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The Tentacle


September 5, 2008

Travelogue: Salt Lake City

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Although I have been very fortunate to have had opportunities to travel a great deal over the years, I have never visited the great American west. I recently had a chance to spend a week in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was not disappointed.

 

One of the very first things I noticed immediately was the dry air. Although the temperature was the same as when I left Maryland – there was hardly any humidity.

 

The next striking feature of Salt Lake City is its geography. It is located in the Great Salt Lake Valley basin, which is essentially a desert area surrounded by the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains with peaks as high as 11,289 feet.

 

The city itself is nestled between the mountains and the Great Salt Lake at an altitude of 4,427 feet. Compare that to Frederick’s elevation of 302 feet.

 

All views in every direction are framed by picturesque mountains which loom totally incongruently with the flatness of the urban area.

 

I did not run across Karl Rove or Rosanne Barr, who both call Salt Lake their hometown. I’ll bet you have never seen those two names in the same sentence before.

 

Salt Lake is also the home of the Sundance Film Festival, which is held in January. If you are not familiar with Sundance, it is the largest independent film festival in the country.

 

More often than not when one thinks of Salt Lake City, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is the international headquarters for the fourth largest Christian denomination in the U.S., the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

Although the church is a driving cultural and economic dynamic in the Salt Lake City area – which boasts of being “the crossroads of the west” – I found the city to be a large thriving metropolis with a surprising international presence and a very diverse population.

 

The city itself has a population of 180,000, but lies within a huge urban area called the “Wasatch Front” and has a population of over two million.

 

Often, when one mentions Salt Lake City, the conversation frequently centers on skiing and winter sports – and the February 2002 Winter Olympics.

 

The CEO of the Utah Olympics was Mitt Romney. It was then that he became a household name for his efforts. Those games were the springboard for the national role he has since played in U.S. politics.

 

Not being much of a winter sports person, I am frequently surprised by how many snow skiers live among us in Carroll and Frederick counties. Equally surprising is how many travel to the Salt Lake area for winter skiing and snow boarding.

 

I stayed in the middle of downtown Salt Lake, within easy walking distance of Temple Square, a 10-acre church campus which contains the Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Conference Center, two visitors’ centers, as well as the Latter-day Saints’ international administrative complex.

 

I found the city to be a fairly pedestrian-friendly city with a thriving arts and cultural presence. I visited quite a number of art shows, the highlight of which was the “Monet to Picasso” show at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. The show featured 70 original European masterworks by Monet, Renoir, Picasso, van Gogh, and Salvador Dali, to mention a few.

 

Topping off a wonderful week was the opportunity to see and hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. During the summer months, the Sunday performance and taping of the weekly program, “Music and Spoken Word,” takes place in the Conference Center.

 

The 360-member choral group was accompanied by a Schoenstein pipe organ with 7,667 pipes and the 100 member “Orchestra at Temple Square.”

 

It was exciting to view the taping, which has never missed a weekly radio broadcast since it first began on July 15, 1929. I saw show number 4,119. The broadcast is currently carried by over 2,000 television and radio stations worldwide.

 

Understanding the value of singing, arts, and cultural programs in bringing a community together through a shared experience, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was founded in August 1847, just one month after the Mormon pioneers first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.

 

The Conference Center was an experience all to itself. The 1.4 million square foot facility seats 21,000 people without a single obstructed view in the house. To put this in perspective, the population of Frederick is 57,000 – so over one third the population of Frederick could fit inside.

 

Beyond Temple Square, sculptures, murals and other artistic elements were a constant presence in the downtown area, which appears to be in the midst of a major urban renewal effort. Large skyscraper projects under construction were juxtaposed throughout the city next to large boarded-up buildings in obvious disrepair.

 

However, I boarded an airplane after a week’s visits with a profound reinforcement of how arts programs and cultural events add to a sense of community and quality of life by bringing people together for a shared experience. It was obvious that Salt Lake City is a prime example of how the power of art and culture strengthens a region, spiritually and financially.

 

To be certain, a city isn't transformed by the quality and value of its arts and cultural programs, although that doesn't hurt; but the power of art contributes to a community’s broader sense of vibrancy, optimism, and self-worth.

 

If you ever have an opportunity to visit Salt Lake City – jump at the chance. The weather, the arts, restaurants, cultural and spiritual attractions all combine to make it a wonderful place to visit. Tell ‘em Karl Rove and Rosanne Barr sent you.

 

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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