Last month my husband and I flew to the state of Utah for a dear friend’s wedding. With just baby Lester on our back and carry-on bags, we were free as birds to explore, rest and celebrate. ( I also had ample time to nerd out on Wikipedia to read up on the lake, the mountains, the climate…)
We flew out of the Cascades, across the desert sections of Oregon and over the Great Basin, finally making our descent over the expansive Salt Lake. It glistened in the sun, shining white in contrast to the yellowish-brown surrounding mountains- with old sea lines stretched across them, indications of the fact that this land, in prehistoric times, was once under a shallow sea. The great Salt Lake was the deepest part of that sea, of course, because it is all that is left of that body of water now, with the inflow of the Bear, Jordan and Weber rivers. What was once under water is now a huge metropolis. This well-known lake is a “terminal lake”: a basin of water with no drainage. Saltier than the ocean, bathers feel incredibly bouyant. It is so salty that it cannot sustain most fish life. It is home, though, to millions of native birds.
I didn’t like Salt Lake City one bit. It was a bizarre, barren place, feeling empty and devoid of Life. And it wasn’t just because of the climate… My husband and both felt it. I felt happy and revived, though, when we headed into the mountains.
We hopped into our car rental (which was a VW Jetta- we were stoked!) and drove up into the Wasatch Mountain Range: the Western edge of the rocky mountains and the Eastern rim of the Great Basin. “Wasatch”, in Ute, means “mountain pass”. While reading about the Wasatch range, I learned that this name’s origin is in the term “wasattsi”, Shoshoni for “blue heron”. We wound our way up until we came to the small town of Park City. I didn’t know that this was an incredibly famous place for snowboarders, mountain bikers and skiers. But yeah, Canyons Resort is quite the hot spot for these outdoor sports enthusiasts. Apparently the snow they get up there is some of the best snow in the states for skiing because it is just pure powder, thanks to the dry climate. At Canyons my husband was riveted by the mountain biking paths and bikers flying out of the forests… and we did hang out & have some very gross, low-alcoholic Utah- tasting beers (look up state alcohol laws) with some of them too- Let’s just say that they are a different crowd than my own… yeah. We will leave it there. I love everyone, duh. But… I don’t have to like them.
Saturday morning we had breakfast downtown with some dear friends who were in town for the wedding also. They had driven through the salt flats and desert sagebrush country of Nevada… lucky ducks! Park City is apparently an old silver mining town. When silver, lead and gold was found there in the 1860’s, it lead to a mining boom; miners flocked to this little town to work there. And the silver mines thrived in Park City while in other parts of the world mines were depleted. The Silver King Coalition Mine became the richest silver mine in the world. Park City sustained a few fires in it’s history; in 1898 the town was almost destroyed. 34 miners were killed in a tragic mine explosion in 1904. In the late 1850s the price of silver dropped so low that it became a ghost town. Interestingly, while they were still actively mining, miners were already using the underground shafts and trains to get up the mountain so they could ski down. So when the focus began to shift from silver to skiing, the trams that once hauled ore became ski lifts and began carrying people. Now, with over 1,000 miles of tunnels and old mine workings underground, beneath the now-ski slopes, it is a thriving ski resort town, booming in a different way…and rich as ever, still, bringing in an average of around $529,000,000/year! It actually “houses more tourists than residents”… (Thanks, Wikipedia!) It’s little old street is so picturesque, straight out of an old photo from the late 19th century. It’s now a modern-day tourist town with chocolate shops, postcard stores, restaurants, a cowboy shop with beautiful boots costing, on average, around $700 (they went as high as $1500!!) little art museums and such. The Winter 2002 Olympics were held there, and it’s also the home for the Sundance Film Festival.
One of the best spots downtown was The High West, a fine whiskey bar featuring a classic Old Western saloon front. Because they served food there in addition to drinks, our children could come in with us. That was a real plus. There were amazing drinks, gorgeous thick, solid wooden tables with metal details, my favorite Tolix Marais chairs & stools and a counter-top dazzled with colorful bowls of fresh limes, lemons, oranges, ginger, mint sprigs and everything else you need to make delicious cocktails. This place also featured my favorite French Red Stripe table linens and an entire wall covered with mounted mason jar lanterns (with a candle in each) …! I was in absolute aesthetic heaven… Ah! And since we were there for a wedding, we had friends to hang out with-! So, right after the ceremony, with 2 hours to live, we headed down there at the suggestion of a friend and sat there in the side-patio of the bar, with our drinks, in the afternoon sunshine next to the fire. The fanciness! Of course, the way it is today is certainly not authentic cowboy. It’s totally put together by artists and whiskey connoisseurs for the tourists passing through. Back in the day of dirt-streets, horses, hard working ranches & the silver mining industry, though, you can bet this was a very run-down, working-man hot spot on the edge of town. (Oh, and did I mention that they they had palette benches with red cushions around the fire? Sigh…)
My husband and I also had ample time to explore this little town all on our own, wandering and shopping. As I’m a cowgirl boot-wearer (even though my ranch-hand/farm-hand days are over) I just had to pop my head into Burn’s Cowboy Shop to see the gorgeous boots. My husband wanted to buy me a pair as a treat- just because we were on vacation together for the first time ever without (most of) our children. I declined, saying “oh, honey… you know that these are going to be at least 2-300 per pair..!” That was when we discovered that no- my version of “expensive” was a bit off for this place. This is Sundance Film Festival land, Baby- this is movie-star, Robert Redford Sundance-catalog land. This is tourism! These boots were priced for people who have not a care in the world about money. 700$/pair for those, $1,000/pair for these… yep. We had a good laugh! (But I must say: they were VERY good boots, and gorgeous too. ) Later my husband did make me feel just plain beautiful; he treated me like his queen when he bought me a flowing white cotton dress with lace detail, a new necklace and the most comfortable, thick, warm burgundy cotton wrap-sweater I’ve ever had, with arm patches and pockets. I was cozy and new-feeling for the rest of our trip. I want to live in it. It is now hand-washed and dried flat outside in the fresh air, and each time I wear it I think it gets better and better.
Park City is certainly not the first place we would have chosen for a vacation. I did know there would certainly at least be fascinating bits of history, geology and climate to discover… But we were surprised- we had FUN! It was packed with stuff to do and places to see. Their ceremony took place at Saint Mary’s of the Assumption, the oldest Catholic church in the state, nestled into a beautiful section of the farmland along the McLeod Creek. There is the saying around there that the Mormons kicked all the Catholics out of Salt Lake and they all came to Park City… ha! The McLeod Creek and the Canyons Resort, where we were staying, is all in the same valley, part of the Snyderville Basin.The name comes from Samuel Snyder, a Mormon pioneer who opened a sawmill there in the 1850s. In fact, before silver fueled the economy, there was the lumber/sawmill and the stagecoach, mail and hospitality services. It wasn’t until 20 years later that the silver was discovered, then becoming the predominant economic driver of the area.
One day we took a walk along the McLeod Creek, taking us through wetlands, the old farm and through a gorgeous birch grove. We started off in the parking lot on the East side of the road, crossed beneath rt. 224 and headed towards the the old McLeod Farm, including the most wonderful HUGE tree (I still don’t know what kind of tree it was…) right next to the babbling creek. This spot would have been absolutely idyllic for our children to play in, because the tree’s branches were enormous, all coming from the base of the tree, like separate trunks- so ideal for climbing and playing in, like it’s own little house. (I missed my children immensely at that moment.) We then followed the path through a field dotted with sage, through wetlands and through the gorgeous birch grove, the trunks a glistening white and the foliage a fresh early-summer triumphant green. (The birch trees there are apparently beautiful in the fall, yellow & gold against the white mountains lit up by the Autumn sunshine. In the wedding emails leading up to the event, there were pictures of the bride & groom walking through a gold & white wooded area, which alerted me to these trees…) We cut our walk short. I had forgotten a hat, and the wind was a bit fierce. We walked straight toward the highway, dodged across when no cars were there, and walked swiftly back to our little car in the parking lot. No time to be anywhere, no place to be… just together, living and exploring. It was amazing to have so much time to just BE. We watched the birds hop around in the creek-side bushes, we looked up the names of the plants and the creek. We changed the baby’s diaper, we looked at the clouds. We sat in the car together, letting it just run, while we listened to a good track. We gazed across the grasses to the East-facing church nestled so well into this landscape. Our Lady of the Assumption, pray for us!
The reception was held at Canyons Resort where we were staying, but it wasn’t right on the main grounds; as is typical for weddings held there, we got to sip on champagne at the foot of the mountain near the white events tent while we, on the sidelines, watched a show in the plaza of the “resort village”. We then took the Gondola up to elev. 8,000 feet where the Red Pine events lodge was… We stepped off the car and voila: there we were with our cocktail attire, outside in the wind, with good company, a reason to celebrate, and an open bar with, once again, fresh, real ingredients- no nasty fillers & mixes. Oh, the hors d’voeuvres… ! The platters made their rounds: bacon-wrapped scallops, asparagus, crackers with cheese and fruit and capers and fish… we washed these delectable flavors down with our first (oh yes, many more to come) cocktail, all while the afternoon sunshine slowly faded into the beautiful light of a mountain-top dusk. We then climbed the stairs of the lodge and, bride and groom both being teachers, we found ourselves seated around different tables which were elegantly and humorously labeled after rooms in a school: Teacher’s lounge, Library, Cafeteria, etc. (Of course the families with many children children were seated at the table Kindergarten.) After a delicious salad, a clearing-of-the-palette-serving of a fruit ice with mint, and then a phenomenal main course, there was music, dancing and pie cutting outside in a white tent lit up with round, hanging white lanterns and strung lights. It was spectacular!! We took pictures in funny costumes. My husband decked himself out in feathers and I wore some large sunglasses. We ate pie. We waved off the happy, beautiful bride & groom, wishing them well. On the way down we rode with our dear friends and a super-fun, cheerful couple who we met that very same hour. The three men chanted a drunken, happy song; it was about our ride down the gondola at night (it was so incredible to descend the mountain with the trees and ravine below us, and the lights of Park City aglow!!) with too many people…. Good times. Bed that night felt lovely.
Our trip came to it’s end back in Salt Lake. We drove back early in the day, to have some time exploring before boarding the plane. Once again, I became unsettled in Salt Lake and there was a pit in my stomach. Passing through, we noticed street signs that read “Zion Ave”. There was a “Zion Bank” too. There was a garden named “Gilgal Sculpture Gardens” where we took a breather with our teething baby. We accidentally chose a local hike that was a Mormon pilgrimage site. We carefully read every single plaque and every single stone, every single sign. I felt like i was on another planet. But apparently I was in the “promised land.” Lord, have mercy...I prayed the rosary as I climbed this “Ensign Peak”, offering it up for all Mormons and for this lost, dark, depressing city. I inhaled the aroma of sage and savored the wind on my sweaty brow as s few raindrops fell. Up at the top, I had a good view of Salt Lake, the city, and the salt flats and surrounding mountain ranges. For me this was a time to simply stretch my legs, be with my spouse and pay tribute to the land of the salt that brings flavor to my table. Here at home, I have Sea Salt from the Jurassic era, mined from salt flats in this state where once, in Jurassic times, it was part of the salty ocean. It is delicious. It is what we use on our food. It is a beautiful pearly, sandy, pinkish, off-white salt with flecks of pinks, browns and grays. Standing up top of this peak looking out at this salty land, I was thanking God for the gift of salt and for the flavor it brings to my table.
Before boarding the plane, we had time to bolt over to the Mother Church for Roman Catholics in this state: the Cathedral of the Madeleine. We pulled into the parking lot and Praise the good Lord (!), I could breathe again. Literally. I felt like I was coming into a sea of roses and Light after having been parched, in blackness, in a sandy desert. I entered into this beautiful (stunning!) cathedral at 3 O’Clock, the hour of Divine Mercy. You can guess what my prayer was! And dear St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!