Posts Tagged ‘salt lake city’

Salt Lake City wrap up and stray observations

May 3rd, 2019

University of Utah
View from a bridge on the University of Utah campus

I arrived in Reno late this morning after a very delayed train, so I’m wrapping up my stay in Salt Lake City in this post before moving on to adventures in Reno.

The first thing to notice about Salt Lake City is the view. From pretty much anywhere, including the outskirts of the city, you have a view of mountain ranges in the distance (see the above photo for example.) Aside from the nice views this also provides a convenient way to figure out which direction you’re facing as the mountains look fairly different.

Anti-panhandling parking meter

There’s a noticeably large population of homeless people in Salt Lake City. To discourage others from donating to panhandlers, the city has specially marked “parking meters” they’d like you to donate to instead for homeless services.

This idea seems curious to me — someone gets paid to go around and empty these things, right? — but I do think it’s commendable that Salt Lake City is trying their own approach to tackling homelessness.

State Wine Store

Utah is a very backward state in many ways, one of which is the sale of alcohol. Mormons aren’t supposed to take any non-prescription drugs including caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol. Their influence in the state is enormous, including restrictions on alcohol sales. Outside of bars and restaurants if you wish to purchase alcohol you have to go to a “State Wine Store.” This is similar to what I found in Stockholm, Sweden as well as Oslo, Norway during my trip last year.

It’s not even legal to bring alcohol into Utah, but scofflaw that I am I accidentally found a workaround. I purchased a (wildly overpriced) bottle of wine on Amtrak, put it in my backpack, and consumed it at my Airbnb in Salt Lake City. In other words I committed a state crime with the assistance of the federal government. Come at me, Utah, you ain’t got nothing.

Artesian Well Park

One of the most unexpected things I found in Salt Lake City was a tiny park called Artesian Well Park. This “park” is really just a free water supply, with water flowing from an underground spring to a pipe above where locals fill up water bottles.

Like the continuously flowing fountains in Rome the water is supposedly clean and drinkable. Can’t say I tried it myself though if I were thirsty enough I would have given it a shot.

Harvy Milk Blvd

The people of Salt Lake City seem at odds with the anti-gay stance of the Mormon church. I noticed a series of billboards downtown with personal stories from survivors of anti-gay conversion “therapy.”

But really nothing could be more of a condemnation of Mormonism’s stance toward homosexuality than Salt Lake City renaming 900 South Street after gay civil rights icon/martyr Harvey Milk. The context is interesting here because Milk had no personal connection to Utah or Salt Lake City as far as I know; he grew up in New York and moved to San Francisco as an adult. So this is more of a matter of honoring an important American historical figure, and one who irritates certain Mormons in particular.

That sums up Salt Lake City; next up I’ll post about my last stop before heading home: Reno, Nevada.

Is Salt Lake City really a city?

May 3rd, 2019

TRAX train
Downtown Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City left me with a burning question: is it really a city? I mean technically sure, but when we think of cities today we typically think of fairly urban places where it’s easy to get around on foot, and the public transportation is at least decent enough to use on a regular basis for commuting.

Before you say “but ‘city’ is in the name!” let me point out that North Korea is technically called “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Names can be a facade to hide a deeper truth.

Salt Lake City is the only city on my trip so far where walking isn’t very practical, and the density is too low for the public transit to get anywhere interesting in a reasonable period of time. (Side note: all public transit in Salt Lake City is run by the state of Utah.) I had to rely on Lyft a couple times, which is not cheap.

Making matters worse almost all of the roads in SLC are extremely wide. I often couldn’t cross a street during the allotted time — and I walk pretty fast.

Someone came up with the world’s worst most insane solution to this problem:


Honestly I thought this was a joke by some clever conceptual artist the first time I saw it, but as I found more of these throughout Salt Lake City the horrible truth dawned on me: these are intended to be taken seriously. What the hell is going on?!

After a couple days of putting up with this I started doing some research. It turned out I’d already listened to (and forgotten about) an episode of 99% Invisible called “Plat of Zion” that goes into the details of how this hostile street layout came into being.

The sentence from the episode that really sums it all up is this one:

Created by Mormon settlers, the grid of Salt Lake was part of an effort to create a spiritual utopia.

Perhaps one shouldn’t turn to religious leaders for urban planning advice.

The only part of Salt Lake City that really seems like a city is the downtown area. That said it’s not a very big downtown, and aside from Temple Square there’s nothing terribly unique about it; just the same chain stores you can find anywhere else. What it does have going for it is good public transit service, which makes it the best part of town to stay while visiting.

So if Salt Lake City isn’t a city, what is it? It’s not a suburb, obviously. Parts of it are downright rural.

I think the answer might be that it’s a city by Utah standards. The inhabited parts of Utah tend to be very rural towns where nothing’s open on Sunday and “shopping” means driving your truck down to Walmart.

The irony is that despite being created by Mormons, Salt Lake City has the lowest percentage of Mormons in the state. So the original plan didn’t make the place any more spiritual, let alone more utopian. On the flip side that means Salt Lake City has plenty of establishments Mormons would never approve of like really good cafes and brewpubs. Cheers to that!

Bush plane flying tour

May 2nd, 2019

Bush Plane Flying Tour
Bush Plane Flying Tour Bush Plane Flying Tour Bush Plane Flying Tour Bush Plane Flying Tour

There’s experiences and then there’s experiences, and this one falls strictly into the latter category. On a whim I booked a “Bush Plane Flying Tour” hosted by an Air Force vet and flying enthusiast named Neil.

We met in the parking lot of the South Valley Regional Airport, just outside of Salt Lake City. It’s a tiny airport with just one runway, and has a flight training school as well — this aspect was particularly unnerving when a helicopter landed only around 100 feet away from me, piloted by someone who was obviously a student.

Neil met me and another guest (confusingly also named Eric) and showed us around his Cessna 170. It’s an unpainted four-seater propeller plane from 1953, with some upgrades including a new engine. We all put on headsets to talk to one another and hear the radio. The radio’s important because South Valley Regional Airport is too small to have an air traffic control tower so pilots have to maintain contact to share the runway.

Taking off in a little taildragger airplane is nothing like flying on a passenger jet. The propeller engine sounds like a motorcycle, and as it gets up to speed the tail lifts off the ground before the front.

As we began ascending I felt a fear of heights kick in, though that quickly became a fear of turbulence as we got knocked around a little by the wind.

We took a slightly roundabout route to Antelope Island in order to avoid violating the airspace of Salt Lake City International. Neil took us pretty low over the island to spot the bison that live there. On the east side of the island there wasn’t much to see. After making a quick turn over the island, we spotted a large herd of bison on the west side. The noise of the airplane scared a few of them away.

Coming back around to the airport we took a detour through a nearby snowy mountain range. It’s supposed to be a good place to spot deer though we weren’t lucky enough to see any.

To land, Neil pointed out a flag outside a grocery store he uses to determine the wind pattern on the runway. Fortunately it was in our favor, so he took us over a soccer field, turned the plane around, and then said “so this is what you do if you want to lose altitude really fast, it’s called a ‘sideslip.'” He turned the plane so it was pointed at an angle to the runway, and sure enough we dropped very quickly, landing fast but smooth.

This excursion went by so fast I had to double check my phone to see that yes, we actually were up in the sky for an hour. It felt more like 10, maybe 15 minutes. Time flies, as they say.

My recommendation: If you want to try something unique and exciting while you’re in Salt Lake City, this is a good bet. It can be booked through Airbnb Experiences.

Natural History Museum of Utah

May 2nd, 2019

Natural History Museum of Utah
Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah

On the University of Utah’s campus is the Natural History Museum of Utah. The focus of the museum is entirely on Utah’s geography, climate, and living beings from the time of single celled organisms up until the Ute people lived in the area.

The museum’s current location is in a building completed in 2011, relatively new by museum standards. The exhibits are largely well put together and maintained; the dinosaur portion of the museum is particularly impressive.

It seems to have been put together with a deliberately broad appeal with interactive exhibits and puzzles for kids, basic biology you probably learned as a teenager (a refresher never hurts), as well as more in-depth exhibits for adults.

Personally I went to this museum because it was my last day in Salt Lake City, and I wanted something to do where I wouldn’t have to carry my stuff around all day (the museum has lockers.) I figured the dinosaur exhibit would be the most interesting part. And while it was, their comprehensive exhibit on the adaptation and evolution of life quickly became my favorite exhibit.

They also have an interactive earthquake exhibit that I think was aimed at kids, but since nobody else was around I had it all to myself. I have to admit it’s very entertaining. The gist of it is you build a one or two story building on a special table, then hit a button on a computer screen to simulate one of several historical earthquakes and see how your building stands up — or doesn’t.

My recommendation: It’s not the largest museum of its kind, but there’s a little something for anyone interested in Utah’s natural history (including dinosaurs.) The location is pretty far from downtown though it’s a short walk from a number of popular hiking trails. Worth considering if you’re in that part of town.

3 religions in Salt Lake City, ranked

May 2nd, 2019

Salt Lake City is a hotbed for religious activities. Perhaps it’s because it’s the home of the Salt Lake itself, which is often compared to the Dead Sea.

Here I’m taking a look at three religions that stuck out at me in Salt Lake City, and ranking them from best to… least best. Without further ado, here they are.

City Creek Center

1. Capitalism

Capitalism is the number one religion in the United States, though some adherents to this fundamentalist religion also hold secondary faiths as well.

City Creek Center, located at South Temple and West Temple is a multistory indoor/outdoor shrine to capitalism. This sacred site features well manicured gardens and water features throughout.

The largest chapel, known as “Macy’s,” offers a variety of both holy and unholy garments and household wares.

Temple Square

2. Mormonism/The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Just north of City Creek Center is Temple Square. This site is the heart of Mormonism, or whatever it’s called now. This sacred site also features well manicured gardens and water features throughout.

The largest chapel, known as the “office building,” houses many floors of workers promoting Mormonism (or whatever it’s called now.)

Bonus fact: Mormonism holds the official Guinness world record as the “world’s whitest religion.”

Summum Pyramid

3. Summum

A small pyramid on the rural outskirts of Salt Lake City is the spiritual home of Summum. This religion is inspired by ancient Egypt, sort of like Rosicrucianism but with a greater emphasis on drinking homemade wine. Oh and they mummify both human and feline remains.

The religion’s philosophies are a little… convoluted, even by the standards of 1970’s American religions, which is why it’s ranked last on this list. Sorry, Summum, but you’re going to need a bigger pyramid if you want to stay competitive in Salt Lake City’s religion scene.

Gilgal Sculpture Garden

May 2nd, 2019

Gilgal Sculpture Garden

Gilgal Sculpture Garden Gilgal Sculpture Garden Gilgal Sculpture Garden Gilgal Sculpture Garden

There’s a lot of strange stuff in Salt Lake City. Something about living in a desert seems to drive people in unexpected ways. And what could be more unexpected than the Gilgal Sculpture Garden?

Created by amateur artist Thomas Battersby Child Jr., the sculptures represent his own interpretation of Mormonism. And yes, that interpretation happens to involve Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s head on a sphinx for some reason. The garden is maintained by a group of people who took over after Child passed away.

Today this unusual sculpture garden sits in an unassuming a public space surrounded by big chain stores, yet somehow feels far from civilization.

My recommendation: This is a small, backyard-sized sculpture garden that’s open to the public. Check it out if you’re looking for weird stuff to see in Salt Lake City. It’s a little bit of a trek to get there, but it’s walkable from the main Public Library or Liberty Park. It’s completely free.

Salt Lake City’s main library

May 1st, 2019

Salt Lake City main library
Salt Lake City’s main library building

Both my original plans for today weren’t meant to be; I wanted to go on a hike, but it started to rain. I had a tour lined up, but the guide had to cancel as he wasn’t feeling well. Crap, what to do?

Thumbing through my notes over lunch I found a nearby attraction I might not have bothered with on a sunny day: Salt Lake City’s main library.

From the outside it looks like a semi-circular office building with a mysterious ramp jutting out from the side. It could almost be mistaken for a small corporate campus.

Salt Lake City main library Salt Lake City main library

Yet inside it’s a completely different experience altogether. The entryway leads to a five story tall atrium with a skylight above, the library itself on one side; and on the other small shops including a friends of the library bookstore and a cafe.

I know bean-counter types absolutely despise indoor atriums since all that empty air means paying for a beefier HVAC system and all the extra costs that entails. Worse yet, the main library features glass elevators which were being wiped down from the inside by a janitor while I was wandering around. So it’s always a rare treat when there’s a big atrium open to the public in a municipal building.

One thing the Salt Lake City main library is known for is their large collection of comics, graphic novels, and zines. I think that’s great actually — the internet and smartphone era has relegated libraries to much more of a niche audience, so why not cater to those niches?

Salt Lake City main library

The real not-so-hidden secret of Salt Lake City’s main library is on top. Most of the fifth floor is offices closed to the public, but from the elevator you can walk across a small lobby to an exit on to the rooftop. Fortunately the rain took a quick break as I made my way up there.

As you can see in the panoramic photo above, from left to right is the top of the elevator shaft, the skylight, and a rooftop garden.

But the interesting part is all the mountains in the distance. Even with the clouds the snow capped mountains are visible in every direction.

Although I haven’t been here long so far my big takeaway about Salt Lake City is despite being a relatively boring town, you can look in almost any direction at street level and see vast mountains in the distance. From a slightly higher vantage point like the roof of the main library those same mountains somehow look even greater, yet somehow even further away.