Any time one eagerly awaits an experience as long as we've looked forward to the opportunity to explore Utah more fully, the risk of disappointment is great.  Our limited visit in 2012 inflated our expectations for a wealth of scenic beauty, and we're happy to report that Utah did not disappoint.  Its vast collections of colorful mesas and majestic buttes, the massive canyons, and the fanciful rock formations often left us speechless, beyond repeatedly murmuring, "Wow!"
Welcome sign at Monument Valley, which spans the state border
When planning the trip, we included a few more days than we thought were needed because we wanted to fly in and out of Atlanta on the weekends to avoid the monumental traffic problems through the city caused by an interstate bridge collapse at the end of March.  The last few days we spent around Salt Lake City were just OK.  We drove to the Bonneville Salt Flats one day, another day to Park City and some of the other ski areas around SLC, and to the Great Salt Lake.  Though the Salt Lake area is scenic compared to most places, none of those were in the same league with the remainder of the trip, and we're more convinced than ever that 18 to 20 days would have been just about right.
Our faithful Nissan Rogue at Capitol Reef National Park
Now it's time for a recap of the good, the bad and the ugly of this unparalleled stunning state.  Our trip began in Arizona since we flew into Phoenix, so we took the opportunity to revisit the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.  Later we visited Page, AZ, and drove across a portion of northern Arizona on the superbly scenic US-89A.  Other than that, and a brief foray across the Nevada state line when we visited the salt flats, we spent the remainder of the trip in Utah.
Our Ultimate Utah adventure
Trip Stats
    •  Days:  23
    •  Miles driven:  3,292
    •  Air miles:  3,175
    •  Weather:  26° to 97°, mostly clear, lots of wind, a few spurts of sleet, rain, and snow
    •  Letterboxes:   Found 67, Planted 7
    •  Miles walked:  77.94
    •  States:   Utah, Arizona, Nevada

National Parks & National Monuments Visited
Grand Canyon National Park
Navajo National Monument
Canyonlands National Park
Natural Bridges National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument
Capitol Reef National Park 
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
More Trip Stats
    •  Buttes:  4,175
    •  Mesas:  598
    •  Canyons:   132
    •  Hoodoos:  8,352
    •  Rocks:  389,224,177,096,281
    •  Cattle:  13,292  (87% open range)
    •  Elk:  78
    •  Deer:   34
    •  Ravens:  261
    •  Squirrels:  47
    •  Cats:   4
    •  Tourist buses:  523
    •  Runaway truck ramps:  14

 Most Scenic Drives
UT-24 through Capitol Reef National Park
UT-24 through Capitol Reef National Park
Zion-Mt. Carmel Road from Mount Carmel into Zion National Park 
UT-89A through northern Arizona along Vermillion Cliffs
UT-14 between Cedar City and Junction
And the Rest
Best Trail (tie):  Rim Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
Best Trail (tie):  Grand Wash Trail, Capitol Reef National Park
Best trail (tie):  Riverside Walk, Zion National Park 
Shiniest Nose (tie):  Abraham Lincoln at State Capitol & Carl Hayden at Lake Powell Dam Visitor Center
Most frequently encountered river:  Colorado River
Most popular rental car:  Nissan Rogue (often in white)
Cleverest tourism idea:  $5 for photo op on horse at Monument Valley
Switchbackiest road (tie):  Moki Dugway
Switchbackiest road (tie):  Zion National Park
Switchbackiest River:  San Juan River, Goosenecks State Park
Best Hotel Room View:  The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Cleverest (Old) Invention:  Reflectoscope mirror used to define area for artists to paint
And More Superlatives
    •  Best bargain:  $10 lifetime Senior Pass for all national park service admissions
    •  Next best bargain:  Nissan Rogue for >3,000 miles at less than $18/day (♥ Enterprise)
    •  Best national park:  (tie) Capitol Reef and Zion
    •  Best shuttle buses:  Zion National Park, frequent and spacious
    •  Worst shuttle buses:  Grand Canyon National Park, infrequent and overcrowded
    •  Oldest plant:  Bristlecone pine (1,800 years old), Bryce Canyon National Park
    •  Largest plant:  Pando Forest (40,000 trunks) near Richfield, UT
    •  Steepest road grade:   14% near Escalante
    •  Worst road:  Monument Valley scenic drive
    •  Most under-rated/under-promoted site:  Utah State Capitol
    •  Windiest spot:   Goblin Valley State Park

Most questionable authenticity:  Newspaper Rock State Historic Site
Most embarrassing moment:  When 3-year-old Arlo climbed to the upper trail and I couldn't handle it 
Best restroom graffiti:  Pit toilet at Capitol Gorge trail in Capitol Reef National Park
Most helpful road sign:  On UT-143 leaving Panguitch going south
Most confusing name:  Dixie National Forest—in Utah
Most convincing sign:  Zion National Park shuttle buses 
Narrowest bridge:  Hurricane, UT over Virgin River
Cleverest town marketing campaign:  Kanab, Utah
One of America's best investments:  
Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s New Deal—so many projects still in use
Most misguided tourist fad:  Love locks on bridges (add excess weight)
Strongest man:  Tourist at Lee's Ferry holding up massive rock
Coolest picnic table:  Quail Creek State Park
Most beautiful building:  Utah State Capitol 
Biggest surprise:  We had no idea that salt flats had a "wet season."
SUNDAY, 14 MAY 2017

Ultimate Utah, Day 19:  Salt Lake City, UT

Our visit to Utah would not be complete without a pilgrimage to the state capitol building.  Even without the GPS, we would have easily found the stately neoclassical seat of Utah government sitting majestically on Capitol Hill overlooking Salt Lake City.
When Utah achieved statehood in 1896, the government operated out of the newly built Salt Lake City and County Building.  After the state's governor finally convinced the legislature to fund the erection of a proper statehouse in 1911, the project still was in doubt after lawmakers axed more than a quarter of the construction budget.  New life was breathed into the capitol by the death of a wealthy railroad magnate, whose widow boosted the budget with an $800,000 estate tax payment (5% of her inheritance).
Statue of Massasoit in front of east entrance because it was created by famous Utah artist
Parking was plentiful, close by and free—the perfect combination.  When we approached the building and saw four state trooper vehicles conspicuously parked near the east entrance, we assumed that security inside would be pretty strict.   We were wrong.

The only reference to any security concerns was a sign just inside the door informing visitors that unattended backpacks or briefcases would be removed from the building.  There were two state troopers seated just inside near the visitor information desk, but they were chatting with each other and didn't interact with us until we asked a question.
Twin atriums flank the rotunda.
Utah's was the 34th state capitol building we have visited.  Having seen some stunningly beautiful statehouses filled with historical symbolism (yes, we're talking about you, South Dakota and Colorado), our capitol wow threshold is pretty lofty.  Utah floated to the top of our capitol ratings list like a helium balloon with a broken string.
State brochures available in Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese.
The convenient parking was only the first indication that the Utah capitol was operated with a user-friendly focus.  Tourism is a major force in the state economy, and Utah attracts visitors from around the world.  Brochures about the state in a variety of languages are prominently displayed inside the capitol's entrance.  Nearby is podium/flag arrangement, where visitors can pose for a photo op as a Utah "official."
Though its welcoming atmosphere is appealing, what really sets the Utah capitol apart is the vision and talent of its local architect, Richard K. A. Kletting.  Kletting's neoclassical Corinthian plan was selected over other entries in a design contest and was constructed from 1912 to 1916.  Built mostly of native granite quarried nearby, the edifice was designed with light in mind—long open window-lit hallways, massive skylights, and a glass rotunda floor to allow light to the first floor below.
Like the Colorado and Indiana statehouses, Kletting's capitol design is replete with exquisite vignettes created by his devoted attention to interior sight lines.  As you round each corner, another enchanting image is presented to you.

Even with the infusion of the railroad money, the budget was inadequate to complete Kletting's vision at the time it was constructed.  It wasn't until the New Deal period in the 1930s that a Public Works Administration project decorated the rotunda, as Kletting had conceived, with murals of 19th century events in Utah history.
The visionary Kletting even made plans for what to do when the state outgrew its house of government, designing twin 80,000-sq.ft. office buildings compatible with but subservient to the 320,000-sq.ft. capitol and designating space for them on the building site.  These long-forgotten documents were discovered after the state began contemplating how to house its growing government in 1998.
The buildings were completed in time to house state offices and functions which vacated the capitol building for a comprehensive renovation project from 2004 to 2008.  With Salt Lake City's location near a significant fault line, seismic protection was a major part of the $212 million restoration.  The seismic retrofit involved the careful removal of the building's old foundation and replacement with 265 new flexible footings called base isolators.  During an earthquake, the capitol can gently sway from side to side as the ground moves because the isolators can stretch up to two feet horizontally in any direction, reducing the seismic impact on the building by 80 percent.
Colors used in the House chamber mimic the Utah landscape.
Another goal of the capitol renovation project was the restoration of original architectural and artistic details of Kletting's design.  Like so many other public and private historic buildings in the U.S., the Utah statehouse had been the victim of mid-century "improvements" such as the installation of aluminum-framed windows, which were replaced with period appropriate mahogany ones.  In addition to the seismic retrofit and the restoration, the capitol was fitted with all new electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems.
Rotunda chandelier and dome interior
Clearly the state of Utah is justifiably proud of its house of government and its investment to restore the statehouse to its original architectural and artistic glory.  We found it to be a worthy monument to Utah's interesting history and its glorious natural beauty.


    •  Original construction:  1912-1916
    •  Original cost:  $2.7 million
    •  Restoration:   2004-2008
    •  Restoration cost:  $212 million
    •  Size:  320,000 sq.ft.
    •  Dome height from ground:  250 ft.
    •  Dome surface:  Utah copper
    •  Interior dome height:  163 ft. from rotunda floor
    •  Grounds:  40 acres
    •  Windows replaced in restoration:   539
    •  Light fixtures restored or replaced:  1,400 in 46 styles
    •  Corinthian columns on exterior:  52
    •  Weight of rotunda chandelier:  6,000 pounds

More Photos of Utah State Capitol
Another view of House chamber
Decorative details in the Senate chamber 
A model of a base isolator
Governors Hall of Fame on first floor
Professionally curated exhibits on first floor tell about aspects of the state's history, economy, and environment.
Original color treatments were restored to decorative details.  
Another of Kletting's captivating interior sight line vignettes
The formal state reception room 
Symmetry helps to create dramatic views.
Even with a prominent "do not touch" sign, people cannot resist rubbing Abe's nose. 
The Senate chamber
Senate gallery and ceiling
Sight lines were also considered in outdoor spaces.
Shaded walkway around the entire Capitol was Kletting's idea, implemented during restoration.
Towering monument honors the Mormon Battalion, a military unit in the mid-1800s.
A couple of Utah officials issuing statements about the state's impressive capitol.