Our retirement trip in 2010 focused on visiting the five national parks in Utah. We knew then that there would be other trips out here. Now we are back for a week to visit the Salt Lake area. We are staying about a half hour east of Salt Lake City at East Canyon State Park. This is a beautiful park with a full service campground at one end of the lake and a dry camp area at the other end. At this time of year during the week there are only half a dozen RVs here but on weekends it still gets full. The drive through East Canyon was fabulous. We drove through here almost every day and we never tired of the view. Compare that to the west side where the salt flats start. What a difference. Early fall color is everywhere and the higher elevations are at peak intensity.
One of the first things we saw fit our “What else can they do with rock?” category. Just outside East Canyon was a formation known as The Devil’s Slide where rock has been lifted almost vertically and resembles a playground slide.
We joined the weekend crowd and drove through the Wasatch National Forest and along the Alpine Scenic Byway enjoying the colors. We went through Park City then past ski resorts and along forest roads. We kept going and the road became more and more rocky. We stopped seeing cars and noticed only ATVs and mountain bikes. When we got to the main highway we’d been trying to reach a sign for traffic coming the other way read “Road may be hazardous to cars.” Now they tell us! The scenery was gorgeous and well worth a few bumps.
When we drove through Park City we stopped at the Utah Olympic Park, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics. We inquired about the advertised Bobsled Ride and made plans to go the following day. The sled is on styrofoam wheels during non-snow months and reaches speeds of 80mph and exposes you to up to 3G. Maybe God was watching out for us as it poured rain the next day. We couldn’t reschedule because at this time of year the ride is only offered on weekends. Perhaps we’ll come back some winter and do the real deal! We did return and take the tour. We highly recommend it.
An unexpected extra was to watch the Women’s Olympic Acrobatic Ski Jump Team practice. Until snow falls they ski down a wet plastic coated surface and land in a pool. The surface of the water would be too hard a landing so as they soar over the pool an attendant in a booth at the end of the jump hits a switch. Air is forced upward breaking the surface tension and allowing them to land safely on a surface similar to snow. Then they swim to the side with their skis still on, remove the skis and climb out. They wear wet suits too. While we were on the tour someone remarked at how small the competitors were. Our guide said their motto is “Fat don’t fly”.
The guided tour takes you to the bottom of the ski jump where you can get a feeling for the spectators view. Where we were standing there were bleachers for 21,000 people during the Olympics. Then the van drives you to the top of the ski jump and you get a feeling for the athlete’s view. They can’t see the landing zone as they rush down and leap into the air. The landing zone has a red line marking the distance they need to reach for a “good” jump. If they go further they are awarded extra points. However the further they go the flatter the hill and the more dangerous the landing. Prior to the event the judges need to have a test jump done to determine the starting line and wind effect. A young jumper usually a 13-15 year old makes this jump. Our guide said with all the human interest stories done during the Olympics no one has ever interviewed these kids or their parents and he doesn’t know why. While the view from the bottom was impressive, the view from the top just made you say “They’re nuts”. We also got to see the bobsled run we’d have sped down. No second thoughts for us. Our guide said it is the scariest minute of your life and a ride for those who enjoy peeing in their pants!
Following the tour we went through the museum showcasing skiing legends, ski fashion and memorabilia from the 2002 Winter Games. There was an interactive ride and film you could take that gave you a feeling for the bobsled ride, a downhill ski race and an aerial ski event. You sit on a chairlift seat and it moves in response to the film. The bobsled gives you a sense of the speed and curves but not the gravitational pull. We laughed and whooped through the whole thing. We decided we are definitely coming back! We enjoyed seeing the displays of the puppets used during the Opening ceremony, photos of Olympic medalists and and hamming it up at places where you could put yourself in the picture. Lots of fun!
After a day of sightseeing we were really hungry so we located a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives restaurant that was close to camp called Ruth’s Diner. It has been in business since the 1930s but has long since outgrown the original diner that serves as the front of the building. We were famished and had a “soup to nuts” meal which was delicious if not cheap.
A visit to Salt Lake City isn’t complete without a visit to Temple Square if you’ve never been there. It is the most visited place in Utah. We took a short tour which included some history of the Mormon emmigration to Utah and a visit to the chapel where the Mormon choir performs. Had we known that you could attend a rehearsal on Thursday we would have come then. We did listen to a recording and even that made me break out in goose bumps. My eyes teared. For lack of any other word, it was a heavenly sound. The acoustics are amazing. You can hear a pin drop and newspaper being torn without a microphone at 200′ away. The fabulous acoustics owe it all to the designer who was a bridge builder and had never built a building before this. The chapel roof is designed as a series of seven bridges. We decided that when we return for our bobsled adventure we will schedule it so that we can attend a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Another stop in the area was at Golden Spike National Historic Site. This was where the rail lines of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific met and provided a means to go from coast to coast by rail for the first time. It was a huge engineering feat and the first event ever sent instantaneously around the world by telegraph. The trains on display are live steam reproductions that roll out each morning and back to the garage each evening. During the day they are kept live puffing steam to give you a sense of the moment. The actual gold spike is in the Stanford University Museum. This is the first we’ve seen of the Chinese immigration and the almost slave like conditions under which they labored. The term “Hell On Wheels” came from the bar cars, prostitutes and gambling that followed the railroad construction crews. These were sanctioned by the companies as means to keep the workers at the camps and prevent them from quitting. The museum is very interesting and has several films available for viewing. We had Opal in the truck and it was too warm to leave for long. Perhaps another time.
Our last stop in the area was Timpanogos Cave National Monument. This was our fourth cave this year and while we were a bit “caved out” it was still interesting and different from others. The Monument is really three separate caves that have been joined by man. The two distinguishing features are the Heart of Timpanogos, a drapery formation joined so it resembles a heart and the abundance of a formation called helictites. Another “feature” of the visit was the 1.5 mile walk with a 1,100 foot elevation gain to reach the entrance. There’s a reason all of the souvenirs have “I survived the walk to Timpanogos Cave” on them!
Time to pack up and head for Colorado.