A few months ago, I did the unthinkable.
I chose to waste extra hours of vacation time in order to spend time by myself in a city that didn’t particularly interest me.
To explain… when booking plane tickets for my trip to ski in Park City, I had the option of flying into Salt Lake City at 9pm the day before skiing or at 11:30am on the same day. I wasn’t particularly interested in Salt Lake City, and I value my vacation days like they’re made of gold, but in the interest of not being exhausted the next day, I chose the earlier flight.
This meant that I would be spending most of the day entertaining myself in what I imagined to be a featureless desert waiting on my sister, her boyfriend, and his brother to arrive from ATL around 7pm. So I did some research. At first, I was sold (by my sister’s boyfriend) on spending the day seeing the Bonneville Salt Flats. It didn’t take me long to decide that was a LOT of driving for minimal reward, especially if the flats were possibly flooded, which is highly probable in late March. I really had wanted to see this place where land speed records are routinely set, and I was super intrigued by the fact that in some places, the salt is up to 5 feet deep…how surreal! However, the flats are about an hour and a half from the airport, which would have limited my time elsewhere, and if there’s any rain, then there’s no driving to be done out there.
Instead, I made myself a nice little itinerary that I managed to follow with time to spare.
I knew it was going to be a strange and magical day when I had to stop just after the rental car exit for a tumble weed to pass.
First, I wanted to see what I termed “The Giant Mormon Temple.”
I’ve heard the downtown called the Vatican of Mormonism, which is pretty apt. Also, my own observation was that this is the cleanest state capital I’ve ever seen.
Ok, so confession, this landmark was a little lost on me. It wasn’t as gigantic as I expected, and it’s not as embellished as some cathedrals I’ve seen, but I’m sure I would love it if I were Mormon, so I’m not bashing it. Also fascinating fact: inside the building isn’t just one large room, like a cathedral. Instead, a visitor enters from the basement then progresses through a series of symbolic rooms, each at different, ascending levels, until the person reaches the top floor.
I also saw the State Capital building…very stately, indeed.
Then because I generally appreciate nature more than cities, I went to Antelope Island.
At first, I was a little concerned that the island home of bison and antelopes wouldn’t be worth the drive, but a nice local lady at Utah’s version of Kroger assured me it was worth the trip.
Note: Getting to antelope island did not take as long as Google thought it would. Google seemed to be calculating distance to the very end of the island loop, which is not necessary because the animals can be seen even near the beginning of the several mile loop.
Note: There is a $10 entrance fee for most cars, but it was well worth the price.
After paying the small few, I crossed a causeway across the Salt Lake. I am a complete stranger to this environment, was immediately awestruck.
It was a very still day, and the clouds reflecting on the Salt Lake gave a sense of surreal, horizonless vastness. I had heard of this effect on flooded salt flats in Bolivia and knew that it was also possible on the salt flats I had passed up, but I was astounded to unexpectedly stumble upon this mirage.
The view directly behind the pastel, horizonless moonscape was equally majestic with the mountains rising beside the lake becoming more and more blanketed in spring snow as I drove.
Despite the breathtaking views, I knew I would be a little bummed if I didn’t see the bison or antelope I had driven to see. Don’t worry, though. Unlike looking for wildlife in many parklands, the bison and antelope are very easy to find once you arrive on the island at the end of the causeway.
I felt like I had stepped back into the old west.
I took most of the drive around the island and had to stop several times for bison who were wandering across the street. It was truly great.
I also spotted a group of antelope, but they were a little farther away.
I spent a few hours driving and photographing then drove back to Salt Lake City a little before rush hour with very easy traffic.
Note: Salt Lake City is serious about their HOV lanes, or maybe I was just aware of this in contrast to Memphis’s willy nilly monitoring of the HOV.
Once I got back to SLC, I ate at Settebello, the pizza place I had previously found online. I parked in a centrally located garage and felt safe walking the ten minutes to the restaurant.
The pizza and wine were great and are my favorite things to eat on vacation, but Red Iguana Mexican restaurant closer to the center of downtown also looked very good.
Note: servings of wine are limited to smaller glasses because of Mormon views on alcohol.
After dinner, I chose to walk to the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. It was pay what you wish and was rather small. I wouldn’t say it’s a can’t miss museum at all, but if you have a few minutes to kill in downtown Salt Lake City, it’s a decent stop. The temporary exhibit while I was there was Desire Lines, which I learned is a path formed in nature by erosion, humans, or animals that most often represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between origin and destination. This was an interesting theme to reflect on after nice to reflect on after my earlier trek through the rugged landscape with bison, antelope, and other tourists.
After the museum, I strolled through the very nice indoor shopping mall (with an indoor stream and an Athleta store) next to Temple Square before driving back to the airport.
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by Salt Lake City. The most notable positive point was that I felt very safe walking all over downtown as a single, female traveler. I also enjoyed that every part of the city seemed well maintained. Moreover, everyone I encountered was very polite and friendly and glad to give directions. All of these things were very refreshing after traveling from Memphis, where safety, friendliness, and cleanliness are often hard to find. I will, however, follow these positive reviews with the opinion that I probably did everything that interested me in Salt Lake City in one day and that it is a great layover city and not a true destination city for me…my desire line stretched from the airport through the city and to the ski slopes beyond.