Soaring in Salt Lake City

By Wharton, Gayen | ASEE Prism, February 2004 | Go to article overview

Soaring in Salt Lake City


Wharton, Gayen, ASEE Prism


Breathtaking natural beauty, world-class restaurants, shops, museums, and family history. Salt Lake City has it all.

Is an airplane prepares to land at Salt Lake City International Airport, a passenger glancing out a window gains a quick perspective on the valley's attractions. The Wasatch Mountains on the east rise from the valley floor as if to guard the prosperous valley below. The Great Salt Lake and its bird refuges stretch to the west. A glittering downtown filled with restaurants, museums, and history stands on the valley's northern edge, almost miragelike in what was once a desolate valley.

The Mormon Zion offers many stories for those who look. This is where Martha Hughs Cannon became the nation's first woman state senator in 1896. It is a place that once boasted a socialist mayor, and where people eat more ice cream per capita than in any place in the United States. A Salt Lake City policeman invented the world's first traffic light and Utahn Philo T. Farnsworth invented the television.

A visit to Salt Lake City should include a mixture of the culture, history, and natural beauty of the city. Look for a variety of beehives on the sidewalks and in many of the buildings. Mormon leader Brigham Young, who brought the pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, used the honeybee as a symbol of the new state because early pioneers viewed the beehive as a symbol of industry and the virtues of thrift and perseverance. The beehive is on Utah's official state emblem. Most visitors begin with the state's most popular tourist destination, Temple Square, in the heart of Salt Lake City.

A stroll through the square's manicured gardens and a tour given by one of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) missionaries is a good place to begin. While only Mormons in good standing are allowed inside the granite temple itself, there is plenty to see, including the Mormon Tabernacle, two large museums, an Assembly Hall, and the Seagull Monument.

Make a point of getting inside the Tabernacle. A bridge builder, Henry Grow, designed its famous roof by resting huge wooden arches on top of 44 cut sandstone buttresses. The arches, beams, and supports were pinned together using wooden pegs and rawhide thongs. Since that time, a metal suspension system has been added to reinforce Crow's work, and the roof of 400,000 wooden shingles has been replaced with aluminum. Plan on listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform inside the Tabernacle to get the full effect of the famous choir, the enormous organ, and the incredible acoustics.

The original organ featured 2,000 pipes. The present organ includes 11,623 pipes made of wood, zinc, tin, and lead. It has five keyboards and a 32-note pedal board. "It took five men to operate a hand-pump mechanism for the original organ in Salt Lake Tabernacle," says Glen M. Leonard, director of the Museum of Church History and Art. "Sometime before 1875, this mechanism was modified for use with a large water wheel installed in the Tabernacle basement and powered by City Creek, which ran along North Temple Street."

There is much to see and learn about Utah while visiting Temple Square and the surrounding Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "campus." This area is to Mormons what the Vatican is to Catholics. A new 21,000-seat conference center, located just north of Temple Square, is worth seeing if only to enjoy the flowing waterfalls and gardens on the roof. For one of downtown's best views, ride the elevator to the 26th-floor observation deck in the white Mormon Church office building, the tallest structure in the city. (For more information on tours, see page C27.)

If you are curious about the Mormon's practice of polygamy, you can ask the tour guides at the Lion House, Brigham Young's original residence. It was home to a handful of his wives and children. Mormons in good standing do not believe in or practice plural marriage. Polygamy delayed Utah's entrance into the United States until 1896, about the time the Mormon Church's then-president and prophet, Wilford Woodruff, banned polygamy. …

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