JEREMY SMITH EXPLORES THE UTAH BEYOND SALT LAKE CITY AND FINDS WEST IS BEST
IF I wanted to be cheesy – and I do – I’d say Utah was an acronym for Unbelievably. Terrific. All-round. Holiday.
And it is. Times 10. To the power of 30.
You see, Utah is huge. Vast.
Of course, mention Salt Lake City, and you immediately think Mormons, followed swiftly – and appropriately – by The Osmonds.
As such, you’ll be delighted to know, from whatever side of the fence you pontificate, that while the Mormon presence is alive and well, The Osmonds barely get a mention.
Of course, if you’re not religious and not looking to be, it’s only ever an issue in the city’s bars and restaurants where alcohol is occasionally served.
Don’t misunderstand – it’s not that you can’t drink, it’s just it requires more effort.
Still, they are at least able to laugh at themselves: Polygamy Porter, a popular local beer, begs drinkers to ask ‘Why Have Just One?’.
And as for being born again, well, you’ve more chance of being converted to Hershey bars than scripture.
It’s a modern, safe city, where you can walk late at night completely secure, but if it’s a vacation – to be colloquial – you’re after, drive out and discover the true Utah.
But be warned – the iconic landmarks synonymous with the 45th State (it joined the Union in 1896) will forever spoil your choice for future getaways because Utah is like Disneyland but without the orthodontics.
I visited in early October and despite the endless blue skies and baking sun, the state was already bracing itself for its first big ‘fall’ (snow, not leaves).
Mornings and evenings were chilly, while afternoons seared mercilessly.
Thankfully, your first must-see port of call is Antelope Island State Park, a 30-minute drive from the city and the largest island in the Great Salt Lake.
Of course, no visit here would be complete without a little Wild West action. And thankfully, Antelope’s Fielding Garr Ranch promises just that – or in my case, about a quarter of a mile of it there and back.
The experience may not be ‘authentic’, but for someone who has only ever petted a police horse at the Kassam Stadium, I couldn’t help but want to ‘Yee-Hah’ and target a spittoon. Indeed, without trotting, cantering or galloping, I’d reckon I rode 30ft high that morning.
It helped that I was joined by a fellow Jeremy, in this instance park manager Jeremy Shaw, who looked like a cross between the Marlborough Man and Ben Affleck (how we laughed about that...).
But inevitably on a holiday such as this, you have to keep moving, and by nightfall I was on the edge of yet another National Park (out there, they’re like horse flies at a rodeo).
Indeed, the next day between 9.30am and 4pm, I visited three – Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point and Arches, home to one of Utah’s best-loved spectacles, the Delicate Arch.
And it goes without saying that as you take each bend in the road, Kodak moments cause tyres – and partners – to scream in equal measure. However, you can rest assured those glossy 6 by 8s will win her back once home.
Certainly the hike to Delicate Arch is a National Geographic cut-out-and-keep experience and, during my eight-day stay, it was my own personal highlight.
The problem, however, is one of overkill. Like waterfalls in the Faroe Islands, Utah is littered with extraordinary landscapes. And though each is its own geological marvel, you can begin to take them for granted. At least until you visit Monument Valley, that is...
Monument Valley is – and certainly was – the geographical Hollywood of the cowboy film. In fact, name almost any classic Western and chances are, it’ll have been filmed there (geek note: Johnny Depp had just wrapped filming The Lone Ranger there as I arrived).
Even your approach to this huge amphitheatre of sandstone is the stuff of movies (I stopped precisely where Forrest Gump stopped in his run across America). But nothing quite prepares you for just how awe inspiring its stage truly is...
Standing where the great film maker John Ford would place his camera every morning (and now named John Ford Point as a consequence), it isn’t difficult to understand why the Western became mythical and integral to the American psyche since the very land you’re standing on epitomises Nature’s dignity and grandeur.
I stayed almost four hours, but four days would not have been enough; its changing skies, dawns and sunsets continually reinvent its majesty.
Fortunately, with Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park to visit, my sense of loss was only momentary.
Driving across the state’s great open ranges is both easy and enjoyable; traffic is light and for the most part unusually courteous. After all, even for born and bred Utahns, it’s a home that constantly manages to inspire and humble.
And annoyingly (if you will), Bryce Canyon only reinforces the impression that America really is...
O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!
Trust me, standing on the lip of this canyon makes your eyes water and your heart skip a beat, and in this mood God help anyone who chooses to mock Sara Lee.
Descending deep into its folds of rocks – white knuckling it in places – it is easy to feel like a Pioneer, but when rising up out of its bowel it would frankly be easier to find and wrestle a bear than buy something as refreshing as a beer (indeed, the swanky hotel I stayed in that night had no bar).
Sadly, Zion National Park passed me by in a blur due to either food poisoning or deliberate poisoning by disgruntled staff.
And so it was that on my final day, a Sunday, I had my spirits – and soul – lifted by a visit to the Salt Lake Tabernacle to attend a morning performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The Tabernacle is the womb of the Mormon faith but you need not fear any fire and brimstone. Instead, it simply celebrates music and – dare I say it – ‘neighbourliness’.
So would I return?
In a flash, but with an extra suitcase packed full of wines and spirits (mixers are easy to buy).
Utah is easily my best ever American road trip and like I said at the beginning, the only down side is now wondering if I can top it.
Full list of UK tour operators, holiday ideas and news are available at www.goutah.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The US website giving comprehensive information on Utah is www.visitutah.com
United (www.united.com), Delta (www.delta.com), BA (www.ba.com) and other major airlines fly to Salt Lake City daily from the UK, with convenient
one-stop connections from around £550 per person. Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com) and British Airways also offer direct flights to Las Vegas from just under £600 return daily, which is an hour and a half from southern Utah – a great entry point to the National Parks.