Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Utah in July

—guest post by Owen

I'm spending the month of July at a giant once-every-ten-years conference in Salt Lake City, my first time back in the United States since moving to the Netherlands almost two years ago.  There have been experiences in every quadrant of the pleasantness/familiarity square:
  • pleasantly familiar: choice in grocery stores!
  • unpleasantly familiar: terrible-looking asphalt roads.
  • unpleasantly unexpected: lack of shade on the University of Utah's wide-open campus. 
Not pictured: the sun beating down relentlessly on every living thing.
But nothing has been so unexpectedly pleasant as the scenery.  Having heard about the Great Salt Lake, I imagined the environment of Salt Lake City to be the geographical equivalent of hard-water stains in the sink.  But it is actually quite beautiful, as I hope this photograph-laden post will convince you.

At a high elevation, there's not much atmosphere protecting you from the sun's rays, so it's easy to burn in the overhead sunlight.  A thin atmosphere also means, however, that it gets quite cool in the morning and evening, so a lot of people at the conference took the opportunity to hike up into the mountains on whose foothills the university rests.  Here's what we saw on one such trip:

From up here you can make out the Great Salt Lake in the distance.
This is the view looking the other way along the mountain ridge.
This past Saturday, several of us rode the earliest possible public transit to get to the Mt. Olympus trail.  The trail is only 3½ miles long, but none of us realized exactly how steep it would be: in fact, Mt. Olympus is the mountain to the left of center in the picture above!  After a few hours, we decided we hadn't brought enough supplies to make it all the way up, so we turned back after taking a group picture at the height we did attain:

The walk back to the bus stop was long and hot in the midday sun, but stopping to rest gave me the chance to photograph this guy, who is about as long as my index finger:

I want to close by showing pictures from two of the local attractions: Red Butte Garden ("Butte" is pronounced like "beauty" without the "-y") and its next-door neighbor, the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Red Butte contains so many different types of gardens, the two times I went I didn't see anything twice.  There's an herb garden, a rose garden, a medicinal garden, a five-senses garden especially for kids... all with signage that succeeds at being simultaneously informative and discreet.  There are places to wander on trails and places to sit under boughs of wisteria.

Some of the plants blew me away with their beauty, like these Blue Glow Globe Thistles:

And these miniature delights of whose name someone will have to remind me:

Then there's the natural history museum: it's located in a really well thought-out space, with interactive exhibits dedicated to the history of the earth (and especially Utah), the flora and fauna that are native to the region, and the indigenous peoples whose culture is still alive today.

But the star exhibit is the collection of dinosaur fossils!  I have never seen so many complete skeletons arranged in such stirring poses.  Some even swayed with the subtle currents in the air.
The fossils suspended in plates of rock are also beautifully arranged:

Several exhibits tried to give you the flavor of what it would be like to participate in an archaeological dig.  Here's a photo of a room where you could try to match cards to the grid squares beneath you, as if mapping an excavation.

I leave to fly back to the Netherlands on Saturday.  I'm so glad to be getting back to the home that I love, but I didn't think there would be so much here to miss too.  Thanks for reading!


  1. I've never been to Utah, either, so thank you for the vicarious trip. Have a safe trip back!

  2. I read this after I got your email but didn't have time to savor the pictures until now. Thank you for posting! It was a treat for my Tuesday afternoon :)


Owen recommends hitting Cmd-A then Cmd-C (or Ctrl-A then Ctrl-C on Windows) to copy your comment to the clipboard before you hit "Submit". That way, if your comment doesn't post for whatever reason, you can paste it back into the comment field with Cmd-V (or Ctrl-V) and try again.