Room 326, Hotel Monaco, Salt Lake City, Utah
15.36 Monday 16th May
"Over 6 days, God created the Earth, on the 7th, he dumped what was left over, and they called it Utah!"
It is a rather odd state with a lot of outlandish scenery and, of course, this became the promised land, or more a land of refuge, for the Mormons, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. These days they make up just over 60% of the population of the state and tend to dominate the centre of Salt Lake City.
One question for which I have not found an answer is...... it clearly states on one of the plinths that it is sinful to break the law. So why does everyone break the speed limit here?!? It is the worst state for this, indeed, in most states on this trip, most people stick to the limit, especially in towns, and on freeways a few may do 1 or 2 mph more. But here, it is almost the religion to SPEED! End of rant.
We had a great drive out of Las Vegas, on I-15 soon leaving most of the traffic behind. But, there were serious road works in the corner of Arizona we crossed and we got held up for a few minutes. Then into Utah where the speed limit is a dangerous 80mph. Add the Utahns need to speed and, in some windy bits, it became mad!
We last visited the National Parks of Utah (of which there are five! ) in June 1996, and then, we had a lot of it almost to ourselves. In Zion on a Sunday morning, maybe 30 other cars? Now they are all totally overrun, to the extent that cars are not allowed into Zion Park, and visitors have to pile onto frequent park buses. The little town near the entrance was rammed with parked cars as the official "park n ride" car park was full and would have been filled many times over. We're so thankful we visited most of the "must see sites" throughout the US on earlier trips when it was all a lot more peaceful.
But we had a reservation at the Zion Park Lodge so we had already been sent a red pass to hang in the windscreen which allowed us to drive up through the canyon to the Lodge and the only other vehicles on that road were a few of the aforementioned buses. But when we got to the lodge, hoards of people were everywhere but not, thankfully, in their cars. And by the time we walked across from where our room was to dinner, they had all gone home. So we almost got back to the 1996 tranquility again!
Next day we left fairly early and drove towards our next port of call, Bryce Canyon, which, on our previous trip, was certainly John's favourite. But first, at Arthur's insistence we had to stop for breakfast at the Thunderbird Cafe.
It being a Sunday, we expected Bryce to be packed and we were disappointed, it was! We queued for 15 minutes just to get through the pay point (we used the park pass we'd bought for $90 back in quiet ole Wyoming and sailed through). At the first view point they were queuing just to get into the car park. We despaired. But we continued through the park southwards (the entrance being in the North) and then found the odd viewing point where there were only a few cars and, one, where we walked a short trail, we actually had to ourselves. We continued to stop and take in the breathtaking vistas until we got to the end of the park road, where the car park was full but we parked on the verge and walked to the edge. Brilliant.
We had actually considered skipping Bryce Canyon, because of the expected crowds, but were so glad we didn't.
In Zion, you (or rather we) drive into the canyon and have the walls towering above you. For Bryce, you are looking down into it and its amazing rock formations.
A longish drive, shared by us both, got us to our stop for the night, the small "city" of Richfield, where we were checked in by a young lad who was unhappy to be in Richfield which "sucks", as he said when John asked what happened on a Saturday. John said he should get a job in Salt Lake City where he could enjoy himself with others who all "play for the same side"! We think he may think seriously about that. He certainly would be very unhappy spending the rest of his life in Richfield, population 7,500 and the biggest town for 100 miles. So there we are!
Rain and storms were forecast for our drive to Salt Lake City, and, indeed we got a heavy downpour once we got on to very busy US-6. As usual Utahns drove above the speed limit in dangerous conditions but we kept our heads and plenty space between us and other cars. And safely made it, then in the dry, onto our old friend I-15.
They have a new toll system in the area of Greater Salt Lake and the "pool" lane, which is, in many cities, limited to cars with 2 or more occupants, could be used as a toll lane. Bob had looked online while we drove up through empty Utah, and it seemed there would be a toll but could not find out how it could be paid. When we got there, it was clear we could use it for free so we sailed up the Express lane while the others bobbed and weaved in the other 3 lanes, (all doing over the 80 mph speed limit, of course).
The weather gods blessed us and we have had no more rain, despite the bad forecast, either on the rest of that journey or the rest of our time in Salt Lake. (Hope I'm not tempting fate for this evening!).
Great hotel and valet parking with youthful and very enthusiastic valets. And, when we checked in , it emerged our rate included the valet parking which was a bonus.
We got into our lovely room with very posh and stylish furniture. This Kimpton chain seems to be a find. We also have booked Kimpton hotels in Washington DC and Philadelphia.
Here in Salt Lake, the Continental Bank Building was a landmark on Main Street. James E. Cosgriff constructed the building in 1924 to house his Continental Bank. Over the years it fell into disrepair, uppers floors were largely vacant and neglected. The building's owners claimed that renovating it would be prohibitively expensive and that its narrow footprint was not suitable for modem offices. Despite efforts by the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency to identify potential developers, eventual demolition of this landmark seemed a real threat.
Preservationists breathed a sigh of relief in the summer of 1997 when word spread that the Kimpton Group was interested in purchasing the building. The group is well-known for renovating historic buildings to house stylish, hotels and restaurants. In June 1998, the company bought the bank building and seven small buildings to the south along Main Street. Now it's our Hotel Monaco.
So with the sun coming out, we drove up to Temple Square (we took the car out as, though within walking distance, we wanted to find somewhere for dinner). City Centre Sunday Night Restaurants Closed Syndrome! We pottered around the Mormon buildings and statues etc and were frequently smiled at and/or accosted by people who assumed that we too were in their church. We had a conversation with a guy who, in his younger years, had gone to Spain as a missionary, and spoke perfect Spanish. He still listens to TVE radio so knew all about the political situation in our country of residence (do you?!).
We knew there was a Denny's on the way to the airport so that is where we "dined" and got chatted up waitress "Anita" who has worked there for many years. "Where'rrr you fraamm?"
Today, again, we've avoided any rain. We can glimpse fresh snow on the peaks that border the city on two sides. We had a good value and healthy breakfast in a nice, plush, red velvet, restaurant just up the road, served by a regal waiter. There are lots of regal guys in Salt Lake we're finding out. so our advice to that young guy in Richfield was very appropriate we feel.
When we were last here, the church had bought up many city blocks and were to redevelop them as a new shopping and office and restaurant complex (the church has a great deal of money as can be expected). And this is now complete and very successful it is too. We wandered round Nordstrom, a very stylish and expensive store. Then over to Temple Square where we went into the family research centre to look up some Ashplants in North America. (This is a huge facility located in several buildings. When you get converted, you have to list all of the relatives you can dig up (well not literally dig up) and, as we understand it, they are then upgraded to heaven or whatever it's called. Can't be bad.
Anyway the research was successful as almost certainly there is a Canadian branch of the Ashplant family:- a William John Ashplant, born in North Devon and a shoemaker, moved to Ontario and his son, Hubert, carried on as shoemaker. So the William John is almost certainly a direct relation, probably a great great (times x ?) uncle.
We continued our potter into the Joseph Smith building which originally was the Utah Hotel, now beautifully restored and full of gleaming and smiling Mormons. A lady of probably more than 80 years was playing the piano in the lobby so we sat and had some beautiful moments of peace there.
Apparently, this is not the Archangel Moroni who showed Joseph Smith the gold plates from which he said he translated the Book of Mormon. The plates later mysteriously disappeared. So we don't know who this could be. Do you?
We went to the top where there is a roof garden restaurant and asked if we could have coffee. They are not allowed any stimulants so we got a rather stern "no" to that question. We scuttled over to Macy's which didn't have a cafe. So ended up in the hotel where the morning coffee had already been put away. So still no coffee. We took the car out (nice young valets again) to drive to the Catholic Cathedral, via the Capitol building (Salt Lake being the capital of this state). We sat inside the Cathedral for a while, then had a practice drive to the airport.
One of our athletic valets, who run to open car doors and deliver cars for us
Came back and cleared out the car. Bob has now packed and John has checked us in for our flights tomorrow. These are not until 1pm so we have bags of time in the morning and it really is an easy drive to Salt Lake City airport. The boarding passes state "priority check in" and TSA Precheck again. Hooray! The least time possible getting through security. We fly first to Phoenix, Arizona, so watch back 2 hours for that, then forward three hours for our arrival in Anchorage at around 10pm. So we would hope to be in our hotel by around 11pm (Alaska Time Zone, Daylight Saving).
We're going back tonight for dinner to the Lamb Grill where we had our healthy breakfast. See you in Alaska! Oh, we forgot to say, we like Salt Lake City, our 2nd favourite on this trip so far.