Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: USA Road Trip 2011

Exploring Salt Lake City

I had breakfast at the in-house Trofi's restaurant using one of the vouchers given to me as a Hilton HHonors Diamond member. One of those memorable little moments occurred as I made my way back upstairs. As I stepped into the elevator, its sole existing occupant was an untidy-looking young man with droopy, baggy shorts and an ill-fitting American football top, who was wearing his baseball cap at the craziest possible angle. I remember thinking something mildly uncharitable when he suddenly looked up and said: "How're you doin' today, Sir?" I was so taken aback by this outburst of civility that I stumbled slightly over my reply. It was a lesson not to judge by appearances and a reminder that, even in the 21st century, the United States can still be an astonishingly polite and respectful society. 

After a short stop back at my room to get organised, I set off on foot somewhere between 0930 and 1000, in the direction of Temple Square. At this time of the morning, the weather was already fabulous as far as this sunlight-deprived Scot was concerned. It was a pleasure simply to be outdoors in such agreeable conditions. After a quick browse in the nearby tourist information centre, I made a couple of short photo stops, first at the so-called 'Salt Palace' convention centre and secondly at Abravanel Hall, home of the Utah Symphony Orchestra.
ABOVE: 'Salt Palace' convention centre and Abravanel concert hall

Temple Square

A couple of street crossings and a few steps then brought me to my first main objective of the day, Temple Square. This collection of notable buildings, dominated by the vast Salt Lake Temple itself, is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, probably better known as the Mormon Church. I started off by looking around the Assembly Hall and the unmistakeable shape of Salt Lake Tabernacle, both of which were open to visitors, before moving on to the North Visitor's Center, which invites you to 'reflect on the majesty and wonder of God's creation' and which features a replica of Bertel Thorvaldsen's Christus statue. I then walked around the Conference Center, Salt Lake Temple (accessible only to LDS church members), the reflecting pool and the impressive Joseph Smith Memorial Building, before taking a quick look inside the very family-orientated South Visitor's Center.

Finally, I walked one block eastwards along W South Temple to the historic Lion House and Beehive House, both former residences of Brigham Young and his large and somewhat unconventional family. The former is now a restaurant, while the latter remains in church ownership as a museum. Although I had avoided any kind of tour up to this point in favour of independent exploration, I decided to take the short guided tour of the Beehive House. While the tour was conducted in a most friendly manner by two young women from Canada and Hong Kong and the main focus was on the house's history, it was perhaps inevitable that the commentary tended to turn towards matters of faith and the LDS church in particular. I learned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not a reformed church; rather, its adherents believe that it is the restored true church of Christ, the original having been destroyed through apostasy shortly after its founder's time on earth. It seemed weird to me that, if I understood correctly, nearly two millennia of Christian history were being written off as bogus.

I studiously avoided leaving any kind of contact details at the end of the tour, although invited to do so several times, and I confess to breathing a little sigh of relief when I stepped back outside into the warm sunshine. It had all been most interesting, but enough was enough. A rumbling stomach reminded me that while man may not live on bread alone, he's none too keen on being deprived of it!

Assembly Hall
LEFT: Salt Lake Tabernacle, home of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir LEFT:
Salt Lake Temple
Conference Center
RIGHT: Church Office Building
LEFT: North Visitors' Center
RIGHT: Joseph Smith Memorial Building
Lion House and Beehive House
BELOW: Some unexpected nonsense in Downtown Salt Lake City!
I made my way towards what looked to be the heart of the commercial centre, noting as I did so that Salt Lake City had already achieved what Edinburgh was still tearing itself apart trying to do: install a modern tram system. A further reminder of the Scottish capital turned out to be only a few steps away, when I came across the unexpected sight of a shop selling Scottish souvenirs - mostly, it has to be said, of the tourist tat variety.

I was slightly unsettled by the fact that the downtown area was basically dead on this early Sunday afternoon, but eventually I managed to find a place that was open for lunch and I enjoyed a delicious brunch of Eggs Benedict.

Capitol Hill

My afternoon objective was a visit to Capitol Hill, home of the Utah state legislature. The hotel receptionist had advised driving in order to avoid the steep climb, but for some reason I opted to walk instead. It was the wrong decision, and I had to endure a punishing climb at the hottest part of the day. Thankfully, the end result more than justified the effort involved in getting there and my camera went into overdrive as I took in the impressive sights of the Capitol itself, the old Council Hall (relocated from downtown), the White Memorial Chapel and, not least, the beautiful mountain backdrop to it all. Astonishingly in these troubled times, it was possible to wander into the Capitol and look around.

When I felt that I had seen enough I made my way back to the Hilton, calling in at the tourist centre once again to pick up some brochures that had looked relevant earlier, but which I had no desire to carry around all day. Back at base, I watched some TV and relaxed in my rather plush accommodation. My room service dinner, however, was a little disappointing and not up to the usual Hilton standards.

When it was time to turn in for the night, I felt satisfied that I'd given Salt Lake City a good shot in the limited time available. Although I had visited the city once before as part of my first trip to the USA in 1985, I remembered almost nothing apart from the Christus statue. It was good to know that I had updated and deepened my acquaintance with the place, but it was also time to move on; this was, after all, a road trip and I was hungry for what lay ahead.

Sunday 28 Aug

Miles driven: 0

Trip to date: 10

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I spotted this Thelma & Louise poster in the old Council Hall on Capitol Hill, which is now used as a tourist information centre. It seemed reasonably appropriate, in view of the road trip on which I was about to embark.