Editor’s note: I have been pressuring Sam for a while to write more about his home as a break from his amazing worldwide adventures. Today, he indulged me, and I’m so glad he did! To read more from this incredible writer – and person – click here to visit his index.
For three years, I have lived in the beautiful state of Utah, right in its capital and largest city, Salt Lake City. Utah should be on everyone’s travel list for a variety of reasons. As a Delta hub, Salt Lake City tends to be affordable and accessible from most parts of the United States. At every point in the city, you are surrounded by mountain ranges which are all within twenty minutes of downtown. Half an hour from my doorstep is some of the best skiing in the entire world, with the ski resorts Alta, Deer Valley, Brighton, Snow Basin, Snowbird, and Park City, and there is also world class hiking about ten minutes away at Millcreek Canyon. Thirty minutes east of Salt Lake City, in Park City, is the world-renowned Sundance Film Festival, and northwest of Salt Lake City is its namesake, the Great Salt Lake, the largest lake in the United States outside of the Great Lakes. There, you can explore the Bonneville Salt Flats or Antelope Island (future articles), and see one-of-a-kind landscapes and North American bison. Within Utah also are five national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands), as well as other places that could be national parks like Goblin Valley, Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Dinosaur National Monument. I haven’t even mentioned the Pando, a collection of aspen trees that shares a root system, making it among the largest, oldest, and heaviest living single organism on the entire planet, nor the volcanic crater with a geothermal hot spring beneath a volcanic cone where you can go scuba diving. Needless to say, there is a ton to do in Utah, and I look forward to writing many future articles about my wonderful home.
In this week’s article, though, I am going to talk about my favorite building in Utah. No, it is not the Salt Lake City Temple (oh yeah, another reason to visit here, we are the headquarters of a major world religion – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also called the Mormon Church) – with tons of museums and related sites of interest). Rather, I am talking about the Utah State Capitol. You might be thinking, “Well every state has a capitol building, why should I visit that?” Utah’s capitol building is something special, though, and is a must-visit, especially in April. The Neoclassical building was completed in 1916, just prior to the inauguration of the United States’ second Jewish elected governor, Simon Bamberger. It is built on top of a hill overlooking the Salt Lake Valley, just above the Salt Lake Temple and the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. To the north of the capitol is Ensign Peak, climbed by Brigham Young, where you can look down on this mighty structure, and across the street to the east of building is a canyon, down which is Memory Grove Park. This park is one of the loveliest in the city with well-groomed gardens, many memorials from wars, a creek running through it, and a replica of the Liberty Bell.
But why visit the capitol in April of all times? There are a few reasons, but the primary one is that this is when the 433 Yoshino cherry trees that make a 0.7 mile loop around the capitol burst into bloom. These trees were given by Japan to the State of Utah as a sign of friendship following the devastation of World War II. When visiting these beautiful trees, you will see families out on strolls, lovers out on dates, and photoshoots in preparation for baptisms, quinceañeras, and weddings. There will also be people spread out for picnics or playing a game of frisbee with friends or their dogs. April is also ideal because this may be the best time to see the mountains that surround Salt Lake City: the Wasatch range to the east, and the Oquirrh to the west, and though not visible, the Uintas close by too. The Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains are snowcapped at this time and starting to grow some greenery in the spring, and are all spectacularly visible from the steps of the capitol. Utah has four distinct seasons, each worth visiting: winter for the skiing, spring for the hiking, summer for the wildflowers, and fall for the gorgeous foliage; and spring and fall are when the temperatures are most moderate, though snow will unexpectedly show up. Finally, the legislative season at the capitol runs from the beginning of January through the beginning of March, a short, but highly intense period, meaning that April allows for more calm and better parking.
Around the loop pathway, you will see various statues and memorials, notably the ones for Utahns who fell in the Vietnam War and for the Wampanogas’ Chief Massasoit, who greeted the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. However, I have only touched the outside, and there is so much inside the capitol, too. Utah prides its capitol on being the most open capitol building in the nation, as it is open for visitors to walk in without needing to go through security seven days a week (though this may have changed during COVID), with regular tours Mondays through Fridays. Inside the capitol there is the lower level, which has portraits of all of Utah’s past governors. On the main floor is a spectacular hallway, as well as the office of the governor, who you will regularly see walking around the building. On each side of the main hall is a beautiful stairway up to an upper level; on one side is the House of Representatives while the Utah Supreme Court sits atop the other staircase, with the Senate in between the House and the Court. Groups and visitors regularly can sit in the visitors’ balcony and watch Utah’s infamously respectful debates occur as legislation is voted on in the House of Representatives. Another great room to see in the capitol is the gold room that is entirely painted in gold leaf, used to receive important guests, and featuring a Russian walnut table and chairs upholstered with Queen Elizabeth’s coronation fabric. In each of these rooms are beautiful portraits of Utah’s various world-renowned landscapes. Yet, perhaps the most impressive site is the dome 165 feet above the rotunda in the main hallway. At the top of a the dome is the sky with clouds and paintings of the state bird, the California seagull, which famously saved Utah in 1848 by eating swarms of locusts dubbed “Mormon crickets” in an event known in Latter-Day Saints history as the “miracle of the gulls.” Other paintings around the dome and on the pillars include famous events from Utah’s history such as the Golden Spike (where the Trans American railway was completed), the exploration by John C. Fremont, the expedition of Dominquez-Escalante, fur trappings, the arrival of the Latter-Day Saint pioneers, and the naming of Ensign Peak. Beneath the dome is a beautiful chandelier, weighing 4000 pounds, and at the base of the pillars of the dome are four eleven-foot statues representing “The Great Utahs”: Science and Technology, Land and Community, Immigration and Settlement, and Arts and Education.
Though not often on the tourist track with how much there is to do in the Beehive State, if you have the time, swing by the capitol building, and give yourself a reason to make Salt Lake City a place to visit next April!
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