The Great Salt Lake, the Mormons, and the perfect snow are a few things we instantly associate with Utah, but what is Utah famous for besides these?
Located in the Mountain West, Utah is a landlocked state bordering Colorado (east), Wyoming (northeast), Idaho (north ), Arizona (south), and Nevada (west). It also touches New Mexico in the four corners. Utah is a rather big state (the 11th in the Union) but is not very crowded as it’s only the 11th-least-densely populated with about 3 million people.
Officially nicknamed the “Beehive State,” it’s probably more known for its unofficial title of the “Mormon state” because of its substantial Mormon community; it was one of the last states to join the union in 1896 (45th).
But for now, let’s explain what is Utah famous for!
9 Things Utah is famous for
What is Utah famous for? Mormons is the easy and obvious answer. Over half of Utahns are Mormons. In fact, Utah is the only US state where a vast majority of the population belongs to a single church, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church). As a result, the LDS plays a vital role in Utahn politics, culture, and society.
Mormons came to Utah even before it became a US State. Mormons arrived in Utah in 1847 after escaping persecution in the United States, particularly in Illinois, where their founder and prophet, Josep Smith, was murdered. Their new leader, Brigham Young, took the Mormons on the “great trek,” and two years later, they arrived at the Great Salt Lake Valley.
The Mormons see Utah and the Great Salt Lake Valley are their promised land. In 1847, only 149 Mormon pioneers reached Valley, but in the next decades, thousands of Mormons migrated to Utah, following their leaders’ footsteps.
When Utah became a state in 1896, the LDS Church already had more than 250 000 members. Today there are more than 2 million Mormons in Utah, representing about 1/3 of all Mormons in the USA.
Furthermore, the headquarters of the LDS Church is in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, the state has become more religiously diverse and secular in the last decades. In 2018 Salt Lake City even became the first city in Utah where Mormons are no longer the majority.
Great Salt Lake
Located in the Northern part of the state, the Great Salt Lake is clearly one of the most famous things in Utah. It was on the shores of the lake that the Mormons first settled, founding salt lake city, the capital and biggest city in Utah. Metropolitan Salt Lake City has more than 1.2 million people.
With an average size of 1 700 sq miles, the Great Salt Lake is the biggest salt lake in the Western Hemisphere and the largest natural lake west of Mississippi. However, the water levels vary dramatically according to precipitation because of the lake’s low average depth of 16 feet (4.9 m).
The great salt lake is a terminal lake, so it doesn’t have an outlet besides evaporation. Its three main tributaries (Jordan, Weber, and Bear Rivers) bring about 1 million tons of minerals annually. These minerals accumulate when the water evaporates, giving the lake a high salinity level, much higher than seawater.
The high density of the water makes swimming in the lake quite hard, but floating is easy and fun. It’s a similar experience to the Dead Sea in Israel and Jordan. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to develop touristic infrastructures due to the continuous fluctuation of the water levels on the shore. Nevertheless, Bridger Bay Beach may be the most inviting beach on the lake, with two miles of wide white oolitic sand.
The Great Salt Lake is a remnant of the much large ice-age Lake Bonneville, which occupied a large portion of Northwest Utah. With the end of the Ice Age, Lake Bonneville receded gradually until becoming today’s Great Salt Lake. This takes us to the next thing on our list of what Utah is famous for, the Bonneville Speedway.
Bonneville salt flats and Speedway
The Bonneville salt flats are so flat you can see the planet’s curvature and so sterile that it has no life forms. As the name suggests, this densely pressed salt pan is a remnant of Lake Bonneville in northwestern Utah.
With 12 miles long and 8 km wide, they are the largest of the many salt flats situated west of the Great Salt Lake. It’s calculated to have about 150 million tons of salt, 90% standard table salt. The salt crust varies from 5 ft in the central part to about an inch in the edges.
Besides its impressive size, the Bonneville salt flats are famous for their speedway. The salt flats are perfectly flat and make a perfect place for speed races. In fact, many of the land speed world records were beaten here, including the 630mph record established in 1970 that stood until 1983. Every year several races take place in Bonneville between Summer and Fall, with the most famous being Speed Week in August.
The Bonneville salt flats are also a very popular movie setting and have been featured several times in movies and TV series (Star Wars, Independence Day, Knight Rider, Top Gear, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc).
The National parks
Utah is more than a snow and winter destination. It is a nature and outdoor wonderland with five well-known national parks. Only Alaska and California have more National parks than Utah. They are usually called Utah’s mighty five: Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands.
Located in southern Utah on the Colorado plateau, these National parks are among the most visited and photographed in the world. Zion National Park, in particular, is the 3rd most visited National Park in the US, with 3.6 million visitors, but who hasn’t seen pictures of the arches, notably Delicate Arch in Arches National Park? Or the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon?
What is Utah famous for? Beehives, after all, Utah was nicknamed “the beehive state.” However, the reason behind it is not as evident as one would think. The number of honey bees isn’t that large, and Utah is only the 24th state on the US honey production list. It would be difficult to be more average…
Yet, beehives are everywhere in Utah. You’ll find them on the Capitol building, the flag, state highway signs, and dozens of business and service names such as Beehive Elementary School, Beehive Tea Room, Beehive Credit Union, Beehive Title Insurance, etc. Insurance companies, scooter sellers, and clothing stores—all use the logo of a beehive.
It is all very symbolic. For Utahns, the beehive symbolizes hard work, perseverance, and industry. Industry is also the state motto. When the Latter-day Saints arrived in 1847, they named the new home “Deseret” (it means beehive in the “Book of Mormons”), and had the beehive as its emblem. Images of beehives were spread through the community and in many early church construction embellishments.
Utah is a renowned skiing and snowboarding destination. Besides having fantastic ski resorts that attract people from all over the world, it is famous for having “the best snow in the world,” or so they say.
According to experts, the Wasatch Mountain resorts close to Salt Lake City have the perfect combination of climate conditions to create the perfect snowflake. Thus, the snow in Utah is lighter and drier than in the rest of the country. So, instead of wet and sticky snow, you get a powdery substance that makes you feel like you are softly gliding over the snow when you ride fast enough.
Utah rivals Colorado in terms of the quality of the ski resorts, yet they are surprisingly affordable for a ski trip. Many of them are also very easy to reach. The epicenter is Salt Lake City, but a few others are scattered all over the state. There are eight world-class ski resorts within one hour of driving from downtown, including Park City, Deer Valley, Snowbird, Snow basin, Powder Mountain, and Solitude.
Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance film festival is another thing people immediately associate with Utah. First organized in 1978, today, it is the largest independent film festival in the United States. As the name suggests, the festival takes place in the Sundance ski resort but also in Park City and Salt Lake City.
Since the 1990s, Sundance has become one of the premier festivals in the world, on par with Cannes, Berlin, and Venice. As an independent festival, Sundance tries to show some of the most original works from American and international filmmakers. The program usually includes documentaries, shorts, and feature films.
Since its start, hundreds of films were launched at Sundance, gained critical recognition, and reached wider audiences. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, and Darren Aronofsky saw their first big break at this festival.
Furthermore, the list of Sundance movies is amazing: Saw, Garden State, The Blair Witch Project, Reservoir Dogs, Little Miss Sunshine, Donnie Darko, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, 500 Days of Summer, Whiplash, Boyhood, and many more.
With so much success, the festival has become more and more mainstream, attracting the Holywood studios, big names, and mass media. In about a decade, it went from a small venue for independent filmmakers with low budgets and creativity to a media spectacle with paparazzi and celebrities.
Strict alcohol laws
Utah is well-known for being the state with the most strict alcohol laws. And tobacco, and gambling… At the very least, some of these alcohol laws are weird:
- It is illegal to buy a drink at a bar/restaurant before 11:30;
- In a restaurant (not in a bar), you have to order food with your drink;
- Beer kegs are banned in Utah;
- Beer with higher than 5% ABV can only be sold in state-run liquor stores;
- The legal driving limit is 0.05%, lower than in any other state;
- The price of booze is regulated and obviously much more expensive than in other states;
- You can’t enter Utah with drinks in your car;
- You can’t ship alcohol to your house;
Together with Hawaii, Utah is the only state where any kind of gambling is strictly forbidden, while tobacco is banned in indoor public places.
As we mentioned earlier, Utah is a very religious state, and most of the people in Utah are Mormons, aka LDS. LDS aren’t allowed to drink alcohol, smoke, take illegal drugs, or gamble. Despite being a secular state, the LDS has a colossal influence in Utah.
Records and fun facts about Utah
Finally, Utah holds a few notable records and is home to unusual and fun facts that are globally recognized. Let’s explore some of them:
- The name Utah comes from the Native American Ute tribe, which means “people of the mountains”;
- Utah is one of the four corners states – the others are Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona; It’s the only place in America where four states meet;
- According to the last census, about 62% of Utahns are LDS;
- The Great Salt Lake is seven times saltier than the Ocean;
- Utah has five national parks – Only California and Alaska have more;
- Arches National Park contains more than 2 000 natural sandstone arches;
- With only 8.8% of smoking adults, Utah has the lowest smoking percentage in the USA;
- The First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in Promontory, Summing, Utah 1869.
- Utah is the second driest state in the Union, with 300 days of sun per year;
- Utah has the highest skin cancer rate of any state – this is probably related to the fact above;
- The red/green traffic lights were invented in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1912;
- Utah has an official state cooking pot, the Dutch oven;
- Gambling is illegal in all forms in Utah;
- Utah is the first in volunteer rates, percentage of donated income, and median contribution to charity. These impressive rates are highly related to the Mormon church commandments.
- Up until 1869, Salt Lake City was called Great Salt Lake City;
- Utah Jazz and Real Salt Lake are the only two professional teams in Utah