ST. GEORGE — Utah is so much more than astounding vistas and plentiful, powdery snow.
It's the third-generation rancher in Mount Pleasant, Sanpete County, who today is selling his quarter horses over the Internet; the two young women in Boulder, Garfield County, who've started a world-class sit-down restaurant offering food grown on their farm; the cafe owner in Torrey, Wayne County, 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 and 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 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 surrounded by gorgeous scenery."
Wyels was surprised 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."
Tour manager Mary Ellen Elggren said it has been frustrating over the years to watch tourist buses zip through the state without stopping to check out the towns 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 Mount 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.
Highlights of the Heritage Tour include:
The St. George Tabernacle, a prime example of pioneer ingenuity. After 309 families were asked to sell their homes, buy wagons and be in St. George by early December, they were directed to build a meeting house for 2,000 people. "They want us to build a national monument," wrote Erastus Snow in his journal. They completed the task, feathering the pine to look like oak and raising the astronomical amount of $800 to pay for the glass window panes. Mitt Romney's great-grandfather, Miles P. Romney, was the building supervisor.
Panguitch, settled in 1864 and resettled in 1871, is famous for the red brick made from native clay and used in homes and buildings all over southern Utah. A "Quilt Walk Festival" held the second week in June marks the courageous journey of seven men who prayed on a quilt and were inspired to then lay down quilts over the snow to make the journey over the mountain to get food.
The stunning red rocks of Bryce Canyon which, as Ebenezer Bryce put it, is a "Helluva place to lose a cow!"
Boulder, settled at the top of a road that was virtually impassable by car until 1940, today features Hell's Backbone Grill, owned and run by Jen Castle and Blake Spalding, mixes Mormon pioneer, Native American and cowboy fare.
The Anasazi State Park, which features a relief map of the 90 miles of the impassable Waterpocket Fold, illustrates the magnitude of the task pioneers faced as they ventured into the southern regions to settle.
The Capitol Reef petroglyphs near the 300-acre Fruita orchards speak of ancient people who etched their stories on the sheer colored ribbons of rock. The fruit in the nearby remaining trees is given away annually to passers-by and locals.
Prize pie at Mom's Cafe in Salina and Croshaw's Gourmet Pies in St. George. Remember grandma's rhubarb pie?
The nearly 100-year-old Casino Star Theatre, painstakingly restored by Diana Spencer and the current mayor of Gunnison, Lori Nay. Repainted, with new flooring (after discovering the earth under the concrete floor had washed away), plumbing and air conditioning. "It's been a labor of love, heavy on the labor," Nay said.
The Heritage Center Gardens on the Manti Temple's west side featuring a reflection pond, an amphitheater and a walkway through natural flora. On the temple's south side in the hillside is a replica of the pioneer dugouts where families lived for years, battling bitter cold in the winter and rattlesnakes when the snow melted.
The clay pottery of Joseph Bennion, handmade and hand fired in an outside brick kiln, sold at Horseshoe Mountain Pottery. If he's not in the shop, just leave the money in the jar.
The ConToy indoor rodeo arena features Sanpitch Heritage events, which can include calf-roping, cattle branding, watching horse training, horse shoeing and barrel racing.
The restored Lionel and Clista Lasson Peterson dance hall in Mount Pleasant featuring the original hardwood dance floor supported by piles of rocks and the band shell on the balcony floor.
The Fairview (Sanpete County) Museum of History buildings featuring a full-size mammoth skeleton, pioneer artifacts, the sculpture of Avard Fairbanks and an outside display of antique farm instruments.
The FAM tour is one of a number of ongoing efforts to introduce Utah and its treasures to the outside world. Federal and state Heritage funds pay for restoration efforts and community projects.