SALT LAKE CITY — I've driven through Utah on a couple of occasions, staying for the most part on Interstates 15 and 70. That’s why, when I got an invite from the Utah Office of Tourism to join a backroads cultural heritage tour through never-before-seen parts of the state, I jumped on the chance.
The trip started in St. George, located in the extreme southwestern part of the state, and ended about 800 miles and five days later north in Salt Lake City, a beautiful, engaging city where I managed to catch a walk-around look at the gorgeous Mormon Temple and the recently opened Natural History Museum of Utah. It’s perched high in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains overlooking the city and Great Salt Lake Basin.
Years ago I remember driving through St. George on my way elsewhere. This time around I was impressed by its sophistication and almost Sedona-like qualities. Billed as the gateway to spectacular Mt. Zion National Park, the city of less than 72,000 has also become a haven for retirees and snowbirds, people from northern climes who like to winter here. The town, famous for its red bluffs, is also a sports mecca and hosts the St. George Marathon, unbelievably, for this small town, the 5th largest in the U.S.
Originally established in 1861 as a cotton-growing mission by Brigham Young, then Mormon president, St. George was settled by 309 families sent south from Salt Lake who promptly set about building irrigation ditches to water their crops.
Time and again flash floods washed the ditches and crops away, and I heard some not-too-happy stories of the early settlers of "Dixie," as the cotton-growing area was called. Tales of the early settlers were sung in the town’s Opera House by a spirited band of musicians headed by Clive Romney, a relative of Mitt, who also happens to be running for president.