SALT LAKE CITY — On any day of the year, Temple Square is the most popular tourist site in Utah. But twice a year, tourists are apt to find themselves lost in a sea of white shirts, ties and dressy dresses.
"This is interesting. Totally impressive. My hat's off to your gardener," said Bob Slacke, who, with his friend Sue Gatensbury, was en route to the Grand Canyon when they stopped off in Salt Lake City for the day Saturday. "The temple is unbelievable, but the most impressive part of the experience is how nice the people are."
Not being able to get into the temple, which is reserved for faithful LDS, was one of the few complaints tourists had.
Slacke and Gatensbury, from Vancouver, Canada, had been touring the Tabernacle Saturday and were invited, with other visitors, to leave so the building could be used by conferencegoers. During the sessions, the Assembly Hall in the square's southwest corner is also reserved for LDS members attending conference, particularly Spanish speakers.
Between sessions, tourists were again treated to tours of the Tabernacle and Assembly Hall.
The two visitors centers on the square remained open during the sessions, and tourists mingled with church members who couldn't get into the Conference Center or any of the overflow sites adjacent to the center.
"We just have fewer tourists, more members," said Sister Nyman, one of the many regularly assigned missionaries on the square. Her name tag bore a Norwegian flag to identify her country of origin.
Among church members who clustered around the popular South Visitors Center replica of the Salt Lake Temple were Katie Roskelley of Sacramento, Calif., and Emily Drumman, also a Californian but currently a student at BYU. "We're about to go get in line to see if we can get any tickets to the afternoon session," said Drumman.
Jason Wicks and Lyn Hamlett of Melbourne, Australia, visit the United States often for work and have been in Las Vegas a number of times.
"I always saw the highway signs pointing to Salt Lake City and wanted to come here," said Hamlett. This time, Utah was on their list and they landed in Salt Lake City just in time for conference.
"This is a beautiful city," said Wicks. "We are enjoying looking around." In fact, he said, they were planning another day in Utah, including a visit to Park City, based on their impressions of the area.
Jim Moore of St. Louis was not interested in dabbling in genealogy on the visitors center computer station, set up to accommodate visitors who are, so he waited for his wife, Patricia. "Oh! I found my father," she exclaimed as he sat by.
"We didn't know anything about conference, but this is fabulous," said Jim Moore. "This is a great show of trust and devotion to God, especially the youth. (The LDS Church) does great things with its youth." He said missionaries have visited his home in St. Louis. The Moores were set to leave Salt Lake City for additional touring in the Southwest, he said.
Gerry Rosenfeld of Sudbury, Canada, a serious genealogist, was disappointed that the church's Family History Center was closed for conference, but he was willing to wait for Monday so he could make use of its facilities.
"It's known worldwide," he said. Unable to delve into genealogical resources Saturday, he was good-naturedly enjoying some time watching Dennis Knox, a church member who dresses up like a pioneer to demonstrate carpentry and carving skills as part of his assignment as a church service missionary. Knox's wife, Sharon, is a hostess at the Mary Deuel pioneer cabin in the space between the genealogy building and the LDS Art and History Museum to the north. The Knoxes were expecting an influx of visitors between and after Saturday's conference sessions, and the art and history center remained open throughout the day for tourists and member visitors, said docent Gary Hatfield.
Ernest Lehenbauer and Peggy Laycock, with her daughters Danielle and Haley Ford, came from Lehi to catch the conference proceedings in the chapel at the Joseph Smith Building. "It's nicer here than at home. Better atmosphere, fewer distractions," said Lehenbauer. "It's great to see so many other Mormons."
Elsewhere in the Joseph Smith Building, showings in the Legacy Theater were put on hold during the sessions to allow space for more conference attendees, but the performances before and after were in great demand, a hostess said.