Sunday, June 15, 2014

On the Road in Utah, and Park City

After the 50 mile drive from Boulder, Utah to Capitol Reef Park on Thursday morning and driving through the park, that afternoon we traveled about 120 miles of two-lane highway (all dotted-line scenic routes in our 2002 Rand McNally atlas) to get back to Interstate 15. It was our first time back on a freeway since Flagstaff on Sunday. We drove about 65 miles on I-15 before we got back onto more local roads for the last 45 miles. Route 189 is a main drag through Provo, and then turns into a mountain road up to Park City.

We saw a lot of sagebrush and sprinklers arcing water long distances onto hay fields. Many fields had cut hay waiting to be baled - I assume the first cut of the season. We started seeing bigger herds of cattle - almost all black Angus. We drove by a round-up and a feedlot. It makes one aware of all that goes into the beef we eat - those are resource-expensive calories! My father and my brother Patrick both raised beef cattle for some years in the eighties and nineties, but these days I eat much less beef than I used to. However, I have to admit that the natural beef tenderloin Patrick grilled on natural charcoal and served last night was delectable! (My father achieved his goal of raising a  National Western Stock Show Grand Champion bull in 1990 with Turbo, a limosin breed.)

Utah is a really beautiful state. It would be an appealing place to live, but the pervasiveness of the Mormon Church, or LDS (for Church of the Latter Day Saints) would prevent me from living here. My New Jersey book group read Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven some years ago, then I watched the HBO series Big Love for a few seasons. Both are about branches that broke off from the main church, primarily to continue the practice of polygyny (which I learned is the proper term for men having more than one wife), but even the main church is
patriarchal and political. I suppose I would feel similarly uncomfortable in any area where a particular religion dominates, particularly one that believes in its own rightness, and the wrongness of other beliefs. My grad school statistics professor and friend, Nancy Fagley, grew up in Salt Lake City and said she always felt like an outsider because her family wasn't Mormon.

Road, river, railway (with a coal train)
We traveled north on Interstate 15 through the middle of a broad valley with the river, road and railway paralleling each other. As we got into Nephi, about 80 miles south of Salt Lake City, I noticed a lot of big houses, many with three and four car garages, and it made me wonder about the source of the money. Often Mormon families are big, and I must admit I wondered how many of the homes might house multiple 'wives.'

We started seeing snow on the peaks and in basins as we drove north and the altitudes got higher. Park City is at 7000' above sea level, versus Salt Lake City's 4300' and summer temperatures there are usually 20 degrees cooler. We found it perfect shirtsleeves weather even as the moon rose over the mountains at about 9:30 at night.

From our hosts' yard
I really like Park City. It reminded me of Aspen 35 years ago - a former mining town turned to skiing and tourism, with celebrities thrown in - but it was less intimidating to me. Perhaps it is also about not having witnessed the changes as I did in Aspen, having summered there from 1959 - 1971 as I grew up, and then visiting my father there over the years after that. There are great restaurants, lots of galleries, and t-shirt shops as well as a laid-back style and those beautiful surroundings.

The Park City Museum is a treasure with wonderful exhibits that illustrate the history of the area starting with silver mining in 1868. George Hearst (William Randolph Hearst's father) made his fortune as an silver mine owner here. Over 1000 miles of mining tunnels were cut into the surrounding mountains some to a depth of 3000 feet, and the mines are today the source of Park City's water. The museum brought lessons from my college history classes forty years ago to life. For instance, a cell wall of the original jail in the basement of the museum still has the insignia of the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World) on it, made with candle smoke by imprisoned union organizers in 1916. Silver prices fell along with the stock market in 1929, closing mines and bringing Park City to ghost town status.

Around 1905, a telephone line repairman found skiing to be a useful way to get to downed lines during the winter, and ski jumping became a form of entertainment for locals in the 1930s. In the late fifties, the mining company decided to open a ski area. The aerial ore trams transitioned to a gondola. When lines were painfully long, they tried using a mine train under the mountain to transport skiers (a skiers subway), but the dripping water from the mines froze on them as they emerged on top of the mountain, and few skiers took that trip more than once. Edgar Stern, who had lived in Aspen, came to develop the ski areas and brought Stein Eriksen, Norwegian Olympian from 1952.  Every afternoon at 2 PM, Eriksen would do a flip on skis (his father was an Olympic gymnast). He is credited with inspiring the aerial ski events - his good looks and charisma didn't hurt!

Deer Valley Resort opened in 1981, and the US Film and Video Festival highlighting independent films came to Park City. That has now turned into the world-famous Sundance Film Festival, where our hosts volunteer.  We ate dinner at Zoom, a Sundance (read Robert Redford) owned restaurant. The Olympics were held in the Park City/Deer Valley area in 2002, and there are a number of local athletes who are honored around town, like at the coffee-ice cream shop, Java Cow. While we didn't get our extra day of rest in Park City, the detour to Capitol Reef was definitely worth it.

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