Although not on the same scale as New Jersey, Utah is often the subject of scorn, backhanded compliments, and ridicule. I admit it is one of only two states I know off where you can see polygamist compounds and punk rockers all in the same day (Arizona is the only other, and that is only near the Utah border). It also has its own political spectrum ranging from right wing to super ultra right wing. (I am glad to see the “Get us out of the UN” signs of my youth are either gone or less visible.) But Utah takes a bad rap for being overly hegemonic. Yes, over half the residents do not drink alcohol, but that does not mean they will pass laws preventing you from drinking, as long as you follow some very simple rules.
Beyond the Utah of punchlines is a wonderful state, one that grabs you at the border, entrances you with its beauty, and reminds you that you are alive. Based on my 20 years as a resident of the Beehive state, here are my favorite 6 things to do in Utah:
6. Southeastern Utah – If you have a week or two and want to get lost in America, I can think of no better place than Southeastern Utah. My dream escape would begin with a few days in the hub of mountain biking and four wheeling, Moab. For those who have been, the name brings back memories of slick red rock, desert scape, and a land which appears to have been created for wheeled vehicles. I would follow that up with a couple days camping at Capitol Reef and Arches National Parks. Often overshadowed by Zion and Bryce, Arches and Capitol Reef offer something the other two haven’t had for years– solitude and silence. It is important to make sure you keep Capitol Reef and Arches below Zion and Bryce on any list you create; this will keep the crowds at Zion and leave these two a little more open. After a couple of days sweating out the desert heat among the cathedrals and natural bridges, there is no better place to cool off than Lake Powell. Lake Powell has more shoreline than California. If you judge your water skiing based on the scenery, water conditions and the potential for a glass like surface, there is no better place to ski in the world. The lake is full of people from all over the desert southwest, so bring enough gas with you to get 3-5 hours away from the docks and the crowds.
5. The high Uintas – There is no better place in Utah to escape daily life than the high Uintas wilderness area. I wouldn’t advise getting lost here though. Every year a few intrepid cross country skiers, hikers, and backpackers lose their way and fail to return to their cars. But for those who have a general understanding of the points on the compass, this wilderness offers a unique terrain full of lakes to fish and mountains to climb. The Uinta Mountains are 13,000 feet high, a fact that gives Utahans a minor inferiority complex since Colorado’s peaks exceed 14,000 feet. They shouldn’t get too down on themselves though, seeing as Georgia doesn’t have any hills over 5000 feet and Rhode Island can’t boast a rock big enough to make it over 1000 feet. Amid the many mountains are deep pine forests, aspen-covered hills, and places so isolated the Unabomber might have felt lonely. I would tell you where to enter the wilderness to get to the isolated areas, but then they might not be so isolated.
4. Temple Square – It took 40 years to build the Salt Lake Temple and required the dedication and participation of the entire city during its construction. Today it stands as the center of the Mormon church, and is worth a half a day to just wander around, watch the brides get their pictures taken, and spend some time in quiet reflection. As we travel we like to seek out holy places. We have been to Jerusalem, Uluru, The Vatican, Hiroshima, and countless churches, monasteries, and temples around the world. They all have moved us, and we have been edified by them. If you cannot visit us at our home, Temple Square is the next best place to partake of our personal spirituality.
3. Back country winter activities – Skiing takes the headlines in Utah and it should. The state proudly claims the “greatest snow on earth,” and the skiing here is simply amazing. If you want to feel really alive, skip the resorts and head out on your own and cross country ski or snowshoe up a mountain. Both the Wasatch range and the Uintas are filled with trails and mountains to be explored. Make sure to check to find out the avalanche rating. If it is high, stay away.
2. Ceder Breaks and the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City – I love juxtapositioning unrelated or opposing activities. For instance, in LA you can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon. On Indonesia’s Komodo Island, we played with the dragons by morning and snorkeled with giant amberjacks by afternoon. For the best juxtaposition in Utah, stay at Brian Head ski resort about 25 miles northeast of Cedar City. Spend your mornings hiking around the forest or Cedar Breaks National Monument and your nights at one of the nation’s premier Shakespearean festivals.