Marigold will be along soon, so read on. As ever, she’s worth the wait…
We’re in Salt Lake City. Interesting place. Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as LDS or even more succinctly, Mormons.
The founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, had predicted Mormons would eventually settle in the Rocky Mountains. They’d already been forced out of New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois by then. When Smith died in 1844, the new leader, Brigham Young, decided they should move yet again and they set off Westward in their wagons. This sounds a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy to me, but they were desperate to avoid persecution for their beliefs and the far off Rockies probably seemed as good a place as any to head for.
The new city was originally named Great Salt Lake City, as it was built alongside the Great Salt Lake, but the word "great" was dropped from the official name in 1868. It’s still the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The setting is stunning. As we drove in the setting sun was reflected on the Wasatch mountain range that form a striking backdrop to what is a very modern city. The 2002 Winter Olympics were held here and the Great Outdoors is never far away.
Before the Mormons arrived, the Shoshone, Paiute and Ute tribes had lived in the valley for thousands of years.
Upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young is said to have declared, ‘This is the right place.’ He claimed to have seen the area in a vision, long before the wagon train's arrival. A monument simply entitled ‘this is the place’ is in Heritage Park. It’s huge. Also in the Park are old buildings reflecting those pioneer days. Very impressive, immaculately clean and with a great many visitors.
Four days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young picked out the building site for the Salt Lake Temple which would become a famous Mormon and Salt Lake City landmark. It’s certainly impressive and even more so at night when the whole area is lit up. It took 40 years to build, but looks as if it was finished last week. Like every other ‘Mormon’ building we’ve seen, and there have been a lot of churches and tabernacles along our route, it is immaculate.
As we wandered around that evening I said to Marigold, ‘Another plastic surgeon. There’s as many here as we saw in California.’ When we got back to the hotel I noticed there was yet another convention on the way soon, this time for cosmetic surgeons. It turns out there are more ‘plastic surgeons’ in Salt Lake City than anywhere else in the US. I may get a quote while I’m here.
Before we went out, we asked the very friendly man at the front desk if he could recommend a restaurant as the hotel restaurant prices were astronomical, and it was full anyway. He said, ‘Sushi is good here. Fresh every day. They fly it in, we eat a lot of sushi.’
‘Oh. Okay, anything else that’s good?’
He frowned. ‘I tell guests where to go for the best sushi as we get a whole load of people from China coming here, but I usually go to KFC. Same here as everywhere else, I guess. Oldest KFC in the world is right here in SLC.’
We didn’t have sushi, or KFC. After we’d walked around for an hour, we decided we couldn’t face a sit down meal and had banana sandwiches, in our room. Bananas are cheap here, one of the few basic food items that doesn’t seem expensive. We’ve stopped doing the mental conversion from dollars to sterling as it’s too depressing.
I’d thought the front desk man’s claim about the first ever KFC was a bit unlikely, but it turns out he was right. Harland ‘Colonel’ Sanders had a restaurant in Kentucky named Sanders Court and Café. In 1952, Sanders offered the recipe, on a franchise basis, to his friend, Pete Harman from Salt Lake City. Hartman changed the name if his restaurant from Harlan Café to Kentucky Fried Chicken and that first ever KFC is still here, about 1500 miles from Kentucky.
After yet more obligatory sightseeing, on foot, we set off the next day just as it started to rain. SLC is a busy place and several motorways intersect here. We were soon on Interstate 15, six traffic lanes in each direction, in pouring rain alongside several hundred truck drivers all with urgent deliveries to make. The traffic flow speed seemed fixed at 75 mph and I didn’t enjoy the next hour at all. Traffic doesn’t bother me and I’m pretty well accustomed to driving on the ‘wrong ‘ side of the road, but having massive lorries overtaking and lane swapping on both the outside and inside through a wall of spray while travelling at an irrational speed for the conditions was unsettling. It made us pine for those empty desert roads of last week.
There’s an IKEA just outside the city limits. We weren’t tempted to stop and buy bookcases. We also passed near Mona which proclaims itself ‘the lavender capital of the world.’
What? Sorry, Mona, Utah, I’m not letting that one go!
We’ve noticed some billboards for law firms around here that really catch the eye. One said, ‘In my defence I was left alone and unsupervised,’ and another proclaimed, ‘ I feel so sorry for killing your daughter.’ Shock tactic advertising. Other billboards were more cryptic. We weren’t sure what to make of, ‘It’s worth it, dear, now eat some peanuts.’
A mile or two on and another billboard appeared. This one proclaimed, ‘Home made soups, wine and a few cabooses,’ together with a logo reading J C Michelson.
As we approached exit 228 Marigold shouted, yes really, ‘there’s that J C Michelson’ and indeed it was. We came off for a closer look. It’s a restaurant in a place called Nephi. We had a quick glance, then returned to the motorway. Sorry, J C.
We chose to break away and go cross country for a while. Good decision as an almost empty road took us into Levan. There’s not much in Levan, but alongside the road was a magnificent junk shop. Magnificent in the sense of offering hundreds of items no one would surely ever want to buy. Correction, Marigold found much here to enthuse over.
Out the back was a workshop and several wagons, made from reclaimed timber, and a few rustic sheds. I must confess I did like the sheds. The woman running the place- ‘not the owner, no sir’ – told us the shop had been open for the past fifty years. Much of the original stock appears to be still here.
‘Where do you find all this stuff?’ Marigold asked. I was relieved she said ‘stuff.’ I’d certainly been thinking of another, not as polite, word.
‘Oh, people drop things off, things they don’t want and they stick around in here until someone buys ‘em. I tell you what, once anything comes inside those doors it’s here for good.’ She cackled and offered us a (wrapped) boiled sweet.
Marigold found a wonderful old, very old, stove and asked the price. It was rusty, very heavy and covered in dust, but it did have a lot of charm.
‘Now, let me think about that. It don’t have a price on it, I do know that. I’d say we could let that go for two hundred dollars, even, but that includes local delivery.’
I’m pretty sure she didn’t think we were local, but in comparison to what else was scattered around, I’d say that was a bargain.
We drove on through a lunar landscape, rarely saw another car for another two hours. We pulled in at a viewing point to admire the distant hills and around the corner came four Triumph sports cars of varying vintages driven by middle aged men. The last time I tried to get behind the wheel of a TR2 my knees touched the steering wheel and I was a great deal more lesson back then. The driver of the red TR2 was not tall, but very fat. It took him at least half a minute to climb out and he only managed it by putting one hand on the road and rolling out. They weren’t remotely sociable, not even a nod.
They all took photographs, not of the views but of their own cars, struggled back in again and drove off in puffs of blue smoke.
When we went round the next bend and saw a steep hill ahead I said to Marigold, ‘we’ll see the Triumphs very soon’ and so we did, pulled off the road, one with the bonnet up.
We’d been intending to stay at a specific hotel, and had booked ahead, but when we arrived Marigold saw half a dozen or so covered wagons in a circle. She wandered off and returned with a pleasant girl in tow and said, ‘one of those is available and they’ll swap for our room at the same price.’
It was hot, about 85 degrees, very windy but the wind was hot as well, and I’d been looking forward to a shower and a king sized bed. So, obviously, I said, ‘what a good idea’ and we walked across for a closer look. The covered wagons were almost new, very smart, with a big bed, a fridge and a sofa, but no bathroom.
‘All you need,’ the girl said brightly ‘is in the block over there. You have your own numbered door and everything so you’ll know there’s just you using it.’ She pointed to a modern toilet and shower block just across the way.
The persuasive girl was a Mormon – Marigold asked – as were all the hotel staff. ‘Everybody is around here,’ she said, ‘there used to be a few Lutherans but they’re not around any more.
I hope those Lutherans didn’t come to a bad end.
Marigold learned many interesting facts. She’s good at finding things out. Mormons are required to keep 3 days worth of food, water, clothes, everything they may need in an emergency, in a rucksack, ready for immediate use. They also have to store enough food, drinks, clothing and just about everything they use regularly to last for a year. This seems both foresighted and a little depressing. Being prepared for the possibility of disaster is fine, but constantly expecting the worst is perhaps taking preparation a bit too far.
We agree to swap our king sized bedroom with all facilities included for a wooden wagon with a piece of canvas over it and moved our meagre belongings into the covered wagon. It was very comfortable and the shower block was brilliant. Only two small points: the wind blew unrelentingly all night – wildly flapping canvas makes sleep unlikely – and the German bikers in the next wagon started up their Harley Davidsons at half past five and roared off. Even so, it was hardly roughing it, frontier style. This was glamping in its purest form.
‘That was brilliant,’ Marigold said in the morning and do you know what, it really was.
Marigold here now.
I just remembered something that happened in the hotel this morning. They wanted an arm and a leg for breakfast, about 30 dollars, and the room was full of convention people with name badges on looking important and saving their receipts to claim the money back on expenses. I said I’d just have a coffee and popped into the Starbucks in the lobby.
Behind the counter was Marvin, very fat and very camp, who admired my ear rings and my hair and wrote me down on the order as ‘spiky haired dude.’ The other lad making the coffees looked like Prince Harry, but am pretty sure it wasn’t him.
Marvin collected some coffees from Prince Harry and shouted, very loudly, ‘who wants a big one?’ and him and Harry fell about laughing. I collected my coffee and went to sit in the corner. After I’d found G again we checked out and just as we were passing the Starbucks we heard Marvin shout out, ‘who wants a big one?’ More roars of laughter. I think he needs some new material.
Loved the whole Temple and Mormon thing. They all looked quite normal. After being obsessed with the Handmaids Tale, I thought that is what they would look like. Not a bit of it, very modern and normal. Interestingly, no bibles in the hotel, but you can take a free copy of The Book of Mormon with you in several languages. I am still on page 1.
After we checked out, the next hour was awful, so much traffic getting out. I covered my face with the Book of Mormon and hoped for the best. Anyway, G got us out in one piece. We had to stop asap so we could get some chocolate to make us feel better. We are glad we have got American plates on the car, as am sure the trucks would be blasting us. If they did, we would cancel the holiday and watch their economy take a hit when we’re not around to buy coffee every day.
Most excited at our next stop when I saw the wagons for overnight stops. Changed our booking quick before G talked sense into me. Marvellous, I felt like a Pioneer in a king sized bed, air con and spare bunk beds as well. Oh how we suffered having to go to the toilet block. Actually, it was quite scary as there were moths in there. When I came out at 11 pm there was a woman walking about in dark pyjamas and a black towel on her head. As I hadn’t got my specs on thought it was a bear, or hoped it was.
More canyons tomorrow, I think. It’s hot again and soon will be even hotter as we’re going through Death Valley in a few days. The car is full of bottled water. Can’t possibly drink all this water, but was in such a panic when G mentioned we were going through Death Valley. If I ever become a Mormon I will have my year’s supply of water ready.