithal of a pioneer. I’ve seen the terrain they traveled. It’s harsh conditions. And they did it with horses and buggies. Horses and buggies, people! It took grit and more than a little determination to scale the Rocky Mountains and develop the high desert beyond. It is said when the Mormon pioneers got to the Great Salt Lake, their leader Brigham Young proclaimed, “This is the place” and they set up camp. Maybe it was divine revelation or maybe he was worn slap out, but I can say with confidence, I’d never have gotten there.
The Salt Lake City area is like an onion. It contains layers upon layers of history, plus endless possibilities for exploration and recreation, not to mention the amazing climate. That’s why I’m breaking this road trip into at least two parts. This is Part 1: The Salt Lake Valley.
Geologists tell us the valley itself was once part of enormous Lake Bonneville, as exhibited by the layers etched in the rock on its East and West sides. It is believed Lake Bonneville eventually receded into what we know as the Great Salt Lake. It’s still big; 1669 square miles of water and salt and not much else. Most aquatic species cannot survive the high salinity, but there is one little shrimp species that thrives there, feeding on algae. Brine shrimp and brine flies are basically the extent of the wildlife supported by the Great Salt Lake.
However, if you’re into wildlife, the rest of Utah is going to be your jam. Just north of Salt Lake City, you can take a causeway out to Antelope Island, one of Utah’s - and maybe even the country’s - most unique state parks. The causeway spans the Great Salt Lake, connecting the mainland to the island. There, on roughly 42 square miles of island, bison, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and big horn sheep range freely. As in, there is no barrier between you and a herd of 1000-pound bison. It’s quite a rush. The park is theirs; you’re just allowed to ogle them. A visitor can drive the park or visit the Fielding Garr Ranch for a walk and a history lesson.
On the north end of the island is Bridger Bay Beach where you can wade into the Great Salt Lake and bob like a cork. The high salt content makes people quite buoyant, which is a good enough reason to brave the pungent rotten egg smell exuded by the lake. The smell is actually hydrogen sulfide gas produced by bacteria consuming organic material at the bottom of the lake. Just nature doing its thing.
Just south of Salt Lake City in Lehi, Utah is a wonderland called Thanksgiving Point. I’m not sure what Thanksgiving has to do with any of it, except everyone who goes there is thankful they did. It’s 155 acres of farm, interactive museums, gardens, and exhibits with restaurants, shops, and golf, plus daily, weekly, monthly, and annual events to keep everyone busy. Whew! Membership is offered, but not required. It’s a money saver, though, if you visit often. There is truly something for everyone, from world-class brunch to interactive archeology. The stated mission of Thanksgiving Point is to “bring the joy of learning and wonders of the natural world to life.” And they do it handily.
I’d be remiss if I skipped over Temple Square downtown. It features the all-granite Mormon Temple and surrounding historic sites built and owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There, you can explore the history of the Mormon church and their settlement of Utah. Temple Square is the starting point for Salt Lake City’s famous street grid, wherein streets are named for their location in relation to the square. For example, the first street east of Temple Square is 100 E, and so on.
For educational fun, the Clark Planetarium offers interactive space exhibits and a 360-degree IMAX theater screen. The Natural History Museum gives insight into the geography, topography, and history of the Salt Lake Valley and the Great Salt Lake. The Hogle Zoo is a nice stop, if zoos are your thing. They do it up at Christmas with a gazillion lights so you can stroll and sip hot cocoa and feel all festive while the animals hibernate. It’s more fun than you’d think.
Not to throw shade on the educational opportunities, but shopping in Salt Lake Valley is underrated, especially at Scheels in Sandy, Utah. Two words: Ferris.Wheel. It’s a store. It’s an experience. It’s a destination. In a nutshell, it’s an all sports superstore with a long, interesting history dating back to 1902. Today it is employee owned and expanding rapidly, with 30 stores in 13 states. If you want to kick, throw, hook, shoot, or look like you could, you’ll find the necessary equipment at Scheels.
Obviously, the Salt Lake area is famous for the marriage of powdery snow and sunny skies that make for good vibes and phenomenal skiing. In fact, the Great Salt Lake is to be thanked for the mountaintop powder. Something miraculous happens when a storm blows in over the lake and collides with the Wasatch front. That sparkly powder is the happy result.
The special thing about skiing Salt Lake is the sunshine. Unless it’s actively snowing, it’s sunny. Mid-winter, you can bet that sunshine makes all the difference. That’s one of the reasons Rio Ray has stationed a brand ambassador in the Salt Lake Valley. Our brand is frankly ideal for the active Utah lifestyle. Perfect powder on a blue bird day is breathtaking, and more than a little dazzling. Our R2 Premium Polarized lenses cut the glare leaving you with clear, sharp mountaintop views.
Lastly, Salt Lake City is the new Silicon Valley. Techies like to ski too.
Certainly, this is just a sampler of things to do in and around Salt Lake City. We’ll cover some others in Part 2 of Road Tripping: Salt Lake City and Beyond. For now, I hope you’ll explore the links to these amazing places and while doing so, thank people more indomitable than me for the jewel that is Salt Lake.