A Great Salt Lake, Pioneers and Deep Powder: Salt Lake City and Nearby Ski Resorts
"This is the place!" Brigham Young said as soon as he saw the Salt Lake Valley. That was in 1847 and it's been the motto of Salt Lake City ever since.
Young was the leader of a group of pioneers who were looking for a place to settle where they could freely practice their religion. They were Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The pioneers immediately began planting crops in the valley sandwiched between the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains. They named Salt Lake City for the salty lake which dominated the desert to the west. But they could never have imagined the large, modern city Salt Lake City would become, home to high-tech industries and the arts, as well as nine ski resorts just an hour from the city. It's Utah's state capitol. The artificial heart was invented here. Visit a pioneer village and the spot where Brigham Young first spied the valley at Pioneer Trail State Park minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. Take time to visit the Hogle Zoo's 1,200 animals. Get a good sense of the Great Salt Lake -- it's 90 miles long and 40 miles wide -- from Antelope Island northwest of Salt Lake City. The lake's biggest island is a great place to play in the sand, watch birds and see bison. Antelope Island is home to a bison herd as well as to elk and deer. But don't drink the water! The Great Salt Lake is much saltier than the oceans. Try to imagine the hardships the pioneers faced as you play in the sand on Antelope Island, tour Salt Lake City or ski at the bustling resorts nearby. Children then had few toys and little time to play. They worked alongside their parents in the fields and studied in drafty one-room schoolhouses.
In the pioneers' second year, catastrophe struck. A late frost killed almost all of the crops. Droves of crickets followed, destroying what was left. Suddenly, flocks of gulls landed and ate all of the crickets. Today, the California Gull is Utah's state bird and people tell that story.
Despite the hardships, the pioneers kept on coming, loaded down with all their belongings -- seeds and farming tools, spinning wheels and clothes, brooms and beds, pots and pans, books. Those who couldn't afford covered wagons pulled their belongings in hand carts 1,300 miles across the plains. They founded dozens of towns.
You can see the kind of cabin they might have lived in or learn more about the Mormons at the Pioneer Memorial Museum a block west of historic Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Temple Square is the headquarters of the Mormon Church and it's where visitors to Salt Lake City come first. The six-spired Temple took nearly 40 years to build. Some of the walls are nine feet thick. Because the Temple is considered a sacred site, only Mormons may go inside.
You can go inside the Mormon Tabernacle to see the gigantic organ. It was made from wooden pipes hauled 300 miles by wagons. At first, it was powered by hand-pumped bellows, later by water and today by electricity. Now it's got 11,000 pipes, including some of the originals! Make sure to look up at the domed-shaped roof. It's one reason the sound is so spectacular. If you're visiting on Sunday mornings, you can see and hear the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Have you ever wanted to find out more about your family tree? Stop in at the Family Search Center at Temple Square and settle down in front of a computer. There are computer files here about millions of people, dating back generations. People come from all over the world to trace their roots. It's the biggest library devoted to family history in the world.
Ready for some outdoor action now? There's plenty to choose from. Stop at Tracy Aviary and visit more than 1,000 birds. Souvenir shop at Trolley Square, where the old trolleys used to be housed. In warm-weather months, cool off at Raging Waters water park. The Lagoon amusement park, 17 miles north of the city, also has water rides, as well as a pioneer village.
Drive 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City to the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine to see the biggest hole in the ground anyone has ever dug -- 2.5 miles wide and a half mile deep! Stop by the visitor's center to learn more about copper mines.
Then head for the hills. If it's summer, you can climb rocks, fish or ride a mountain bike. Try Park City's Alpine Slide. Ride Snowbird's Tram up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the top of Hidden Peak, 11,000 feet high! Ready to hike down? In the winter, you can ski to the bottom.
Utah is really famous for its snow. Its mountains get 500 inches a season. The snow is so good that the U.S. Ski Team trains at Park City. Many say the snow is lighter and drier than anywhere else. Skiing started in Utah in the early 1900s when miners and trappers began using skis to get around in the mountains.
Just 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, Park City Mountain Resort is one of Utah's largest ski area. Take your pick of 108 trails! Try skiing at night down PayDay, the longest lighted run in the Rockies. Nearby are two other popular ski areas, The Canyons and the very fancy Deer Valley.
At the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta is known for its expert slopes, though there are plenty of lessons -- and easy runs -- for kids. You'll likely find new snow every morning.
Nearby, much bigger Snowbird also is a good bet for families with its ski school as well as lots of after-ski activities. Sundance is owned by actor Robert Redford.
Local kids most often ski with their families at the smaller, less crowded Solitude and Brighton areas. Ask them to steer you to some great trails.
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