Salt Lake City was a great stop for us even if we did camp smack dab in the downtown area. We love our nature time at state parks, but there are trade-offs. Back to nature usually means no shopping or dining options or not many. Normally that’s just fine, but we wanted to see the city stuff this time, have a nice sit-down meal, and we needed a spare tire. So, city was definitely called for.
I wasn’t sure what to name this post. I considered Utah, but really we only drove through a small part and camped in only one location. I can’t say that we’ve “done” Utah knowing what I know about the Southern part. Totally different and we’ll be back for that during our West travels next year. Then I considered Salt Lake City, but I was most taken with the Great Salt Lake.
Getting there was an ever-changing drive. Sun, snow, rain, sleet, wind, mountains, rock faces, tunnel, you name it. We picked this route on I-80 since having read that it’s the easiest crossing over the Rockies. There are horror stories about grades and curves and scary mountain passes on other routes. Driving big Lucy with Bitsy in tow, we definitely wanted the easiest passage. Still, I was really apprehensive and envisioned something like dropping off the side of a mountain.
At this point it helped that the last stop was so nasty that I didn’t even care. (Remember the mud pit in Rock Springs?) Fortunately the steepest part was dropping down right into Salt Lake City and we had the good fortune (or not) to be behind a double tanker truck taking it slow with his flashers on. We tucked in behind him and did the same. Success, and it didn’t even seem that steep going so slowly.
These shots are all from our 175 mile drive from Rock Springs to Salt Lake City. Hardly the same looking road from one 30 mile stretch to the next.
We did have a great time at the welcome station just before Salt Lake City. Beautiful spot to stretch the legs and take a short hike to a few overlooks.
The first view is when we arrived and had a fantastic view of the valley and roadway below. Then ten minutes later the snow rolled in and we couldn’t see anything.
A nice truck driver offered to take our picture with the Utah sign. Sorry for the Jackson butt. He never cooperates for photos. In the second shot he does relent and look at the camera.
Finally the best part of the stop for me. We saw these critters sitting outside of their burrows all over the grassy areas. We thought maybe they were prairie dogs, but they didn’t look quite right. They sounded a high pitched squealing alarm whenever we got too close. Then poof! They were gone down the holes. Inside the visitor center, the lady told us they were ground squirrels and quite tame. They even had little cups of “feed” for them. The food looked suspiciously like Cheerios which we had in the RV, but Pat splurged on a 25 cent cup for me.
Man, oh man, do they like Cheerios! No more running away down the hole once they find out you have snacks. The first shot is me feeding and they get closer and closer. See that guy on his hind legs in the second picture? That’s right before he jumped on my leg. Wasn’t getting his share, but unfortunately I was all out. They were so cute eating the cereal like little corn cobs. Just delightful!
Salt Lake City Sights
We were originally only going to stay two nights here, but the weather turned ugly after the first night with more rain and snow. That convinced us to tuck in for one more day so we’d be able to actually do a little sight-seeing. The icky day gave us a chance to do laundry and wash mud out of towels, jeans and couch pillow covers. It also gave us a chance to venture out to buy a spare tire for Bitsy. One more thing crossed off our list to prepare for some of the remote spots in Alaska.
The second full day dawns sunny and beautiful and off we go to see the sights. We needed a spot to walk Jackson since the campground really didn’t have many places for him to do his thing. We found a small community park not far away. Turns out that Steenblik Park is a lot smaller than the pictures led me to believe. It did, however, come through on the promised giant cat sculptures.
They call them the Dairy Cats and they are cast in bronze with four different patinas. Jackson could care less about them, but we thought they were kinda cool.
We aren’t particular history buffs, but we do like to learn a bit about the areas we visit including why and how the places came to be. Salt Lake City , or SLC, was founded by Brigham Young and other Mormon followers back in 1847. Pat and I could definitely see why they chose this spot. For one, if they struggled over those mountain peaks and then found themselves in the flat valley, I’m sure they were quite eager to stop and settle. We saw lots of sheep, horses and cattle driving in, and everything was so green. Stark comparison to the sagebrush and rocks on the other side of the mountains. So, it seemed fitting that we venture downtown to see the Mormon Temple and the square.
Temple Square was beautifully landscaped and filled with flowering trees, tulips, poppies and other colorful flowers. Obviously they had better weather before we arrived. The organist was even practicing in the Tabernacle for a recital later in the day and we were able to take a peek inside and listen in. As a kid, I remember watching the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on TV. Mom was a big fan and if they or the Boston Pops were on, we watched.
Downtown was so very clean, and loaded with people walking around Temple Square and to the surrounding upscale stores.
Jackson was on his best behavior amongst all the people. I think in these situations some of his former service-dog-in-training skills kick in and he is really extraordinarily well mannered. Two people asked permission to pet him and he always loves that.
Great Salt Lake
We just couldn’t leave the area without seeing The Lake. And what a day to see it. Stunningly beautiful even if it was still a little biting with the wind.
I liked this picture the best, but there were many to choose from. Here are a few more so you get a better sense of the surrounding area….
This shot shows the Oquirrh Mountains to the South of the lake. It also shows the prominent smokestack for the smelter at the open-pit copper mine that lies on the other side of those same mountains. This is the largest man-made excavation in the world producing not only copper, but also gold, silver, molybdenum, and sulfuric acid. We would have loved to tour the grounds, but it isn’t open to the public.
A few other facts we learned – salinity in the lake ranges from 6-25% (oceans are about 3.5%), so no fishing here. Mostly brine shrimp live in the lake and the multitude of bird species feed upon them. Yep, birds are eating your Sea Monkeys! With such a high salt content, it is really easy to float and I would have tried it, but just too cold this time around. There is a state park on Antelope Island further to the North and we’ll target a stay there next time to float and see the wild Bison herd roaming on the island.
They do harvest salt from drying basins, but it isn’t pure enough for table salt. Mostly used for road salt, water softeners and animal salt licks. The reason for the saltiness? It has three rivers that flow in, but there is no outlet except for evaporation, thus concentrating the salt. And just a side note. The lake is so large that we continued to see it in the distance almost all the way to Idaho. BIG!
Cathedral of the Madeleine
Staying that extra night also gave us the opportunity to attend Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. A spectacular cathedral, and according to their website, is the mother church for Roman Catholics in the state of Utah. We happened to be there during a special event and Bishop Oscar along with seven additional priests celebrated Mass on Saturday evening.
Red Iguana & the Prom Dinner
One nod to SLC for food. There were lots of dining options and we had a hard time choosing. The first night we were starved and went off to eat like old people at 4:30pm – literally. Turns out that was a good thing since we went to the Red Iguana, featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. They are packed most of the time and we narrowly missed the rush dining so early. I had tacos al carbon that were to die for, and highly recommended them to a total stranger at the next table.
We are also fans of Zaxby’s, which is a chicken fast-food chain based out of Atlanta. They are only in the Southeast, except for, you guessed it, Utah! It was our last chance for their chicken strips and fries for quite a while, so we grabbed lunch there on the icky day.
Finally, after Mass on Saturday, we stayed downtown and found our way to Benihana’s. A chain, I know, but we have had spectacularly bad Japanese food for most of this trip and wanted a surer thing. The parking garage attendant informed us that it was prom night and we might have quite the wait. Fortunately a party of two can sneak in most any time and that’s just what we did, along with another couple. We had a grand time people-watching at least 8 or 9 tables full of high school prom goers from multiple schools. Lots of sequins, dizzying high heels and tuxedos. The other couple gave us some people to talk to. They were locals, answered our questions about the area, and let us know that they can get snow as late as June. Dashed our hopes of this being “the place” we might want to settle one day. Gorgeous here, but no can do on Summer snow.
By now we’ve departed SLC, are in Idaho and soon to cross into Oregon, but I’ll leave you with one more fun fact about Utah. It’s the beehive state. All the state highway signs have a little beehive with the road number in it. Ok, so maybe we’ve seen a few too many road signs. See you on the way as we buzz on down the road!