Back to (Relative) Civilization: WY to UT

Dave and Jenn at Grand TetonI can’t believe it’s September! I guess our journey is really coming close to an end. We’ve had a hard time keeping track of what day it is – every day feels like Saturday. Today we had to keep asking ourselves, “What did we decide today was? Wednesday?”

When the alarm went off at 8 am this morning, we both got up right away, ready to get moving. Neither of us slept that great. At least it wasn’t as cold as it had been, but it was still pretty cold. And of course the ground was hard. I had expected the gravel underneath the tent to be relatively comfortable, but I guess I got it mixed up with sand. Instead of spreading a bit to conform to our bodies, the tarp and the tent did a great job of smoothing out the gravel to make it more like sleeping on asphalt. Oh, well.

We were surprised and a bit bummed to find that there was actually dew all over everything, most importantly our tent. It had been so dry here in Wyoming, we weren’t expecting any moisture. So we had to let the fly over our tent dry before we could put it away. Fortunately the sun was shining directly onto our campsite, so we maneuvered the tent around to the sunny spots to let the sun dry it out.

We took our time getting ready, putting everything else away, eating a bit of breakfast. Finally the tent seemed dry enough (and we wiped off the rest with a towel) and we got it rolled up and put away. Then we drove off and headed south for a drive through the rest of Grand Teton National Park.

Grand TetonThe really spectacular thing about Grand Teton is the mountains. The lakes are nice, though I suspect they’re much more lovely when they’re full. Other than that, there isn’t as much to see or be impressed by in Grand Teton, compared with Yellowstone, where there are so many different interesting things to see and do, and so many different kinds of wildlife to keep an eye out for. I don’t want to give the impression that Grand Teton is lame. The mountains really are breathtaking and well worth the trip. I wish we could have had some time to go hiking.

Jenny Lake, Grand TetonAs we drove through the park, we stopped several times to take pictures – of the mountains, of Jenny Lake, of the river, etc. When we arrived at the dam for Jackson Lake, we could see even stronger evidence of the drought than we had yesterday. It was amazing how low the water was, compared with the water line that left acres and acres of dry land in between.

We got to the southern end of the park and exited through a park entrance, the first we’d seen while in Grand Teton. We stopped at a place called Moose, bought a few things, then said farewell to the national parks.

Just outside of Grand Teton is Jackson, Wyoming, home of the famous ski slopes of Jackson Hole. Remember that this is a major winter vacation spot for Hollywood stars. I’d never really thought too much about what Jackson would look like, but this is probably what I would have expected. It was filled with hotels/resorts/motels, cute little shops, and lots of varying kinds of restaurants. We didn’t stop, but instead got the tour as we drove through the main highway that goes through the town.

After consulting the map, it seemed like our first major decision was whether to continue taking scenic but slow highways through the mountains to get to the general Salt Lake City area, or to cut west to Idaho Falls, ID, and catch Interstate 15 to zoom down to SLC. We decided that we’d had enough scenery over the past three days, and that was time to just put some miles behind us.

Once that decision was made, we had to figure out which was the best road to take from Jackson to Idaho Falls. There seemed to be one highway that was a pass over the mountains, and another that was a slightly longer but perhaps quicker road that ran along a river. We chose the quicker road, which was probably a good decision except that we didn’t know there would be construction on that road. That probably took a good 20 minutes off today’s trip because there were a few miles where there was no pavement and we had to once again follow a pilot line. At least this time we didn’t have to wait 20 minutes for the oncoming traffic to go by first.

IdahoFinally we got out of the construction and followed the Snake River into Idaho. As we rounded the Palisades Reservoir, we got a nice view of some fall color – apparently New England doesn’t have a monopoly. We descended from the “purple mountains majesty” in Wyoming to the “amber waves of grain” in Idaho. We didn’t see any potato fields, but we did see a lot of wheat, which was in the process of being harvested.

We got to Idaho Falls around 2 pm and stopped at Wendy’s for lunch. Idaho Falls is a dusty agricultural town, but I got a fairly different view of it sitting in Wendy’s, across from a beautiful green golf course.

A few minutes later we were on I-15 heading south for Salt Lake City. We drove through farmland for two or three hours. It was pretty uneventful. The speed limit is 75 mph, so we were zooming.

We got to Salt Lake City at rush hour, as is our custom (apparently) when approaching cities. It worked out in our favor this time, though, because everyone was heading north out of the city while we were driving into the city.

Our AAA campground guide led us to a KOA to camp for the night. We got off the highway and found it with no problem. It’s pretty much the complete opposite of our campsite from last night. This campground is close enough to the SLC airport that it could probably be long-term parking. It’s also quite close to the state fairgrounds. It’s really weird to be camping in the city, even if this is on the edge of the city rather than right downtown. Also, this campground is primarily for RVs – there are 206 RV spots and only 16 tent sites. It looks like an RV dealership, actually. Our site is next to the fence, on the other side of which is a road that people walk and drive down to get to and from their jobs. Very weird.

We set up our tent, did a few things like edit photos and write postcards, and then we took off for Temple Square, in the center of the city.

Temple Square, Salt Lake CitySalt Lake City is truly like Mecca. (If you thought the Corn Palace was like Mecca, think again.) This is where the first Mormon pioneers finally settled and built what was originally intended to be a theocracy. The Jesus Christ Church of the Latter-Day Saints (their official name – LDS for short) very much dominates the city. It seems that many Mormon families visit the Temple Square area to learn more about and to connect more deeply with their faith.

We parked and found Temple Square, and stopped first in the North Visitor Center. We pondered taking a tour, but didn’t immediately see any information about it and didn’t want to ask any of the several young women who were standing around holding the Book of Mormon. So we wandered around inside the Visitor Center, surprised to see how much stuff was actually there. There were a number of paintings illustrating the life of Jesus. Then we went up a ramp and there was a large white statue of Jesus in the middle of a room that had a space-scape painted on the walls and ceiling. A couple of nice young women introduced the room and then they played a short scripture reading. After that we continued on and looked at more paintings of Old Testament stories. Then we headed downstairs to find several more rooms full of displays. Whereas the paintings we’d seen so far were primarily from the Old and New Testaments used both by Mormons and Christians worldwide, these rooms presented more about the specific teachings of the LDS church. We found it very interesting.

We were heading out of the Visitor Center right at 7:30 pm, and we had to pass an open theatre door to reach the exit. A kindly old man in front of the theatre asked if we wanted to watch the film “Legacy”, which was starting right then. I asked him what it was about and he explained that it told the story of a family of Mormon pioneers. Dave and I decided that we wanted to see a different movie, which we’d read about in our “Let’s Go” guide. We shared this with the man and he told us that it was probably starting right now, so we better hurry to catch it.

The film was in another building on the other side of the square, so we power-walked and got there only a few minutes late. The ushers showed us into a side door and we got seats right on the aisle. The theatre wasn’t packed but the film was certainly well attended.

The name of the film was “The Testaments”, and it provided insight into the LDS beliefs about what Native American culture was like in North America 2000 years ago, and what they believe about Jesus’ ministry among the Native Americans after his resurrection. We guessed that many of the people in the theatre must be Mormon; several of them were crying at the end of the film. We thought it was interesting but we felt like we could have used more background to explain it. Maybe that’s what we missed in the first few minutes.

Temple Square at night, Salt Lake CityThe film was an hour long, so once it ended, we felt like we’d gotten enough Mormon culture for the day. Dave took a few photos of the temple at night and then we started looking for a place to eat dinner. We stopped into the mall across the street from Temple Square and ended up walking through it to the other side. The “Let’s Go” guide had recommended a local paper called “City Weekly” to give us ideas on where to eat; we didn’t find that but instead found a visitor’s guide magazine that was just as good.

Because Salt Lake City (and Utah in general, I guess) is so heavily influenced by the Mormon culture, the drinking scene is heavily regulated. There aren’t any “bars” in SLC; instead, there are “private clubs”. The idea is that you have to be a member of a private club in order to go to a bar and, thus, drink. The “private clubs” get around this by allowing visitors to buy a temporary membership. This, of course, was something we felt we needed to experience.

murphysWe went to a place called Murphy’s and sat down. The waitress came up to us and asked us if we were members. We of course said no, and she gestured toward our visitor’s guide and said, “You’re not from Salt Lake, are you?” And she explained the whole temporary membership thing, which we were already aware of but it was helpful to have someone explain how it works.

The waitress took our drink order and when she brought back the drinks, we asked for a food menu. Alas! the kitchen had just closed (it was 9 pm by this time). She told us there were a few places a few blocks down where we could get food until 11 or 12. We felt pretty bad, especially since I then noticed that she had brought me the wrong drink (pear cider – ick), so then I had to get a different one, and even then it wasn’t the best (low carb black cherry Bacardi Silver – tastes like diet cherry soda). But we had that one drink just because she was so nice. She ended up not even charging us the “temporary membership”.

When we paid the tab, we asked if there was a particular place she would recommend we go to, and she suggested a place called Port o’ Call, a few blocks down. So we walked through the streets of downtown Salt Lake City trying to find it. The city was fairly empty, except for a few homeless people and a few others. It seems like a very clean and fairly safe city. Dave commented that it reminds him of Denver.

We found Port o’ Call and the “temporary membership” was $5. The cool thing about the “temporary membership” versus a typical cover charge is that they only have to charge one person – once you’re a member, you’re allowed to bring guests. The guy at the door suggested that we might enjoy the patio, where smoking isn’t allowed (the opposite of California – very strange). I enjoyed it because the band downstairs was very loud and it was nice to sit somewhere quieter, and watch the end of the Rockies-Giants game. We had pub food for dinner and another round of drinks. We kept ourselves amused watching a guy strike out with the girls at the table next to ours.

After finishing our dinner and drinks, we headed out to find our car. We figured it out with surprisingly little confusion, made it back to our tent before midnight, and went to bed. It was a fun night in SLC.

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2 thoughts on “Back to (Relative) Civilization: WY to UT

  1. I wouldn’t necessarily call UT “civilization.” Glad to hear things are going well on the trip, it sound like you guys are having lots of fun. I’m just sitting here in SD doing nothing but waiting for you to arrive. Have a great rest of the trip!!!

  2. Hey Dave and Jenn, I just got back from Brazil on Sunday and finally remembered your site. It’s a great idea and love hearing about your travels. Next stop sunny California… Blessings, Chris

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