Salt Lake City
In 1847 the Mormon prophet Brigham Young proclaimed this site the “right place” for a new settlement. Today, many residents and visitors still agree. Modern Salt Lake City offers an appealing mix of cultural activities, historic sites, varied architecture, appealing shopping, sophisticated hotels, and elegant restaurants.
About 180,000 people live in the city, making it by far the largest and most important urban center in Utah, while more than one million people reside nearby in the city’s sprawling suburbs.
Salt Lake City enjoys a physical setting of great visual drama. The city lies on the broad valley floor and terraces once occupied by prehistoric Lake Bonneville. Great Salt Lake, the largest remnant of that ancient inland sea, lies just northwest of the city.
The Wasatch Range rises immediately to the east; these rugged mountains, including many peaks exceeding 11,000 feet, are cut by steep canyons whose streams provide the area’s drinking and irrigation water. Just minutes from downtown you can be skiing on some of the world’s best powder in winter, or hiking among wildflowers in summer. On the other side of the valley, to the west, Lewiston Peak (10,626 feet) crowns the Oquirrh Mountains.
Salt Lake City’s strong sense of focus and purposefulness comes from a near unique combination of attributes. It’s a state capital, a major university center, the largest city for hundreds of miles, and the seat of a wealthy and powerful worldwide religion.
By far the most popular tourist site in Salt Lake City is Temple Square, the spiritual center of the Mormon Church. Utah’s political life centers on the imposing capitol, which overlooks the city from a hill just north of downtown. The University of Utah serves a major role in education and research from its 1,500-acre campus in the foothills east of the city.
A high point of any visit to Salt Lake City should be a tour of the city’s historic architecture. The early Mormons’ pride in their City of Zion is clearly seen in the old residential districts, with their beautiful Victorian mansions, and the downtown’s ornate storefronts and civic structures. Few cities in the West retain such a wealth of period architecture.
Once a prosperous, though inward-looking, trade center for local farmers and ranchers—and a virtual theocracy—Salt Lake City has emerged from its isolation in the last 50 years to join the ranks of the leading cities of the American West. A measure of the city’s new prestige is that it hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Post-Olympics, the infrastructure now seems overbuilt, with vacant storefronts and closed restaurants attesting to the boom-and-bust economics of Olympic fever. However, Salt Lake and its surrounding ski and winter recreation centers are a relatively good value for Olympic-level snow sports, and the area’s hotels and restaurants frequently offer exceptional deals on quality lodging and food.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition