True Confessions of Two Tourists from Texas

Dear Readers:

For about a year you have been enjoying my searing commentary and rambling in-the-head thoughts on Utah and what there is to see and do here. But look, if there's one thing I ain't it's a typical tourist. You know, like, I live here. Have read all the books, talked to all the experts, scoped places out ahead of time. As such, my experience is different than that of, say, a tourist from Texas who comes to Utah for a week.

Mary and Charles Schmerker Luckily, I just happen to have here the true story of real tourists who came to Utah last week to see what there was to see. The two were my parents, Mary and Charles Schmerker, who came from Sugar Land (near Houston) to see me and see the state. They were kind enough to share some of their insights with the rest of the world ...


Let us introduce ourselves to you: We are Jeff's 60ish parents, retired and out of shape. We have just returned from a week in Utah and our experience proved first and even second impressions of a place are not always correct.

In the 1980's we traveled through Utah several times on our way to or from the West Coast, always in August. Our initial impression was Utah was hot and not green - just a high desert, relieved by some very spectacular scenery.

Our perspective began to change when in 1989 Jeff left for college at the University of Utah. We came out with him to Salt Lake City and enjoyed cooler weather the sights of squeeky-clean Salt Lake City. Then in the early 1990s we visited Salt Lake several times in the winter and enjoyed first-class skiing in spectacular mountains while being close enough to stay in the city.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Our opinion of Utah was that it was a great place for people who are young, in good physical condition and adventurous. We had planned to visit the Brian Head area, but we could not get a room for the full time we wanted. So, using we found a good deal at Snowbird, a package that included extras such as breakfast and a tram ride. We arrived on Tuesday June 13, rather early in the morning. The Salt Lake City International Airport is really impressive, especially the car rental accessibility and return, directly across from the terminal. However, I was not terribly impressed with taxes and fees that came to 28.45% of the base rental charge. Ouch!

Overlooking Salt Lake Valley A 45 minute drive took us from the city to Snowbird's mountain wilderness. Driving up the canyon is an awesome experience. In summer green trees close in, there are rocks and water falls and the air gets increasingly fragrant and cooler as you climb. There are many trailheads beckoning you to park and investigate what lies behind the trees. You also pass several closure gates that remind you that in the winter this can be a very dangerous road with the possibility of avalanches.

I tend to find ski areas disappointing in the off-season. There is something about the architecture that just doesn't seem quite natural unless there is snow. Snowbird seems a little more natural than most ski areas. The Cliff Lodge is beautiful. All the public areas were decorated with oriental rugs, leather chairs and sofas and arrangements of exotic and fragrant fresh flowers. The outside areas had huge pots overflowing with flowers. Our room was large: we had two queen-size beds, a large dresser and desk, a small refrigerator, two easy chairs and a leather love seat. The bathroom had thick towels and up-scale samples of shampoo, conditioner and lotion.


Getting to Snowbird is a breeze, at least in the summer. The weather was beautiful, but the temperatures were winter-like for us Gulf Coast Texans (ranges were about 40 to 70). There were patches of snow at higher elevations, but a less-than plentiful snowfall over the winter forced the area to end skiing the second week of May. The views, especially from the summit, were awesome. We took a few hikes at the bottom of the mountain, but couldn't do much at the top because of snow, cold weather, and occasional heavy cloud cover that rolled in. It sure was nice to be able to take some leisurely hikes without working up a sweat!

On one of our days we headed out to Park City, then up towards Mirror Lake. This is a beautiful drive through the Uintas, with ample views of mountains, lakes, and wildlife.(Mom adds: We even saw a moose!)

Leaving Snowbird on Friday, we headed to Tooele via Payson and Nephi. We took the 40-some mile Mt. Nebo Scenic Loop Drive, around the eastern shoulder of Mt. Nebo. The road is somewhat narrow at places, but there are frequent turnouts to soak in the fantastic views. After a picnic lunch, we took a short hike to see Devil's Kitchen, an area somewhat like Bryce Canyon, but on a much smaller scale.


The day that we planned to ride the Snowbird tram (to 11,000-foot Hidden Peak) it was closed due to high winds, but we used the tram a few days later. Our sweaters were definitely welcome at the top. Later, we hiked a short trail across the mountain base to an observation platform which gave a wonderful view down the canyon. We also hiked a small portion of the White Pine trail which is just down canyon from Snowbird.

At Jeff's suggestion we ate dinner one night at a Brazilian restaurant in Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, a relatively short drive from Snowbird. Rodozio was a new type of experience for us. (It was, basically, a lot of red meat, though very well seasoned and exotic.)

We were in need of exercise after our dinner. Salt Lake City is the perfect place to walk - there are great city parks and the sunsets are long and beautiful. We walked through a city park that spanned a number of blocks, a narrow strip that meandered up a small canyon and along a stream to Memory Grove. The entire way is landscaped with fragrant flowers, trees and bushes, people are out enjoying the mild summer air and those lucky enough to have houses in the park are out working in their beautifully landscaped yards and talking with each other. We ended the evening with a walk around the Temple Square area.


One exciting (scary?) thing Jeff did was take us up in plane for a view of the Tooele area. We flew up to I-80, over to Stansbury Island, over Grantsville and Tooele, seeing some magnificent views of the various canyons, mountains and lakes. This was quite a treat and a wonderful way to take in the view from a perspective most tourists never get.

Schmerkers at Pony Express Reenactment Saturday morning we left Tooele at 5:30 a.m. to go to Simpson Springs to see the yearly re-enactment of the Pony Express. The drive involves about 25 miles of driving over a seldom-used gravel road, quite an experience in itself. There was much Old West flavor in the event, with considerable color from the riders, horses, and trailers that accompany the riders. The route they take from Sacramento to St. Joseph, Missouri matches the original route, and they keep the same schedule as they did back in the 1860's. Quite an adventure. On the way back to Tooele, we hiked part of the way up Deseret Peak, just to prove to our son that his 60-some year old parents were hopefully nowhere near wheelchair-bound.


Jeff had arranged for a twilight flight over the Tooele Valley for us. The plane, piloted by airport manager Billy Grabel, had just one engine affair and all four of us could not fit at the same time, so we went in two shifts. I had never flown in a small plane before. The experience was breath-taking. I marveled at the beautiful scenery from the air but worried about why the plane traveled so slowly. It was just a different experience for me. The area from the air is awesome. Towns are small dots on a large landscape and Great Salt Lake and snow-topped mountains surround the area. We landed safely and watched a group of sky divers jump and float gracefully to Earth.

We are so glad that our travels had us in Tooele on Saturday, June 17 for the Pony Express' 140th anniversary celebration re-enactment. We were up at dawn and speeding west on mostly unpaved roads to Simpson Springs, an old Pony Express station. Hawks soared overhead and the wild horses stood close by. We arrived at Simpson Springs and with excitement and much anticipation the riders appeared on the horizon. Dust kicked up by the horses formed a cloud. Behind the riders are the support trucks and horse trailers. Simpson Springs marked a change in riders and there was a half-hour break. New riders were given instructions and the next shift of red-shirted riders were sworn in and the next rider took off.

We read all the interpretive signs, looked at the vastness of the desert, stooped low to enter the small house that served as a way station and then drove out. From Simpson Springs we traveled over more gravel roads to Deseret Peak for a hike. We hiked about a quarter of the way up the mountain. Since we were experiencing about 25 percent less oxygen than we are used to we did get out of breath. I would have been willing to hike further but we reached a small waterfall that we would have had to cross plus we had an invitation to lunch in Grantsville and a date to talk with Delpha Hall.


Great Salt LakeSunday we drove up Middle Canyon to the top of the Oquirrh Mountains. Even though it was not a perfectly clear day, we could see 100 miles to the north and 60 miles to the south, to Mt. Nebo. Now, if it had been clear... Oh, I forgot to mention that we could also see about a mile DOWN into the Kennecott Bingham Canyon Copper Mine. What a view! That is an authentic Texas-sized hole, 2 1/2 miles across and one-half mile deep. (Mom adds: It is beautiful in a strange way. Layers of rock are exposed and the colors are exquisite but the mountain is scarred in the name of progress.


I wish that everyone could have the opportunity to meet Delpha Hall. She is 86 and writes a column for the local newspaper. She talks about her early years in the Tooele Valley and reminds us of hard times and good times and how lucky we are to be alive today. She is an institution and calls us to a higher level.

We left Utah on Tuesday morning. It was cold in the morning - in the 40s. The drop off of the car was the easiest I have ever been through - they had a computerized scanner.From Salt Lake you take off and take up and see the big 'U' on the hill and gradually the mountains diminish and it's sad. And it was like I feared when we got back to Texas - there was a humid blast of air through the connection of the Jetway when we arrived back in Houston

I think Utah is a vast and varied state offering unlimited opportunities for recreation. You go from the mountain highs to the desert lows. All in all it is a wonderful and fulfilling vacation. It really was a great vacation.

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