June 17, 2021 – Utah’s Headquarters

Our campground on a hill, overlooking Deer Creek Reservoir in the Wasatch Mountains near Provo.
After spending several weeks climbing rocks and hiking through canyons, a few days at Deer Creek State Park gave us some deserved respite.
Casual hikes in the hilltops along the reservoir was all we needed for a few days.

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.

Camped at Deer Creek SP gave us a chance to visit BYU’s impressive Museum of Art in Provo.
This is one of the paintings I found in the Museum of Art’s “Becoming America” exhibit. I was taken aback by “Lift up Thine Eyes” with so much detail and depth. I dare you to guess the artist. I was surprised to learn who it was, having thought of him as an illustrator rather than a painter.

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.

Visiting the museum was a history lesson. The artist, CCA Christensen is known for his paintings depicting the history of the Latter-day Saints. In this painting, members of the church are chased out of Missouri by angry mobs.
In this beautiful painting by CCA Christensen, the Latter-day Saints cross the Mississippi on Ice, during the initial exodus in 1846. By 1869, approximately 60,000 Latter-day Saints pioneers journeyed west.
The artist Maynard Dixon is known for his paintings of the American West. Here, he illustrates Brigham Young standing before his followers with the scriptures in one hand and a plow in the other. Presence of the Divine is evident in the clouds.

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.

Temple Square was undergoing massive renovation while we visited Salt Lake City. We were able to take the walking tour but certain buildings were still closed due to Covid. A significant impetus for the renovation was the 5.7 earthquake that shook SLC in 2020.

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.

A monument to the pioneers that walked the Mormon Trail while pulling handcarts. By the way, proper use of the word Mormon, such as Book of Mormon or Mormon Trail remains acceptable.
In the halls of Utah’s state capitol, a statue of Brigham Young looms large. Who says religion and politics don’t mix?

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.

In addition to Temple Square, we visited the state capitol where across the street, women’s suffrage was being recognized at the visitor center. The visitor center building was where Utah women cast the first votes on February 14, 1870. What is given can also be taken away. In 1887, that’s exactly what happened to women’s right to vote in Utah.
Rescinding women’s right to vote in 1887 was an act by Utah’s legislature to reduce the power of the Church by removing half its voting numbers. This outraged many people, including Emmeline Wells, who became a leading figure in the suffrage movement. In 1896, equal suffrage was included in the State Constitution.
Martha Hughes Cannon became a leader in Utah’s suffrage movement after Utah disenfranchised women in 1887. In 1896, she became Utah’s first female state senator after defeating her own husband. One can only imagine their dinner table conversations.

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.

One of the places settled in the great lake basin was Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake. At the state park, you can visit a working ranch and museum where Mormon pioneers lived and worked for several decades. And yes, that is a bison in the distance. And that white stuff, is salt.
In the museum, you get an idea of pioneer life on Antelope Island. Brigham Young’s portrait is very much a part of the scene.
The Great Salt Lake is experiencing its lowest levels of water in almost 200 years. Here you can see the road that crosses the lake from Salt Lake City to the island.

(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:

Next to what was then 5th Street, a Union Station opened in1869 with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Fifth Street became 25th Street in 1889, and by then was a popular hub for travelers and became the center of activity in Ogden.
Everything is historical in Ogden, even the beer! Apparently, the street was once known for lots of illegal and immoral activity including prostitution, gambling and drug dealing. So much so that it was rumored Al Capone deemed Ogden too wild of a town for him.
Now, downtown Ogden is a quiet place with some nice horse sculptures.

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