By Dave Zuchowski
CNHI News Service
I ended my five-day visit to Utah’s Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area at a place where the Utah chapter of Mormon history began - near the mouth of Emigration Canyon high up on the east bench of the Wasatch Mountains overlooking the Salt Lake Valley.
After a 1,500-mile long trek that started in Nauvoo, Ill., on Feb. 4, 1846, the first company of Mormon pioneers passed through Emigration Canyon in search of religious freedom on July 24, 1847.
In their company, Brigham Young, their leader stricken with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and seated in the back of a wagon, is said to have taken one look at the expansive valley below and exclaimed to his driver "It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on."
Members of the church believe that Young had a vision shortly after they left Illinois, hoping to escape religious persecution. In the vision, he saw the place where the Latter-day Saints would settle, "make the desert blossom like a rose" and where they would build their State of Deseret."
Over the next several years, tens of thousands of Mormons made the same pass through Emigration Canyon seeking a better life. Today, the site is a 450-acre living history park that remembers the trials and tribulations of the Mormon pioneers as well as previous explorers and indigenous native people.
It wasn’t until 1915, that a monument in the form of a simple wooden cross marked the spot where Young made his famous declaration that gave birth to the thriving urban area known as Salt Lake City. Six years later, a more permanent white stone obelisk that still stands to this day marked the spot.
During the Centenary of the Mormon entry into the valley a newer monument, 60-feet tall with the statues of Brigham Young and two of his counselors at the top, was unveiled in 1947. Brigham Young’s grandson, Mahonri, designed the memorial, one of the largest of its kind in the U.S. at the time.
In 1971, the state legislature appropriated money to create a living history museum at the site. Two years later, the relocation of Brigham Young’s now-restored Forest Farmhouse from the Valley to the park sparked a project that added log cabins and historic homes to the site.
The visitor center, a replica of an 1853 sugar mill, is a good place to begin a visit to the park. Start with a screening of a film that tells the story of the pioneer journey. Next, head off on an exploration of what pioneer life was like back in the 1800s.
Costumed guides demonstrate early trades like blacksmithing, weaving and tinsmithing in and around original and replicated buildings that include a string of log cabins, several early homes and inns, all filled with original and reproduction furniture.
One interesting structure called the Bowery is made of wood posts, a hardened dirt floor and a roof of thatched brush and willow boughs. The original structure, meant as an early meeting place until a more permanent structure could be built, was erected in a single day at what is now the location of the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square.
Another interesting place, the Huntsman Hotel was established by the ancestors of former Republican presidential hopeful, Jon Huntsman, and provided lodging for Brigham Young and hundreds of other travelers through Utah Territory.
The joining of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point on May 10, 1869 is remembered by two replica locomotives, the Union Pacific’s 119 and the Central Pacific’s Jupiter, which take visitors around the park while the conductor gives a narrative on the settlement of the West.
The native Shoshone and Navajos, who lived in the area before the White settlers arrived, are remembered in the Native American Village, where visitors can learn about their culture and customs.
For children, the park offers pony rides in the Livery, a petting corral full of cuddly animals, a miniature train ride, old-fashioned games such as stick and hoop and a candy cannon that fires confections into the air over Main Street with a resounding boom.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at email@example.com.
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If You’re Going . . .
For more information on Utah, phone 800-200-1160 or visit website visitutah.com.
For a place to stay, the Peery Hotel, 110W Broadway in Salt Lake City, has been around for more than 100 years and is Utah’s only hotel on the Historic Registry. Equipped with all the modern conveniences, the hotel is centrally located in the heart of downtown and walkable to many of the main attractions, including Temple Square and the Mormon Tabernacle. Phone 801-521-4300.
For a place to dine, Bambara Restaurant, 202 S. Main in Salt Lake City, is located in an old historic bank building and recently named the "City’s Best Restaurant." Chef Nathan Powers introduces new menus seasonally and has a talent for adding an unexpected or exotic twist to New American mainstays as well as seafood and game dishes. Phone 801-363-5454.