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SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands flocked to downtown Salt Lake City from near and far Thursday to celebrate Utah's pioneer heritage in the annual Days of '47 Parade.

Jesper Nielsen flew from Denmark to visit his family in Utah earlier this week not knowing that he was in for a special treat.

"Before I left home I didn’t know there was a parade and as far as I understand, it’s the biggest holiday in Utah so I think its great — a nice surprise," Nielsen said. "I’ve seen St. Patrick’s Day parades, but this — the weather's so beautiful, it's so warm and hot — I think it’s great."

More than 50 floats, decorated to honor Utah's pioneers with the theme of "Pioneers Pushing Towards Our Future," added quite the variety to the marching bands, clowns and motorcycle squads that entertained people for two hours Thursday.

Thousands of people braved the 90-degree weather to cheer for the winners of this year's float competition, a tradition since 2004 in an event that's been held since 1849.

The Midvale Utah Stake secured the Children's Choice Award with a sparkling green and red dotted Tyrannosaurus Rex, which symbolized the strength and tenacity of the Mormon pioneers.

The T-Rex was a big hit with most little kids, but it was the motorcycles that 3-year-old Alonzo Renteria was looking forward to seeing the most.

"My son wanted to see all the cops and motorcycles so that’s what we were looking forward to. He was really happy about it," mother Danielle Renteria said. Alonso represents the fourth generation of his family to come to the parade.

"Since I was 2, we used to live right across the street from Liberty Park so we’d go every year. We’d camp out in our front lawn," grandmother Juanita Renteria recalled. "It’s like an annual thing for our family and it gets better and better each year."

It wasn't long before President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made an appearance, putting many people on their feet, clapping and cheering as he passed by in a car.

"It was great. There was a great spirit and it was awesome to see the prophet come by," Woods Cross resident B.J. Tenney said. "My kids loved seeing him, too. They were waving at him."

LDS mission companions Elder Biggs and Elder Pirir were not so lucky. After hearing they missed the church leader drive by, they decided to run along the parade route to catch up with him.

"He asked if he could shake his hand and the bodyguards were like, 'Step back,'" Elder Biggs said with a laugh, pointing to his companion. "How many opportunities do you get to shake the prophet's hand? You've got to take it, right? Even though it didn't work out, we told him we loved him and he said he loved us, too."

Clay versions of Mormon missionaries were represented in the Riverton Harvest Park Stake float, which won the Spirit of Faith Award. The float was accompanied by 20 young adults representing the missionaries of the future.

Jen Ashcraft moved from San Diego to Highland a little more than a year ago. Her first Pioneer Day experience, she said, will be a day to remember.

"It’s different, but it's awesome," she said. "I think its great. I love how they hold onto their heritage here and celebrate it."

For Jack and Joyce Angus, the parade provided an opportunity for their family to spend time together and reflect on their ancestors' heritage.

"All of my ancestral lines and all of Joyce’s ancestral lines are pioneers so we’re a pioneer family," Jack Angus said.

His great-grandfather sailed across the ocean from Scotland to America.

"He didn’t have any money so he built his own handcart and crossed the plains in a handcart, so we come from very poor beginnings. That’s only one of lines; many of our lines go back," he said.

The following floats took home awards in the 2014 Float Competition:

Days of '47 Sweepstakes Award: Jordan Oaks Stake in West Jordan, Pushing Into the Future To Find Our Pioneer Past

Theme Award: South Salt Lake Stake; Pioneers of Communication, Pushing To Connect

Outstanding Animation Award: South Jordan Utah Stake, Laying Up Stores For the Future

Ensign Award: West Jordan Welby Stake, Wagon Loaded! Future Bound

People's Choice Award: Draper Utah Stake, The Wind Pushing Them Toward Their Dreams

President's Award: Deseret Book, Preserving the Future

Queen's Award: Days of '47 Royalty

Mayor's Award: Chinese Society of Utah, Journey Toward Our Future

Community Award: University of Utah

Brigham Young Award: Murray City Corporation

Governor Award: Cottonwood Heights, Pushing Our Celebration To New Heights

Legacy Award: Bountiful Utah North Canyon Stake, Music Lifts Pioneer Spirits as They Push Westward

Utah Award: Salt Lake East Millcreek North Stake, Education + Industry = Our Future Harvest

Daughters of Utah Pioneers Award: Draper Utah Stake, The Wind Pushing Them Toward Their Dreams

Pioneers Award: Salt Lake Granite Stake, To Our Future

Hilda Erickson Award: Salt Lake Bonneville Stake, Pioneering Our Future On the Foundation of Our Legacy

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