Utah: A remarkable place

The Western state of Utah is a fascinating place. The second driest and third highest state in the country, Utah’s climate and geology are remarkable. Three million people call Utah home, although they are primarily clustered together along a stretch of the Wasatch Front mountain range (80% live there). Salt Lake City marks the capitol and is nestled in a 500-square mile mountain valley along the Wasatch Front that was formed by in part by the retreat of ancient Lake Bonneville.


The geology and landscape surrounding Salt Lake City. Photo: Big Cottonwood Canyon. Credit: Hunter Sax.

Settler colonization The Salt Lake Valley was inhabited by the Ute and Shoshone tribes when Latter-Day Saints (‘Mormons’) arrived in 1847, fleeing religious persecution. Upon arrival, their leader Brigham Young famously declared “this is the place” where they would settle (Utah American Indian Digital Archive 2017). Conflict between the settlers and Utes and Shoshones ultimately resulted in their replacement onto reservation land with Mormon settlers commanding authority over the Valley and surrounding territories (Utah American Indian Digital Archive 2017).


Utah Landscape. Photo credit: Kailey Critchley.

Cultural climate Today, the Mormon influence over Utah and SLC remains strong. Utah is the most Mormon state in the US, about 62 percent of Utah’s population is Mormon.  Utah also has the fastest population growth, youngest median age, largest percentage of persons under 18 years and largest household size (Utah Economic Council 2017). The Salt Lake Valley represents the cultural, political, and economic center of the state, containing a thriving downtown business center, several colleges and universities, and an international airport.


The Capitol Building, Salt Lake City. Photo credit: Hunter Sax.

The land In terms of physical infrastructure, environment, and climate, Utah is unique. Over 65% of Utah’s lands are public- including many national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, monuments, and land overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management (Our Public Lands 2017).


Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park. Photo credit: Kailey Critchley.

Resource exploitation Utah has significant coal, oil, and natural gas deposits and its primary export industry is metal products, especially gold; followed by computers and electronics (Utah Economic Council 2017). The exploitation of fossil fuels and the preservation of public lands are  contentious issues in Utah.


Rally to protect Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo credit: Hunter Sax.


Special thanks to University of Utah Environmental and Sustainability Studies students Kailey Critchley and Hunter Sax for their remarkable photos.

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