Cat Flag: Utah Edition

 

I just got back from a wonderful week-long visit to the Beehive State. Yes, that is the official state nickname of Utah – it was chosen to represent the hard-working Mormon pioneers who built the state into a prosperous community out of the desert soil. Indeed, according to the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Deseret”, the name Brigham Young first proposed for the state, is an ancient name for the honeybee. Congress rejected this name, instead insisting on naming the state after the Ute people who lived there first. Still, one can see bee-related symbols all over the state, including on Utah’s state flag:

I have made multiple trips to Arizona in the past few years, but I had never been to its northern neighbor before. This year, I decided to make a road trip up to Utah to see what I’ve been missing.

Specifically, the part of Utah I visited was southern Utah, the lands just to the north of the Grand Canyon where the geological complex that becomes one of my favorite places on Earth begins. This region is home to numerous national parks that preserve the upper canyons, and I visited three of them: Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion.

 

 

While on my tour of southern Utah, I noticed a few interesting things about this part of the country. One thing I noticed was that there were constant references to “Dixie” everywhere you looked. Businesses in the area often have “Dixie” in their name, the local college is named Dixie State University, and much of the land between the national parks and up in the mountains is part of the Dixie National Forest. It turns out that the southern part of the state is known colloquially as “Utah’s Dixie”.

Why? Well, it is located in the south of Utah, some of the early Mormon settlers in this area came from southern states, and the area was home to many cotton farms. I find that both hilarious and endearing.

Another thing I noticed was that the street names in Utah’s cities all follow an interesting, and consistent, pattern. In town after town, the streets all had names like “100 South”, “1500 East”, “900 North”, and so on. In seemingly every town I visited, most streets would have a numerical designation that was a multiple of 100, followed by a cardinal direction. Now, I’ve been to cities where they had a “First Street” or “Fifth Avenue”, but this was something new. After some research, I discovered that this street-name convention originates with Salt Lake City, where the streets are laid out on a grid originating at Temple Square, where the LDS Church built their headquarters and largest temple. The idea was that the streets emanating away from this focal point would act as grid coordinates – when you tell someone that you are at the corner of 700 South and 400 West, he or she will know you are seven blocks south and five blocks west of Temple Square. Apparently other Utah cities and towns copied this same naming pattern, using their main street or a major local landmark as the origin points of their grids.

What was far more surprising to me, however, was just how diverse of a landscape Utah has. You can drive through the stereotypical hot, dry Southwestern desert, fertile valleys lush with greenery, and snow-covered mountain vistas in a single afternoon. I know because I did exactly that.

Three environments 1

 

Three environments 2

Three environments 3

These three images were all taken on the same day

Sure, I saw many parts of Utah that were stark, rocky deserts with red canyons like the ones I’ve seen in Arizona. On the other hand, I also drove through many miles of farmland and green pastures that wouldn’t look out of place in the Midwest. On top of that, it actually snowed while I was there. As someone who lives in coastal California, I was captivated by the white flakes drifting to the ground, and looked in awe at the mountainsides as I saw them grow even whiter and more brilliant. Utah says that it has the “Greatest snow on Earth”, and while I admit I am no expert on snow by any means, I thought the snow that I saw was absolutely wonderful. For a visit. I imagine scraping my car off and shoveling my driveway would get old real quick.

Still, the three national parks I visited were all definitely within the “rocky red desert” part of the state, which has a wonder and beauty all its own:

I also noticed a pattern in the national parks I visited and the other tourists who were at these parks with me. These parks are clearly geared towards the outdoorsy, adventurous, doesn’t-mind-roughing-it crowd. There were campgrounds and hiking trails a-plenty, especially in Canyonlands, and most people I saw had brought at least a backpack, water bottle, and hiking shoes. I saw plenty of bikes, rock-climbing equipment, tents, RVs, and off-road vehicles. This was especially true at Canyonlands, the park with the fewest services and creature comforts. It had a single, tiny visitor center and outhouses for restrooms. It didn’t seem like the other people I saw at the park minded all that much; they were usually too busy getting their gear out and getting ready to hike the trails.

My favorite of the national parks I visited, though, would have to be Zion. It was far more, for lack of a better word, civilized than Canyonlands was. Not only does it have plenty of creature comforts like actual restrooms, a shuttle that takes you up the canyon, and a very nice lodge, but it also grades its trails so that you know which ones are good for beginners, intermediate hikers, and experts. I really appreciated that about it.

I also appreciated the amazing beauty of the place. The trail I took went up the Temple of Sinawava, the part of Zion Canyon where it first widens up around the Virgin River. It has some amazing sights, including the Weeping Cliffs, so-called because water from snow-melt seeps through the rock itself and runs down into the river.

The presence of the river in Zion really makes a difference with the wildlife that is present there. It has become an oasis and refuge in the Utah desert. According to the park’s museum, 70% of all plant species in Utah can be found only in that canyon! It is also home to 289 species of birds, 28 species of reptiles, and 79 species of mammals. The river itself is also home to 7 species of fish.

As you can tell, Zion was my favorite of the national parks that I visited during my trip, and I fully intend to go back there someday and explore even more of it. I still think that northern Arizona is my favorite travel destination, but Utah is now a very close second. This likely won’t be the last time you see me blogging about this wonderful state!

One Response to Cat Flag: Utah Edition

  1. Pingback: Cat Flag’s Southwest Tour: Pandemic Edition | Cat Flag

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