Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Close to Home and Yet So Foreign

A weekend adventure ...

This past long weekend, our plan was to know our surroundings a little bit more. And we did get to accomplish that. A little bit … too much, maybe?! But first thing’s first.

For a long weekend, and for two travelers, my husband and I had very loose plans this weekend. We kinda wanted to go to The Grand Canyon. And we kinda flirted with going to Las Vegas, too. But we ended up just staying home and taking short day trips here and there, learning more about Utah’s history, its capital and discovering more nature trails that make this state so unique.

We started Friday night, with an Indian dinner (nothing says “America” as Indian food, does it?!) and a walk through the Downtown of the city of Provo. It was entirely too hot to be completely comfortable in the midst of booths, strollers, skateboarders and absent minded parents, so, after a quick look over the “Fun Fourth” booths, we headed towards the more quiet streets where some galleries were open for the monthly “Gallery Stroll”.

On Saturday, we went to Salt Lake to … be tourists. He is more familiar with this area than I am (having lived here for over a year before my arrival, and having researched this area for many years before that), so the “touristy” demand came from me. I just wanted us to go to Salt Lake and visit some landmarks that I could send home with the label “SL,UT” - as a t-shirt showed it in a store window – infer your own acronym from there, if you may.

So, tourists we were. We parked first at Pioneer Park, where The Salt Lake City Farmers’ Market was in full swing (pictures start here) . We walked about the park, listened to the live music (pretty good, actually), browsed the arts booths and tents (metal sculptures, photography, woodworking, beading and the likes), bought some fresh goat cheese and some sopressata, sampled everything from honey butter to wild boar salami and of course people watched. A nice high of 77 with a mixture of sun and shade made for a refreshing start of the day.

We then drove to The Gateway Mall , located adjacent to the historic Union Pacific Train Depot. The historic train station is a beautifully kept turn of the century building, with gorgeous murals and painted windows telling visual stories of the settling of the Mormon pioneers (1847) and of the accomplishment of the first trans continental rail road (1869), as well as displaying various scenes of the Western landscape (pictures start here).

True to our tourist demands, we had lunch at The Mall, and were surprised to find a delicious chain restaurant that offered Hawaiian fare – Rumbi. The pulled pork is the best I have had in a long while.

After lunch, we drove up a very steep hill indeed (never been to San Francisco, but … it seemed like driving through it instead!) up to The Capitol of the State of Utah. Reading more about the building after we saw it, I can tell you now that we saw the South - South - East side of the structure, with its front lawn, stairs, view of the city, and we also saw the monument dedicated to the Mormon Battalion, to the right of The Capitol.

The place looked like most Capitols you have seen, stately, majestic, sort of intimidating, I’d say, but this particular building and its grounds surprised me as extremely quiet for such a huge construction, and arguably an important tourist attraction on a holiday weekend. Pictures start here.

In search for more Mormon history, on we went to Temple Square . I can probably write a whole day about this area so revered by LDS folks and such a staple of Utah, and of Mormon culture. But I will let you research it at your own convenience, and see it through my and Aa’s lens, here .

What also amazed me was how quiet and scarce the crowds were, again, for a holiday weekend. The architecture of all the buildings comprising The Square is beautiful, and the gardens breathtaking. As you may know, we are not allowed to visit The Temple, as non-Mormons, but the visitors’ center does a good job of explaining the fundamentals of the faith, and they also offer videos of some of the inside details. Definitely include this sight in your future trips to SLC.

On Sunday, it was return to nature day! Aa. had planned for us to drive The Diamond Fork Canyon for a while now – a campground and scenic route only minutes from our house – and we finally got to it on July Fourth! The ride through the Canyon is as many Utah rides are – beautiful, surprising, colorful, serene, very diverse in landscape and mostly wild. These folks know how to keep things wild, and I love that! The isolation, quietude and freshness say “hello” at every turn. We didn’t see much wildlife this time (pictures here), but we did see a lot more varied grasses and flowers than elsewhere before. Also, lots of camping opportunities, whether in organized, beautifully kept campgrounds, or just along the Diamond Fork river, on the side of the road, with big signs welcoming us: “Camping allowed. No fees required”.

A surprising thing on this particular drive was the fact that at some a vile smell floods the car. After turning yet another corner, you see white streams coming down from the mountains – there are sulfur (hot) springs in this Canyon. They surely are pretty, but they smell just like rotten eggs – breathtaking, but not in the desired way, for sure!

Later on, upon reading about these parts, we discovered that the Hot Pots of Diamond Canyon are a popular destination not only for people who seek tranquility and a return to nature, but also for … nudist hikers.

Our shock is only bigger than those of folks who have never been to Utah and can’t comprehend the degree of … conservatism (for lack of a better word) this state is capable of displaying in most day-to-day life situations – like buying coffee being frowned upon, or trashing empty bottles of beer after a cook out, or driving for 10+ miles from anywhere for a bottle of wine. No, not liquor – wine!

So, yeah, to hear about the “illegal but tolerated” behavior of bathing nude in a national forest was a bit daunting indeed. Not only that, but I stumbled upon another surprising fact: there is a “forum” out there for LDS skinny dippers (seriously - just google it!). OK, so maybe I have been sheltered, and I am the only one surprised by these seemingly contradictory findings, so I will refrain from comment. I guess a true Garden of Eden this state is! The things you learn as a tourist in your back yard are sometimes worth ten trips around the world.

I will just conclude that Diamond Fork Canyon is a gorgeous ride and park (as you can tell from the pictures), it’s mostly clean, very well maintained, the roads are nicely paved, and all the campgrounds look spacious, safe, wood stocked and most of them are shaded or have picnic gazebos, fire pits and grills. Just beautiful country, as you have come to expect from Utah so far.

On Monday, we came down to our less escapist lives, and we just shopped around our town and the towns around us – Orem and Provo, in particular. It was a hot day, and being mostly in the air conditioned stores just browsing and brainstorming about what else we might need to make our house a home was just what we needed to round up a full weekend.

The only thing absent from our weekend were the fireworks. Sunday is too small a day for two holidays in Utah County, and Church always wins: all the displays were Saturday (on the 3rd), so we missed them. Given the heat of the springs and the somewhat explosive news surrounding them, I declared myself happy with the kind of “fireworks” we did run into.

Hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday. I don’t have a job yet, but I am ready for the next long weekend! I am … holding my breath for what else Utah has in store for us. Who knows where the next … sulfur spring might pop up, if you know what I mean.

No comments: