This year’s summer vacation started with a trip to Salt Lake City, where we met my Brother and Sister-in-law who came in from London.
As if to prove some of my earlier posts wrong, the flight was mercifully uneventful, and the kids were very, very well-behaved – although the noise-cancelling headphones might have had something to do with that. What a thoughtful gift to give a man with three young children.
I can’t verify that Joanne was on her best behavior as we were in different rows, but the one time I did seek her out, I found her playing Uno and flirting with a young Stud Muffin Mormon Missionary. Perhaps this is the Big Love that we all hear about making its presence felt.
We met up with our kin outside the hotel and were immediately introduced to one of the dominant features of Salt Lake City – Vagrants that would appear every time my sister-in-law tried to light a cigarette. They were always polite, but I swear they were all ex-magicians, because they would materialize, blag a cigarette, and vanish in a haze of fresh smoke. Pioneer Park seems to be a Mecca for these poor people.
We were only to spend one full day in Salt Lake City, so we set off early the next morning and made for Temple Square, which all of the guide books listed as a “must see”. The walk there took us through what has to be the cleanest and, at the same time, most barren city I have ever been in. There were almost no people around (unless you counted the homeless) and one had the odd feeling of being one of the last people on Earth.
After a short stop to let the kids play in a fountain to cool off (it was already starting to get warm), the sight of the temple peeked into view above some buildings.
We entered the gates and were instantly greeted (accosted might be a better word) by two pretty young women asking if we would like a tour. Since we were right next to the visitors’ center, we opted to try that first. Once inside, we were greeted by two more young ladies, asking if we needed to be shown around. This was to be a recurring theme – pairs of young women all eager (a little too eager actually) to provide information and show you around.
At first, it seemed very nice and friendly. They would ask your name, the names of your children, where you were from etc. and then start to tell you about the area you were touring. Woven into their dialog about a building, or the craftsmanship in a chair, would be little snippets of information about the vision of Brigham Young and how Jesus has been such a powerful influence in their lives. Near the end of their tour, forms and pens would magically appear (there’s that magician element again) and they would politely ask for your details so that someone could visit you and provide information on how to join their merry band. As I said, nice and friendly at first – downright creepy after a while.
The buildings themselves were beautiful and a lot of work had obviously gone into making the place spectacular. In fact, we learned that the pews in the Tabernacle were pine that had been hand painted to look like oak because they didn’t have ‘the best’, but wanted it to look that way. Honestly, I couldn’t tell that it was paint even on closer inspection.
Unfortunately the temple itself is restricted to entry only by Mormons, and even then only on special occasions. There is a large model of it in the visitors center that you can look at, along with descriptions of the various rooms that can be accessed using touch screens.
But, as the day wore on, the word ‘creepy’ started to be used quite regularly. Everything somehow felt too controlled and artificial. The Stepford Wives movie came to mind on more than one occasion. I had the strangest feeling that peering beneath the veil of excessive politeness would unearth some horrible truth – a bit like those pew seats really.
Eventually we managed to escape Temple Square (without giving our names to anyone!) and, other than a request for gas money from a man who pulled a large, red, gas-can from a top hat just as we walked past, we made it back to the hotel unmolested.
Since we still had a bit of time left in the day we decided to head to Antelope Island, which one of the guide books had said was beautiful. I can only assume that the person writing that had either succumbed to the cool-aid or had lived in a dumpster, because that place was hot as hell and as barren as the moon – and not in a good way.
The visitors’ center has to be one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen, and gave the impression that it was really designed as a place from which to watch nuclear weapon tests. Which, thinking about it, might not be a bad idea…
Eventually we left the visitors center and headed to the beach of the Great Salt Lake, with the plan of letting the kids swim before an early dinner. Walking from the car to the lake involved a schlep across about a mile of hot sand and a carpet made of billions of tiny black flies. Yuk! One man who I passed looked back at the fly barrier at the water’s edge, shook his head in wonder and said “And they [Brigham Young and his band] chose to stop here???”
We let the kids swim for a while but, since those of us not swimming were simultaneously being cooked and attacked by flies, we kept the swim (err…float) short and headed for the “restaurant”. I put restaurant in quotes, because it turned out to be another bunker – this time with a fridge. I think they had hot-dogs too, but we decided to limit our feasting there to an ice-cream before heading back into town.
The next morning we loaded up the Rolling Turd and headed for Yellowstone via the scenic route. It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by the awesome natural beauty of the Grand Tetons, which played a stark contrast to the place we had just left behind.
Salt Lake City certainly has some beautiful buildings…but I’m still not convinced that the people there are real. Honestly…I was glad to see the back of it.