Saturday, August 20, 2016
I got a slow start and it wasn’t until after lunch that I began to do some exploration of Salt Lake City. I drove downtown and spent a lengthy amount of time searching for a parking spot. I finally found a place alongside Temple Square. Unsure if there was some sort of protocol in visiting this heart of Mormonism, I tentatively wandered through the open western gate of the walled, two-block complex of buildings and gardens. The Square was bustling with a mix of casual tourists, suited men and women in long dresses (Did they just get out of services?).
There were several impressive buildings located in the western half of the Square: the Assembly Hall, the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and the Mormon Temple, a large, beautiful gothic structure that instantly drew the eye of all visitors. Among the buildings were shaded paths, a large fountain and courtyard,
a number of flower beds which exploded with color and a small army of Joseph Smith statues and the biblical figures who hung out with him.
Walking around, I noted a large wedding party posing for pictures at the front of the temple (Perhaps this was the explanation for all the well-dressed people wandering the Square?) Then to my surprise, I turned from the wedding party to see another bride and groom, walking hand in hand towards the Temple.
I was very hesitant to pay a visit to any of the buildings. This was due in part to a past experience that I had with my college drama team and an eventful visit to a Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (RLDS) temple in Independence, Missouri 15 years before.
We had performed in a church service in Raytown (near Kansas City) and were headed to Independence to hang out at the house of one of our team members. On the way there, we spotted a tall stainless steel spiral structure. Some of us wondered what it was. The team member from Independence informed us that it was the RLDS temple. Our curiosity aroused, we headed there to take a closer look. We piled out of our van and began to look around. No one seemed to be around but the front doors to the temple were open (which, of course, completely justified our actions). We entered the lobby area, and still seeing no one, we made our way to what I guessed was their sanctuary. It was an impressive place. Looking upward, we could see the inside of the spiral, curling around like a sort of seashell. Some of us joked, a bit sacrilegiously I admit, about the spiral being a great place for Jesus to slide down when he made his Second Coming.
We soon split up to explore the sanctuary further. I paired up with a friend of mine and we moved out of the sanctuary and into other parts of the temple. I wasn’t sure just how much time we spent looking around. Eventually, my friend and I found ourselves emerging onto the balcony section overlooking the sanctuary.
We glanced down to see an angry woman pointing at us. Around her stood the rest of the drama team, looking rather sheepish.
“Get down here, now!”
Quickly, we made our way down to join the group, where the woman chewed us out for wandering around. Apparently, there was an official tour of the temple that we should have gone on. After she expressed her disappointment in our conduct, she made hints that our visit had concluded.
Afterward, my friend and I learned out how the unpleasant encounter came about. The woman had found a couple members of the team and began to pleasantly explain that they were not free to walk around the temple unguided. No sooner had she finished her explanation when a couple more of the team popped up. As she began to talk to them, more members appeared. The woman became more and more agitated as more and more of the team straggled in. As it turned out, my friend and I were the last to make our presence known, and the last straw for the woman as it turned out.
I departed the Temple Square (hopefully without offending anybody) and headed westward to the Great Salt Lake. I was curious to see this scenic wonder. On the way, I debated on whether to actually swim in it or not. I arrived at Great Salt Lake Marina, just down the road from the exotic-looking Great Saltair concert hall. However, when I got to the beach, there wasn’t really a place to change or any showering facility. As I would soon be in my car for an extended period of time, I figured that being an unshowered, salted mess was not a good way to travel. I opted for a little bit of wading and picture taking instead.
The sky was hazy and thanks to a low-hanging mist, the Lake had a mysterious air to it. From where I stood on the beach, two mountainous spits of land jutted into the water, shrouded and indistinct in the near distance (Later on, I discovered that I was looking at the southern shores of Stansbury and Antelope Islands).
With no breeze to speak of, the water lapped to the shore in a listless fashion. The Lake was beautiful in its way. The beach, such as it was, was a rather desolate place.
I spent the remainder of my day driving south through Utah and the northwestern tip of Arizona. It was dark as I crossed into Nevada (my 44th state). However, I could tell instantly when I had crossed the border when my eyes were assaulted by the bright lights of dozens of casinos along the highway. I got my first glimpse of Las Vegas about 15 miles east of the city. The horizon was lit up as far as the eye could see, the lights twinkling and calling out to the weary travel with its siren song “Come! Come!”
I grew less lyrical as I entered the city. To someone who had spent much of the past week in reveling in nature’s coy beauty, Las Vegas was a sensory jolt. The enchanting lights that I had seen from a distance now seemed overpowering and gaudy to me. The streets were packed, people were everywhere. There was so much to see, TOO much to see. I was having trouble taking it all in while trying to keep my eyes on the road. I needed to find my hotel before my head exploded.
I had trouble finding the hotel at first until I discovered that the hotel was part of a casino…or vice versa. As soon as I got there, I knew I had made a bad choice. Having reserved my room online without checking out the locale, it was not the classiest of places, and as a doughy white Midwestern boy whose every fiber screamed “NAÏVE TOURIST,” I felt distinctly out of place.
Yet…I was in Vegas. I needed do something here other than hide in my hotel room. So I paid a visit to the aforementioned casino. After strolling around, I found myself facing an unoccupied machine. I would play this, I determined. With my heart beating in the anticipation that only gambling could bring, I pulled out a 20-dollar bill and inserted into the indicated slot. Almost instantly, quarters began to pour out of the machine’s mouth. What luck! On my very first try, I…Someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey buddy,” said a rough-looking character with a twenty in his own fist.
“Yeah?” I turned around hesitantly. What was happening? Who was this guy? Was I about to get hustled…or mugged?
“Ya mind steppin’ away from the change machine? Other people need to use it too, ya know.”
I decided then to leave Las Vegas at first light.