US 89 – Paris, Idaho & Afton, Wyoming

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It seems that US 89 is the way to get from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  The folks at the Mormon Tabernacle in Paris, Idaho knew that’s where I was headed, simply based on the fact that I was driving through their town.

I didn’t really intend to talk to them, or take a tour of their church, but I imagine no one intends to do anything more than take a few pictures from the street.  The welcoming committee knows that, too.  That’s why they have a booth, manned with volunteers, out by the sidewalk.

The LDS church has a reputation for evangelizing, and when one of the volunteers walked over to me, I feared I had walked right into a religious sales pitch.  After confirming that I was headed to Yellowstone (they must’ve known I was on my way, rather than returning, based on which direction my car was pointing), they asked me if I’d like to see the church inside.  I only had a minute, I told them.  No problem, they reassured me.

The Paris, Idaho tabernacle is quite striking from the outside.  Of course, so are all the other Mormon churches.  However, not many of them, I think, are built out of red sandstone.  This one was constructed in 1889, out of rock from a quarry, 18 miles away.

My volunteer guide led me inside, past a small quasi-museum and into the sanctuary.  It was pretty impressive.  I was still waiting for the sales pitch.

My guide told me to pay attention to the windows on the side.  Each window appears to be two stories tall, but in fact, they are two separate windows.  Pretty cool.  She also told me to look at the carved wood ceiling…

… and picture it upside-down.  When you do, it looks like the hull of a ship.  And that makes sense, she explained, since it was a shipbuilder who did the woodwork inside the tabernacle.

With my guide following a few steps behind, and never in the way, I wandered around the church, up to the pulpit, then out the back door.  My visit lasted less than ten minutes.  There was no pressure to make a donation, no questioning about my own beliefs–not a hint of anything that made me uncomfortable.  As we walked back to the volunteer booth outside the church, my guide asked me to leave my name and address on a sign-in sheet.  Ahhh, I thought, the pitch will come in the mail.

But as I write this, a full two months after my visit to the Paris Mormon Tabernacle, I haven’t heard a word or received a single letter from the LDS Church.  So, I guess what I’m saying is, go ahead and talk with them, take a short tour, and enjoy your visit.  It’s harmess.

On up the road, in the town of Ovid, I found another church that hadn’t fared quite as well.  It seems like Idaho has more than its fair share of buildings like this–simply abandoned, seemingly frozen in time and standing forever.

After Ovid and the next small town of Montpelier, US 89 finally crosses over into Wyoming, and shortly after that…

… you reach Salt River Pass, elevation 7,630 feet.  The landscape opens up at this roadside viewpoint, creating one of those so-big-you-can’t-photograph-the-whole-thing places.

Next up on the US 89 journey is Afton, Wyoming.  The terrain levels out in this area, making Afton the center of farming operations in this corner of the state.  Check out its antler arch over the highway, in the middle of the quiet downtown.

After Afton, you travel past more farms for a while.  Eventually US 89 meets up with US 26 (from Idaho Falls) and the Snake River.

The water and the asphalt follow each other the rest of the way into Jackson.

The entire drive is beautiful, but by the end, I found it to be a bit tiring.  In fact, since I had someone else with me to help with the driving, I fell asleep for a little while along this final stretch.  Every time I awoke, the surroundings were beautiful, but pretty much the same.  It was nearly dark by the time I reached Jackson, making for a very long day of driving.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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