The Parade of Homes actually began in 1947 in the form of a centennial home, built to honor the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake valley in 1847. It has been evolving ever since.

For instance, in 1954 there was one display home hoisted (by a huge crane) on top of the old Rainbow Rendevous in downtown Salt Lake City. That year, as part of the publicity for the display, a home was given away. Get ready for this. The home's worth was estimated at $18,000.For the next several years, there were exhibits at Liberty Park and display homes at several scattered sites. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the homes were located in one convenient place. And in the last three years, the Hidden Oaks area of the Salt Lake valley was chosen as the display site.

Beginning with our dating days, Marti and I loved to visit the Parade of Homes, to get ideas, and just dream. It seemed that every year the homes became a little more luxury oriented, and a little more out of our reach. But they were always interesting, and we never stopped going until we moved out of state.

That's why it was especially interesting for me to go this year for the first time in several years. I still enjoyed it, and it still seemed strangely out of reach. What was shocking to me this time was that my home in Massachusetts, a quite ordinary looking New England Colonial style with 6 bedrooms, could actually sell for more money than several of the homes in the Parade of Homes.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to imply that my New England home is even close to the level of these elegant, detailed structures. It only suggests the insane truth about the national house market, and how much it varies from state to state. The median price for a home in Massachusetts, for instance, is now $182,900, while the median price in Utah is $66,400.

And the National Association of Realtors tells us that because mortgage rates are about to rise, from current 10.44 percent to 11 and a quarter by year's end, we should buy homes now. At least through September we should take a hard look at the market.

So I did. Out at 117th South and 20th East, at a location that is at once quite desolate and at the same time spectacular. Once again a great truth emerged about Utah homes - that a view lot is the most popular ingredient. In several of the 10 homes, there were specially designed windows in living rooms or bedrooms that took full, spectacular advantage of the mountain view, without even requiring a deck. As the valley expands, the mountain view has become the chief replacement for the harder-to-come-by valley view.

There are many more two-story homes than I usually associate with Utah, and often the second floor looks dramatically down at some portion of the first floor. (The kids could spy on the adult parties!) The bathrooms and the master bedrooms were the most luxury conscious, with huge bathtubs, walk-in closets, and even desks and telephones in the bathrooms themselves.

Ironically enough, the number of bedrooms for each house (2 or 3 in most) do not reflect the Utah culture. I loved the large laundry rooms in each home, except in one home where it was dangerously close to the living room.

Several homes made dramatic and esthetic use of marble, especially in the entry ways. In fact, in two of the 10 homes, I was forced to remove my shoes and carry them throughout. We protected the newness of the interiors, but the unsettling aroma of feet soon began to waft through the hallways, a definite distraction.

Two things have always bothered me about the design of Utah homes, and this was true at the Parade of Homes in many cases, too - first, the prevalent tendency to focus so much on the garage that any distinctive front for the home is simply lost. A garage, it seems to me, should be unobtrusive, purely utilitarian. Second, the fact that in spite of seemingly endless space, homes are built practically on top of each other - terrific homes on tiny lots. In the crowded East, the lots are spacious.

All of these homes were well-built, spacious and interesting. I couldn't help but notice that many of the people going through them were probably, like me, peculiarly unable to pay for them. There is a certain voyeurism at work here, a "see how the other half lives" mentality, the same thing that makes Robin Leach a national celebrity.

So I'm not ready to buy yet, but like the hordes of other people who enthusiastically walked through the homes, I loved looking. In fact, a second time through and I could have intelligently chosen a favorite.