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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: West Mountain - Part 2
In the travel series View America, West Mountain - Part 2 covers Idaho, Nevada and Utah. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.
My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.
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UTAH is also known as the Beehive State, referring to the original Mormon name of Deseret, which means honey bee. The name Utah comes from an Indian word meaning "mountain people", that the Europeans mistakenly thought to be the name of the Ute Indians. In 1896 Utah became the 45th state to join the U.S. Its capital and largest city is Salt Lake City.
Utah's surface is approximately 220,000 km2, and the state's average altitude is 1,900 m. Utah has a very wide variety of landscapes with mountains, lakes and valleys, but also deserts, salt flats and peculiar rock formations. The Rocky Mountains run throughout the state, with peaks of over 4,000 m (Kings Peak 4.123 m). In the west lies a region composed of salt flats, deserts and mountains. The Colorado Plateau has been carved out by rivers, resulting in hundreds of canyons and a kaleidoscope of colors.
The eastern part of the state is drained by the Colorado River to the Gulf of California, but the rest of the state has no outlet to the sea and has a huge internal drainage system. The largest lake is the famous Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the US, and a remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville, which once covered almost the whole of Utah and Nevada.
In 1847 the Mormons or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chose this area as a tranquil haven from persecution, although at that time it was still Mexican territory. Next to this problem and the Indians, they had even more bad luck because during the Gold Rush in California, Utah was squarely on the road to the gold fields. Therefore, the history of the state corresponds remarkably with the history of the Mormons, which explains why it took so long for the state to join the U.S. They make up about 70% of the population.
The state has 2.2 million inhabitants, with a density of 11 per km2. Eighty seven percent of the population lives in cities, but beyond the cities, large areas are virtually uninhabited. The Navajo, Ute, Gosiute and Shoshone Indians live in reservations.
Thirty percent of the state is forested, and the animal kingdom is well represented. Utah is the second largest copper and gold producer in the US, but also produces natural gas, petroleum and coal, and it has a vibrant agriculture and cattle industry.
Southern Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park offers beautiful scenery, but so do the Canyonlands national park, Zion, the Arches, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Capitol Reef. The largest natural bridge in the world is the Rainbow Bridge. Apart from these, there are 45 more outstanding state parks! The Bonneville Salt Flats registered many speed records, and Goblin Valley is certainly worth visiting for its hundreds of fantastic rock formations.
There are several ski resorts, such as the Sundance Ski area in Provo, the Alta Ski area, Snowbird Ski and Powder Mountain Ski area in Eden. In July, the annual Western Stampede in West Jordan is one of the largest rodeos in the west.
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THINGS TO SEE
Temple Square is a collection of many buildings, located on a surface of fourteen hectares. There are two Visitor Centers, and every visitor is immediately welcomed with a friendly explanation and a documentation. Most of the people that address visitors in the Temple Square are volunteers, who donate their time and effort to their Church. Practically all of them are young people, who come from all over the world and act as missionaries. It is possible to have a guided tour in more than thirty different languages!
Visits in the beautiful Salt Lake Temple are not allowed. This church, or better, cathedral, was built between 1853 and 1893, and it is a place of worship. The Anglican-style monumental construction was built in sandstone, that was brought in over the river.
A little further lies the Tabernacle, the place where the Mormon choir and orchestra perform and rehearsals take place. The roof of this building is a truss, in the form of an oval bowl. It is entirely made of wood, that was bent in water and then put together with wet leather straps. After drying, these make an extremely strong connection.
The equally beautiful Assembly Hall was completed in 1882, and served initially as a church room. Later, it was transformed into a meeting room. The front is a stage, and the rows of chairs are placed in ascending heights, which was a most progressive idea for its time. The architecture along the outside is typically Victorian, and this room is where performances by several local and international choirs and orchestras take place.
The Church Office Building is a modern and massive thirty-story skyscraper, that is the headquarters and administrative center of the Church. It coordinates the international missions, and prepares all printed matter. It also contains the entire architectural staff of the eleven million-member organization. From the 26th-floor terrace, there is a breathtaking panorama of Temple Square and Salt Lake City.
In the distance lies Emigration Canyon, the route along which the Mormons reached the valley after their 1,300-mile trek from Missouri. Even in the middle of this desert there is a small river, and the promised city of Zion would always have water!
The Conference Center is a marvel of architecture and engineering. This massive building has been designed especially to hold bi-annual meetings for a congregation of 21,000 followers. Several Church Teachers and speakers enlighten them in the principles of the LDS. Every imaginable electronic gadget allows the visitors to easily understand every word that is spoken from the pulpit. There are also two large screens, showing close-ups of the speakers.
The entire roof of the building seems to hang on six gigantic steel trusses, each one weighing six hundred tons! This makes the interior completely uncluttered and free of supports, and the broad mezzanines seem to hang in the air without any apparent support. The entire roof has been designed as a sublime roof garden, displaying the original desert flora. The so precious water flows abundantly in fountains and ingenious water runs. Truly a beautiful and well-made piece of architecture !
Temple Square has still other interesting buildings to offer, such as the Family History Library, an extensive genealogical research center, where everyone can look up his ancestors. This center is proudly announced to be the most comprehensive genealogical research facility in the world, and in this case it may very well be the truth. As a matter of fact, the religious convictions of the LDS include the belief that such sacraments as baptism and marriage can even be practiced after the death of the person(s), in loco parentis, by their descendants.
Then there is the Museum of Church History and Art, where church history and contemporary Indian art is on display, the Relief Society Building, the headquarters of various aid agencies, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, dedicated to the first prophet, who compiled the book of Mormon after his visions and mission of Jesus Christ, the Lion House and the Beehive House, former residences of the second prophet and leader Brigham Young, and several other remarkable buildings. A thorough visit of all the buildings could easily take an entire week!
A small road leads to the Bonneville Speedway, in the middle of nowhere. In 1911 the first Packard was tested on this flat salt surface, and by 1914 they reached the (then) fantastic speed of 141 mph (225 km/h). In the golden 1960's new speed records popped up regularly, mainly through the efforts of the famous Campbell, who went well beyond one thousand kilometers per hour (600 mph)!
The Speedway is twenty five meters wide and sixteen kilometers long, and on weekends amateurs still use it for their racing hobby. Jet engines are not tested anymore. Only naturally aspired engines with turbo's are being used today, even though these manage to reach a "cool" 735 km/h (440 mph)...
The Speedway is the only place in the vast plain where the salt is still thick enough to allow cars to drive on it. Elsewhere, the constant salt mining has made the salt crust so thin that cars, and even people, would fall through it. Under this salt crust is a layer of mud, sometimes up to two meters thick.
In the Escalante Mountains, the road quickly climbs to the summit at 2,555 meters of altitude! At the top there is no peak, but a large plateau, the Awapa plateau. The next village is Torrey, the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park. In 1937 this area was declared a National Monument because of its exceptional panoramic views. It receives only seventeen centimeters of water per year and is very dry, but one hundred and eighty million years ago, it was a completely Sahara-like desert. Sixty five million years ago, tectonic forces pushed up the strata to a one hundred-mile long mountain rim, and the layers of sands petrified to very erratic, and usually red rock formations. There are also hues of green and white colors, in thick layers of plaster.
The Visitor Center provides extensive documentation about the park. The first item to do is a visit to the Hickman Bridge. This is a natural arch of some 40.5 meters long. A problem is that it takes a two-mile walk to reach this natural wonder. The hike starts with a fairly flat trail, but after a while it changes into a fairly steep climb, carved out into the rocks. An additional and far more acute problem is that many snakes also seem to have a preference for these surroundings, and particularly for this trail. Which ended our exploration rather rapidly...
The next panorama is that of the Capitol Dome, and indeed this eroded mountain does resemble a large domed building. The ten-mile Scenic Drive begins in Fruita, that used to be a former Mormon community. They colonized the region in 1880, and exploited a fairly successful series of orchards. When the Capitol Reef Monument was established in 1937, they happened to be in the way and were gently "urged" to relocate elsewhere. Which is not quite the way it is described in the history books...
The narrow and winding scenic route continues through several sensational vistas, and your camera's won't stop clicking for a second!
Zion Valley has been inhabited since more than 10,000 years, and ancient hieroglyphics have been found in various places. In more recent times, the valley was inhabited by Anastasi Indians, and the Mormons immigrated around 1910.
No traffic is allowed inside the park, but a shuttle drives around and picks up and drops off visitors at various stops. The driver continuously provides information about the various sights. Successive stops are Zion Museum, Canyon Junction, Court of the Patriarchs, Zion Lodge, the Grotto, Weeping Rock, Big Bend and the Temple of Sinawava.
• Zion Museum : Next to all possible visitor information, there is a 22-minute documentary movie about the origin and the evolution of the park.
• Junction Canyon : where two canyons flow into each other, with a magnificent panorama as a result!
• The Court of the Patriarchs : This includes the Sentinel and three Patriarchs, majestic and sheer mountain walls. Particularly the Sentinel is very popular with (experienced) climbers. It takes them two days to climb to the top, and they usually spend the night "hanging" in a tent-bag against the flank...
• Zion Lodge : This is a tourist restaurant.
• The Grotto : Here a grand new arch is being formed in the vertical sandstone. In this spot there used to be a Mormon farm, at least until part of the cliff broke off and ground the whole farm into powder. Whereupon the entire family salvaged the rest of its belongings, and moved to a safer place...
• The Temple of Sinawava : The last part of the shuttle ride is located between massive rock walls. This spot simply radiates serenity and quiet, which is why the Mormon farmer gave it the spiritual name of Zion. Gradually this name became the name for the entire park!
• Big Bend : Here the canyon makes a large U-turn, which puts another splendid panorama on display.
• Weeping Rock : What makes this place special, is the fact that in several places water pours out of the porous rocks. Many plants made good use of this peculiar feature, and the result is a real "hanging garden".
If you're driving a heavy pickup truck, at the park entrance you'll have to pay a 15-dollar surcharge for an escort through the tunnel to Bryce Canyon. Effectively, Highway 9 actually runs through the park and leads through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. It was built in the 1920's and it is therefore not wide enough for modern trucks.
The narrow, steep and winding highway 9 climbs to a height of 5,000 feet (1,524 m). Just before the tunnel you'll have to wait at the gate, and a Park Guard stops all oncoming traffic. Then you can majestically drive through the 1.1-mile long (1,770 m) two-lane tunnel. The sheer luxury of cruising along in the middle of the tunnel, all by yourself, is certainly worth the fifteen bucks...
Just past the tunnel there is one last attraction to see: the Checkerboard Mesa. This is a stone mountain side, that is so weathered that the entire surface has cracked. Curiously enough these cracks have formed a very strange pattern. Because they are so regularly spaced, the entire surface looks like a checkerboard! The east exit of Zion National Park lies at an altitude of 6,000 feet (1,828 m).
Bryce Canyon is in a rather remote location, and the area is not as accessible as Zion. The Visitor Center provides documentation and a documentary movie. The main attraction in Bryce are the Hoodoos, a Paiute word for the park's very particular rock formations.
Some fifty million years ago, an enormous lake (Lake Claron) came into being on this plateau, and it gradually filled up with sediments from the surrounding mountains. Over the eons these layers petrified, and fifteen million years ago they were pushed up, along with the entire Colorado plateau. This plateau was broken up into ever smaller pieces by volcanic and tectonic forces. In the Bryce Canyon area however, subsequent erosion was not caused by a river as is usually the case, but instead by the extremely large variations in temperature, given the altitude of more than 2,500 meters (8,200 ft)!
Rain freezes and expands, and small crevices grow into larger cracks. Furthermore, acid rain dissolves the porous limestone. Eventually single standing remnants wear down into spectacular columns : the Hoodoos! Given the fact that this erosion process still continues to date, it is estimated that the current Hoodoos have "only" another three million years of existence, and then they will be totally worn out. So if you want to see these extraordinary rock formations in all their glory, you'd better hurry...
Bryce Canyon Viewpoints
The park is divided into two parts, a northern section with the Hoodoos, and a southern section with magnificent panoramic views. The southern part takes between three and four hours to visit.
The first viewpoint on the southern tour is Farview, at an altitude of 8,819 ft. It presents a grand vista over a vast landscape. The next viewpoints provide virtually identical, if magnificent views with Agua Canyon, Ponderosa, Black Birch, and finally Rainbow Point, at a remarkable altitude of 9,115 ft or 2,780 m.
The first viewpoint on the northern tour is Bryce Point, that presents a vast panoramic landscape and a scattering of spaced hoodoos. But the next viewpoint, Inspiration Point, displays droves of hoodoos, and its panorama is simply extraordinary.
The only concern is that there is no parapet on the trail that leads to the edge of this viewpoint, and so somewhat less bold photographers may refrain from going to the very edge to take the most sensational pictures. Along the sides of the path, the flanks drop almost vertically for more than 650 feet (200 m)...
The next viewpoints, Sunset and Sunrise Point, are not very far from the previous point, and they each display more views of the grandiose scenery.
Highway 275 not only leads to Natural Bridges National Park but also to Lake Powell, which is a very touristic attraction. Besides various water sports, boating, fishing and hiking, the lake is famous for the Rainbow, the world's largest natural bridge. Unfortunately, it can only be visited by boat.
Natural Bridges National Park is obviously famous for its natural bridges. These remarkable phenomenons are formed through the erosion of a river, whose meanders patiently wear away the soft limestone walls of a canyon, but on both sides. Eventually a hole appears in the wall at water level, and afterwards the water erosion gradually widens this opening. But the "roof" of the wall remains intact, and over time a new Natural Bridge is born.
Actually this very remote area remained completely unknown for a very long time, until it was visited by a prospector in 1883. He discovered no gold, but he was the first to see these magnificent natural bridges.
His travel stories and descriptions were published in National Geographic in 1904, which immediately aroused public interest. As a result, in 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt signed the act to make this area Utah's first National Park.
The Visitor Center presents an interesting documentary about the park. The drive through the park is about nine miles long (14.5 km), and three natural bridges are on display; the Sipapu Bridge, the Kachina Bridge and the Owachomo Bridge. The somewhat peculiar names of the three bridges come from the Hopi language.
Rainbow bridge - Lake Powell Sipapu bridge Owachomo bridge Kachina bridge
Canyonlands National Park is cut in three sections by the Colorado and Green rivers. The three sections are respectively Island in the Sky, Needles, and The Maze. Island in the Sky is totally accessible with ordinary vehicles. Needles mostly has columns (like the Bryce Hoodoos), arches and natural bridges (as in "The Arches"). The Maze is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles, and it is also one of the most remote places in the USA !
The Visitor Center presents a documentary movie about the park's history. The national park itself, starting right at the entrance, offers exceptionally vast and simply magnanimous views over practically immense canyons ! One can even see canyons IN canyons here, because Canyonlands actually has three levels. The surface is called The Mesa, and 1,200 feet lower is The White Rim, and another 1,000 ft lower are the rivers...
• Shafer Canyon : A wonderful panorama.
• Green River Overlook : An equally magnificent panorama of two rivers, and a canyon IN a canyon.
• Upheaval Dome : An enormous depression, that could possibly be a crater! Scientists think that this formation could effectively be the result of a meteor impact. If you would want to explore the bottom of this depression, keep in mind that it takes a 45-minute hike over a steep trail, just to get there...
• Holeman Spring Canyon Overlook : Another viewpoint, from which beautiful pictures can be taken.
• Grand View Overlook : Last but certainly not least, we visited this incredibly magnificent panorama. This view can certainly compete with the Grand Canyon, and it is simply unique.
Words completely fail to describe the exceptional splendor of this national park. It is not surprising that Canyonlands has been the scene of many blockbuster movies, such as Indiana Jones and Thelma and Louise. This incredibly stunning park is worth not one, but many visits!
The Visitor Center presents a documentary about the park's history. Three hundred million years ago, this region was covered by a primordial sea, and extremely thick layers of salt were deposited on the bottom. When the climate changed, the sea dried up, and the plain was covered by thick layers of sediment, resulting from the erosion of the surrounding mountains.
Fifteen million years ago the Colorado Plateau was lifted up by tectonic activity, and the thick layers of salt were gradually dissolved by seeping water. Thus an enormous chamber was formed underneath, and eventually the bottom collapsed under the weight of the sediments. A new plateau was created on a lower level, but sturdier rock formations remained standing at the old level, be it in bits and pieces. These further eroded through wind and weather, and eventually they developed into the arches.
• Park Avenue : A panorama of the "depressed" part.
• La Sal Mountains viewpoint : A panorama of the second highest mountain range in Utah.
• Petrified Dunes : Petrified dunes, in the form of beautiful sandy formations with pastel green shades.
• Rock Pinnacles : A collection of weathered peaks, not unlike the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon...
• Balanced Rock : This is most peculiar. A huge rock sits precariously on a massive stone monolith. Now how on earth can such a thing remain in balance?...
The Arches Park Avenue Rock Pinnacles Balanced Rock
• Windows : This has nothing to do with computers, but rather with a series of natural bridges, whose openings are like open windows, allowing a perfect view of the sky!
• Garden of Eden : A panorama that is visible from afar. The rock formations look like vertical fins, carved from a large hunk of rock. They throne parallel to each other, in a very specific rust-brown color. Most remarkable!
• Soft Valley : Another panoramic view over the valley.
• Delicate Arch : This bridge is Utah's most famous image, since it is depicted on practically every documentation. Unfortunately this gorgeous arch is somewhat difficult to reach, because the hike along the trail takes a few hours, and requires a rather steep climb...
• Skyline Arch : Another graceful natural bridge, that unfortunately can only be seen from the distance. If you want to take a decent picture, you'll need a powerful zoom lens...
• Devil's Garden : This garden is the starting point for several hikes. The area is particularly beautiful and sports a comfortable Picnic area.
The Arches National Park is a nice park to visit, even if some of the abundant attractions are not always well indicated, nor easily accessible. You'll find hoodoos, spires and several beautiful arches. It is also a paradise for athletes, hikers, cyclists and amateur photographers. Definitely worth the visit!
Windows Windows Delicate Arch Devil's Garden