Salt Lake City: All things Mormon

 

You know you are in Utah if

  1. the signs for Dairy Queen and Chick -Fil-A say “Closed Sunday”;
  2. the Walmarts do not sell wine or hard liquor, only beer and coolers;
  3. there are lots of clean shaven young men wearing buttoned up white shirts, sleeves rolled down and a tie,  carrying a book that looks like the Bible but more likely is the Book of Mormon on public transit; or
  4. all of the above.

If you guessed 4), congratulations and welcome to Salt Lake City. Home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints or the Mormons or the LDS.

After a few days of sin (Las Vegas) and nature (Grand Canyon, Arches National Park), I was looking forward to some people history and in Utah, it is all about the Mormons. I am not particularly religious, having avoided most houses of worship since my teenage years save for the occasional wedding, funeral or Bar Mitzvah, but religion has always interested me in an academic sort of way. I learned about the Buddha in Sri Lanka, early Christianity in Israel and Rome and Hinduism in India. So, when in Salt Lake City, I wanted to indulge in all things Mormon (except the no alcohol bit and the praying part).

Salt Lake City itself is odd. It has a population of about 200,000, but the greater Salt Lake City has in excess of 2 million, none of whom appear to work downtown (except the Mormons) or use the very empty, efficient and air conditioned LRT/streetcar system. I took it downtown on an hot Monday morning (high of 38) and disembarked at Temple Square, the 35 acre complex that comprises the main headquarters and buildings of the LDS.

I entered the South Visitors’ Center, seeking information about tours. A sister (all the women are sisters; all the men are brothers and no unmarried man works in the tour area) with her name and a flag representing her country warmly greeted me and asked what I would like to do. When I said a tour, she pointed me to the flag pole and said the English tour would start in 7 minutes and it was free.

I waited by the flagpole until our two smiling tour guides appeared. Sister C. was from Taiwan and Sister P. was from Myanmar. Both were fulfilling their missions by conducting the tours. Although neither spoke English as a first language, they had a good enough grasp of it to answer questions and follow the script. After brief introductions, they asked if anyone was a Mormon. A middle aged lady with platinum blonde hair responded positively. She had visited the Temple Square before, but this was the first time for her husband.

The Sisters gave us a brief history of the Mormons and the Book of Mormon. About 2200 BC, some people in Israel (not well defined) had grown disenchanted with the local government, so they sailed to America. Again, how this was accomplished was rather vague, but the Sisters rightly pointed out that when they sailed to America in 2200 BC, it was not called America. While here, a number of prophets wrote The Book of Mormon on gold plates. The last prophet was named Moroni. whose father, Mormon, lived in the US about 385 AD and contributed to the plates, hence the name the Book of Mormon. During this period, Jesus Christ attended in America after the resurrection and Adam and Eve and John the Baptist also made appearances. Moroni hid the gold plates in upstate New York , where they remained until 1823.

In 1823, either Moroni or God and Jesus Christ (the Sisters and Wikipedia do not agree, so I will give both versions) appeared to Joseph Smith in New York, directed him to the hiding place of the gold plates and told him to translate and publish them. One of the buildings in Temple Square, the Church History Museum, offers a (free) 5 minute film of what is referred to as Joseph Smith’s vision, which reenacts his  visitation by God and Jesus Christ.

He translates the gold plates from an ancient Egyptian language (with divine intervention), then publishes them. God or an Angel demands the plates back, but first 3 men witness the plates, then 8 men witness the plates, so they must be real. Copies of the witness statements are available for viewing.

At this point, the Sisters show us their Books of Mormon and asks if anyone would like a copy. None of the dozen of us on the tour want one. We are standing behind the Salt Lake Temple. I ask if we are going to tour it, but am told that only those that are deemed holy may enter. Apparently, the tour group is not considered holy enough, so the only pictures I have are from the outside.

 

Sister C. starts talking about Mormon baptisms. They are normally done when a child is about 8 years old. The candidate must be physically pure –no alcohol, no coffee, no tobacco. Platinum blonde lady pipes up: “and pure of spirit-no premarital sex.” I don’t know that many 8 year olds that are having sex, Mormon or otherwise.

Sister P. tells us about ancestoral baptisms. Any Mormon can have an ancestor baptized if they are concerned that their ancestor failed to meet all the prerequisites to get to heaven during their lifetime. She explains that it is the spirit of the ancestor who decides whether to accept or not. “How do you know if they accepted?” asks a tour member“ “You get on your knees and pray to God and he tells you,” says platinum blonde lady. Good to know if I ever try to baptize an ancestor.

We proceed to the North Visitors’ Center. In the basement are uplifting Biblical messages and displays of the various historical prophets, beginning with Isiah and Moses.

 

Another tour member asks whether Muhammad is considered a prophet, since there is no representation of him. Sister C. answers that he is considered a prophet, but the architects ran out of room so he was not included. Three members of our tour abruptly leave.

We climb to the top floor, where a statute of Christ stands. The Sisters ask us to sit down and listen to his message. I politely do so and it is mercifully short. Less than 5 minutes. I cannot recall a single word.

The statute is not visible, but me and Sisters C and P are below:

IMG_0266

So concludes our tour. I wander around the perfectly manicured grounds with their 100’s of variety of flowers (there are free garden tours), before heading to the Tabernacle. I had always envisioned it looking like a church with a steeple, but in fact, it looks like a spaceship:

IMG_0265

It is a perfect dome, purpose built for music. As was demonstrated by the organist who provided the noon hour recital (free), she could shred a newspaper and drop a pin and both could be easily heard throughout the building without any microphone. Hundreds of people listened to her play 6 melodies, including hymns and America the Beautiful (in honor of the 4th of July). The Mormon Tabernacle choir general rehearses Thursday evening and the public is invited (free), but the choir was on tour and there would be no rehearsal this Thursday.

IMG_0273

I’ve gone on rather long, but I spent the better part of 2 days at Temple Square. In my next post, I shall review the Mormon film Legacy, describe my geneological search, talk plural wives and address the additional reasons why I am not allowed in the Salt Lake Temple.

My aching Arches

After being thwarted in my desire to see 2 of Utah’s big 5 parks, Zion and Bryce, due to the Winnipeg detour, I eagerly looked forward to Arches National Park (Canyonlands and Capitol Reef are the other 2 parks). The drive from Las Vegas to Moab on Interstates 70 and 15 provides tantalizing glimpses of the wonders within the parks, with crazy shaped, jagged sandstone buttes punctuating the desert landscape and periodic mini-canyons carving the highway and sending it on steep ascents before plunging to a level field. There are quite a few viewpoints along the interstates and I couldn’t resist stopping at a few:

IMG_0171IMG_0206

IMG_0216(2)

I had done my advance reading on potential hikes at Arches and discounted the Fiery Furnace ranger led hike. The brochure read:

These popular 2 ½ hour hikes are moderately strenuous, requiring the use of hands and feet to scramble up and through the narrow cracks and along steep ledges above drop offs. They are not recommended for people with vertigo.

As I suffer from vertigo going up a single flight of stairs, I decided to steer clear of the Fiery Furnace and chose instead the Delicate Arch. I arrived early, at 5:30AM, just after sunrise, but not missing the best photo op since the trail head entrance sign said Photography is best at Sunset. I double checked the sign: Take a liter of water per person, no shade, moderately strenuous, some uphill (on the way there) and downhill (on the return). Despite the early hour, it was already 28 degrees so I slapped on my sunscreen, threw the water bottles in my backpack and started up.

And up, and up, and up. After a gentle asphalt path wound itself around the first butte, the terrain gave way to hard, red rocks. I clamored up and over them, following the black poles that marked the way. Describing it as a path would be generous. After 15 minutes, I was out of breathe and stopped for a few moments. Looking up, there was nothing but sandstone rocks and gravel leading higher and higher. The occasional hiker came down and offered the encouraging “nearly there,” but after the third person said the same thing, I grew cynical.

I tried to work this out logically-the trail was a mile and a half and I walk a mile in 20 minutes, so after 20 minutes, I must be less than half a mile away. Just 10 more minutes. Hardly “nearly there”. Still the rocks kept snaking upwards with no end in sight. Logic wasn’t working; better try something else.

I know- I would visualize the worst hike of my life- two hours up a volcano to see the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda. That, too, was straight up, except we were in the middle of a jungle and the guide used a machete to make a path. The ground was all soft mud and there were stinging nettles and fire ants and poison snakes and the threat of a charging elephant or two. …this was a walk in the park in comparison….. except in Uganda I had a walking stick, porters with big rifles, a guide and the investment of $600 in a permit; all inducing me to continue. Here, I hadn’t even paid the park entry fee since the booth was closed at 5:15 and besides, I had an Annual park pass. I could quit and no one would be the poorer.

Except me.

So I reverted to what I do whenever I am confronted with something unpleasant (dentists, turbulence, extractions during facials). I count. Slowly. One, two, three Mississippi, four, five, Mississippi. It takes me a minute to count to 20. So I climbed to the count of 20, rested for 20. Carefully, gradually, in 20 count increments, I made my way to the top of the rocks. Finally,  a gentle path winding around a small mesa and there was the goal: Delicate Arch.

IMG_0230

It was worth the effort. I positively scampered down with glee in about half an hour, offering encouraging but practical words to the parade of hikers now coming up; “Just 5 more minutes” and “once you’re up the cliff, just another few minutes.“

Bouyed by my recent accomplishment in hiking, I decided I would next tackle the hike at Devil’s Garden to Landscape Arch and Double O Arch. The brochure said:

A relatively flat, hard packed trail leads to a spectacular ribbon of rock. The Trail beyond Landscape Arch becomes difficult with rock scrambling, narrow ledges and exposure to heights.

As I started along the path to Landscape Arch, the muscles I hadn’t used since Uganda began screaming, admonishing me that the Double O Arch was out of reach. I took the relatively flat, hard packed (until it turns into pure sand) trail to the Landscape Arch and decided enough was enough. It was close to 11:00AM, the temperature was hitting 40 and the trails were becoming very crowded. I returned to my hotel, a cold glass of wine and sat around the pool for 5 hours.

I will spare everyone a photo of me in my bathing suit, drinking wine from a dark brown cup that says Hershey Chocolate (no alcohol allowed in pool area). The following day, I went to Canyonlands National Park. There is an arch there as well which I shall share:

The hike to this arch was only .3 of a mile. I also walked the Rim Walk, a hike of about a mile and a half (each way) along one of the canyons:

Lastly, I attended a ranger talk at the visitor center. The subject was Outlaws and Ranchers and the focus was on the sometimes cantankerous, sometimes friendly relationship between the ranchers who were trying to exploit the canyon lands and the outlaws, including Butch Cassidy, who saw them as a convenient hide-out. In the end, the ranchers gave up, the outlaws mostly died (but Cassidy in Bolivia, not here) and the area became a boomtown for uranium mines during the 1940’s and 1950’s. The 4:00PM ranger talk was All about Uranium, but since I have had my fill of uranium for the last 8 years, I passed and started towards Salt Lake City.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Winnipeg)

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights had not existed when I lived in Winnipeg, but since its opening in 2008, it has generated fairly positive reviews. As I like topical (as opposed to art) museums, I took advantage of a few free hours to see it. Located at the Forks (where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet), the building is an architectural gem:

IMG_0161

 

The Museum is composed of 8 levels, each connected by long, barren ramps. The first level defines human rights and has a panorama of different milestones in the history of human rights.

 

IMG_0146

Some levels focus on particular aspects of human rights: Aboriginals in Canada, the Holocaust, the Courts and the Charter. One exhibit showcased human rights failures and successes in Canada, with booths containing information and memorabilia from such varied events as Viola Desmond’s refusal to move to the non-white section of a movie theatre, the Chinese head tax, Japanese internment, the Indian Act‘s disentitlement of status to Indian women marrying non-Indians and gay marriage. There were numerous different displays, reminding Canadians that our past was filled with discrimination.

IMG_0155IMG_0152(1)

 

Other levels focused on international genocides and how the media played a significant role in reporting on human rights abuses. Two films demonstrated the power of the press. The Holodomar documented the famine in the Ukraine resulting from Stalin’s collectivization experiments (and arguably the deliberate attempt to eradicate millions of Ukrainians) and the near collusion of Western reporters with the official Soviet propaganda as to its causes and effects. Another film addressed an Israeli military strike in Gaza, with the Jerusalem Post emphasizing the success of eliminating terrorists and the Arab newspaper focusing on the death of innocent civilians.

I finally made it to the top of the building, opting for an elevator to take me to the final level, where I was rewarded with 360 degree views of Winnipeg. My vertigo prevented me from going much closer to the windows.

IMG_0158

I was pleasantly surprised by the Museum. The anti-Semitism in Canada and the Holodomar films were informative , but other exhibits were too superficial for my liking. An entire level is devoted to Aboriginals in Canada, but it barely mentions the Indian Residential Schools or other atrocities. Horrors around the world are identified (the Rwanda genocide, Korean comfort women, North Korea), but little or no explanation is provided. My major complaint lies with the building itself. It is stunning and the 8 levels of ramps symbolically lead from the dredges of human rights abuses to light and a message of hope for the future. I just felt (and this is my own personal view) that I didn’t need a building to remind me that the past had been pretty dark and we all need to work toward a better future. I would have preferred more in-depth information about many of the events noted rather than the focus on the architecture.

That being said, it was a worthwhile visit and I am glad I went.  Now back to Las Vegas.

 

Travel Tip for Canadians with no Zip Codes using credit cards and driving in the USA

If you are driving in the USA and try to prepay for gas at the pump, after giving your credit card and PIN, many machines next ask for your Zip Code. Since Canadians do not have Zip Codes, this presents a problem. I had thought the only solution was to go inside to the cashier and get pre-authorized for a guestimate amount. Usually, if you guess too high, the credit card will only charge for the gas used, but on at least one occasion, I had to return inside and have the excess returned to me in cash.

There is a solution and I owe a big thank you to the lovely cashier at the Chevron gas station just outside of Las Vegas. She said to type in the numbers in your postal code and add 0’s at the end to arrive at 5 numbers. My Toronto postal code is M8V 4B2, so I type in 84200 as my Zip Code. This works both inside and at the pump. Give it a try and save yourself a trip into the service station.

Departure from Plan #2

My two guiding principles on this journey are to only do things I want to do and not to over plan everything, as I am wont to do. I have tried my best for Europe, buying only a one-way ticket to Stockholm, a tour of the Baltics and the goal of getting to my ultimate destination, Paris, when I get there. No hotels, no dinner reservations, no prepaid train trips to quaint little French towns. I will do that when I get there and let the weather decide my destinations.

The USA road trip requires a bit more decisiveness. Scrapbook conventions, Blue Jays games and friends’ travel plans all have set dates. The Utah parks do not, but I want to get to many of them before peak park going season and booking the limited choices of hotels that were nearby seemed like a good idea. For months, I poured over maps and brochures of the Grand Circle-the Grand Canyon, the big 5 Utah parks, Mesa Verde in New Mexico- deciding which ones to visit and booking hotels in the nearby towns.

After Sedona, I had planned to drive to Williams, Arizona, near the Grand Canyon, spend two days exploring there, then drive to Zion National Park and partake in the many hikes available. I would then travel east to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, before heading north to Salt Lake City.

Alas, things did not work out as planned, Just before leaving Sedona, I learned that my dear uncle, Benjamin Goldstein, had passed away. He lived in Saskatoon, where I grew up, and had been an auditor for the Canada Revenue Agency before going to law school. He and my father practiced together for many years before Uncle Benny was appointed as a judge to the Provincial Court. I was going to the funeral in two days in Winnipeg.

I cancelled my Williams/Grand Canyon hotel and booked a flight to Winnipeg from Las Vegas, the most convenient and cheapest place from which I could depart. I changed the destination in the GPS to Las Vegas and headed west, trying to figure out when and where I could fit the Grand Canyon and Zion back into the itinerary. As I was mulling this dilemma over, I passed a sign saying the turn-off to the Grand Canyon was in 5 miles. Do I or don’t I? I would only be able to give it a few hours, but my other option was to arrive in Las Vegas at 4:00PM and sit in an airport hotel until bedtime. I took the turn.

An hour later I was at the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. A further hour later, I had parked my car and the Park’s shuttle had dropped me at the start of the Rim Walk. From there, I enjoyed a pleasant few hours meandering down the path, marveling at the views and reading the narrative plaques which described the Canyon’s history (2 billion years old) and the significance of its distinctive layers.

IMG_0131

It is not a photo of me, but the ones with me are not good. I am still struggling with the selfie and bemoaning my lack of a selfie stick.

The dash in and out of the Grand Canyon was also not the all encompassing Grand Canyon experience I had planned for, but it was the Grand Canyon nonetheless and the best I could do in the circumstances.

Dallas and Bathrooms

My last day in Dallas. While I had made huge leaps in finishing scrapbook pages, I had done not a whit of sightseeing unless I count the wrong turn to the University of Texas. I decided to do something touristy. I had previously visited the Texas School Book Depository Museum, where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fateful shot that killed JFK, and wanted to see something else.

My hotel was in Arlington, about 30 minutes from downtown Dallas, so I decided to look for something nearby. Six Flags Amusement Park was just a few blocks away but since I hate roller coasters, it didn’t seem like a good option. I had driven by signs for The International Bowling Hall of Fame. I can bowl, badly, but hadn’t in years. I was skeptical, even though it had rave reviews on Trip Advisor and only charged $10 as an entry fee. Or, I could take a tour of the AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, for $32 plus tax and the $5.94 transaction fee. I felt like doing something that screamed “Dallas” and bowling just didn’t spring to mind, so I booked a ticket for the 10AM tour of the AT&T Stadium.

It looks like a giant spaceship from the Walmart parking lot across the way:

IMG_0076

Larry, our tour guide, greeted me and the other 29 people on the tour. This being Father’s Day, all the tours were sold out. Larry led us to our very plush, comfortable seats on the 50 yard line and regaled us with information about the history and architecture of the building. It was the largest NFL building in the world. It was the largest indoor stadium in the USA. This being Texas, it was the largest of a lot of things. It can hold about 80,000 for a football match and over 100,000 for basketball and concerts. It has standing room for 20,000. The Jumbotron is the height of a 7 story office building, the width of lots of semi-trailers and 115 feet from the ground. More people watch the Jumbotron than the actual game:

IMG_0058(1)

We proceeded to the private suite of the owner, Jerry Jones. Very luxurious, with a dedicated elevator to his parking spot, and windows with shades that could be rolled down if he doesn’t want to face the 80,000 other people watching the game.

We walked around the private clubs where 6500 employees toil every game (12,000 for the 2011 Superbowl), producing everything from the most popular food (nachos) to Michelin quality food for those so inclined. There were play stations for the kids in case they were bored by the game and then, the unexpected, an art tour. The AT&T stadium houses one of the best collections of contemporary art in Dallas, no doubt for all the fans bored with the game and the play stations.

From art to sweat. We took a gigantic freight elevator deep underground to the locker rooms. There are 7: 4 for university teams, one for the visiting NFL team, one for the Dallas Cowboys and one for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. The ladies locker room is painted bright pink:

IMG_0065(3)

The Dallas Cowboys’ locker room looks similar:

IMG_0068

Aside from the lack of scantily clad full size photos of the Cowboys, the big difference between the Cowboys’ and the cheerleaders’ lockers is that the cheerleaders have lights inside their lockers to assist with their make-up. Both have plug-ins for their phones.

Now about the bathrooms. It was part of the tour-not seeing them (although we could use them), but the statistics. According to Larry, the standard male to female ratio for bathrooms in sporting venues is 60:40 for the men. But Jerry Jones’ daughter would have none of that; she insisted that the ratio be reversed: 60:40 for the ladies. Which makes the AT&T stadium fairly unique in the sporting world. Now, I didn’t press Larry on this, but I suspect Dallas is still behind the Seattle Mariners’ Safeco baseball stadium where I watched the Blue Jays win 2 out of 3 games in 2017. There are 4 bathroom types at Safeco: Men, Women, Family and Gender Neutral. No idea of the ratio. From my perspective, I prefer France where all the bathrooms are unisex. All genders wait equal time.

Thus ended my time in Dallas.

Scraphappy

I finally arrived in Dallas on Wednesday, June 13th, without further tire incidents. Dealership #3 did call to ask if I was satisfied with its service. I explained that the “check your tire pressure soon” message had returned the day after he fixed it and that dealership #4 had said dealership #3 had not put the pressure right or reset the computer. Dealership #3 said flat out that dealership #4 was wrong. “Why”, I asked, “did the message flash then?” He had no explanation but said he would get back to me. He hasn’t yet.

Driving to Dallas I passed yet another Mount Vernon, I cannot understand the lack of imagination when it comes to names. There are at least six towns named Mount Vernon in the USA (Ohio, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Washington and New York), but the only one where George Washington lived is in Virginia. There’s a plethora of multiple cities with the same name in the USA. On this trip alone, I have passed Charlotte, Illinois, and Charlotte, Missouri , not to be confused with the Charlotte, North Carolina I stayed at a few months ago. I am not sure if this is an American thing; one would be hard pressed to find another Saskatoon or Toronto anywhere.

The pedestrian names continue into Dallas and Arlington. While the freeway is called George Bush Expressway, my hotel is on West Road to Six Flags, which leads to, unsurprisingly, the Six Flags Amusement Park. The directions to my Scrapbook Convention are equally pedantic. Take the Road to Six Flags, turn left on the AT&T Stadium road, (where the AT&T stadium is located), go to the I-30 Frontage street (the road fronting on the I-30), then turn right on Convention Center Drive to arrive at the Convention Center. What the street names lack in inspiration, they make up for in usefulness. No GPS needed here.

I am in Arlington for the Great American Scrapbook Convention. For those that do not know what that is, let me explain. Scrapbooking takes photographs and elevates their preservation into an art form. Scrapbookers do not take a bunch of photos, throw them in self-adhesive albums, maybe add the date and let them collect dust on the shelves. Rather, scrapbookers (or scrappers as we like to call ourselves), take photos, adhere them to colour co-ordinated papers (some plain, some with designs), journal the who, what, where, the feelings the photo generates and other memorable tidbits, insert fanciful titles and embellish the page with brads, stickers, paper flowers, stamped images and a host of other paraphernalia. A scrapbook page, or layout, can take anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours to create.

A whole industry is devoted to scrapbooking. Scrapbook.com is one of the largest sellers and if you click on Gallery, more than a million different scrapbook layouts may be viewed. YouTube also has scrapbooking videos; everything from layout ideas to tutorials on using different products. Amazon.com has thousands of scrapbooking materials for sale.

Back to the Convention This one is supposed to be one of the biggest. Like all scrapbook conventions, it has three components: a vendor fair, where over 50 exhibitors sell all things scrapbook-related, classes and a crop. Close to a 100 different classes are offered with such tantalizing titles as Classic Petunia Foldout Card Class, Disney Darlings, Simple Stamper Tricks, All About Adhesives and two I attended: Mixing Pattern Papers and Technique Tutorial. Crops are where the pages get made. Hundreds of scrappers sit at tables and create albums, cards and pages from early in the morning until late at night.

This is me at the crop. And now back to my scrapping.
IMG_0026