Coach Trip – USA National Parks, Salt Lake City and the Mormons

Mormon Temple

When we had gone to bed it was a clear night but when we woke up on day six it was miserable and pouring with rain and Jackson looked wet and bedraggled and prospects were not very promising at all.

We boarded the coach and set off south down Highway 26 which ran alongside the Snake River and then onto Highway 89 which ran through glorious mountain scenery with appropriate place names like Alpine, Etna and the Caribou National Forest.  We crossed into Idaho at a place called Geneva and at some point stopped for a mid morning break at a road side diner.

This was a great place and reminded me of the sort of establishment that you see in road movies, it was old fashioned with home baking and staff who looked as though they had dressed themselves from their Ma’s 1950s wardrobe.  The rain had stopped and the sun was coming through and the temperature was much warmer than it had been further north and it continued to get hotter the further south we drove.

We continued through Idaho before crossing into Utah and picking up the Interstate 15 which ran adjacent to the Great Salt Lake and took us into a much more built up environment as we approached our destination, Salt Lake City.

The city was founded in 1847 by a group of Mormon pioneers led by their prophet and leader, Brigham Young, who fled hostility and violence in the east  and took a wagon train west in search of a suitable new location for themselves and their religion.

On arriving at Salt Lake Brigham Young is alleged to have said ‘this is the place’ after reportedly seeing the area previously in a vision.  I suspect the truth is that he was probably just a bit knackered after the gruelling journey and being thoroughly fed up with all the travelling just thought ‘this will do!’   Only four days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, he designated the site for the Salt Lake Temple, intended to be the third temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to replace those that they had abandoned in the east.  It was constructed on Temple Square, in the centre of the city and took forty years to complete.

It was a lovely day now and we arrived just before lunch time and after we had unpacked and checked in to the motel we went into the city for lunch and an afternoon of sightseeing.  The city is built on a grid system with straight roads running either north-south or east-west, a bit like Milton Keynes and believe me just as confusing.  It felt strange to be in a big city after all that time spent in the open countryside and we had to go through a period of adjustment to get used to the people and the traffic.  We found a shopping mall with a restaurant plaza and selected a fast food diner and had a swift lunch before returning to the streets to visit the Mormon Temple.

The Salt Lake Temple is the centrepiece of the ten acre Temple Square in the middle of the city and we visited the site and the extensive gardens but we were unable to visit the interior because, rather like a Muslim Mosque, it is not open to non believers.  This is because it is considered sacred by the church and its members and a visitor recommendation is required before you can gain access (a bit like joining a posh golf club, I imagine).

There is a visitor centre however with a high level gallery with excellent views over Temple Square and the rest of the city.  Whilst we were there we were obliged to endure a Mormon propoganda film which was a heavy handed attempt at religious conversion.  On hand to help in case anyone was remotely interested there were sisters of the church who who urged us all to make a referral of someone we knew back home and for a laugh we selected our grandmother and our sister but disappointingly neither of them ever received a visit.

Utah Map

One of the curious things about the Mormons was their strange habit of having more than one wife and in the 1850s there were disputes with the Federal Government over the widespread  practice of polygamy.  A climax to the disagreement occurred in 1857 when the Government declared the area in rebellion and this resulted in the Utah War when many Mormon leaders were captured and imprisoned for violation of anti-polygamy laws.

This I find strange.  Surely they didn’t need punishment for having more than one wife, they needed treatment.  Having more than one wife is insane!  Anyway, the Mormons abandoned polygamy in 1890 when they released ‘The Manifesto’ which officially renounced the practice and this paved the way for admission of Utah to the Union in 1896, when Salt Lake City became the state capital.

Next we visited the State Capital building which is at the centre of a forty acre plot which also includes a Vietnam War memorial and a monument dedicated to the Mormon pioneers.  It is a spectacular building that has been used several times in films and television to represent the Federal Capital building in Washington simply because it is easier to film and looks more venerable.  The magnificent grounds feature plants, shrubs, and trees native to Utah, as well as spectacular views over the Great Salt Lake from its elevated position.

Inside, the Capital building is decorated with many paintings and sculptues of Utah’s history and heritage, including statues of Brigham Young, the first territorial governor, and Philo T. Farnsworth, a native of Utah and the inventor of television.  I know that there are many others who claim this distinction but Salt lake City and Utah are pretty adamant on this point.

After we had returned to the motel we were in need of some beer supplies so we went for a walk to find some of the amber elixir.  This wasn’t as easy as it sounds because Utah is profoundly religious and regards alcohol consumption as a sin and can only be purchased by unbelievers in specially state licensed shops and there weren’t very many of them about.

This I can’t understand, Jesus himself went around merrily turning water into wine so what is their objection I ask?  About two blocks away we found what we were looking for and feeling slightly guilty we went inside and made our purchases.  The place was strange, a bit like a sex shop in the UK with blacked out windows and customers looking furtive and secretive as they selected their favourite tipples.  I just couldn’t help thinking ‘come on guys, join the real world!’

On the way back we were followed by a group of young men and for the first and only time on the holiday we felt slightly uneasy.  Fearing an imminent mugging we quickened our pace, took serious risks crossing a main road and by the time we got back to the motel room we had broken out into a sweat and certainly needed that drink (probably two).

Later we walked out again, but not too far, and we found a Denny’s restaurant a convenient distance from the motel (i.e. shouting for help distance) and we chose from the ubiquitous U.S. diner menu.  This wasn’t as straight forward as it could have been because the waiter tried to show off and take all four orders without writing them down.  It took some considerable time to get this right and then predictably we didn’t get the correct orders anyway.  This didn’t really matter a great deal because everything in Denny’s tastes very much the same anyway.  After an unsatisfying meal and a long day we returned wearily to the motel for a nightcap and bed.

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