With the biggest and most beautiful landscapes in North America, UTAH has something for everyone: from brilliantly coloured canyons, across desert plains, to thickly wooded and snow-covered mountains. Almost all of this unmatched range of terrain is public land, making Utah the place to come for outdoor pursuits, whether your tastes run to hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting or skiing.
In southern Utah, especially, the scenery is stupendous, a stunning geological freak show where the earth is ripped bare to expose cliffs and canyons of every imaginable hue. The region holds so many national parks, it has often been suggested that the entire area should become one vast park. The most accessible parks – such as Zion and Bryce Canyon – are by far the most visited, but lesser-known parks like Arches and Canyonlands are every bit as dramatic. Huge tracts of this empty desert, in which fascinating pre-Columbian pictographs and Ancestral Puebloan ruins lie hidden, are all but unexplored; seeing them requires self-sufficiency and considerable planning.
Although northern Utah holds less appeal for tourists, Salt Lake City, the capital, is by far the state’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban centre, and makes an attractive and enjoyable stopover.
Led by Brigham Young, Utah’s earliest white settlers – the Mormons or Latter Day Saints (LDS) – arrived in the Salt Lake area, which then lay outside the USA, in 1847 and embarked on massive irrigation projects. At first they provoked great suspicion and hostility back East. The Republican Convention of 1856 railed against slavery and polygamy in equal measure; had the Civil War not intervened, a war against the Mormons was a real possibility. Relations eased when the Mormon Church dropped polygamy in 1890 and statehood followed in 1896; to this day, well over sixty percent of Utah’s two-million-strong population are Mormons. The Mormon influence is responsible for the layout of Utah’s towns, where residential streets are as wide as interstates and all are numbered block by block according to the same logical if ponderous system.