The end was fast approaching for this American Road Trip and I still had a lot of distance, cities and national parks to get to. I was headed south of the Grand Teton, my destination Salt Lake City for a few nights. The drive itself was roughly 5 hours south and uneventful, stopping off for some lunch somewhere in Idaho but with no time to take a look around it was back in the car arriving at the hostel. There was no one in the common area so I showered and walked towards the city in the late afternoon.
If you have no awareness of Salt Lake City it’s the chief headquarters for the Mormon otherwise known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Visiting here is like heading to the Vatican for Catholics. The city was founded in 1847 and is named after the Great Salt Lake adjoining the city by those people escaping religious persecution in the old American West. My personal experience with Mormons is meeting members from far and away visiting my local area in Sydney dressed in black and white attempting to hand me a leaflet and engage me in a conversation about their church. This church is not something I have ever found particularly interesting but as I was in the area and had come from a great distance I thought to find out more.
The first tourist site I came across on my evening walk was Mormon headquarters itself, Temple Square, a large 35-acre park made up of 13 buildings, museums, churches and visitor centres and parks in a very pleasant setting. There were a lot of people walking the grounds and I was free to roam in and out of the buildings, it’s quite an impressive structure and was built from a local white stone quarry that was blasted in the area during the beginning of the city’s foundation. The use of the stone means the structures are almost pure white giving Temple Square an almost shiny shimmering appearance looking like something from a fairy tale, I was quite impressed with it. I spoke to a Mormon priest for a while who as quite sociable, he was a fellow Australian and showed little interest in the fact I was Agnostic or converting me to his church but more about what was going on back in Australia where he had not been for in quite a long time.
I headed into the downtown area, most of the buildings appearing just as white as the Temple itself, the city was quiet and I had some difficulty in finding a bar. Mormons don’t generally drink alcohol and the city has a population of approximately 3 million people, the number of bars is ratioed to this meaning there are roughly 300 bars in the city and wider area, not a lot considering the size of the city. Eventually, I found a bar I could settle into and engaged in conversation with a few of the locals who happened to be anti-Mormons. The partons still lived in the city, however, they had little to do with their respective Mormon families and chose I guess what you would consider a more traditional lifestyle such as my self. There is a nightlife in Salt Lake City, but it’s not like any other American city I’d been to where the scene centres around nightclubs, bars and alcohol.
The following day I headed to the Great Salt Lake State Park, almost like an inland sea there is very little natural vegetation with the exceptions of weeds and grass I assume to the salt content. It’s approximately 8500km square kilometres in size making it the largest lake in the USA. There are a lot of watersport activities including fishing and sailing at the jetty, also bison grazing on patches of grass. I spent the afternoon in the lake itself, with so much salt content I could float with very little effort and when I came out to dry myself off, my body was almost shimmering with salt and my shorts were as stiff as cardboard. I headed back to the hostel, spent a quiet night in and was back in the car the following morning heading west along the Great Salt Lake towards Reno Nevada.
The drive between Salt Lake and Reno is not particularly scenic as its mostly the lake then desert, there is however one iconic stop off that I decided to check out, the Bonneville Speedway. This is where land speed records are set and I decided that I’d attempt my own speed record. The surface of the speedway is flat, rock hard and goes for approximately 150km in distance. An added bonus is there were no police in the area and the only sign of civilisation was the petrol station adjoining the track. As indicated previously in my blog I had rented a Ford Mustang for my road trip and now decided to see what the car could do in a straight line. I floored the accelerator and the car reach 100km an hour in roughly 6 seconds and kept accelerating rapidly until it reached 180km per hour when the limiter on the engine kicked in and the car started to slow down to 170km. Unfortunately, I could not break my personal land speed record which I set seven years previously in Australia but it was a lot of fun and with a big grin on my face I continued my drive to Reno.
I arrived in Reno and headed to the casino that I was booked into and located in the centre of town, indeed the entire downtown area appeared to be casinos. After all the national parks, quiet nights and small towns Id visited it was nice to be in a city with a vibrant nightlife. I enjoy nightlife just as much as road trips and nature and “The Biggest Little City in the World” has a population of 250,000, unlike Salt Lake City downtown Reno appeared to be one large drinking area. Accommodation is cheap, there is plenty of gambling and entertainment for all ages, the place felt like it was trapped in the 1970s. I saw very little in the way of new, from the machines to the poker tables to the carpets to the wall fixtures, it was all very retro and run down, I liked it a lot. My night involved a few restaurants, a lot of beers, some funny conversations with people who’d never heard my accent before and finally being talked into playing a game of Craps which involves dice and that’s all I really understood. I am not one for gambling and the fact I was indicated the beer was having the desired effect.
The following morning and with quite the hangover I had some breakfast and then walked around downtown. Apart from gambling there appeared little else to do, I found the National Automobile Museum and entered to mainly escape the heat. The museum itself is really interesting, it contains hundreds of vehicles from the turn of the century, and onwards, many of which being famous race vehicles, cars that featured in movies and those owned by celebrities including Elvis Presley, James Dean and Frank Sinatra.
I then headed to one of the pawn shops to have a look around, I purchased a watch, a few Zippo lighters and then enquired on the price on one of the assault rifles being displayed behind the counter. I enquired on the price of an M16 assault rifle which was $1400 and that my Australian driver’s license was enough proof to sell me the weapon. As I could not carry an assault rifle on my carry one back to Australia, I chose not to pursue the sale. Assault rifles are illegal in Australia and I don’t have any friends that own a gun of any sort. There are very different opinions regarding gun ownership in the USA compared to Australia and as I’m a travel blogger I won’t express my personal opinion on this.
That evening was much similar to my first so I won’t go into detail, the following morning I was back in the car and heading south. I’d enjoyed the religious and cleanliness of Salt Lake City as much as the decadence and bright lights of Reno. I was passing the beautiful Lake Tahoe towards California and Yosemite National Park, unfortunately, I had no time to explore the area as my road trip across the USA was quickly approaching the end and there was still a few more natural wonders to go…