Salt Lake City

The days of covering upwards of 400 miles a day are over, and now it’s just exploring in and around Salt Lake City, Utah. After dropping off my mom at the airport, I stopped for the daily refuel but this time, I will be achieving more than 1 day of range. Yay! This time though, I finally got to use my jumper cables that have been with me for the past 20,000 miles. And of all places, downtown at a gas station. But it’s much better to use them here than down a 4×4 road where you camped and left a light on in the car all night. That’s a sad morning that even the yummiest breakfast can’t fix.

After helping them out, it was just about time to head back to the airport and greet my friend Dhruv! The first stop on the weekend itinerary was the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum. The building looks like an old warehouse from the outside, but the inside is a whole other story. It houses 100+ Land Cruiser models of all different vintages and conditions, ranging from completely on fire charred to pristine. There were even special use versions such as tow trucks, fire trucks, and military use vehicles. But the coolest ones were the 7 continent expedition outfitted Land Cruisers, which I remember reading about while interning with Toyota, when they crossed Greenland in May of 2018. There was even a yellow Land Cruiser Prado from Europe which is the underpinnings of my Lexus GX 460 with the same body styling. I just wish we could have been able to get inside some of the vehicles.

We had a quick lunch, and then it was off to the Capitol building. This is my hands down favorite capitol building I’ve been to. What sets it apart from the others is the openness of it. Natural light comes in from the ceiling reflecting off the white granite, really making the space feel vast. The whole structure’s foundation was renovated to be supported by springs due to the earthquakes. Crazy!

Just down the hill from the Capitol is the headquarters of the Mormon Church. The whole area of temples and welcome centers were all under construction so that basically became a “drive around the block” tour. We then went and checked into our hotel to relax a little bit and catch up. That night, we went back downtown for dinner and drinks. We also walked around a bit, but the city was very empty with not much open.

The day started off with a drive up to Antelope Island State Park. The whole park is surrounded by the Great Salt Lake and is home to bison which is very important for later. We started with a couple hikes up to some overlooks around the island. Once it got a little warmer, we went to the beach area parking lot. The trek to the water was about a quarter mile through sand which we both planned to do barefoot. We didn’t make it far before there were sharp shells all around causing us to double back. But we finally made it and got some exfoliation in the process! I planned to hop in the lake and float since it’s so salty, but it was quite windy and not the warmest water in November.

We continued to drive around the island and saw a sign reading “Event Parking” with a park ranger directing traffic at the intersection. After asking what this event was, we learned that we might have happened to choose the “best” (depending on your definition of what you want to see and crowd levels) weekend to visit the park because it was the annual bison roundup! The park tries to herd all the bison together to tag and check their health once per year. And in the words of the Park Ranger, “We have convinced a lot of cowboys that they should pay us $400 each to round up all the bison because otherwise, we would be contracting the work out to the same group of cowboys and paying them much more.” The event parking was to watch the final stampede of the bison. We had to check this out, of course, so we parked and took our place amongst the crowd. After asking the projected time to their arrival, we heard 30 to 50 minutes. Then another person said they haven’t even made it to the base of the hill which puts it out at least 2 hours. The island is basically divided in half by a fairly steep hill. The cowboys started on the southern tip herding the bison North, and then up and over the hill to our side of the island where they will then stampede all the way to the fenced in area by the park headquarters. But before they cross the hill, they let the bison rest a for a bit. We decided to drive around to the other side and try to watch them. Once we crested the hill, there was a huge line of cars parked on both sides of the road all watching the bison come into view from the South. Perfect timing! We drove through the crowd and got a spot to pull off just as the first bison passed us. It was truly remarkable to see the countless bison all running together with cowboys guiding them just like the movies. There were even a couple that tried to veer off. We stayed until they were just cresting the hill.

Then it was time for a mid-afternoon snack at Sonic. Dhruv and I used to do a “Sonic Run” while roommates at Purdue. We would drive out to Sonic occasionally and each buy a shake after 8pm when they were half price. It was such a steal, but that promotion seems to have gone away for good. We got our shakes and started driving West to the Bonneville Salt Flats. The drive was very, very straight and had standing water most of the way. The entrance to the salt flats is actually at a rest area that can only be accessed from the westbound lanes. And by “entrance”, it is literally where you can just drive out onto them. As we got further and further away from the highway, the hard packed salt started to form shapes from evaporation with standing water. We turned around once it got about an inch deep and then parked where it was drier to get out and admire the flatness and randomness in the shapes. We then got back onto the highway until the next exit up for access to the flats where the land speed records were set. The area was completely underwater although the resulting mirror of the sky was stunning. There was a Mini Cooper off the side of the road stuck in the mud. Why on earth would you drive into what is clearly mud of an unknown depth at seemingly a random spot? A couple cars stopped to help them get out. I offered my tow strap, but I was NOT going to crawl underneath their car to hook it in the mud. Luckily for them, they got out with a couple big pushes.

On the drive back, there was a 5 mile stretch of highway where you could verify your car’s speedometer accuracy. We had way too much fun checking every mile what time we should have on our stopwatch. Turns out my speedometer is only off by 1 mph at 80mph, or it wasn’t quite set right. Obviously, you could do this at any speed on your own, but it was neat to see so many signs with instructions for doing the test by the government. Dhruv and I met up with some friends for dinner that night and went out to Dave and Busters after. We had a great time winning tickets that were basically worthless to redeem.

For the last full day of exploring, we drove up to Park City, Utah. This was the site for the 2002 Winter Olympics outdoor events. We stopped at the museum/training center which has a very impressive collection of ceremony costumes, race suits, and equipment used. There were some tours that went around to the various event starting locations which would have saved a lot of climbing effort, but we got our exercise in as we went to the top of the bobsled course. The course drops way more in elevation than I thought. It’s still used for training, and we could hear workers chipping away at the ice that had accumulated too much. At the top, you can literally stand right on the ice where the Olympians 20 years ago began there run down. The timers were even active. I didn’t realize this, but the bobsled, luge, and skeleton all start at different points but converge to the same track for most of the turns. There were even areas where people learning the sport can start at different places along the track and build up the skill, but I’m pretty sure it is more likely the nerves to do it. We also saw the ski jumps at the same complex but didn’t walk up to the top.

After a quick lunch, we drove around the different ski resorts and mountain passes checking out the views as we went south looping back to Salt Lake City. At the southernmost point, there were a series of waterfalls coming off a cliff with the main one being Bridal Veil Falls. 

We met up with the same group of friends again to hike up Ensign Peak at sunset. This was the spot Brigham Young decided to settle and build the city. It’s a very steep but short hike originating in a neighborhood. We timed it perfectly to see the last rays of light disappear over the horizon and the city lights come on. It was a cell phone flashlight hike back down and then off to dinner downtown at a Thai restaurant.

Monday morning unfortunately came, and it was back to reality after 9 days. We both planned to make it a remote workday in the morning and then head to the airport leaving the car behind for the next leg starting Friday, Nevada!

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