ST. GEORGE — Utah is so much more than astounding vistas and plentiful, powdery snow.
It's the third-generation rancher in Mt. Pleasant who today is selling his quarter horses over the Internet, the two young women in Boulder who've started a world-class sit-down restaurant offering foodstuffs grown on their farm, the cafe owner in Torrey who hands out 2,400 individual mini-pies during the town's festival parade.
It's the dramatic story of three young pioneer children sitting alone on the rocky ground as their parents perilously slip and slide their wagon through the "Hole in the Rock" outside of Escalante, the story of husbands and fathers climbing over the mountain pass on quilts laid over the wet, deep snow near Panguitch.
It's the music of "Digging in the Dirt" and "Helluva Place to Lose a Cow," and the stories of courage and heart and the unique charm that sets the Beehive state apart.
That's what the organizers of the Utah Cultural Heritage FAM Tour wanted to tell the out-of-state travel writers invited to visit for four days in May.
It's also what Joyce Gregory Wyels with the American Road Magazine; Jonathan Miltimore, senior editor for the History Channel Magazine; Dave Zuchowski, travel correspondent for CNHI News Service; and Jayne Cannon with AAA GO came away with.
"It's very humbling, I can tell you that, seeing what the people have done without roads and means," Miltimore said. "I'm very touched by the stories."
Miltimore said combining songs written by the Story Road Utah bus band (comprised of Clive Romney, Sam Payne, Ryan Shupe and associated musicians) with stories told by step-on bus guides and local presenters made the stories come alive.
"They've (the Utah Tourism office staff) found a very effective way to tell this story," he said.
"This is such rugged, lonely terrain," Cannon said. "I've lived all over the country but I've never seen anything like this."
"I've enjoyed that we're going for the authentic experience," Wyels added. "It's pretty much off the beaten path while surrrounded by gorgeous scenery."
Wyels said she's interested to find the architecture in Utah so similar to that of the New England states. She hadn't realized the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought so much of their English heritage with them.
"I've been through Utah before," Zuchowski said, as he took the opportunity to drive a horse-drawn wagon. "I always took the interstate from Salt Lake City to the national parks. This is all completely new to me. I've heard some very interesting stories and learned a lot about the Mormons."
Mary Ellen Elggren, tour manager, said it's been frustrating over the years to watch tourist buses zip through the state without stopping to check out the towns and their offerings along the way.
"We want to put the word out based on five Heritage areas: Heritage lodging, Heritage foods, Heritage products, Heritage experiences that includes music and the arts, and Heritage sites," said the acting director of the Division of State History, Wilson Martin.
The FAM tour, short for "familiarity tour," is just part of the effort as grants and donations change the landscape of southern and central Utah from the newly restored Peterson Dance Hall in Mt. Pleasant to the vast, covered ConToy rodeo arena.
In Spring City, Heritage funds are paying for the restoration of the homes and the original schoolhouse built of the native adobe brick. The money helped pay for the Hole in the Rock Heritage Center on Highway 12 east of Escalante.
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