Sunday, September 14

Salt Lake City

The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (Highway 128) is a spectacular drive along the Colorado River gorge, a few miles north of Moab, Utah. The route begins on a high plateau where the river meanders through flat, dry grassland. The road then follows the river as it begins to carve dramatic a gash into the landscape. This modest gully is the beginning of a canyon that ultimately form the Grand Canyon hundreds miles downstream.

Garry and I drove the highway on our way back to Salt Lake City. I’d driven it three years earlier and was thrilled to be able to share it with Garry. The road winds its way through spectacular gorges and broad river valleys for almost 28 miles.  As the river carves its way west, the resulting gorge becomes increasingly dramatic. Towering red sandstone cliffs line much of the route.  As you turn each corner, the cliffs appear to rise ever higher and steeper. It’s a truly breathtaking scene. 

We took a brief detour toards the ghost town of Cisco before rejoining the interstate highway. Cisco was founded as a water refilling station for steam locomotives in 19th Century. However, the demise of steam engines also sealed the town's fate and it was eventually abandoned. Today, all you can see are derelict wooden houses and rusting cars standing forlornly on an empty, barren plain. It's rather surreal.

Two hours later we enjoyed a late lunch at picnic ground on the banks of the Spanish Fork River.  We were amused by the Bear Country signs strung up around the picnic ground.  That is, until we took a short walk across a footbridge and found fresh bear tracks in the soft mud.  It was a rather sobering moment!

We arrived back in Salt Lake City mid-afternoon. This gave us just enough time to take a walking tour of downtown. Garry wasn’t impressed. He’s never been a fan of religious venues. Temple Square, the heartland of the Mormon Church, proved no different. As for me, I was curious to witness American’s only home-grown religion up close.

Temple Square is dominated by a series of church buildings, some relatively modern and others more than century old.  This includes the spectacular Salt Lake Temple. Clad in white stone, it was painstakingly built by Mormon pioneers between 1853 and 1893. Unfortunately it’s not open to the public.

Temple Square is filled with statues immortalizing the struggle of Utah's early pioneers and core tenants of the Mormon faith. The surrounding grounds are beautifully maintained. The traditionally, stark and grey-concrete landscape of a typical American city has been transformed by manicured lawns, dazzling flower beds, mature trees and verdant shrubs. It was all very immaculate.

From Temple Square we made our way up to Capitol Hill to see the State Capitol building. It’s impressive structure, capped by a domed rotunda.  Despite our desert surrounding, the building sits in the middle of an impossibly green lawn. Garry and I were equally fascinated by the surrounding residential district. The homes are rather modest.  They're nothing like the turn-of-the-century mansions we’d expected to find.

I had hoped to catch a rehearsal of the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Unfortunately the scheduled session had been retimed for special 9/11 recording.  As a result, we arrived at the published session time just as the building was closing for the evening. I suspect Garry was secretly relieved.

No doubt Garry will tell you that the highlight of our Salt Lake City visit was dinner. While returning to our hotel we stumbled across a rather fancy looking Brazilian Churrascaria . These restaurants serve meat on enormous metal rods which waiters continually carve on to your plate as they wander by. We first encountered this dining experience in Rio.  In the years since, we've enjoyed similar venues in London and New York.

Salt Lake City proved no different. We samples an array of meat, accompanied by a superb Napa Valley wine. Even the salad bar was an experience.  It offered dozens of truly sumptuous dishes, including a particularly delicious smoked salmon fillet. Needless to say we returned to our hotel with our appetite fully sated.


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