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.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reno, Tahoe and Virginia City

Still hanging out in the west - very far west.  Almost in California west.  Well - actually we did make it in to California.

RENO, Nevada

We saw plenty of police officers but not one from "RENO 911"
also saw lots of homeless or semi-homeless folks - did not think
they were too photogenic.
Reno Riverwalk - The Truckee River runs out of Lake Tahoe in California and winds it's way
through downtown Reno.
No kayakers playing in the river while we were at the Riverwalk but there were plenty of people
and dogs playing in the freezing cold water.

I was going to ask this guy if he had caught anything but then
I noticed his left ankle with it's pretty little bracelet

 Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Its depth is 1,645 ft , making it the second-deepest in the United States. Additionally, Lake Tahoe is listed as the 26th largest lake by volume in the world at 122,160,280 acre feet.
As you come in to the north side of Lake Tahoe you pass
by Squaw Valley - site of the 1960 Olympics.

Squaw Valley - the town was very cute but we did not stay.  It was Saturday and totally packed
with tourists.  Those darn tourists are such a pain.
Try as we might - I don't think we got any pictures that capture the beauty of Lake Tahoe.

Had a hard time finding vantage points from which to take pictures.
Why in the heck we went on a Saturday is beyond me.
Every parking lot was jammed beyond capacity so we mostly just drove around.

The sky and water were so totally blue and the mountains so green - it was breathtaking.
Virginia City, Nevada
Virginia City sprang up as a boomtown on top of the Comstock Lode, the first major silver deposit discovered in the United States, in 1859. Though at its peak in the late 19th century it had over 15,000 residents, the mines' output declined after 1874, and as of 2010 the population of Virginia City was about 855. 
Of all the tourist towns we have been to - this one takes the cake for rude people.  And I don't mean the other tourists - but the people who live and work here.  I think they are trying to put on the old miner, curmudgeon, mountain man face - and it just comes across as rude.
Virginia City is also the city where the TV show Bonanza was supposed to take place.
We took a tour of a silver mine that is right in town and under
a bar.  This specific mine was a complete bust but
the tour and the tour guide were good.

I was not thrilled when I was told that I had to
wear a hardhat.  However, very shortly thereafter
I found out why I had to wear one and was happy to

 Just a building in Virginia City.
 One of the rude locals!
(oops - nope that is Monte!)
 I cannot remember what church this was
but it was pretty.

 Mine tailings from long abandoned mines
dot the countryside around Virginia City.
Our westward trek is over and it is time to start moseying our way east.