Salt Lake City, Utah: The Land of Mountains

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Salt Lake City, Utah: The Land of Mountains

My experience growing up in Salt Lake City is probably similar to that of others who grew up in a mountainous region; the mountains served as bookends, boundaries and background figures in my childhood. Though I may not have noticed to what extent at the time, their omnipresence was a constant reminder of my place in the world, both literally – as the opposing ranges easily reminded me which direction was east and which was west – and figuratively, reminding me how small and powerless I was against the impressive force of nature.

As a young girl, my family would spend the week of the 4th of July at my grandparents’ timeshare at a ski resort. You may wonder, what do you do at a ski resort in the middle of summer? Well, to be a kid up in the mountains was pure bliss. I would wake up early in the morning and eat breakfast on our 11th floor balcony, facing the evergreen-covered mountains. I would try to spot the rare moose or more common mountain goat, and I tested my fear of heights by peering straight down, to where the pool area was, to see if I could catch a glimpse of a scurrying prairie dog (or more affectionately, a pot gut).

Then later in the day my mom might take me and my brothers on a hike, exploring the rugged mountain trails inhabited by more bugs and birds than I could count; they would catch my eye whenever I looked down to avoid a jagged mid-path rock or gazed up at the treetops. A few paces later I might encounter a mountain stream – a wonder in and of itself – where rainwater gurgles down from mountain’s peak. The clearest, crispest water I ever tasted came from these streams. The minerals in the rocks filter out any impurities leaving only pure water, no fancy aerator or reverse-osmosis system needed, perfect for refilling my water bottle as I would inevitably drink it all within the first 15 minutes.

At the end of one particular path stood a wooden lookout, similar to a deck behind a split-level suburban home, but with a view of a stunning valley between two mountains. In the middle, as if peering down from an airplane, I could see Salt Lake City, an incredible juxtaposition of nature and urban sprawl. It was then that I realized how big the world is and how much more there was to explore.

Throughout my pre-teen years, I started to realize that Salt Lake was unique in many ways, with our own holidays, food preferences, and vocabulary. While the rest of the United States was celebrating the 4th of July, Utahns half-heartedly went on picnics or fired up the grill; Independence Day was just a warm-up for Utah’s state holiday: Pioneer Day. July 24th (Pie-and-beer Day among Salt Lake’s more liberal folks) marks the day Mormon settlers, led by Joseph Smith, proclaimed Salt Lake to be their chosen land to build their great city. There are actually several monuments to this occasion, including This Is The Place Heritage Park where you can see reenactments of the 1847 event. Pioneer Day is essentially July 4th taken to the next level, and to my knowledge no other state is so enthusiastic about a state holiday, with picnics galore, fireworks, parades, and of course, pie and beer.

salt lake city

Salt Lake City

Another homage to Salt Lake’s unique character comes alongside an order of French fries: fry sauce. Have you ever mixed ketchup with mayonnaise? Well, add some secret spices to that mixture and you have fry sauce. Fry sauce has cemented itself as the preferred fry dip of many a Utahn, so much so that the restaurant chain that originally created the sauce combo, Arctic Circle, goes through as many as 50,000 gallons of the condiment each year, excluding any bottles they ship out of state. The sauce has developed a cult-like following and an omnipresence in restaurants throughout the state. Looking to sample it yourself? Pop into any of Utah’s homegrown fast food chains like Apollo Burger, the Training Table, or the original Arctic Circle, or even try it on a taco, waffle, or by the spoonful. I guarantee you will not get any funny looks.

After living in Salt Lake for a while, you learn that in between the towering peaks, sits a thriving intellectual and artistic community. I believe that constantly seeing the beauty of nature must stimulate thoughts somehow. Salt Lake’s inhabitants are proud of what makes our city interesting and different – including being the most recent American city to host Olympic Games, in 2002. Just 10 minutes from the city’s center you can visit the arena where opening and closing ceremonies were held and take a picture with the eternal flame, which has been burning constantly for 15 years.

A thriving film and arts scene puts Salt Lake on the map culturally, from the annual Sundance Film Festival held just a few miles away in Park City, to the famed Ballet West studio. When I was in high school, High School Musical was filmed at East High School, just a few blocks from my house, following many other famous movies, such as The Sandlot and cult classic SLC Punk, and of course, HBO’s series Big Love.

salt lake city

Salt Lake City PIC: AM

As an adult, I appreciate Salt Lake’s underrated diversity and progressive attitudes. While widely thought of as an overwhelmingly religious city, in reality, only about half of Salt Lake City residents are Mormon, and there is a growing population of non-religious people. The city is home to all nationalities, including a sizable Pacific Islander community, and more and more Angelenos choosing to leave behind the traffic and stress of LA for the peaceful mountain life.

Salt Lake hosts a massive Pride festival every year, attracting over 25,000 people, and has a vibrate craft brew culture, shifting the straight-laced, traditional stereotype that the city may have for someone who has not visited. While liquor laws are still stricter than many states (liquor stores closed on Sunday, etc.), local government is making progress on loosening restrictions to help encourage tourism and economic growth.

Economic growth is of course bolstered by the natural resources that Utah has to offer, which brings me back to my beloved mountains. A vacation spot for millions in the winter months, world-class ski resorts are only 30 minutes from downtown Salt Lake. And in the summer, the mountains are equally as entertaining, and in my opinion, more beautiful. While I am still always down to find a fresh mountain stream, as I get older, I’m interested in mountain biking, rock climbing, or stand-up paddleboarding in reservoirs outside the city. Growing up in a place so invested in and passionate about the outdoors certainly taught me to respect nature and crave adventure.

Today, living in gorgeous Miami, Florida, I certainly do not miss shoveling snow or trying to find a bottle of wine on a Sunday. Out of everything, what I miss most (besides fry sauce), and what I look forward to when I visit, is the mountains.

Also check out Denver, Colorado.

Adrienne Murphy

Adrienne Murphy

Adrienne is a travel industry professional who seeks to make adventure more affordable and accessible for everyone. She grew up in Salt Lake City and Minneapolis and now considers herself a global citizen, striving to experience and understand cultures throughout the world. Check out her blog at