Our Train Trip to the West – Part IX

Salt Lake City, UT

Friday, May 16th:

Another early start. We had prepared our bags to be dispatched on the train that afternoon. We would not see them again, until we reached Chicago on Sunday. Of course, we still had our carry-ons with us. Anyway, we left Elko at the appointed time of 8 am and the bus headed East on I-80 for the 200 plus miles trip to Salt Lake City.

Bonneville Flats
Bonneville Flats – View from our bus

The traffic on the interstate was steady, but not heavy. Around 9:30 am we crossed into Utah. By then, we had left the hills and were on a flatland. On the left we could see for miles a white expansion, Mark told us we were in the Bonneville Salt Flats, which extend for about 160 square miles and that in some places the salt is 6 feet deep. The Bonneville Salt Flats are also famous for the Bonneville Speedway, where high-speed race cars have achieved speeds in excess of 600 miles per hour.

At this point the interstate runs on a straight line for about 50 miles. We could not see any habitation on either site of the highway, although we passed a few installations that our driver pointed out as salt processing plants. In front of us, we would see a snow peaked range, after which lay Salt Lake City. Before getting there, at our left we saw the expansion of the Great Salt Lake, the largest salt lake in the Western hemisphere. Being a shallow lake and due to evaporation and pluvial activity, its surface varies constantly. One good thing about the lake is that because its density, anybody can easily float there without risk of drowning.

As we entered SLC, Mark, who lives there, would point out some places of interest. When asked why the street were so wide, he told us that it was a design from the times of Brigham Young, the Mormon leader who founded the city, who wanted them wide enough so that a wagon team could turn around without “resorting to profanity.”

Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City; the Mormon Tabernacle in the background

We stopped, as usual, in a mall for lunch, after which we were met with a guide that would give us a sightseeing tour of the city. He pointed out the sites related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: the Mormon Temple and Tabernacle, Brigham Young’s monument, Beehive and Lion Houses, (both residences of Brigham Young and his numerous wives and children), several administrative office buildings and Eagle Gate, which spans State Street at South Temple to mark the entrance to Brigham Young’s property (the original gate was erected in 1859).

Following the downtown tour, we headed to a hill upon which stands the imposing Utah Sate Capitol. From the front of the building we had an impressive view of the city and its environs. We toured the building, which is an elegant architectural masterpiece, constructed between 1912 and 1916 using granite from nearby quarries. The frontage is lined with more than 50 Corinthian columns. Marble was used profusely inside the building, home of the State House of Representatives, Senate, the Supreme Court and the offices of the Governor. Twelve paintings line the rotunda and were a WPA project. They were painted elsewhere then attached to the walls. The paintings depict scenes from the early history of the state and it’s settling.

Back to the bus we toured the campus of the University of Utah and Fort Douglas, a military installation that was established in 1862. Its primary function then was to keep in check any expansion of the Mormons, who had expressed their desire to create a new state, called Deseret, semi- independent of the United States.

We ended our tour and made a stop at the Amtrak railroad station, were we checked our luggage for our next trip on the California Zephyr that would take us back to Chicago. Our next stop would be for a buffet dinner at a Golden Corral in Orem, UT. The tab for the dinner, which was supposed to be on our own, was picked up by America by Rail, to compensate for some of the inconveniences we had had the last few days.

Afterwards the bus took us to our last hotel stop of this tour: the Holiday Inn in Price, Utah. Nothing much to comment here, except that our guide had mentioned that the alcohol drinking laws in Utah were very strict. We had forgotten about it and tried to get our daily ethylic fix and went to a convenience store across the hotel to get some wine or beer, to have in our room before going to sleep. We found out that you couldn’t get alcoholic beverages in a regular store; you need to buy them in a State Liquor Store. (There are only about 125 of these stores in Utah.) You can have wine, beer or other alcoholic beverages in restaurants, as long as you dine there. There are no public bars in Utah, but there are private clubs, where you have to pay a membership fee for the privilege of ingesting your favorite alcoholic drink. (The fee for out of state visitors is less than $ 5.) By chance, we found one of these clubs in a corner of the hotel, but when we tried to walk in, the heavy cigarette smoke that covered the place and the loud music took us aback. We decided we could live without a drink that day and went back to our room to rest.

[Back to the California Zephyr. Go to the lower section to read about the second stage of our Chicago tour.]