Temple Square, the NBA's Utah Jazz and the Wasatch Range are just a few things to love about Salt Lake City. The traditional yet hip metropolis keeps one foot firmly planted in history, the other on the cusp of innovation. Utah's capital is a flourishing educational, financial, technological and cultural center with a population that is predominately under 40.
Buoyed by the success of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Utah's largest city has turned into a top vacation destination. Skiers can get off a jet at Salt Lake City International Airport and be on a slope in less than an hour. The snow is something to shout about light, dry and plentiful. Ten resorts in the Salt Lake area receive more than 500 inches of snow annually.
Year-round, the Wasatch and Oquirrh ranges provide recreation. During our visit, we come expecting to tour historic sites and get a good look at the Great Salt Lake, but quickly we discover that this city offers so much more.
The motor coaches of the And 1 touring basketball squad weigh down the entranceway of Hotel Monaco. While the bell staff unloads our luggage, we hear music playing in the next block. The band, Saliva, headlines a festival at Gallivan Center. Throngs of fans surge down sidewalks, while a few blocks away, participants in Utah Pride Weekend gather to party.
Hotel Monaco's lobby is upholstered-and-fringed luxury beginning with a sumptuous harem bed positioned at the door. Each guestroom defies cookie-cutter design with great flamboyance. A goldfish in a bowl, leopard-motif bathrobes and Snickers bars on pillows are whimsical touches, distinguishing marks of Kimpton Hotels. The hotel's restaurant, Bambara, makes good use of the space once occupied by Continental Bank.
We walk to Temple Square, Utah's top tourist attraction. Riotously blooming flowers, sculptures and fountains embrace the six-spired Salt Lake Temple and the Tabernacle. Temple Square is the heart of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Only church members may enter the temple. Visitor tours are available for the other buildings, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs for free two days a week.
Mormon history dominates Utah history. Church leader Brigham Young and his followers arrived here in 1847 and built a settlement in the wilderness. The city maintains the founder's checkerboard grid with the temple as its center.
Brigham Young Historic Park and the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument pay tribute to the achievements of the earliest settlers. The Beehive House served as Young's official residence when he was president of the LDS Church and governor of the Utah Territory. It gets its name from the wooden beehive perched on the roof. This symbol reflects the hard-working nature of Utah's pioneers. From this corner, the Eagle Gate arches across State Street and South Temple. The worldwide headquarters of the LDS Church and the Mormon Family History Library occupy adjacent blocks. Gardens burgeoning with fragrant flowers soften the appearance of the high, massive and imposing buildings.
Utah's state Capitol rises above a leafy neighborhood and the Pioneer Memorial Museum. A little green vale, known as Memory Grove Park, is just down the hill. This quiet enclave is a favorite among locals.
This city of 182,000 welcomed the world to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. At Olympic Legacy Plaza, statues and gardens commemorate this shining time in the city's history. Fountains spew water to music, much to the delight of children who dance in the sunshine. The plaza is a component of The Gateway, an open-air complex of theaters, restaurants, shops, a residential tower, the Clark Planetarium, the historic Union Pacific Depot and Discovery Gateway, a family-focused learning center. Across the street, the Utah Jazz plays at the EnergySolutions Arena.
Shopping bags dangle from wrists of fashionistas at Trolley Square. Renovated trolley-car barns were transformed into trendy boutiques at this downtown mall. Nightclubs and restaurants attract a lively crowd, particularly on nights when outdoor concerts are held.
These prime shopping and nightlife areas get an enthusiastic nod from Salt Lake City's generous mix of bookstore browsers, microbrew guzzlers, vegetarians, pet lovers and extreme-sports enthusiasts. Cultural venues fit nicely into the entertainment scene. A coral-hued Dale Chihuly glass sculpture graces the foyer at Abravanel Hall, palatial home of the Utah Symphony. Repertory Dance Theater, the oldest modern dance company in the West, can be seen at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. On Pierpont Street, people watch artists at work in studios in historic warehouses. Fine art, photography, pottery, glassware and jewelry are available at UTah Artist Hands, a downtown gallery.
Architect Moshe Safdie designed the Salt Lake City Public Library to have a four-story-tall, windowed reading area. People quaff coffee at a cafe, sit in a rooftop garden, visit shops and relax in a piazza with reflecting pools and fountains.
The Foothills Cultural District is home to the University of Utah, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the Pioneer Theatre Company and the Utah Museum of Natural History. Fort Douglas, a military historic site, represents the past, and Olympic Cauldron Park shows a new chapter in the city's history.
Desert day trip
We feel the urge to see the Great Salt Lake. It measures 92 miles north to south and 48 miles east to west. We drive northward about 30 miles to reach Antelope Island, the largest of the lake's 10 islands.
Flocks of gulls feed on the brine shrimp; colonies are so profuse that the water looks pink. Sixty springs create wetlands that serve migrating birds as well as resident animals, such as bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn. We see an antelope at White Rock Bay, one of about 700 that live on the island.
From Buffalo Point overlook, we scan the immense lake and a landscape of dry vegetation and jutting rocks. Green bands mark locations of springs. We slather on sunblock and begin a hike at Bridger Bay. Life leaps everywhere. Jack rabbits, snakes and salamanders scatter into the scrub. The scent of sage perfumes the air.
Bison herds congregate at springs en route to the Fielding Garr Ranch. Now a historic site, the ranch is a testament of pioneer endurance. The Garr family set up a homestead in 1848. The isolated ranch grew into an operation with 10,000 sheep.
Schoolchildren scurry through the barn asking the hosts about implements and the horses in the corral. I poke my head inside the sheepherder's wagon. It's plain and simple. Blue enamelware rests neatly on the counter; a bed wears a brown coverlet.Before we return to Salt Lake City, we extend our excursion to Brigham City and the Golden Spike National Historic Site. On May 10, 1869, the locomotives from the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads met for the first time. Officials celebrated with much fanfare the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Replica locomotives sit on tracks, and a small museum explains the national importance of the rail link.
Contact travel editor Linda Lange of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at www.knoxnews.com.