April 4, 2007 Edition

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Destination: Utah

John Bland
Publisher

In the latter portion of our Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis to Memphis, Saturday night, it was a pleasant surprise to hear the captain announce that we would be flying in a path from Springfield, Mo., and over Walnut Ridge, Ark., before landing in Memphis. I recall a relative saying that "flying over Walnut Ridge" was mentioned once when she was on a commercial air flight. I assume our airport has a notable presence in the aviation world.

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Our destination last week was Park City, Utah, a town about 30 miles outside of Salt Lake City. Park City is a fairly new snow skiing destination. The town was founded in the 1800s as a mining town, where silver ore was extracted from the mountains. Apparently the ore ran out, and in the early 1970s, the town developed snow skiing trails and lifts on the mountains to draw in tourists.

Park City and Salt Lake City achieved a major boost in 2002, when they were hosts of the Winter Olympics. Major developments, still notable today, can be seen as a result of the Olympics. Part of the Sundance Film Festival also takes place annually in Park City and the Salt Lake City area.

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Salt Lake City is relatively flat compared to the snow-peaked mountains that surround it. The city is built near the Great Salt Lake, which is eight times saltier than any ocean. The Utah State Capitol building, patterned after the U.S. Capitol and similar to Arkansas' Capitol, does sit on a hill overlooking the city that gently slopes downward. At present, the Utah State Capitol is closed to everyone, while it is being made earthquake-proof.

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It is interesting to note the climate changes that occur with the increased altitude. Salt Lake City weather was relatively mild when we arrived. Park City is higher in the Wasatch Mountains, and snow was still piled around sidewalks. The slopes were a combination of natural and man-made snow.

On the first days of our visit, the sun was bright and temperatures cool but not cold. One woman even skied down the mountain in a bikini top with ski pants.

By mid-week, we had snow and colder temperatures, which improved skiing conditions. Believe me, the additional snow made it easier to control your skis as compared to skiing on ice and slush.

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One of the most interesting attractions in Salt Lake City has to be Temple Square, world headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Often known as Mormons, the more preferred designation for members of the church seems to be LDS.

We were greatly impressed by all the LDS we met. The Temple Square was just a day away from hosting its twice a year LDS conference, and many had already arrived for the event.

LDS sisters gave us two separate tours on the square. The sisters were college-age girls who were selected for 18 months of volunteer service. They had been assigned to Temple Square. Our first pair of tour guides were roommates, with one was from Paris and the other from Switzerland. They were conservatively dressed and had a peaceful and radiant disposition.

A group of three sisters toured us through Brigham Young's former home, known as the Beehive. The sisters were from England, the Ukraine and Washington State. They explained their typical day consists of morning Bible reading, followed by exercise, and a workday that lasts from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. They drink no caffeinated beverages, since these are considered addictive, and watch no TV. This allows them to stay focused on their mission work, and they seemed quite happy and honored to be serving in this way.

The Salt Lake Temple took 40 years to build, beginning in the mid-1800s. Only worthy LDS members are allowed to enter the Temple, which is considered especially sacred and used only for special religious ceremonies.

The Tabernacle was set to open for the conference after a lengthy renovation. We timed our visit to hear a rehearsal of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which was rehearsing in the 20,000-seat conference center. The public is invited to drop-in during the two-hour rehearsals. The sounds we heard from the 360-member choir, pipe organ and other instruments were heavenly.

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