The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt water lake in the Western hemisphere and the eighth largest in the world – the Caspian Sea is the biggest in case you are wondering. Due to its shallow depth, the Great Salt Lake’s extent fluctuates, from as small as 950 square miles in the early 1960s, to as wide as 3,300 square miles in the late 1980s. On average, it covers roughly 1,700 square miles. A remnant of a larger prehistoric lake called Lake Bonneville, the Great Salt Lake and three smaller lakes are the reminders of a period of global warming and passage of a portion of the original water body through the Red Rock Pass in Idaho. Salt Lake City takes its name from the Great Salt Lake, and was once formally called Great Salt Lake City by an integral member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Brigham Young.
Young was the successor to Joseph Smith, who founded the Latter Day Saints movement through the writing of the Book of Mormon when he was 24 years old. Smith was assassinated in 1844 while being jailed by an angry mob of reformists formally associated with his religious teachings. Power in the church then fell to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to which two and a half years later Young was named president. Young was instrumental in the founding of both the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, as well as the first governor of the Utah Territory. He held the presidency for 30 years until his death in 1877.
Although the Mormon faith came to being in New York, the following did not find a place to call home for several years. Heading west to find “Zion,” the Mormons landed in Missouri after a short stopover in Ohio. Eventually they were expelled from the Show Me State and landed in Nauvoo, Illinois. After the death of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, the Mormons, led by Brigham Young, headed for their new home and current center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC).
Today, SLC is known for more than just the church’s presence, though nearly 60% of the state’s population identify as members of the Mormon faith. The Wasatch Range is a mountainous region that immediately abuts SLC, and is home to some of the best skiing in the United States (next to Colorado of course!), and maybe even in the world. There are 8 ski resorts within an hour’s drive of the city, and this makes it a hotspot for international tourism year round, but especially in the winter months. The city was also home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, and thus the creation of significant infrastructure to now house numerous musical, arts and professional events.
But having said all that, when most people think of SLC and Utah, the Mormon influence is usually one of the first things that comes to mind. Even though their presence is felt all over the world (the faith has shown growth every decade since its inception), SLC is its homebase. And what would any religious homebase be without an actual church structure? The Salt Lake Temple covers 250,000 square feet in the heart of the city on a ten-acre plot known as Temple Square. The site was dedicated in 1853, and 40 years after the first cornerstone was laid, its completion came to fruition. It remains the only temple within the Mormon faith that does not have a full name with includes city, state or city, country (e.g. the Bern Switzerland Temple). This reasoning remains a mystery, much as does the ornate beauty of the structure. It is simply a magnificent work of art, regardless of your religious preference, or lack thereof.