I think it would be tough to find a city that’s more beautiful than Salt Lake City, especially in the evening, when the setting sun lights up the Wasatch Mountains. I was arriving later than I had hoped, after a morning of driving from Wyoming, and an afternoon of exploring Antelope Island. Instead of enjoying a few hours in downtown Salt Lake City, I was destined to limit my visit to only an hour, after dark.
Originally, my plan was to find a motel in Salt Lake City, then head into downtown and see the sights. It turned out, a convention of some sorts was in town, and every hotel was booked solid. As I gave up on finding a place to stay, the sun started to set. I had to take the above picture from the edge of the interstate. Two minutes later, and the sun was gone.
In downtown Salt Lake City, there is just one sight you simply must see. The Mormon Temple is thecenter of Salt Lake City. Instead of one “main” street, SLC has four: West, North, and South Temple Streets, and State Street (located where you’d expect East Temple to be). The southeast corner of Temple Square serves as the baseline, or “zero point” for street and address numbering — not the courthouse or capitol building, as it would be in other cities.
[tmt_info =””]Much of Utah has an unusual street numbering system. Instead of 1st, 2nd, 3rd Street, etc., Salt Lake City’s streets are numbered in the hundreds: 100, 200, 300, etc. So, a street address may look something like this: 1234 E. 600 So. — in other words, the street is 600 south (think of it as 6th Street South–some locals will even call it this!) and the address is 12 blocks east of the Temple. You might also encounter a street that doesn’t end in 00 – for example, 1550 or 1830. This would be a street that lies in between the main lines on the grid. 1550 would lie an equal distance between 1500 and 1600, while 1830 would lie closer to 1800 than 1900. The system is known as the Lyman Plan, and was originally developed by Mormon leader Brigham Young, right here in SLC.†[/tmt_info]
Christie from SLC helped clarify my confusion on the city’s street numbering and naming system: “Actually, there is no East Temple. What would be East Temple is called State. (With Main being “0,” State Street is 100 West, or 1st, as locals will drop those zeros 80-85% of the time.) I like to joke that it’s our unique city’s combination of church and state.” She also helped me sort out the difference between a temple and tabernacle: “Just a few clarifications, hope you don’t mind: The body of your narrative got it right. This is a tabernacle. If it were a temple, you could not go in. Even many Mormons don’t enter the temple(s). Most go when they get married or serve those famous missions. Every once in awhile, they renew their temple “recommend” by interviewing with their ecclesiastical leader, the bishop, declaring that they do live the principles they believe and will continue to do so. Second, I’m sad to report that most Mormon churches are NOT beautiful. Tabernacles and temples get that saintly architectural attention, but the leaders of the church decided – I think in the 70s, based on the hideousness of most meetinghouses – to take the grandeur out of the regular chapels, so that weekly/daily focus would be more on God and less on material distractions (or so I’ve heard). All subsequent church buildings are thus styled in a very utilitarian, business-type manner. There are old churches throughout Salt Lake. I’ll give them a closer glance to learn the denomination, often exclaiming aloud, “Oh goody! A pretty Mormon church!”[/tmt_info]
The public is welcome in Temple Square (the area surrounding the main LDS temple, and several other worship and administrative buildings). In fact, you’ll probably find that everyone is quite friendly. Plenty of people said hello to me, but no one tried to convert me to Mormonism.
You can receive a tour of the temple, by checking in at the visitor’s center next door. I didn’t have enough time, so I devoted my visit to exploring outside. As you can see by the picture above, the temple is quite beautiful at night.
As I wandered around the grounds, one tree definitely stood out. I had no idea why they had brilliantly lit just one tree, until a couple of months later, when I saw video of the temple’s Christmas lights display. This tree must have been lit in preparation for the holiday show.
Also on the grounds: the Gothic-style “Assembly Hall”, and next door, a dome-shaped building known as the “Tabernacle”. The latter is home to the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which just happened to be performing during my visit (maybe that’s why I had to park several blocks away!). I lingered in the doorway for a few minutes, listening to the choir’s amazing sounds.
After all this, I decided to walk uphill to the Utah Capitol Building. It’s only about a half mile away.
What I didn’t know is that the capitol building is in the middle of an extensive restoration, that pretty much ruined the view of the building’s south side. After the climb up the hill, I wasn’t excited about hiking all the way around the building, so I took a picture and started headed back to the car.
As I walked down Main Street, I found another great view of the temple, and the rest of downtown Salt Lake City.
[tmt_info =””]I visited Salt Lake City again in 2013. You can check out that visit here. [/tmt_info]
Note: This trip was first published in 2007.