Everyone knows SLC (as it is called by the locals) is the closest airport to the most national parks, the closest airport to the most ski resorts, and the closest airport to the most superlative natural scenery in the world. And way too many people don't even see the city in their hurry to recreate. On the map, SLC appears to be just another city between Denver and Las Vegas: however, SLC is on the map for only one reason—history.
The history is simple: a dry, salty waste ignored by natives, explorers, and settlers alike until the largest religious migration in recent history built a city to their God. There is no SLC without the Mormons--never was, and never could have been. Those who so cavalierly overlook or ignore (or even degrade) the religion, miss the whole city. And truth to tell, most tourists miss it, perhaps because it is perched so squarely in the middle of everything desirable. Every other block sports a monument to one idea--that people can rise above anything they ever thought possible before. The floral gardens and city parks are a bold contradiction of the weather and soil. Nothing should grow in that arid, alkaline clay, but the cherries are superior to Maryland, and the apples are superior to Washington. The city rests beside a huge lake, but no one lives near it. Property values on the lake are zero. Only tourists go there, and they leave quickly.
The Mormon Temple is so solidly built that it alone of all current buildings in the USA is likely to be there when some archaeologist begins digging into the history of the American Empire in 4004 AD. Furthermore, it is the key building of the Neo-Gothic style of architecture, and is considered to be the finest work of architectural art in this nation. But it was designed by its builders only to honor God. The rest is gravy. Locals do not appreciate it. Visitors do not understand it.
The city was the first of any in the USA to give women the right to vote. It was the first to create broad streets, landscape them, and keep them utterly clean--which now draws so many compliments, but which was merely religion applied to cities. Wander through the pioneer museums and you waste your time. The visitor sees "old stuff," devoid of context, and realizes he’d rather be skiing. The Mormon sees legacy—suffering—conquest against all odds, and feels a certain vindication. Neither sees history. History is better seen in the homes, churches, and especially the cemeteries—whose lawns stay green in the driest summer. Salt Lake is far too large to walk, yet cannot be seen clearly in any other way. Walk the residential streets and talk to the old folks. The people often smile.
Walking SLC is living in history—a well-manicured, well-mannered, peaceful, unassuming, sprawling, small, homey place where one can sense something deeper, something elusive yet beautiful, where one can stand with a foot in the 1800s and another in the 2100s. Nestled in the mountains, the city stretches for the heavens. When a long-absent native son returns, he sees that which never was, and that which cannot be, but which, fortunately, is.