At this point, Utah’s colorful landscapes within premiere parks were the crème de la crème of our travels. For the past three weeks we had been exploring Utah’s iconic rock landscapes by way of four national parks, three state parks, and three national monuments. It was time for a change and a little down time. Utah’s exquisitely expressive rock formations will always remain vivid in our conscious and will be what identifies Utah for us. But while Utah’s geological history became front and center in our travel lessons, the state’s human history also piqued our interest. After several weeks among its national parks, we had additional time to spend in Utah as we necessarily drove through Salt Lake City on our way to Idaho. Consequently, we stayed in the Great Salt Lake area for six days, first at Deer Creek State Park near Provo and then north of SLC in Ogden.
Looking up in the museum’s lobby from various perspectives, I could not stop photographing these translucent filaments that refracted rays of light like a giant prism. This is the work of artist Gabriel Dawe.
Up until then, the fact that Utah is often identified as a “Mormon State” stayed on the back burner of our minds while we explored its remote and wild desert regions. It was only during our time in Bluff that we thought about Mormons while learning the fascinating story of how and why Bluff was founded. Each state in the union can claim it’s fame from something unique to it, and I suppose the fact that two thirds of Utah’s population (about 2 million people) identify themselves as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints is quite a unique quality.
Indeed, Utah is the only state where most of the population belongs to one church. As the President of the Church, Russell M. Nelson is given the exclusive right to receive revelations from God on behalf of the entire church or the entire world. The president is the highest priesthood authority on earth. That’s a lot of power for one person. One Man and one Church equals the majority rule in Utah.
And by the way, during our tour of Temple Square that was led by two very young and enthusiastic members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I never once heard the word “Mormon”. Later, I learned that in 2018, President Nelson said that God had “impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church”. Thusly, the church announced, that its members should no longer call themselves Mormons, or even use the shorthand LDS. Instead, they should use the full name Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Latter-day Saints for short. Because Nelson is revered as a living prophet, the announcement came with divine weight.
So, the church that has been popularly known as the Mormons or Mormonism, wants people to stop using the ‘M’ word. As a person not associated with the Church of Latter-day Saints, or any Church for that matter, I can understand their reasoning. The word ‘Mormon’ has often been used to identify a specific group of Christians that don’t fit in with the other kids on the playground of Christianity. I have witnessed ridicule and derision toward Mormonism and this was in far-away Michigan where it’s doubtful many Mormons reside. One of the reasons for a certain disdain has to do with polygamy, although Utah was granted statehood in 1896 on the condition it ban polygamy. However, perceptions die hard.
No other Church community can claim a “Great Migration” in the U.S or as great of a colonization as the Latter-Day Saints. The fact the Great Mormon Migration occurred from Illinois to Utah was due to the growing influence and power of its charismatic leader and founder, Joseph Smith. By 1847, Smith’s relatively new Church was expanding in numbers and gaining a foothold in Illinois politics. Outsiders perceived it as clannish and of course, there was the seedy polygamy issue. Following Smith’s murder by an angry mob, his successor Brigham Young gathered up the church members and convinced them to get out of Illinois where violence and persecution against them were ramping up.
(We spent a couple hours walking around the newly renovated state capitol. Take a look at this slideshow and you’ll see why we spent so much time there.)
So, with handcarts and a handful of slaves to help them on the way, Young led his followers to a secluded place where they could prosper – the Promised Land. The pioneers made the 1300-mile trek from Illinois to Utah and on July 24, 1847, found themselves in the Salt Lake Valley where they settled – without the approval of the Mexican government or the indigenous people already living there, of course. Once settled in the valley, the pioneers proceeded to spread out far and wide across the Utah territory, forming a strong foothold in the area.
(Here is a slideshow with photos from our day spent on Antelope Island, where the bison and antelope roam free.)
Because the combination of religion and politics should never be brought up in conversation, I will leave you with one final point of interest – Utah’s state motto. It is one word – ‘Industry’. Do you know the significance of a state motto? It is representative of what is valued most by a state. For Utah, it is the legacy of its pioneers that relied on industry to survive in a place where few material resources existed. But then again, so did many people back in those days, including those already living there.
One last view of our time in Ogden, a few scenes from its historic downtown area: