Monday, November 3, 2014

Untangling Utah

With the gang gone in Illinois until tomorrow, I debated waiting until tomorrow to post my grand overview of this week’s state, but decided to use the blog as my guinea pig for the best way to present my findings on “The Beehive State” and what I plan on sharing with the Dynamic Duo on this week’s ‘famous for’ wall.  We bid a fond ‘adios’ to Texas and trek just a little to the Northwest this week to the state of Saints, Olympians and Osmonds.  It’s time for us to take on Utah!  If you like independent films, skiing on ‘the greatest snow on earth’ and gorgeous rock formations, Utah’s for you!  I’ll wait a minute while you grab some green jello, and then we’re off through Utah!

To the average adult, say Utah and their mind most likely goes to Utah’s association with Mormonism.  After the death of founder Joseph Smith in Illinois, Brigham Young became President of the Church of Latter Day Saints.   Faced with repeated conflict Young moved the headquarters of the Church and eventually settled in what would become the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, which is still celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah.  Young also served as the first governor of the Utah territory, though not without conflict.   Utah remains the center of Mormon cultural influence, with approximately 13% of all Mormons living within the states borders.  According to a Utah Census taken in 2012, 2.2% of Utahns are counted as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although only 41.6% of them are active members.  (Bonus points – anyone remember the only other state in the nation where one religious makes up the majority of the population?  I’ll give you a hint – the religion is Catholicism.  The answer’s at the end of the blog J )

If Mormonism isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, perhaps it’s the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere, the Great Salt Lake.  The remnants of Lake Bonneville, the lake is so salty because water flows in but then has no place to flow back out!  Tributary rivers are constantly bringing in small amounts of salt dissolved in their fresh water flow. Once in the Great Salt Lake much of the water evaporates leaving the salt behindThe total amount of salt dissolved in the Great Salt Lake is about 4.5 to 4.9 billion tons.  The lake's salinity has ranged from a little less than 5 percent (which is just above sea water) to nearly 28 percent (beyond which water cannot hold more salt), which makes people buoyant in its waters.  Most forms of aquatic life cannot live in the lake due to the high salt concentration.

On the shores of the lake stands Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City (or SLC as it’s sometimes called), home to Temple Square, the Utah Jazz and the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.  Though faced with early scandal, IOC President Jacques Rogge declared The Games “flawless” at the Closing Ceremonies on February 24, 2002.  The Games featured 78 events in 15 different sports played by 2,399 athletes.  Utah Olympic Park, home to ski jumping, nordic combined, bobsled, skeleton and luge during the Games, is open to tourists year-round wanting experience the thrills of being an Olympian.

And just why did the IOC chose Salt Lake City as the Game’s venue in 2002?  Perhaps it has something to do with Utah’s claim that they have “the greatest snow on earth.”  Believe it or not, there may be something to the claim!   Several environmental factors (in brief the low humidity and placement of the mountains and Great Salt Lake) play a role in giving Utah’s snow that ideal ‘fluffy’ texture.  It could also be the actual snowflakes.  According to a former chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service, "The secret of Utah's unique and wonderful powder is the structure of the individual snow crystals. Under cold, relatively dry conditions, light crystal-type snowflakes called dendrites are produced. These snowflakes are thin and symmetrical in shape, and they float down through the cold atmosphere, accumulating like fluffy down or powder on Utah mountains."  Debate amongst yourselves, but if you’re making a trip to Utah, I suggest you don’t miss the opportunity to check out the powder.

A few more ‘must sees’ (at least in my book) would include trips to Rainbow Bridge and The Arches National Park.  Utah is famous for many instances of the natural arch, which is a  natural rock formation where a rock arch forms, with an opening underneath.  Spanning approximately 234 feet, Rainbow Bridge is often described as the world’s highest natural bridge.  (Like the snow, this one’s up for debate).  The Bridge is even considered to be sacred by some members of the nearby Navajo tribes.  Containing over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, the Arches National Park is located just outside Moab.  Notable landmarks within the park include Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, Landscape Arch and Devil’s Garden.

Historically, Utah played a key role in connecting our great nation with a golden spike.  On May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit (not Point as it is often wrongly called) a golden spike was driven into the rails officially connecting the First Transcontinental Railroad.  Spanning 1,907 miles between San Francisco Bay and Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Central Pacific Railroad Company began building east and the Union Pacific Railroad Company before they eventually met in Promontory.  A ceremony was held, the spike was driven in and the word “Done” was telegraphed across the country.  It is estimated that during the 6 years of building, over 18,000 workers had a role in building the railway.  It’s completion allowed travel and migration across the country to skyrocket.

I’m wrapping up my Utah preview with two entertainment highlights from the Beehive State.  Late every January, film lovers from around the world descend on Park City for the annual Sundance Film Festival.  The event, begun in 1978 as the Utah/US Film Festival and chaired by Robert Redford,  eventually morphed into the Sundance Film Festival by 1984 and is one of the largest independent film festivals in the world.  The annual event serves as a showcase for new work from American and international independent filmmakers and in 2014 screened 186 movies, in 9 different theaters for the over 46,000 in attendance.  You also can’t talk about Utah without at least mentioning one of Utah’s royal families, the Osmonds!  Hailing from Salt Lake City, the family has had a career that took them from singing barbershop music as children to teen-music idols, from producing a hit television show to continued success as solo and group performers.  The two most famous Osmond’s are arguably Marie and Donny who achieved the family’s greatest success as teen idols with their brother-sister act.  The family continues to perform together and Donny and Marie have an act in Vegas!

There you have it – a quick overview of Utah!  It’s worth noting that one thing I was captivated by during my research was all the amazing scenery, but I had to narrow it down!  With five national parks and forty-three state parks there isn’t a shortage of things to check out in Utah.  I had an awesome time going through the tour guide this week for pictures to put up.  Looking forward to the crew coming back tomorrow so I can share it with them!  So until then…

Utah Fun Fact of the Day:  Annual precipitation varies from less than five inches in Utah's arid Great Salt Lake Desert to more than 60 inches in the northern mountain ranges.

Bonus Answer: Rhode Island!

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