Salt Lake City: Friendliest People, Crappiest Weather

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In the beginning, Salt Lake City was meant to be merely a stopover point to driving from California to Utah’s Canyonlands, to break up the drive a bit. But one day quickly turned into four, thanks to Heidi being the city’s greatest ambassador and all the great tips she sent us to activities in the area. Truth be told, we were just happy to be out of snow—and out of the boring monotony that is northern Nevada—and into the land of the great outdoors.

Snow in Utah … in May?!

When we arrived in Salt Lake City, a snowstorm had just blown over. We could see the white-tip peaks of the mountains that encase the city, which just added to its natural beauty. It was a mild afternoon, despite the recent presence of snow—or as SVV said, “a warm day for San Francisco”—and we thought the worst had passed. Thought being the operative word.

We were in need of supplies, so we stopped in T.J. Maxx for pillows and a comforter (as cold as it was, the three blankets we had were just not enough). Ella rode in the cart, and at checkout, everyone cooed at her. “She is just the cutest puppy ever!” the checkout woman raved. We’re used to people giving us the stink eye when we take her in public establishments, so this was a nice change. Already, we were liking Utah. Then, we went into Target next door where we were just sure they were going to make her leave. No no, rather, both women at the checkout aisle wanted to talk to and pet her. Utah, could you be any nicer?

Oh yes, yes, you can. We arrived at our campground on North Temple, and after a bit of a sourpuss at our RV park in Elko, we weren’t expecting much by way of service with a little smile. Then again, before we weren’t in the Land of the Mormons, aka the Friendliest People on the Planet. They complimented SVV on his watch—multiple times—they complimented Ella, they gave us a bit of a history on the city and some area attractions, all with an extra dose of joviality. We were loving Salt Lake City, that’s for sure. Coming from the cold frigidness of San Francisco—before you burn me at the stake for saying that, even SVV and his parents, who all grew up there, will tell you it’s one unfriendly town—we were not used to actually being acknowledged in public, instead of gazes diverted to minimize any possible interaction. I felt like I was back in Tennessee for a spell! And I was a little bit disappointed when they didn’t all join hands and burst into song, as I half expected them to.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

What we didn’t love was the Non. Stop. Rain. After the false hope that the weather was going to be nice, it rained all day Wednesday and into the night. Then all day Thursday and into the night. Then all day Friday with very little relief. I grew up in the South, where daily thunderstorms with violent lightning are the norm in spring and summer months, and by God, the worst storm I’ve ever been through started around midnight in Salt Lake City. None of us slept, with the pounding rain and frequent lightning turning our tent a brilliant shade of yellow. I was just waiting for a bolt to strike and electrify the trailer. The Rapture was near after all.

To put the amount of heavy duty rainfall in perspective: Three feet of snow fell on the mountains in a 24-hour period. (Heidi claims it’s never like this in her city in May—even less what we wanted to hear! the only time ever Salt Lake experiences such temperamental weather is when we come to town!—but now that we’re long gone and it’s still raining, I feel a little better, like it wasn’t just my luck that brought the showers.)

Though when I saw the rest of the country was experiencing the same, I felt less bitter about our current state. Misery loves company, after all.

But we’re adaptable, that we are. Our RV campground had free and good wireless, plus we had cable (so I got to watch that disaster of an American Idol when Haley was unjustly given the boot), and Kindles, so we did a whole lot of hanging out in the trailer. The only downside is that our bed, an over-sized queen, is a pop-out and while water resistant it is, there was so much rain that eventually, it started to leak through the roof and onto us in the dead of the night. It was all very fitting leading up to the much-anticipated May 21. Good thing Mormons don’t believe in such tomfoolery; I would have hated to miss my first anniversary.

Luckily, eating doesn’t require sunny weather, thank God (or Joseph Smith, maybe). On the first day we were in town, we stopped by the much lauded Lion House Pantry for some fine dining, cafeteria style. We both had the artichoke chicken, the famous rolls with honey butter, and SVV had a delicious local-brand cream soda, while I went straight for the banana cream pie. Ten bucks each—beat that. (We could have gone to the many free indoor attractions in Temple Square, too, like the Beehive House, but alas, we’re not really museum people. We’re hands-on, active, outdoorsy people, but if you take the outdoors away from us, we’re a bit lost. So instead, we ate.)

We also had brunch with Heidi out at Blue Plate Diner, which was pretty amazing, too. And, naturally, we had our camera equipment ready for the brief hour that it did clear up on Thursday and we were downtown and to Temple Square in a jiffy.

Once the gloom and doom lifted, albeit briefly, and we were able to see just what this pleasant city had to offer, I was dazzled by Salt Lake’s greenery.

I have no stats on this, but I’d have to say it’s one of the greenest U.S. cities I’ve ever visited in terms of foliage and pretty flowers.

There were gardens everywhere!

SVV even did a little training with Ella; the training is a non-stop process particularly at her rebellious teenage age (11 months), and we’re working on her staying in public as we drop the leash and walk away, then her coming at warp speed once we give her the OK.

So far, it’s hit or miss (but more hit than miss…miss only when a bird flutters in her path and she can’t help but chase after it).

She had quite a few admirers—those friendly Salt Lake residents!—and people were snapping photos of her as she flew around the lawns in a white, fluffy blur.

I’d say we were a tourist attraction that day in Temple Square.

We also managed to stop by the Gilgal Sculpture Garden just before the sky opened up and began pouring again.

I’m not certain about the exact motivation behind all these sculptures—religious, no doubt—but it sure was a weird place!

What we didn’t get to do, much to my dismay, was float in the lake and spend an afternoon among the bison on Antelope Island. Sigh. Next time.

So, Salt Lake, while I could have just as easily hated you for your precipitation, the truth is that I didn’t, not even the slightest. Let’s make a deal: I plan a trip back, you plan to bring your A-game where weather is concerned. Truce?

*********

In case you’re heading to Salt Lake City yourself, here are some recommendations Heidi sent us on what to do on a nice day, which were just too helpful not to pass along, even if the weather didn’t work out in our favor. (Also, check out her blog, which is full of fun things to do in Utah.)

  • “Provo is a really big college town, and that’s about it. American Fork Canyon (located between Provo and Salt Lake) has some of the best rock climbing in the world, and a really incredible cave. The trail at Timpanogos Cave is a fairly steep one-mile hike to this amazing cave of geological wonders. Recommended.”
  • “Salt Lake City: Temple Square has a lot of Mormon church history stuff, and some really amazing architectural achievements. The Tabernacle is one of the most acoustically fantastic buildings in the world (it’s where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings), with one of the best pipe organs in the world. If you happen to be in SLC on Thursday night you can hear them rehearse for free, or their Sunday morning broadcast is also free.” (**Editor’s Note: Don’t worry, we totally saw the MoTab in action, but that’s another post for another day.)
  • “Across the street is The Conference Center, a building is so large and open a 747 can fit inside without touching any of the walls.  It’s got this really cool cantilevered balcony/roof system. It also has this fabulous roof-top garden that with amazing views of the city and the mountains, and water features.  It’s supposed to look like the Salt Lake Valley looked before it was settled, it’s all wildflowers and pine’s and aspen trees.  You can probably tour both those buildings (free!) and the gardens at Temple Square in about an hour.  The gardens are absolutely beautiful, especially in the spring.”
  • “While I’m on the garden theme, Red Butte Gardens is pretty to wander around and has some beautiful views of the valley. Memory Grove is a lovely park full of all the war memorials for the troops from Utah, starting from the Mormon Battallion in the mid-1800’s, before Utah was even a state. Thanksgiving Point (halfway to Provo and 5 minutes from the interstate) also has some fantastic gardens—as in miles and miles and miles of them. And a dinosaur museum. Apparently, dinosaurs used to hang out here a lot.”
  • “I am dying to go see The Spiral Jetty. It’s about a 90-minute drive north of Salt Lake, but is supposed to be a.may.zing.  (A friend of mine’s photos here and here.)  If you wanted to take the time to go out to Antelope Island, I would also recommend it. Antelope Island is a mountainous island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. It has a huge buffalo herd that lives there and some really gorgeous views. Each of these would probably be a half-day activity, so I don’t know if those are quite up your alley, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention them.”
  • “Favorite restaurants: For Mexican food, the best places to go are The Red Iguana and Cafe Rio. The Rio Grand Cafe is kind of the best of both worlds, and it’s located in the old Rio Grande train station, which doubles as an art gallery. Seafood: Market Street Grill (order the clam chowder, it is the best I’ve ever tasted)…actually, any of Gastronomy‘s restaurants are amazing. I’d vote Takashi for sushi, and you must order the Strawberry Fields roll. There is an incredible Italian deli downtown SLC called Caputo’s (their meatball sub is to die for) and the little Italian bakery next door will satiate your need for cannolli.  My other favorite sandwich place is Gandolfo’s (the one at 158 S. Main, SLC is the best). It’s a franchise now, but this one is the first one and is fantastic.”
COMMENTS
  • May 25, 2011

    Oh my goodness!! That is one massive shout-out to my hometown! Excellent post, Kristin. I hope you come back to the Land of Not Usually That Much Rain and get to do more of the outdoorsy things! 🙂

    xox

    • May 26, 2011
      Kristin

      Haha, or so you say. Guess I’ll have to come back and see if you were telling me the truth about this whole “no rain” bidness! (Though I have a feeling Mormons never lie.)

  • May 25, 2011

    The city looks gorgeous!!! We are planning on going there in December, when it’s practically guaranteed crap weather 🙂 but we want to go to the Canyons resort for skiing.

    • May 25, 2011

      Naw, December is lovely, it’s all snowy and beautiful. Cold, but beautiful…at least in the mountains. 🙂 (SLC suffers from a wicked inversion in the winter where the sky turns yellowy-gray and the air is so thick you feel like you can chew it and so polluted it can sting your eyes and throat. Luckily, the ski resorts are all high enough elevation they are out of the gunk, you should be just fine.)

      xox

      • May 25, 2011

        the polution sounds like Guatemala City 🙂 We also live away from it in the mountains, so looking forward to being high enough for it!

    • May 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Marina, I’m also dying to come back during the winter…we’ve never skied Utah, and it’s meant to be the best skiing in the country. Hope you make that happen! The mountains around SLC are so stunning.

      • May 25, 2011

        Glad to hear it’s good skiing, I always thought Park City was better, will tell you all about it:)

  • May 25, 2011

    I know you probably believed Heidi when she said the rain was abnormal while you were here, but just in case you thought she was making it up, I will echo her. The weather this spring has been absurd and uncharacteristic.

    I live between Salt Lake and Provo (roughly), and there were many things on Heidi’s list I’ve yet to see/do. Will get on that this summer.

    • May 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Haha I don’t doubt that, Sherry! The whole country has been seriously messed up this spring. In my hometown in TN, they had 15 or so days of snow. Growing up, we would get maybe one day every three years! Then again, all the precipitation made for a great ski season for us in Tahoe and the Rockies this winter.

  • May 25, 2011
    Ris

    A few years ago I visited a friend in Provo and everyone was so nice, cheerful, and helpful. It was almost like something out of the Stepford Wives, minus the scariness. Also? They were all blond and beautiful. I bet y’all fit right in!

  • May 25, 2011

    If it makes you feel any better, we’ve been battling non-stop rain on this coast, too. Love the flowers, but I’m disappointed by the one part of the statue that’s missing. I’m just saying, a giant crotch statue would be hilarious!

    • May 26, 2011
      Kristin

      I saw that on the news! I think spring finally sprung in NYC, what, today? Next time, I’ll photograph the statue’s crotch just for you.

  • May 25, 2011
    oan

    are you sure those women weren’t photoing the hot guy on the other end of the leash instead of Ella?

    • May 26, 2011
      Kristin

      Well, I didn’t want to say it, but yes, I’m pretty sure that was the cause =) Even a group of frat guys at Arches whispered as he walked past: “Dude, is that Matthew McConaughey??” Love it.

  • May 25, 2011
    Rachael

    Sucks you had such awful weather.

    Would you mind possibly showing us some pictures of your trailer? I’m only imagining a pop up one and that would be terrifying in a storm!

    Those flowers are gorgeous! I might have to make a trip to Salt Lake just for the foliage…

    • May 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Rachel, yes, definitely. I’ll do a full post about our new traveling home in the next week or so, now that it’s no longer raining and I can finally take pics of the exterior without being poured upon!

  • May 25, 2011

    My son and I were in town for my brother’s wedding at the exact time you guys were there and I can’t begin to tell you how much we hated those rainy days! We lived there for 8 years before we headed out to Cali and that much rain in May is rare. We wanted to go to Wheeler Farm (www.wheelerfarm.com) and could not because of that stupid rain. Oh well. Loved the shout out, you just made me more homesick than I already am!

    • May 26, 2011
      Kristin

      It’s such a lovely city. I’m hoping to come back when the sun is out and I can actually see the lake, the mountains and more! Funny, we were there the same time!

  • May 25, 2011

    At least you weren’t buried in more snow.

    Ella is a wonder dog.

    • May 26, 2011
      Kristin

      We encountered more snow yesterday in the Rockies! The mountains were covered. But it was a sunny day and no chains required, thank God.

  • May 25, 2011

    I found San Francisco and the Bay Area to be a pretty friendly place! Maybe that was just in contrast to London! But we knew all our neighbours, both in Noe Valley and then in Menlo Park, and were invited to their parties, and whenever I met people they were usually really friendly and open. I left the States with some good American friends after only 18 months – whereas after five years in London, most of my friends were fellow expats.

    • May 26, 2011
      Kristin

      Yeah, but you were in the suburbs most of the time–totally different. I know Noe is technically within the city proper, but most people consider it a suburb of sorts because it’s more family-oriented. (And one of my favorite parts of the city because it is so much friendlier.) It’s not just me who thinks this way: Nearly all my friends are vacating and moving back east due to the hostility this city has fostered–Scott said it was not always this way, it used to be a good place to live, and he thinks it’s due to the current state of the economy and the fact that California (and its budget deficit) has been hit harder than anybody.

      • May 26, 2011

        We lived in Noe but went out in the Mission or Castro, both within walking distance. And I was downtown often enough. I certainly don’t remember any outright UNfriendliness!

  • May 28, 2011

    I can’t decided whether those sculptures are creepy or cool.

  • May 28, 2011

    We were in SLC in late August, so it was HOT! Quite the opposite of your time there, lol. Sounds like you had fun even if most of it was spent dodging the rain… and I love the photo of Ella on the Gilgal rock! 😛

  • May 28, 2011

    I will refrain from giving a native’s interpretation of that “friendliness,” but it is a beautiful place, that’s for sure. And Heidi’s list brought back so many memories of places I’d forgotten. Gandalfo’s! Cafe Rio! Red Butte! Happy times.

  • May 31, 2011

    I’ve never been to SLC. It looks like a lovely place. Too bad for the bad weather.

  • June 2, 2011
    Sid

    I know I say this often (all the time) but I really love your photos. You such a good eye. Wish I had your talent and opportunities. The sculpture garden … weird/stunning.

    • June 2, 2011
      Kristin

      That is about the nicest compliment I could get. Thanks, Sid!

  • December 15, 2015

    Really nice park !!! I also found similar park which is located in Oklahoma.

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