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Salt Lake City: Education, Culture, and Recreation

Updated on April 14, 2014
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Salt Lake City is the capital of Utah and the seat of Salt Lake county. It is located in the northern part of the state. It is the largest city in Utah and is a hub of a vast portion of the mountainous regions of the West. Salt Lake City was founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The church has great influence, making the city rich with the historical and cultural qualities of this religious denomination. It is sometimes called the "Mormon Capital."

The physical setting is magnificent. Salt Lake City is surrounded by the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains. The main part of the city is built on terraces and benches, geological remains of old Lake Bonneville, the prehistoric source of the Great Salt Lake, for which the city is named; the lake is located northwest of the city.

The University of Utah
The University of Utah | Source

The University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, is the oldest university west of the Mississippi River. It was founded in 1850 as the University of Deseret. It now offers programs through 13 undergraduate and 15 graduate schools. There are more than 300 buildings on the campus, many of them built on land granted to the university by a former army post, Fort Douglas. At a research park adjacent to the campus, scientists engage in applied research targeted at promoting economic development. Also on campus are the Gittins Gallery Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Natural History, and Olympic Cauldron Park, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2002 Olympics. Numerous performance venues are situated on the campus as well, hosting a variety of cultural events.

Westminster College, founded by the Presbyterian Church in 1875, is now independent. Two-year institutions of higher learning include Salt Lake Community College and the LDS Business College.

Westminster College
Westminster College | Source

In the 19th century, Mormon missionaries traveling throughout the world encouraged converts to their religion to come to Salt Lake City. As a result the city today has an international atmosphere. Life in the city is enriched by the Utah Symphony Orchestra, the Utah Opera Company, Ballet West, Ririe-Woodbury and Repertory Dance troupes, and the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which performs in the tabernacle on Temple Square, accompanied by the great 11,000-pipe organ.

Collections of art and pioneer relics are exhibited in the State Capitol and in the Pioneer Memorial Museum. There are also other history, natural history, and fine arts museums; the downtown area alone has more than 20 art galleries.

Salt Palace Convention Center
Salt Palace Convention Center | Source

The huge Salt Palace Convention Center is in the city's center; an addition of over 200,000 square feet (18,600 sq meters) was completed in 2006. The Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association is based in Salt Lake City, and there is a 15,000-seat arena-type special events center on the campus at the University of Utah.

Liberty Park occupies 100 acres (40 ha) and provides boating and picnicking facilities, a bandstand, and an aviary. Another park, Memorial Grove, is dedicated to those who died during World War I. Other city attractions are a wax museum, a planetarium, and a zoo.

The nearby mountains are rich with recreational activities. Their canyons provide hiking, hunting, fishing, winter sports, and spectacular sightseeing. The area is known for its challenging skiing, and many of the venues from the 2002 Olympic Games were retained for recreation, such as the ice arena and the ski jump. For other diversions one can float without effort in the Great Salt Lake or witness record-breaking land speeds in the auto races on the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats. The Utah State Fair is held annually in Salt Lake City.

Utah State Fair
Utah State Fair | Source

There are numerous festivals and special arts and music events throughout the year in the city. A few of these are First Night, on New Years Eve; Summertime Downtown Farmers' Market; Folk and Bluegrass Festival; Blues and Brews Festival, teaming up entertainers and microbrewers; Twilight Concert Series, during the week; Festival of Trees, before Christmas; the Greek Festival, the largest ethnic festival in Utah; Hispanic Fiesta Days; Living Traditions Festival, a celebration of folk and ethnic arts; Days of '47, honoring Utah pioneers; and parade and state celebrations on July 24, founders' day. Salt Lake City is also one of the venues for the Sundance Film Festival.

The 2007 Deaflympics, an international event hosting more than 350 athletes who are deaf, took place in Salt Lake City in February. Some of the same venues used for the 2002 Olympic Games were used by the participants. The games are held every four years, and the events are similar to those of the Olympics; they are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. The competition has been known by various names since its inception but adopted the name Deaflympics in 2000.

The copper-domed State Capitol, spectacular in itself, commands a majestic view from its location on Capitol Hill. The city and many surrounding communities can be viewed from there in a sweeping panorama.

At the mouth of Emigration Canyon, which is just east of the city, is a monument commemorating the entrance of Mormon pioneers into the valley. The monument is named after the exclamation said to have been made by their leader, Brigham Young, on first seeing the site of the present city: "This is the Place."

Most of the notable places of interest are inseparable from the dominant culture of the Mormon Church. Temple Square, with its carefully kept grounds, is among these. The six-spired granite temple was under construction for 40 years (1853–1893). Blocks of granite for walls 16 feet (5 meters) thick were hauled by ox team from quarries 20 miles (30 km) away. Atop the temple is a golden statue representing the Angel Moroni of the Book of Mormon, one of the Mormon scriptural works. Only members in good standing are allowed into the temple. On the same grounds and open to all is the tabernacle, shaped much like a turtle's back. With no interior supports, it was an architectural wonder in its time (1867).

Also on Temple Square are the Assembly Hall, which was constructed from leftover stone used on the temple, and the Family History Library, the world's largest genealogy library. In addition, there is a museum and a visitors' center. The square also contains a monument to the state bird, the seagull, which appeared in flocks to devour hordes of crickets that threatened to destroy the first harvest in the valley in 1848.

Salt Lake City boasts one of the first department stores in the United States. ZCMI (Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution) was founded in 1868. The Beehive House and Lion House, former residences of Brigham Young, also are of public interest.

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