Salt Lake City, Utah: May 1-11, 2012

Our easy 225 mile trip across Rte 80 from Elko to Salt Lake City had a nice interlude. Just as we crossed the Nevada-Utah border, we pulled into a rest stop that celebrates the Bonneville Salt Flats. There was a plaque detailing all of the auto racing records made just 7 miles north of there and a description of how the time trials are run on the course. Another plaque heralded the day in 1914 when east met west with the splicing of the first intercontinental telephone line at the Nevada-Utah border. And a 25’ high observation platform gave everyone the opportunity to get a better view. On the south side of the highway lay the site of the former Wendover Air Force Base, which operated from 1941 until 1969 and is now a public airport. Wendover, first a bomber training site and later a development site for other strategic weapons, was the preparatory base for the 509 Composite Group, a.k.a. the B-29 fleet that dropped the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. In fact, the Manhattan Project’s hangar there that housed the Enola Gay is listed today as an endangered historic site.

Having viewed the flats that were once a part of the Lake Bonneville, we passed its remnant, the Great Salt Lake, as we approached Salt Lake City. Fed by 44 sources and no outlets, its depth and salinity vary based on precipitation, which of late has been way down.

Our campground was actually within the city, a couple of miles each from the airport and the mecca of Mormonism. It was a great choice; our site was ample and attractive. We signed up for ten days, because Dot had to fly east to Pottstown, PA to celebrate her mother’s 90th birthday. Meanwhile, I played mom and dad to the canines and took on some trailer improvement chores as well. We booked another day after Dot’s return so we could finish our sightseeing. In truth, we still didn’t.

A day before Dot’s departure, we used the complimentary shuttle provided by the Church from the campground down to Temple Square. Having spent considerable time studying Joseph Smith and his disciples, we were anxious to explore this end of the trail.

Temple Square is walled, but it is very open to the community and to the thousands of tourists and faithful who descend upon it through its open gates. Just inside the West Gate was an information booth prepared to assign tour guides. Two attended us, from Australia and Brazil. The entire site is staffed by female missionaries from around the world; at times they stand in the plaza outside the Tabernacle and invite you in their native languages to accompany them. Their demeanor was to escort and teach you about the property. They do ask about your religious beliefs and react to your responses appropriately. We told them that we were studying Mormon history as part of our Grand Adventure, had visited other significant locations, and felt that this trip to SLC was the culmination. The treated us with perfect understanding and provided answers that expanded our knowledge and defined their commitment– just as our guide did at Winter Quarters eighteen months earlier. We have yet to find a Mormon who didn’t impress us. (Well, maybe one.)

The tour began at the Assembly Hall. This is the building where Mormons attend traditional weekly church services. The Assembly Hall in SLC was built in 1882. Here it is in photos.

Next stop was the Tabernacle, which dominates the entire center of the Square. An oval structure seating 8,000, completed in 1867, it was built to hold General Conferences of The Church. Today, the building has a seating capacity of about 3,000, plus the space required by its prime tenant – the Morman Tabernacle Choir – and a full orchestra. The domed roof is self-supporting on external sandstone pillars; there are no interior columns. It is also one of the most acoustically perfect structures ever built; if the audience is hushed, the drop of a pin on the pulpit is heard everywhere in the building. We can’t neglect the organ. Much smaller at birth in 1867, it’s been reconstructed more than once; in 1948, it became one of the largest and finest in the world, resonating its sounds from 11,623 wooden pipes, ten of which are original.

Dot and I attended the daily noon organ recital on the first day of our visit, performed by Andrew Unsworth. It is from this building that the Sunday episodes of the famous Music and the Spoken Word show, featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and reader Lloyd Newell, is broadcast live on area radio and television stations and taped for thousands of others. The program has been broadcast continuously on radio since 1929 and on television since 1949. I returned for the Sunday broadcast when Unsworth was joined by The Choir and full orchestra; the power of The Choir in the flesh is indescribable.

Next to the Tabernacle was the North Visitors’ Center. This is the more secular – read descriptive – of the two centers. The displays stress the development of the religion and the trials and tribulations that went into that development. A large detailed model of The Temple gives the viewer their only look inside the sacred palace. The Temple itself , 210 feet to the top of the angel Moroni sits in line with the Tabernacle. The model shows that it is divided into dozens of cells for numerous rituals to be performed simultaneously. The primary ordinances are endowments, sealings of husband and wife (marriage) and of parents to children, and baptisms for the living and dead. The latter take place in a huge fount mounted on the backs of twelve oxen, in which multiple participants can stand together in waist deep water (see last photo below, taken in the History Center.)

The Salt Lake Temple was announced in 1847 and dedicated in 1893 (fyi, the cycle in temple building is announce, construction commence and dedicate). It was the first temple announced but the fourth temple completed in Utah. There are currently 138 active temples throughout the world; two will be dedicated this year and there are more than a dozen additional buildings announced. Here’s an interesting timeline: Dedicated in the 19th century: 4. Dedicated between 1900 and 1950: 4. Dedicated between 1955 and 1998: 45. Dedicated in 1999: 15. Dedicated in 2000: 34. Dedicated since: 36.

A walk back across Temple Square put us in the South Visitors’ Center. This facility includes dozens of huge panels depicting the history of Christianity as seen through the prophetic eyes of John Smith’s encounters with the Angels and delivery of the text he transcribed. At the apex, reached by ascending a wide circular ramp, is a meditation center overlooked by an eleven foot tall sculpture of Christ.

Two facilities are also located to the west of the Square. The Church History Museum contains an historical perspective of the pilgrimage through art and artifact. Our guide, a devoted and dedicated volunteer about my age, gave us an excellent perspective, including how he feels when he and his family don their totally white outfits and enter the Temple.

The history was broken down to chronoligical periods: the Building of Zion in the Midwest (1831-46) , Exodus to Zion in the West (1846-90) and Post-Brigham Young. After Smith founded the Church in 1830, it was driven from New York and settled in Kirtland, Ohio in 1833. The Kirtland Temple was dedicated in 1836. The Mormon settlement in western Missouri — sent there by Smith after his revelation that Zion was actually to be built there — was driven first from Jackson County, Missouri and later from their own developed town, Far West, in the late 1830’s. Smith moved the Church from Ohio to Nauvoo, IL, again under dark clouds and threats. Nauvoo was no more hospitable; he and his brother Hiram were murdered there in 1844. The Temple at Nauvoo was dedicated two years after Smiths’s murders; it was burned down by arsonists the following year but was replaced in 2002.

It was after the assassinations that the major schism took place. The majority of the followers moved west with Brigham Young, while a minority followed Smith’s son, Joseph III, who formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) and eventually became headquartered in Independence, Missouri on land originally held by the LDS before it was forced to abandon the state. It also assumed the Kirtland Temple. Renamed Community of Christ in 2001, it currently has about 250,000 members, compared to the 14 million-strong LDS.

Trivia: The RLDS uses “Latter Day,” while the LDS uses “Latter-day” in their names.

Brigham Young and his followers crossed Iowa in late 1846 and created a settlement called Winter Quarters in the Council Bluffs/Omaha area. Hundreds died of disease and cold. The following April, Young set out with an advance party of 142 men, three women and two children to chart the path across the Great Plains for more than 2000 faithful to follow. They reached the area of settlement in July and sent emissaries back to encourage the balance to follow. Some of the expeditions got a late start; others took alternate paths. So after harsh losses in Winter Quarters, additional people did not complete the journey. Dialogue in journals describing many burials is painful. Those who did make it set immediately to work upon arrival to build the city of Zion, platted by leader Young in the fashion called for by Smith’s teachings, writings and illustrations. The colony grew by leaps and bounds; missionaries both in America and Europe found avid followers and soon many thousands more were making the trip. Through tithing and other financial enterprises, they supported migration across the Atlantic and in many cases all the way to Utah. For the next thirty years, Young simultaneously tended to his flock and to the development of a governing body for the new territory, serving as Governor from 1850 to 1857. The original claim, Deseret, ran all the way to San Diego, but it was pared until Utah reached its current borders at statehood time in 1896. Young did not live to see it. The last image below shows the odometer that was invented to accurately measure the miles traveled.

A building called the Endowment House was dedicated in 1856 in Temple Square. It died at the same time as polygamy, in 1887, Polygamy still haunts the LDS, however, because offshoots throughout their history have broken off faster than prairie dogs, and some of them still endorse the practice.

The other building on the west side is the Family History Library where anyone – Mormon or not – can research their ancestry in what is deemed the largest repository of its type. There are more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and a million fiche accessed from a nuclear-resistant vault in Granite Mountain, about 20 miles outside the city. And they are in the process of digitizing it! The effort is not with controversy because of privacy issues, but we met several people, whom I sure represent many hundreds or thousands, who come here and spend days researching their heritage.

There were other LDS structures to be seen. The Joseph Smith Memorial Building houses various public functions, including a 500 seat theatre showing a hour-long profile of the founder. It also has a restaurant on its top (tenth) floor and is paired with the Church Office Building. Next door is Lion House, BrighamYoung’s house built in 1856. The tiny Beehive House next door was an earlier home for the Youngs, and the Brigam Young Historical Park was once a part of his farm. Directly across from the Temple is the 28 story LDS Church Office Building, a modern structure built in the 1970’s that towers over its neighbor across the street which, oddly enough, measures just half its height.

The north side is dominated by the Convention Center, dedicated in 2000 and featuring a roof garden and waterfall. It hosts many events, including General Conferences and other gatherings. It’s also the summer and Christmas season home of the Sunday broadcasts, when tourist and holiday seasons swell the audiences beyond the Tabernacle’s capacity. The building and grounds covers a 3+ acre square block, the same area as Temple Square, and it seats over 20,000. The Schoenstein organ here isn’t quite as large as the one in the Assembly Hall, but it’s no poor cousin with its 7667 pipes. (The Assembly Hall organ is not chopped liver either, with its 3489 pipes.)

A second building to the north is the Church History Library. Another, at the corner of the Office Building, is the Relief Society Building. The LDS website describes it as the oldest and largest women’s organization in the world … established in 1842 for women 18 years of age and older … to build faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need.

Our time at Temple Square was obviously memorable, as was my return visit for The Choir on Sunday. But it wasn’t the limit of our Salt Lake City intake. Dot and I drove out to Antelope Island, the largest island within the Great Salt Lake. We started at the the Visitor’s Center and viewed the horizon from a few heights; then we set out to meet two goals.

The first was to once again see free-roaming bison, a large herd of which is maintained in the Island. Frankly, we are head over heels in love with these critters.

The other was to visit the Fielding Garr Ranch, located at the southern end of the Island. In 1848, Garr, a Mormon assigned to managing the tithing herds received by the Church, built a small log cabin there. Since that area includes the best fresh water spring on the island, it was ideal for this purpose – as it was for indigenous peoples who left their history behind for archeologists to find. The Mormons used the whole island until the 1870’s, when the Federal government homesteaded most of it. Eventually, a man named Dooley bought the entire island; it was he who introduced the bison herd. The Ranch continued to be an active sheep and cattle raising venture until 1981, when the entire island became a State Park. Today, the Ranch is preserved and eloquently displayed by the Friends of Antelope Island. In fact they publish a 28 page booklet providing intimate details of every feature.

We also ventured 25 miles southwest to view the massive Kennecott Copper operation the Bingham Canyon Mine. It really isn’t hard to find; the entire area is a giant open pit. Upon entering the security gate, we drove an additional 12 miles up to the Visitor’s Center, which includes a more than ample exhibit of the history, equipment and processes that make this operation work. Adjacent is a gift ship run by the local Lion’s Club. Proceeds from both fund multiple charities in the area. The mine is owned by Rio Tinto of London; we don’t quite understand the interrelationship between them and Kennecott. Outside, the gaze is down into the active operation, and pleasure vehicles aren’t allowed anywhere near the pits, which are as much as 3/4 miles deep. The operation uses draglines; they use nine electric and two hydraulic units of the behemoths. The gigantic haul trucks load about 320 tons apiece; one of their tires is on exhibit (the picture after it gives specs). WOWEE statistics: 175 million tons of material moved per year, yielding 275,000 tons of pure copper, 400,000 ounces of gold, 4 million ounces of silver and 25 million pounds of molybdenum, not to mention a million tons of sulfuric acid. The process requires four steps: excavation, concentration, smelting and refining. Tailings, that yield the more valuable minerals, are handled separately. The first picture defines their safety slogan.

I rushed through a final tour on the last half of the last day. Dot dropped me at the Utah State Capital, on the hill above Temple Square. It was constructed in 1916 and comprehensively reconstructed from the ground up in 2004. I have been in a number of them, and this was no ho-hum. The structure was beautiful, the murals exquisite, and the statuary exemplary. The first statue in the bottom row is BY himself. The second is the lesser known Philo Taylor Farnsworth of Beaver, Utah, he who invented television. The Remington, next, is followed by Unca Sam.

I wandered its length and height, absorbing its splendor, but, at the same time, I was anxious to head down to the southwest corner to visit the Pioneer Memorial Museum, founded by the International Society of Daughters of Utah Pioneers. I was immediately dismayed upon entering because I only had a total of 45 minutes left, and entreaties to Dot to stay another day fell on deaf ears. So I raced through, focusing on the Brigham Young historics and gawking at all the photographs that were displayed. A young woman in a central room was solely in charge of indexing and providing prints of the thousands of pix in their custody. Pictures below include Young’s carriage and sleigh, a typical hand cart of the pioneers, their involvement in the railroad, a vintage restored fire engine, the Sweetwater Rescue (of a coterie of frozen followers), and a lock of Jos. Smith’s hair.

With heavy heart, I departed in time to walk down the hill to meet the jitney back to the campground. On the way, I mused about the rule in Washington, DC, which caps the height of any structure to five stories so it won’t impair the view of the Federal Monuments. So I was saddened by the fact that The Temple was overshadowed by its neighbor office building, much as the classic St. Patrick’s Cathedral is dwarfed in New York by its skyscraping neighbors.

It’s safe to say that I’m not through with Salt Lake City, nor Utah for that matter. Won’t be this year, but don’t go too far away!

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