Friday, July 5, 2013

Salt Lake City - Temple Square

Temple Square is a 10 acre complex located in the center of Salt Lake City, Utah and is the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – more informally known as the Mormons.

Temple Square is pretty amazing. We were surprised at the beautiful gardens and just how immaculate everything was. Of course, all the volunteers that work around the Square, from guides, to hosts, to missionaries, to weed pullers, were very very friendly but not one of them tried to convert us. My guess is that they have learned over time to do the old “you can catch more flies with honey” routine than doing the hard sell.

Tourists are not allowed in the Temple, actually Mormons are not allowed in there except for very specific ceremonies and by invitation only, so we only have exterior pictures of it. The Temple was built over the course of 40 years with hand quarried granite from a local quarry 20 miles away.

View from the Joseph Smith Memorial Building
Garden Restaurant (very good)
The silver domed building is the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle, where the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs is open to the public and we attended a noontime organ concert in the building.

The organist can control the lighting.
Not allowed to take pictures/video during
the organ concert.

The Conference Center is a phenomenal structure. This one building occupies 10 acres adjacent to Temple Square and its roof is a 6 acre garden. The building seats 21,000 people. There are free tour-guides available for all facilities associated with the LDS in this area but we did not take advantage of that until we went in the Conference Center. As we walked in the last available docent was leaving with a group and rather than making us wait, one of the hosts took just the 2 of us and gave us an amazing tour of the facility. He spent over 1.5 hours with us showing us around, answering our questions, and sharing with us his knowledge of the history of Christianity (LDS version) and the LDS Church.

Photo stolen from a web site.  I did not take this but
don't remember who to give credit to.

The 6 acre roof top garden of the Conference Center
(another pirated picture)
During the summer months the Conference Center is where the choir rehearses and we were lucky enough to attend a rehearsal with full orchestra. They were rehearsing all patriotic songs in preparation for their Independence Day celebration.

A few of the 21,000 seats
 This link will take you to a snippet of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing
"This is My Country" which happens to be my favorite patriotic song.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir Rehearsing "This Is My Country"

One other notable location in Temple Square is the Family History Library. Shelley spent 1.5 days in there researching family genealogy.  This place could be very intimidating but the many volunteers that are there are incredibly helpful. The facilities there are as you would expect – top notch and amazingly free.  If you belong to (as I do) you know it is owned by the Mormons and is not inexpensive.

I don't care what your religious (or lack thereof) bent/leaning/background is. Temple Square is a must see and do. Plan on spending an entire day.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


Before we get any further into our activities in Utah (I should have put this at the beginning of the Bonneville Blog) I have to say something about an unexpected sight as we drove through eastern Nevada. Steam Vents. Natural Steam vents. We were very surprised to see steam venting from the ground and shortly thereafter we passed a geothermal electric plant where this steam is harnessed and used to generate electricity. Okay – enough of that.

Steam Vents in the Desert

The sign says "Danger, Scalding Water"

Promontory Summit Utah – 66 miles north of Salt Lake City

On May 10, 1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit, (not Promontory Point as I thought) Utah Territory and forged the destiny of the nation.

The Golden Spike National Historic Site shares this historic event through displays in the visitor's center and reenactments. We were able to catch one of the reenactments.

First they bring out the trains:

The Jupiter

The Jupiter pulled Central Pacific’s President, Leland Stanford’s, special train to Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, for the Golden Spike Ceremony.

Replica - but as exact as possible
Click this link for the arrival of the Jupiter
The Jupiter Arrives


Engine No. 119

Engine No. 119 received the call to pull Union Pacific Vice- President Thomas Durant and his contingent of dignitaries to Promontory Summit.


Engine 119 Arrives
Again - a replica but as close to the original as possible

Then the reenactors give short speeches (as opposed to what the actual verbose oratory of the day would have been), and provide a feel for how the ceremony proceeded (if there had been a few hundred more people here)

Speech Making
The engines nose to nose as they would have
been in 1869

Then it is time to drive The Ceremonial Spikes

4 of them – A golden spike from San Francisco contractor David Hewes, friend of Leland Stanford; a silver spike from Nevada, a gold and silver plated spike from Arizona Territory, a second golden spike from Frederick Marriott, owner of the San Francisco News Letter. None of these were actually “hit” but placed and tapped with a ceremonial silver maul.

"Thomas Durant" tries to stay upright when driving the final spike. 

(The first gold spike and the silver spike now reside at Stanford University. The Arizona Spike is owned by the Museum of the City of New York.  The location of the 4th spike is unknown - so check your attics)

After the precious metal spikes were removed, an ordinary pine tie was placed to be driven with normal iron spikes. Leland Stanford took a mighty swing at the final spike and struck the tie instead. Durant, not feeling well (drunk) swung and missed even the tie. Finally a regular railroad worker drove the last spike and the Western Union telegraph operator sent the message D-O-N-E.

The building of the transcontinental railroad is a fascinating story and if you would like to learn more I highly recommend: Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose and to follow that Rival Rails: The Race to Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad by Walter R. Borneman.  

It is my hope that someone reading these blogs will be inspired to learn more about United States history!

We also recommend visiting this national historic site and witnessing the reenactment.

The Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats

As big as it is, you would think that it would be easy to see The Great Salt Lake.  Not so.  Trying to find a place to view The Great Salt Lake proved to be a challenge until we found Antelope Island State Park.
Antelope Island State Park is surrounded by the Great Salt Lake. The lake is the last remaining part of a vast inland sea, Lake Bonneville. At more than 1,000 feet deep and more than 19,691 square miles in area the lake was nearly as large as Lake Michigan and significantly deeper. 3 main rivers flow in to the lake and deposit around 1.1 million tons of minerals in the lake each year. There is no outlet.

The Great Salt Lake
7 mile causeway across The Great Salt Lake to
Antelope Island State Park
Antelope Island hosts a Bison herd that has about 600 animals, pronghorn antelope, big horn sheep, bobcats, mule deer, coyotes and the lake and surrounding wetlands are home to over 250 species of birds. The lake is a major migration stopover point for many birds and it is estimated that between four and six million birds nest and feed on the lake every year.


Pronghorn Antelope

We saw only a few bison and antelope but much of the island is not
accessible by car.

Another remnant of Lake Bonneville are the Bonneville Salt Flats. The property is public land and is known for land speed records at the Bonneville Speedway. We have walked where Presidents have walked, trod over ground where the ancients trod, and now we have driven where the likes of Craig Breedlove and Art Arfons have driven!

Morton Salt, Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

Salt - Sticks to Everything!
It was caked on my shoes and under the car
"Floating" Islands, Bonneville Salt Flats
The Kia Soul on the Flats
If you have not already seen this on Face Book - check out this outrageous bit of driving on the Bonneville Speedway!

Kia Soul - Super Slo-mo on the Bonneville Salt Flats

The salt flats were fantastic but if you plan on visiting here, from what I understand, don't do it in the winter time - not because of snow or ice but because the salt gets wet and is more like a mud flat than a hard packed salt flat.