(ABC4) – Business is booming in Utah, and so is the state’s population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent estimates, Utah’s population increased from 2010’s estimate of 2,763,885 to 3,240,879 in 2020. That increase of 17.6% was the largest in the country.
As the state’s economy also rises at astronomic levels — U.S. News & World Report ranked Utah’s as the best in the country, while also naming the state the third-best overall — many are relocating to the state to pursue increasing employment opportunities. Ask anyone who is trying to find housing in Salt Lake City or the surrounding area, and it’s tough to compete with new residents for a decent place.
For those who are new to the Beehive State, as well as those who are returning for various reasons, consider this an informal guide of things to consider as you navigate your new surroundings:
Great Salt Lake isn’t a great place to swim
For those who imagined taking a relaxing dip in the famous Great Salt Lake, imagine something else. While the Great Salt Lake is one of the state’s most treasured landmarks and serves as a home to many of the region’s most unique and valuable wildlife, it is not known as a great place to go for a swim. For one, the entrance to Antelope Island is not very close to Salt Lake City, about 45 minutes away, and the water can look a bit off-putting. There is also a bit of a smell depending on the weather. There are some beach-like areas on the island with showers on hand to wash the salty water off those who do decide to hop in, but it’s not a popular or common pastime among Utah natives by any means. If you do go in, it’s fun to see how easy it is to float due to the salinity of the water, but getting a mouthful of the salty water is enough to ruin your day.
Understanding LDS culture
Of course, one of the strongest associations that most folks make with the Beehive State is the large contingent of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the area. The Church has its headquarters in Salt Lake City and still has a stronghold on Utah culture and day-to-day life. Although newcomers to the area may be shocked to see what the capital city is really like (more on that later), knowing a bit about Latter-day Saint culture and lingo may help understand certain terminology and building relationships with neighbors.
A few quick tips:
– While members have been known as “Mormons” for many years, the Church’s leadership has recently made announcements and changes to phase out acceptance of that nickname.
– A ward is the localized gathering of members in the same area. This can be used in casual conversation to refer to a neighborhood.
– The leader of the ward is known as the Bishop, who is unpaid for his role as essentially the spiritual leader of the neighborhood. This man is usually referred to as “Bishop” rather than his first name by ward members.
– Members of the Church adhere to certain principles such as abstinence from sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, observing the Sabbath by refraining from certain activities on Sunday (more on that later), and refusing substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.
Sundays are easy-going, maybe too easy-going for some
As mentioned above, Church members in Utah follow an observance of the Sabbath on Sunday, meaning they are encouraged to refrain from shopping, dining out, or doing what are called “worldly activities” on that day. As such, many businesses in the state are not open on Sunday, including state-run liquor stores, meaning you’ll have to plan ahead if you want to throw down a mixed drink or have some wine on Sunday. Those who are driving around on Sunday will also notice that the freeways and roads are much less busy at the end of the week. It’s noticeably much quieter throughout the state on Sunday.
SLC has a growing homelessness problem
While the issue is not as severe as the one most famously seen on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, homelessness is a growing problem in Utah, Salt Lake City in particular. Responding to an ABC4 report on the growing homeless population in the city, Mayor Erin Mendenhall gave the following statement:
“The State has acknowledged that homelessness is a statewide issue and has begun some important steps to improve the funding and governance of the system. As the capital city, Salt Lake will likely always be the nexus of services for individuals experiencing homelessness. While we welcome that responsibility, it’s critical that the State and our sister jurisdictions do their part-allowing winter shelter, creating affordable housing, and funding services, to name a few critical pieces-in order to ensure that we have what is needed to serve all people experiencing homelessness. So far, the support is insufficient across the board.”
While some measures to remedy the problem are in place, including a proposed tiny-home village to be built somewhere in the city, this is still a major work in progress.
Prepare for inversion season
Those who are in the state in the winter (yes, we have winter too), will certainly feel the impact of a snowstorm or two, maybe more. One thing you might not know or realize about Utah snowstorms is the adverse effects they have on the air quality in the Salt Lake Valley. An inversion occurs when the cold air and pollution from a lower area, like say, the area where people live in the Salt Lake Valley, is trapped by warmer air in the upper atmosphere. This can make it impossible for polluted air to escape into the upper atmosphere, making the air quality very unhealthy and unpleasant at times. The mountain landscape can only make things worse. So if you’re prone to the effects of bad air, you may want to hang on to a few masks from the pandemic period to wear during winter in Utah.
A briefing on Utah’s alcohol laws
As mentioned above, state-run liquor stores are closed on Sunday, meaning that those looking to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail before the work week begins will need to think ahead. These liquor stores are the only places to buy any kind of alcohol other than beer in the state. The beer situation in Utah can also be quite strange to new residents, as all beer sales at stores or gas stations must be made before 1 a.m. Recently, however, the state made a major step in becoming more beer-friendly by increasing the alcohol limit from 3.2% to 5%.
Rooting for the local teams
Known as the State of Sport by the Utah Sports Commission, Utahns are incredibly passionate about athletics. The NBA’s Utah Jazz are the biggest show in town, regularly drawing fans (in non-pandemic years) in sellout figures to home games at Vivint Arena in downtown Salt Lake City. Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer is also a hit with locals. While those two teams are major unifiers in the state’s sports scene, the rivalry between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University is quite pronounced, especially in football. While the two squads are not in the same conference — and as of now, the 2021 matchup will be the last before a two-year break — the week of gameday always creates a major buzz. Red or blue, make your choice and choose wisely.
SLC is the state’s most progressive city
While the LDS Church is headquartered in Salt Lake City and likely always will be, the city itself is surprisingly progressive and liberal, a stark contrast from the Church’s conservative values. Salt Lake City has had a Democratic mayor since 1976, including current leader Erin Mendenhall. Folks with tattoos, piercings, and other counter-culture identifiers can be seen walking around any given street in the city. SLC is also the hub of activity for Utah’s LGBTQ+ community, with many resources in place for members of the community in the city. Interestingly, however, the more conservative area of Utah County to the south reportedly smokes more medical marijuana than anywhere else, although representatives at the Utah Department of Health’s Center for Medical Cannabis recognize that may not mean more in that area are smoking more than those in Salt Lake County.
What the heck is fry sauce?
Food known as uniquely Utahn can make for an interesting palate. For one, no meal in Utah served with French fries is complete without fry sauce. To those who have no idea what that is, fry sauce is basically a mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise and occasionally some relish, depending on where you go. It is believed that the Utah-born local food chain, Arctic Circle, pioneered fry sauce, but it has since spread to become ubiquitous statewide. Other hits of Utah cuisine include scones with honey butter, cheeseburgers with pastrami, funeral potatoes, and of course, green Jello. The dessert was known to be so Utahn, it was immortalized with a trading pin that was one of the most popular during the 2002 Olympics.
Vacation mode is a short drive away
Need to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life? In Utah, finding a reprieve from the urban jungle is as easy as a 20-minute drive. Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is just outside the downtown Salt Lake City area, can make one feel as if they have shifted immediately into vacation mode and has many great trails and campgrounds for folks looking to take the adventure out of the car. Maybe you like the bright lights of neon and such? Las Vegas is only a six-hour drive or a flight lasting an hour and some change. For those Californians-turned-Utahns looking to visit the Golden State, you can be in Southern California in less than two hours by plane.
Of course, there is a lot that goes into assimilating into Utah life. What would you say makes our local culture unique and interesting to those who are making a go at it here? Comment on the Facebook post below: