Celebrating Utah In 2020: What Makes Our State So Great?

Jan 6, 2020, 12:16 AM | Updated: 12:22 am


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – From incredible Utahns doing incredible things, to the unbelievable landscapes that adorn this place we call home, KSL hopes by joining us you’ll find ways to celebrate our beautiful state with your family in 2020.

Utah Firsts

From the start, Utah has been the place for innovation, from the nation’s first department store in 1869 when ZCMI opened, all the way to today’s Silicon Slopes. Several other notable firsts that have changed the world were achieved in Utah, or by Utahns.

The latest technology in your home for entertainment, news and information may be followed by 4K or HD, but it began with TV. Utah’s Philo T. Farnsworth unveiled the world’s first all-electronic television in 1927. Some ideas for what would become TV vacuum tubes came to him years earlier, in high school chemistry.

Headphones are everywhere these days, but did you know Utahns were the first to wear them? Nathaniel Baldwin patented his invention in 1910. Demand really soared with the outbreak of World War I and radio communication. While his company did go bust, his legacy is still music to our ears.

Can you imagine a world – without frisbees? Tossing around popcorn lids and cake pans sparked the idea for Utahn Walt Morrison in 1955. The company Wham-O turned his idea into one of the most successful toys of all-time, which baffled Morrison years later.

“This was not Einstein at work,” he said. “I didn’t add anything to aeronautical sciences by putting a curve on a cake-pan.”

University of Utah designers DID put a curve on computer graphics and reinvented the movies. Decades before Ed Catmull would lead Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, he had a hand in the U’s breakthrough in 3-D graphics with animation of, well, his own hand. Fast forward to 1995, and Pixar releases the world’s first feature-length computer animated film, “Toy Story.”

“I thought it would take 10 years to get it to the point where we could make images worthy of being in feature films. It actually took 20,” he said.

The “Father of Electronic Gaming,” Nolan Bushnell, also came out of the U. In 1970, Bushnell co-created the world’s first arcade video game, Computer Space, but scored really big two years later with Pong. Its success allowed his new company, Atari – yeah, that Atari – to bring video games into our homes for the first time.

Did you know the world’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken did not open in Kentucky or even in the South? It opened in South Salt Lake. In 1952, Pete Harman became the first franchisee to offer up the Colonel’s chicken and its 11-secret herbs and spices in a handshake deal between the two friends.

“He wasn’t thinking of franchising. (We were) just two restaurant guys trying to help one another,” Harman said in October 1995.

In 1982, doctors at University of Utah Hospital captivated the world with a medical moonshot. They replaced Barney Clark’s failing heart with the world’s first permanent artificial heart – one designed by Utah inventor Robert Jarvik.
Clark died 112 days later, but the technology has saved numerous lives since.

Countless lives have been saved by another invention out of Utah – the electric traffic light. In 1912, Salt Lake City patrolman Lester Wire built a birdhouse of a box with red and green lights on each side, installed it on Main Street, and had a police officer flip a two-way switch to change signals.

It was a meager start for an invention that today rules our lives.

Utah Powder

From the inventions that put Utah on the map, to the reason hundreds of thousands flock to the Beehive State every year: The Greatest Snow on Earth. That slogan first showed up on Utah license plates back in 1985, and we’re just as crazy about our snow now.

Ski Utah says many of our resorts get 500 inches of snow each year, with an average density of 8.5 percent – considered ideal for powder skiing. Of Utah’s 13 Alpine Ski Resorts, 10 of them are within an hour of the Salt Lake International Airport.

Mighty 5

Talking about what makes Utah a wondrous place is nearly impossible to do without the Mighty 5. The unique landscapes and rock formations in Utah’s five National Parks lured over 10.7 million people from around the world in 2019.

At only 55 square miles Bryce Canyon is less than a fifth of the size of Davis County, yet it’s the second most visited in the state. Nearly 3 million people saw Bryce’s towering hoodoos and natural amphitheaters last year .

People touring Arches open up their wallets more than any other Mighty 5 visitor. In 2018, they averaged $120 spent in and around the park – that’s more than double the spending seen in Zion. Erosion and gravity will cause all of Arch’s 2000-plus natural sandstone arches – even Delicate Arch – to fall one day, though it’ll take a couple thousand years.

At 527 square miles, Canyonlands is the Mighty Five’s largest, by far, but also the least visited. Just 720,000 people explored its vast and remote canyons, sheer cliff faces, mesas and spires last year. Some of its territory was the last to be mapped in the continental U.S.

The Mighty 5’s youngest park, Capitol Reef, opened in 1971. In 2013, 700-thousand people toured its landscapes of domes, arches, painted cliffs and the Waterpocket Fold. Word is catching on. Visits have passed the million mark for the last four years running.

Then there’s Zion, Utah’s oldest national park and the nation’s fourth most visited. It gets more visitors than even besting Yellowstone, a park 15 times its size. Nearly 600,000 people packed Zion in June alone – its busiest month in 2019.


Golden Spike

It may not be part of the Mighty 5, but the Golden Spike National Historical Park was the place to be on May 10 of 2019, as thousands turned out for the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike.

“The history is fascinating and it’s so worth it to stay in line to read these people’s history and the immigrants who came over and worked and some died and it’s extraordinary,” said Spanish Fork resident Chelsea Tramell, who attended the historic event.

“All of this is worth it, because it’ll be my memories later with my pictures that I can share with my kids,” said Rosemary Johnson from Oregon.

Events included the reenactment of the driving of the last spike, completing the transcontinental railroad. The ceremony included Replicas of the original steam locomotives that met at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869. You can see a smaller version of the reenactment every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the park in Box Elder County.

Utah Food

Utah gets a lot of attention for unique foods, including green Jello and fry sauce. Artisan food makers in our state are gaining worldwide recognition. The chocolate and cheese they produce — are definitely worth celebrating.

Outstanding Scenery

Utah is famous for the amazing scenery in our five national parks, but there are hundreds of other places to find jaw-dropping scenery. Outside the parks, from the comfort of your car, you can experience some of most spectacular and scariest roads in the country.

For many tourists driving through Utah, the first major blast of redrock will stun and amaze. Imaginatively named Red Canyon, the area at the entrance to the Dixie National Forest has earned the dubious claim as “the most photographed place in Utah.” Well, maybe.

U.S. Highway 12 does slice right through it, so millions have seen it. Anywhere else but Utah, this would likely be a national park. In Utah, it’s just another roadside attraction.

On another stretch of Highway 12, there really isn’t any roadside. It’s a white-knuckle adventure in highway engineering, delicately pasted onto a narrow ridge-top called The Hogback. Drift off the highway, on either side, and you’re in for a big drop of up to a thousand feet or so, depending on the breaks.

If you’re faint of heart, well, maybe you should be vacationing in Kansas.

One of the least-crowded stretches of interstate highway you’ll ever see is I-70 through the San Rafael Swell. Yes, it’s pretty swell. The highway corkscrews down into a gorgeous gorge called Spotted Wolf Canyon. It makes a driver feel as though he or she is going down the drain.

Then there’s a lonely stretch of highway in San Juan County that may be familiar to more people on the planet than any other place in Utah – the road to Monument Valley.

“There’s no other place like this,” said Richard Frank from the Navajo Nation.

Not far away is one the most amazing views you can get outside a national park. Drive off the pavement into a parking lot, take a few steps, and there you have it – the Goosenecks, where the San Juan River has carved a splendid, sprawling scene of majestic geology across a landscape that would never fit on your wide-screen TV.

Finally, if you haven’t found enough thrills, take a relaxed drive across a very flat section of desert on paved State Highway 261. Suddenly you’re at the edge of a thousand-foot cliff. The pavement just stops, and there are only two survivable ways down. You can jump off with a parachute, or make your way down the unpaved Moki Dugway.

It’s a bird’s-nest nest of tight curves and steep drop-offs, pretty much guaranteed to terrify the average driver from, say, Iowa. Some say it’s the scariest road in Utah.


It’s not just the scenery, the breathtaking vistas or the incredible parks that make Utah unique. It’s also what you can’t see, because it’s buried underground. There are the gems and giants, right at our feet.

Utah is full of petrified wood, coprolite (fossilized dinosaur dung), dinosaur bones and many, many more interesting items. Rick Dalrymple is one of many rockhounds in the state, with a catalog of about 20,000 specimens. He says the state is full of unique rocks.

“This is a trilobite,” he says, showing KSL’s Peter Rosen what looks like a large, stone beetle. “It’s not often you get to go find a half-a-billion-year-old bug.”

He showed off one of most famous gem from Utah, the red barrel.

“This is chemically it’s the same thing as an emerald or an Aquamarine,” he says.

Dinosaurs once roamed the earth but once they stopped roaming, a lot of them came to rest in Utah.

One of the biggest discoveries came from state paleontologist Jim Kirkland in the early 1990s. He made a five-ton find – a pack of Utah raptors caught in quicksand. Since the Utah Raptor came on the scene paleontologist have discovered about 100 new species here. Follow the tracks of giants, even little plastic ones.

That block of Utah raptors is going to be moved from Thanksgiving Point to a new location. You should still be able to watch paleontologists uncovering those bones there.

Antelope Island Bison

It’s not just the land of the dinosaurs. Utah is also home to one of the nation’s largest and oldest public bison herds. Anywhere between 500 and 700 of them have been roaming Antelope Island since the 1890s.

Every year, people come from all over the world to witness the bison roundup, when hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls, in true wild west fashion, comb through mountains and valleys to corral the animals.

The roundup is important to keep the number of bison within the manageable herd size. Every year, between 100 and 200 calves are born into the herd. With no natural predators on the island, it’s necessary to artificially reduce the herd size to balance out the food supply.

Excess bison are sold at a public auction, and the money earned goes back to the Wildlife and Habitat Management program for operating costs and bison infrastructure improvement and research.

Largest Organism

Utah is home to one incredibly big plant. “Pando,” which is Latin for “I spread,” is the world’s largest living organism.

“It’s the largest living thing that we know of, and I have to say that clearly, ‘we know of,’ that is all genetically identical,” says Paul C. Rogers from Utah State University.

The 106-acre grove of aspen trees is all connected at the root and weighs nearly 13 million pounds. It’s located in central Utah, in the Fishlake National Forest. Scientists believe it got its start at the end of the last ice age, but the world’s largest living thing is in deep trouble.

While there are currently over 40,000 trees, most of them are old. Very few young sprouts are growing up to replace them, likely due to insects, disease and grazing animals. The Forest Service has been studying Pando for years to hopefully find a way to save it.

Salt Lake Temple

One of the most recognizable symbols of our state is the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s construction was announced just four days after the pioneers arrived in the valley. Today, tourists come from around the world to see it up close.

“Experience Temple Square is the most popular attraction in the state of Utah, and we’re very proud that so many people come to visit here,” says Temple Square manager, Tanner Kay.

With approximately 5 million visitors each year, It’s a busy place. To add perspective, imagine everyone in both Los Angeles and San Francisco coming for a visit. That’s a lot of people. It took the pioneers 40 years to build the temple, and now people are drawn to the site for many reasons.

“Guests who come to Temple Square tell us that the reason that they come is because they’re attracted to the temple,” says Kay.

“It’s just amazing. The architecture here is just phenomenal,” says Susan Johnson, who visited from Weiser, Idaho.

In a state that touts its volunteerism as among the best in the nation, most visitors report it’s the people they interact with that makes their trip memorable.

“We have hundreds or well over 1000 different volunteers who have different roles and responsibilities that accommodate guests experiences,” says Kay.

Temple Square is undergoing major renovations for the next four years, but the hope is this won’t impact tourism. When construction is complete, it’s anticipated that record numbers of people will flock to the area for an open house to see inside the temple, which is otherwise closed to the general public.

“It’ll give, for the first time since 1890, the opportunity for the general public to walk through and see the temple. We think that’s a significant thing,” says Brent Roberts, managing director of special projects for the Church.


A library across from Temple Square is also one of the busiest tourist attractions in Utah. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Family History Library each year.

Inside, genealogy tourists find 4.8 billion searchable records from all over the world. Family Search International has been gathering records for 125 years.

Holi Festival

One of the most popular celebrations held each year in Utah is the Festival of Colors, put on by the local Krishna Temple locations. Attendees hurl colored powder into the air – and, of course, at each other.

The festival has its roots in India, where it marks the coming of spring. A similar event takes place at the temple in Spanish Fork. Its founders say their religion isn’t so much a religion as it is a spiritual way of life, centered around the concept of the soul, and celebrating life in all its different forms.


The 2020 year marks a significant milestone in Utah and U.S. history. In 1870, Utah women became the nation’s first successful suffragists. They were the first in the country to vote 150 years ago.

“Utah women were actually the first to cast ballots under an equal suffrage law in the united states, so that’s an exciting moment to remember,” says Katherine Kitterman, historical director with Better Days 2020.

Kitterman’s organization will mark important dates throughout the year. A new exhibition at the Church History Museum, “Sisters for Suffrage,” highlights the challenges. The exhibition has a collection of posters and writings, even Martha Hughes Cannon’s desk. She was the first woman State Senator in America. The curator hopes visitors will simply be inspired by these women.

The women who became suffragists were mostly Latter-day Saints. Relief Society leaders made it a priority, but they were disparaged as polygamists.

“They wanted to tell their own story. The world was telling a different story than they knew was true, and they had the courage to step forward and say, this is the truth,” says Sister Jean B. Bingham, who leads 6 million Latter-day Saints women as Relief Society General President.

A book on display at the exhibit is from Susan B. Anthony, America’s great suffragist, writing to the women of Utah, thanking them for their help in her great work.

“Here came Susan B. Anthony out to Utah to visit the largest, enfranchised group of women in the united states, at the time, because they had been so helpful. That is pretty significant,” said Sister Bingham.

Buckskin Gulch

Southern Utah is famous for red rock vistas and national parks. In between those landscapes, a hidden world exists. Countless slot canyons wind through the desert, including the longest slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch.

It’s basically a 13-mile nonstop slot canyon. Once you get into the canyon, Buckskin itself, it gets narrow and it deep pretty quick. It’s very challenging and technical, but fun.

Salt Flats

The Bonneville Salt Flats have long been known as a place to get some speed on four wheels. In October 2018, a team from Rockville, Utah became the first to hit 503 miles an hour.

It was a goal Team Vesco had been working on for years. Racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway takes place every summer during Speed Week, but the Salt Flats are known for more than just speed.

Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow visited the Salt Flats for a scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean: A World’s End.” It is just one of the many movies shot in the spot in Western Utah.

A scene in “Independence Day” shows actor Will Smith dragging an unconscious alien across the Salt Flats. Sir Anthony Hopkins crosses much faster, in “The World’s Fastest Indian.” The movie is based on the story of Burt Munro, who rebuilt a 1920 Indian motorcycle to set the land speed world record in 1967.

Rock Art

Utah is home to thousands of incredible examples of Native American rock art. Take Parowan Gap and its ancient petroglyphs of zig-zag snakes, circles, ladder-like symbols and other designs – some archaeologists believe they’re part of an ancient calendar.

Newspaper Rock has over 650 stories to tell in its ancient rock art of humans, animals, tools and symbols important to the Fremont, Ute and Anasazi.

Nine Mile Canyon has been called the world’s longest art gallery. One of its many petroglyph panels depicts what scholars believe was an actual hunt that took place over a thousand years ago.

In the San Rafael Swell, the Buckhorn Wash holds a rock art panel spanning over 130 feet. Its painted sandstone absorbed the red pigment and preserved these ancient drawings.

In Horseshoe Canyon, you’ll find the “Great Gallery,” one of continent’s most well-known displays of rock art. The ornate, life-sized figures date back to between 1 and 1100 A.D.

Quirky Utah

They’re onto us! Many people around the world know that Utah is chock full of unique and wondrous natural landscapes. Utah also has its share of quirky man-made marvels that set us apart from any other destination.

Over 6,000 tons of black basalt rocks create one of Utah’s most unusual sights at the Spiral Jetty. Sculptor Robert Smithson used rocks to form a 1,500 long coil, winding counterclockwise on the Great Salt Lake’s northeastern shore.

Smithson’s wife, sculptor Nancy Holt, created Sun Tunnels – another Utah earthwork revered by modern art lovers around the world. She arranged four massive concrete cylinders in the desert west of the Great Salt Lake to frame the rising and setting sun during the summer and winter solstices.

Our last oddball stop is tucked away in the middle of a Salt Lake City block – Gilgal Garden. To some, its sculptures and engravings of religious themes are great works of art. To others, they’re just plain weird.

They’re the vision of this man, stonemason Thomas Child, who built Gilgal in the 1940s and 50s on his own dime. It was almost bulldozed 20 years ago to make way for condos, but art lovers donated money to buy it and saved it for posterity.

Bingham Copper Pit

Now to another man-made marvel that welcomes hundreds of visitors every day. The Bingham Canyon Mine is one of the largest man-made open-pit excavations in the world.

The operation so expanse it can be seen from space, but it’s the views from up close that can’t be beat.

The mine dates back to 1903. Since then, crews have produced more than 20 million tons of refined copper, making it one of the top-performing mines in the world.

The largest open-pit mine had the largest open-pit landslide in history in 2013.  Over 165-million tons of dirt and rock came down the mountain. No one was injured in the slide, though equipment and even the old visitors center was damaged.

Tours had to be shut down for 5 years. The newly named Visitor’s Experience opening just a few months ago. The center offers exhibits including a full-size haul truck bed and shovel scoop that visitors can walk inside, plus those panoramic views overlooking the mine and its operation.

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Celebrating Utah In 2020: What Makes Our State So Great?