Nestled in the Utahan desert is Salt Lake City. Known for -amongst other things- Mormonism, polygamy, and a serious lack of alcohol. We arrived here after failing to find a motel in Jackson, Wyoming and choosing to drive through the night rather than freeze to death in some random car park. These were some lonely, horror movie-esque roads and we were pretty relieved when the sun finally rose over civilisation once more. We rewarded ourselves with some $4 pancakes from Denny’s (it’s become a staple in our road trip diet), and headed out to explore this infamous city.
Over half the population of Utah practice Mormonism, and Salt Lake City- the state capital- is Morman Mecca. We only spent a day here, but it was a really interesting city, and starkly different from the other American cities we’ve visited. The first thing we noticed was how clean it was. Squeaky clean. Like Disneyland. All the buildings looked so new, the pavements were white and there were lots of perfectly cut areas of bright green grass and trimmed trees. It does feel a little odd walking around. It feels almost like a pop-up, artificial city. Like Vegas, but with Mormon missionaries instead of strippers. Unfortunately though we cannot prove any of this, as upon leaving we realised that we didn’t take a single photo. Disclaimer: imaginations/access to google image search will be needed for this post.
The main attraction of the city is, of course, the religious temples. The main Mormon buildings are all within the same square (Temple Square), so you can hop from one to the other and see them all in a few hours. By far the most impressive is Salt Lake Temple which, in terms of size and beauty, would give Notre Dame a run for its money. Only members of the Mormon faith are actually allowed into this temple, so unless you feel compelled to sign up, you’ll have to appreciate the view from the outside- which really is breathtaking.
Across from this is the Salt Lake Tabernacle, a large domed building, with amphitheater seating inside for meetings and, as it’s best known for, choir performances. We didn’t have time to watch one ourselves, but if you get the chance you definitely should- the acoustics are meant to be amazing. Similarly close is the Church History Museum which details the beginnings of the Mormon faith very thoroughly. If non-believers were ever going to be converted, here would be the place.
After wandering around Temple Square for a while, we found ourselves in the Geneology Centre. Mormons believe in praying on behalf of their ancestors who may not have had contact with the Mormon church, in order to help their souls in the afterlife. Because of this, lots of Mormons have a real fascination with ancestry research. The Geneology Centre is a huge library of microfilms, online census databases, and anything else you might need to find your distant family. We went there to quickly poke our heads in. However, what started as a cursory visit soon manifested into us awkwardly sat by a computer on the basement floor with a 70 year old man explaining how to use ancestry.com (very simple FYI), wearing little stickers saying ‘Hi my name’s [Jo/Jasper], today is my FIRST visit!’ Needless to say, our parking meter was suddenly getting very low, and we hurried outta there.
As for polygamy, it is less prevalent in the Mormon faith than people assume. In fact, only certain sects of the LDS church practice it nowadays. However, if you spent some time in the smaller towns on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, you are likely to see some ‘sister wives’ doing their grocery shopping. They are distinguishable by their old fashioned dresses and braided hair.
We were surprised by how friendly the people of Salt Lake City were. If you are anxious about hardcore conversion tactics, don’t be. Although Temple Square is the centre of Mormonism, it is also a tourist attraction, and the missionaries working there appreciate that. So, if you are in the area, we would certainly recommend a stop here. We suspect that there is no other American town quite like Salt Lake City!