Joseph Smith was chilling out in New York in 1823, he was 17 years old. One morning, whilst sat wondering what to do with his life, an angel appeared out of nowhere and gestured that Smith meet the him/her a year later on a hill nearby.
As any normal person would, Smith obliged and was led to gold plates that had engraved upon them characters similar to those used by the Egyptians. The angel pulled through for Smith again by translating the words into what would become known as the book of Mormon, it took four years and was finally published in 1829. Despite being suspiciously similar to various novels out at the time, and notwithstanding the fact the gold plates were never actually seen by anyone else – Smith convinced his family and friends and became a religious leader. Naturally, Smith awarded himself the right to polygamy and various other concessions.
By 1844 Smith was dead, having been murdered whilst in prison. But he could never have envisaged the legacy he would leave behind, for now, there are some 15 million Mormons across the world. With 2/3 of the Utah population servants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, it is Mormon central, and nowhere more so than Salt Lake City.
When we finally split from the I-15, we pulled up at our hotel; Motel 6 Salt Lake City Central. It had been a long drive and the kids and I were keen to throw our clothes off and hit the pool. We checked in and drive around to where our room was. Instantly, our car shone out like a beacon amongst other vehicles with no windows, and mostly head together with rust and a bit of luck. Getting things out of the car a drunk guy was lingering closely, and as we walked up the stairs a woman with more eyes than teeth gestured that I should go see her later. On arriving at our room the door was splattered with blood, entering the room not a single light worked, and there were flies buzzing around the room. I knew we had to leave, but I would first of all find us somewhere else. As I was looking I hear our door unlock and a skinny, shirtless guy walks in. He sees me and says “room service, oh, sorry wrong room”. Motel 6 don’t do room service, and no hotel does room service with topless crack heads. We were out of there. Registration reluctantly assured me we would be refunded back to the card I paid on. I have yet to receive it.
In any case, within about half an hour I was watching the kids splash around in the pool at the Doubletree.
Usually there are two sides to every city, and SLC was no different. Set at the foot of the huge Wasatch Mountains, SLC downtown is a manicured collective of uber modern buildings, all set around and spanning out from the gorgeous, 10 acre Temple Square. Now, I know as well as anyone, that squares are usually baron pieces of a city with not a lot going on, but Temple Square is teeming with religious history and splendor. The first, and most imposing church you see (and the one in the leading photograph) is Salt Lake Temple, standing at 210ft with the golden angel which led Smith to the golden tablets taking pride of place and looking out over the square. We sadly couldn’t get into the temple as there was (genuinely) 6 weddings going on. We did a few obligatory photobombs and then minced into the fabulous Tabernacle, which is a domed auditorium built in 1867. After testing out the acoustics with a few shamones we went to the remaining buildings within the square. Finding ourselves at the visitor centre we walked through Mormon history, and I admit, we were completely consumed by the effort and clearly money that had gone into telling the story of the Latter Day Saints. Eventually we found a cinema and realized that we were late for the showing. Naturally we sneaked in and sat down. Minutes later we retraced our steps in darkness having managed to snide our way into a Chinese showing. I should point out, that everything in Temple square is completely free. That said, I was the only dude rocking shorts and T Shirt and every other male was dressed in shirt and shoes as a minimum, most with ties. Even kids.
Across from the square you have what is easily, I mean without question the slickest mall cum plaza that I have ever been to; City Creek. It is teeming with plants, fountains and obviously, a small creek. You could easily spend an afternoon just cruising the brands and soaking up the atmosphere. It was at City Creek that I realized we had somehow, with absolute fortune stumbled across what would be the highlight of our time in SLC.
To the other end of Temple Square is the LDS conference centre. A huge and stunning building that holds 21,000 people. Every Sunday morning there is a performance by one of the most highly revered and famous choirs in the world: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I admit, what I know about choirs I could write on a grain of rice. As I usually do, when I don’t know something I try and find it out, and what I found out amazed me. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir have won Grammys, Emmys and just about every classical award a choir can win, including being entered into the American Classical Hall of Fame. Every week the 360 member choir belts out a 30 minute performance that is not just the longest running radio show in history, but across multiple networks all over the world. The choir has performed for presidents, toured the world and has some 130 albums out to date, in short, they are at the top of their game. During summer, the choir performs at the LDS conference centre and doors open at 8.30am, tickets are free but kids must be at least 8 years old. The reason is that the performance is essentially a live recording for both TV and Radio, you are in fact asked not to clap between songs, but rather to applaud at the end. Doors close at 9.15am and some old crooner comes out and chats about the prestigious history of the choir. At exactly 9.30am, the most spine tingling, goose pimple inducing performance I had ever witnessed ensued. It was phenomenal. In every sense of the word. The organ was so powerful and the balance of music so precise I genuinely could have sat and listened all day long. Both Jack and Abi sat, mesmerized throughout. It was so captivating I simply do not have the words. It was like you could feel every note, sense passion in every word. It ranks highly, very highly on things I have seen in my life. I would go as far to say that a visit to SLC without seeing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is simply a wasted visit.
On our final day in SLC we headed about 12 miles east into Big Cottonwood canyon. During summer months you can nip over the pass the Park City, home of the Sundance Film Festival and even go stay at Robert Redford’s hotel if you have £100 per night to splurge. We were there for nothing more than a bit of nature loving, with a twist. Usually we hike trails, sometimes go off track, but usually not. I decided that we would literally just park up on the roadside and head off into the trees and find our own solstice. So that’s what we did. The kids loved it, until Jack claimed he was bitten by an ant the size of a mouse, amazingly it hadn’t even left a mark. We crossed rivers, climbed hills and spent the day just getting lost and loving it. There is no hike, no report and I couldn’t even tell you where we were, other than that we were somewhere in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Salt Lake City was nothing like I had expected, and first impressions made it look like our worst nightmare. But it really did pull through, I absolutely will go back, I have always wanted to go to the Sundance Film Festival, more so than any other festival on earth. Now I have another reason to return to SLC, I would hate to think that I might never see that choir again. We genuinely did love it, absolutely loved it in fact.