Online Exclusives

Utah Transplant Transformation

How I went from knowing Scant about Mormon-Dominated Utah to Discovering Hidden Gems and Other Surprising Places and Things


International Peace Gardens, 1060 Dalton Ave, Salt Lake City

Trekking 2,500 miles across country in 1993, my ex-husband and I made the bold move to relocate to Utah sight unseen. Fresh out of college at Syracuse University in New York (no, not Syracuse, Utah, which we had never heard of before), we had no encumbrances — the future was wide open.

We were determined to move west, where we had skied several times in Colorado and had grown weary of the frenzied, overcrowded East Coast. Our wanderlust and dream of moving to the Rocky Mountain region put us into a quandary: Where should we go? We actually bought a map and put thumb tacks on places and said, “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo, where is the best place to go?”

We researched our options, taking into factor the ski terrain, job opportunities, cost of living and if we knew anyone who lived there .We boiled it down to a handful of options: Boulder, Colorado, was our first draft pick, but, from what we discovered, the housing prices were way out of our budget. Boise, Idaho, seemed intriguing but a little too sleepy back then (how things have changed since. It’s now a hopping large city).

Denver — PERFECT! But after talking to people who had visited and/or resided there, we nixed it. We learned that the large metropolis with ample jobs came with the albatross of having long, congested commutes to what we thought were overpriced ski resorts.

So we stagnated for awhile, watching the summer tourism season at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, wind down and earning less money as a bartender (me) and a cook (him) at a popular lakeside restaurant.

On a short visit to Ithaca, New York, to see his family, one woman helped us to seal our fate, but we were extremely reluctant to embrace her suggestion. Over dinner on our last night there, my ex’s stepmother said, “What about Utah?”

Sipping my Chardonnay, I almost spit it out, thinking she was telling another of her many amusing jokes. “Say what?” my ex asked. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No,” she said, “It kind of just came to me. Think about it — you’re little brother goes to the University of Utah and don’t you have a couple of friends from Ithaca who go there too? So you wouldn’t be out there all alone.”

“But,” I interrupted, “Isn’t that Mormon ville? I mean, can you see us living in a place where you can’t even get a drink?”

“Screw that,” my ex chimed in, draining his Budweiser. “Aren’t they like a cult?”

Pointing at us excitedly with a fork and a wide grin, my future stepmother in law said, “No, no. I thought that too, but I skied there a few times with a group of ladies after we graduated from nursing school. Snowden, no Snowbird,” she corrected herself. “Seriously, it’s beautiful. The streets are wide, it’s clean and the Mormons we met were actually very pleasant. You guys would love it. There’s tons of hiking and national parks and the mountains are gorgeous. And I think the cost of living is reasonable. Check it out. What have you got to lose?”

I still thank her for that vodka-tonic induced insight, even with all of the quirkiness that is still Utah some 25 years later. It was a life-changing dinner.

After researching Utah without the aid of Google (millennials will not understand or believe this, but we managed to live without the Internet or even Siri), we began our conversion. Our research basically consisted of my ex and me over speakerphone calling his two grade-school pals who he hadn’t seen since junior year in high school and asking how Utah really was.

One of them, celebrating the end of a grueling week of partying, mountain climbing and studying in that order told us Utah was “the raddest place and we should definitely come out.”

And we did. After the initial culture shock and residual oddities we would encounter and learn, we came to love the Beehive State and discovered many hidden gems and other unexpected cool stuff.

The catalyst for writing this piece and sharing some of my experiences was that only a few days ago two bright, eyed, 25-year-old millennials from Oregon and California moved in next door to attend grad school at the U.

I remember feeling lost when we came here, even though he knew a few people. I offered to show them around and tell them about some of the most interesting, unique and overall wonderful places and things I have discovered about Utah, many off of the beaten path, some of which I found by accident.

This is not necessarily in order of favorites; and I, under full disclosure, have not been paid by any person or company to promote their products or services.

I am simply providing information about these places, with some of my opinions inserted; but I will leave it up to you to check them out if you like and come to your own conclusions (I am using some Wikipedia pages, so buyer beware).

Here are some of my favorites, and I hope they aren’t inundated or ruined but I just want to share and have us all respect one another and visit these truly unique places.

International Peace Gardens

International Peace Gardens – Wikipedia
The International Peace Gardens is a botanical garden located in Jordan Park in Salt Lake City, Utah. Part of Utah’s history, the garden was conceived in 1939 and …

Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation

The choices are abundant from the many parks (my favorite is Olympus Hills Park, 3131 E. 4500 S., which I have coined as “the stairs,” a great workout for you and your four-legged pets overshadowed by Mt. Olympus and replete with tennis courts, a playground and ball fields, and a go-to place for snowboarders and skiers who use the rails when there is snow much to the chagrin of the park employees) to public pools, ice centers, recreation centers and golf courses. In this Valley, ringed by the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains, being able to visit the Wheeler Historic Farm (jammed into the sprawling metropolis) is like taking a step back into history.

Recreation Outlet, no not, at least for my budget, the overpriced REI

Recreation Outlet : Outdoor & Camping Gear

Great prices in sporting goods, fitness equipment, active apparel, hiking gear, winter sports and water sports. Buy online or in-stores!

The Bayou

With its wonderful Cajun-inspired food, live music and supposedly the most beers available in Utah. This refurbished garage doesn’t need any more free word-of-mouth or advertising and the prices have grown with the popularity, but it is still a unique destination for Utah, and the food, service and music are phenomenal.

The Bayou | Welcome to Beervana™
Get The Bayou App. Our extensive beer list updated in real time with sorting and filtering capabilities. The Bayou is Utah’s premier beer bar and Cajun restaurant for …

The Crater in Midway

Unbelievable history and such a fun experience.

Homestead Crater | The Crater Utah | Crater Midway Utah
Homestead Crater is a geothermal spring in a 55ft limestone dome on the grounds of Homestead Resort. Come take a soak, go snorkeling or do paddleboard yoga!

C.A.W.S. and Rescue Rovers

If you are looking to rescue a dog or cat, which I have many times, look no further than to these groups, which use fosters instead of temporarily housing the animals at overcrowded shelters.

Rescue Rovers Dog Adoptions
Rescue Rovers dog rescue and adoptions

Home – CAWS
Community Animal Welfare Society ( CAWS) is one of the oldest no-kill animal rescues in Utah. Over the last 20 years CAWS, our fosters and supporters have saved …

Liberty Park

The greenhouse at Liberty Park.

There is always something to do in this wonderful park in the middle of Salt Lake City, whether it is enjoying the rollerblading, jogging and walking paths, and the Sunday drum circle.

Liberty Park – Wikipedia
Liberty Park is a popular public urban park in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is the city’s second-largest public park, at 80 acres (32 ha), being surpassed only by …

Yoga at Solitude on Saturdays, weather permitting

Solitude is also a local’s dream for skiing, with shorter lines, lower than other places ticket prices and less tourists than other ski areas (think Snowbird and all of the Park City resorts). And who can forget about the Solitude FOGShttps the friendly group of skiers who host tailgates on Sundays and invite locals and tourists, but please bring something to share. Friendliest group of people from all walks of life I have met in Utah.

Solitude Fogs – Home | Facebook
Solitude Fogs. 195 likes. We are a group of drinking friends whose origins are dubious, and gather regularly to attend their skiing addiction meetings!

Sundance, Alpine Loop

Cascade Springs, located at the top of the Alpine Loop. Photo from

Alpine Loop Scenic Drive |
This 20-mile drive winds through rugged alpine canyons of the Wasatch Range offering views of Mount Timpanogos and other peaks. More Information here.

In all, Utah has transformed as much as I have in these past 25 years, spurred mostly by the 2002 Olympics when the world was introduced to this amazing state. Utah boasts having one of the best economies in the nation and luring companies for the once cheap land and labor. But with prosperity comes problems, unfortunately. Utah, with all of the growth has become known as having terrible drivers.

Nation’s worst drivers: Utahns – The Salt Lake Tribune
After looking at 2 million data points nationally about such things as car crashes, traffic tic

We also are struggling with homeless problems, high housing prices and awful air quality.

Anyway, I hope this helps some of the transplants or lifers unearth some of Utah’s hidden gems. Now, I’m going to crank up “Turn It Off” from the Book of Mormon play (from the amazingly creative South Park guys) which I recently saw at the Eccles.  And take my dog hiking up Millcreek Canyon.

Eccles Theater – Salt Lake County Center for the Arts
Buy tickets to events taking place at the Eccles Theater and learn about rental opportunities through Salt Lake County Center for the Arts.

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