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Photos, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Youths from the Snow Canyon 2nd Ward in St. George enjoy the view from the LDS Church Office Building observation deck. During the summer, tours are available Monday through Saturday. Missionary Julie Richards says hosts must know the names of all the canyons in the surrounding mountains and sights in the valley.

Temple Square is Utah's most popular tourist attraction, even eclipsing the state's national parks. However, some visitors to the square — especially Salt Lake-area residents — don't ever seem to have a breathtaking visit to the 26th floor observation deck of the LDS Church Office Building on their agenda.

This often-neglected or underpublicized free-admission visitor opportunity is well worth the time. After all, the Church Office Building at 50 E. North Temple is still the tallest building in Utah.

From two floors below the top of the 28-floor, 435-foot-tall office building, visitors can gaze out on the Salt Lake Valley from a bird's-eye view.

This will likely not be the tallest building in Salt Lake City or Utah for much longer, but its status is enhanced by several factors: It is in a strategic downtown location and on higher ground than most of downtown.

The Wells Fargo Building to the south is commonly listed at 13 feet shorter at 422-feet high, and its top, like most private buildings, doesn't boast as much public access as the Church Office Building observation deck does.

The Church Office Building, completed in 1972, houses the administrative support staff for the LDS Church throughout the world.

"Enjoy a magnificent view of the Wasatch mountain range on the east, the Oquirrh range to the west, and the state Capitol building (patterned after the nation's Capitol) to the north," the places to visit section on lds.org states. "A view from this observation deck is a great way to become oriented on your visit to Salt Lake City."

On a recent Friday morning, several dozen youths from St. George's Snow Canyon 2nd Ward visited the observation deck's 26th floor.

"It's pretty cool," Buddy Moore, from St. George, said. "I like it and it's fun to look out on the valley — especially the state Capitol."

"I like looking down on the parks and gardens," said Eva Bigley. "You can see all over Salt Lake."

Jeff Huyboam, one of the adults with the St. George group, said, "We like coming here. The temple seems even more beautiful from up here. The Conference Center is massive."

Indeed, it's the best seat in the house to see the Angel Moroni, atop the Salt Lake Temple.

"People come from everywhere," said Suzanne Cheney, one of the church hosts on the 26th floor. She said there are anywhere from 200 to 700 visitors on the deck each summer morning.

"We don't get many locals," she said, noting that many people have lived in the Salt Lake area all their lives and don't know this place is here to visit.

Julie Richards, a host missionary on the 26th floor, said she especially enjoys watching how little boys who come here get fixated on viewing the traffic hundreds of feet below on State Street. "It's like little Hot Wheels to them," she said.

She also said hosts have to be well-versed in geography and know the names of all of the canyons in the surrounding mountains and sights in the valley. Emigration Canyon and the Brigham Young Park are among the most popular things visitors ask about.

"Where's the Great Salt Lake?" is probably the most common question the hosts are asked. Richards said "bride watching" is also a sidelight in itself, as some summer days there may be many bridal groups on Temple Square below.

She said snow is cleared off the platform in the winter and rarely do high winds force the outdoor observation deck to close.

Richards said it is also amazing how colorful fall is when viewing the many trees atop the Conference Center each autumn.

Like Temple Square, many visitors are not Mormons. Checking the 26th floor's two guest sign-in logs revealed only a handful of Salt Lake-area visitors. The rest were about an equal number of out-of-state and international visitors.

"Eye opening" was how Sharon Nigel Williams from Waterford, Ireland, described her visit to the 26th floor deck.

"Breathtaking view" wrote Jan Lang from Toronto, Canada.

Visitors from Belgium, England, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Georgia, Florida and Colorado were also listed in the guest book that day.

Hosts say visitors tend to stay about 20 minutes.

Richards said the 26-story elevator ride to the top can also be a kick. She said ears commonly pop about the 14th floor going down.

The building had two base jumpers, who in 1995 climbed over the observation deck's protective railing and parachuted to a vacant lot below.

Visitors may also want to admire some of the first floor lobby's artwork.

According to Utah.com: "Visiting the Church Office Building is also a great way to learn more about the history and beliefs of the Mormon Church. The lobby is dominated by a massive mural of Jesus Christ commissioning the Apostles of the New Testament to preach the gospel message throughout the world. The lobby also features a statue honoring pioneer sacrifices, which depicts a husband and wife burying an infant child.

The inscription reads: "That the struggles, sacrifices and the sufferings of the faithful pioneers and the cause they represented shall never be forgotten."

The observation deck is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April through September. There are Saturday hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day. Church hosts suggest arriving by at least 4 p.m. to have an unrushed visit. Call 801-240-2190 for more information.

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