Decoding Salt Lake City

If you’ve spent any time reading this blog previously, you’d know that I’m a Pacific Northwest girl through and through. The lush evergreenery, craggy coastline, and, most importantly, the gastronomical options give even my homeland of sunny SoCal a run for its money. I’ve always referred to places like Seattle and Portland as the “hidden jewels” of the U.S. due to them not sharing the same prominence as New York or LA but actually having just as much to offer. For some people, the only image the PacNW conjures up is “rain”, when in fact climate is only one component of this region. This simplification leads, unfortunately, to a decreased level of interest from people who think that that’s all it has to offer. The same can be said for the city I most recently traveled to: Salt Lake City.

The idea for the trip came because my partner, Steven, wanted to complete the first step of his Gym Jones certification at their Salt Lake City gym. For those as uneducated as I was about Gym Jones, these guys are the ones who train tier 1 special operators for the U.S. military, professional athletes, and the actors in movies like “Man of Steel” and “300”. But the unique selling point of Gym Jones is not necessary its high-profile clientele, but its philosophy. After consulting with Steven, I learned that Gym Jones feels that the gym should be a means for training for a tangible activity outside of the gym like rock-climbing or lacrosse or kayaking – not just “training to train”. The principle component of their philosophy is that the mind is primary, which means that the mind should be trained first. In other words, it’s easy to workout and lift heavy, but if you’re not training the mind mentally, you’ll fail during a competition. An athlete who has more mental toughness through this training will usually beat an athlete who is physically stronger during a competition. I found this fascinating and it gave me so much to think about with regards to my own training regimen, even though I didn’t actually attend the seminar. Check out Gym Jones here for more information about this unique gym.

I felt uncool here. And that's okay.

Warning: You may walk in here and feel out of shape and uncool. But youll come out feeling way more awesome.
Warning: You may walk in here and feel out of shape and uncool. But you’ll come out feeling way more awesome.

(Note: Neither my partner nor myself are affiliated with Gym Jones. We just like them a lot and believe in spreading the word about things we like. Take everything on IC as opinion, not fact – however fabulous and righteous I think these opinions are. 😉 )

Despite being an outdoor and fitness Mecca that’s next door to some of the most beautiful natural parks in the world (Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches, to name a few), most people seem to see Salt Lake as a place that is simply “super Mormon”, in their words. Many further make the mistake of assuming a one-dimensionality among members of the LDS church and assume that the presence of the religion has stifled some of the entertainment or beverage options that many non-Mormons like to enjoy. When I arrived, I was not only interested in learning more about the history of the LDS church in Utah for my own education, I was also interested in testing out the “theory” of SLC being this hyperconservative bubble. Are bars, coffee shops, and less-than-conservative merchants really few and far between? Is art or creative expression stifled? Is the city really as demographically homogeneous as others assume?

Briefly seeing the inside of Gym Jones and hearing some of the stories of the other people who traveled to do the seminar was my first indication that there was more to Salt Lake than met the eyes – or ears. As Steven enjoyed his seminar for the majority of our waking hours, I set out on Saturday to visit with dear friends and learn a little about the city. Well, actually, I first decided to bust the myth of Salt Lake as being coffee-dry by enjoying an out-of-this-world cup at Publik, which also happens to be a spectacular study/work spot. Then, after exploring a bit of the trendy, artsy, foodie-centric Sugar House region, my friends and I ventured to the opulent Temple Square in the middle of the city, which allowed for me to augment my Utah history knowledge and learn more about the LDS church. Despite its history with the LDS church, less than 50% of the city’s inhabitants identify as Mormon, though the number climbs into the 60-70% range outside of the Salt Lake metro area. Even more interesting is how diverse the city is, with many of its residents being immigrants from Tonga and Bosnia. There’s even a primarily Spanish-speaking neighborhood (Glendale). Admittedly, even I didn’t expect such a mix of different cultures and backgrounds, so this was awesome to learn about.

(I apologize for the lack of city pics, by the way. Sometimes, you just get too into it.)

Sunday was my day to do as much outdoor exploring as weather and my horrible clothing choices permitted. And to actually take pictures like a responsible blogger. See below for my pictures from Big Cottonwood Canyon, Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, and the Red Butte Garden.

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Driving through Big Cottonwood Canyon (note: picture not taken while driving).
Driving through Big Cottonwood Canyon (note: picture not taken while driving).

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Sand rarely looks cool. Here, it looks REALLY cool.
Sand rarely looks cool. Here, it looks REALLY cool.

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Fielding Garr ranch on Antelope Island.
Fielding Garr ranch on Antelope Island.
Entering Antelope Island, which lies approximately 45 minutes north of the city proper.
Entering Antelope Island, which lies approximately 45 minutes north of the city proper.
Red Butte Garden, a popular botanical garden (and musical venue) within the city.
Red Butte Garden, a popular botanical garden (and musical venue) within the city.

The above is just a sliver of what Salt Lake has to offer from an outdoor standpoint. Admittedly, my view of the city is still limited. Oh, and for those still curious about the state of alcohol, bars, and nightlife as a whole in Salt Lake, Sunday ended with my partner eating at one of the many famous breweries the city has to offer (Red Rock). Moreover, liquor consumption rules may be somewhat restrictive, but it’s not necessarily difficult to obtain alcohol. However, alcohol can almost never be purchased after 1:00 am, and “heavy beer” (over 3.5% alc. content) can be difficult to obtain unless you go to a state-owned liquor store or private club. This doesn’t stop Salt Lake from having a fairly thriving night scene with a ton of awesome restaurants and clubs. Nobody that we met who lives there is complaining – and having been there, I wonder who would?

With an up-and-coming art and food scene, a uniquely American history, and an endless supply of beautiful scenery, Salt Lake City should be on the radar of anyone traveling the U.S. If you’ve been to or live in Utah, feel free to add your expertise in the comments below. What do you love about Salt Lake? What other places shouldn’t be missed?

Oh, and one more thing…I’ll be announcing something pretty big in about a week. Stay tuned for the next adventure!

– H

 

Results of the 30-Day No Restaurant Challenge

Spoiler alert: I failed.

What’s that? Don’t you dare call me a Debbie Downer! I’m fine with the fact that I failed. For you detail-oriented types, I bought food for myself at a restaurant four times – three times at Starbucks and once at Carl’s Jr. – during desperate events because ravenous-hunger-and-potentially-anemia. Or stupidity for not planning ahead. I simply wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t mostly the latter.

Nonetheless, the experiment was far more about learning than it was about doing things perfectly. And boy did I learn, perhaps with a bit of regret.

I say this because, to put things into perspective, I spent $261.78 during the challenge compared to over $700 just feeding myself from mid-February to mid-March this year. SEVEN. HUNDRED. FREAKING. DOLLARS. Who does this? Really, does Anthony Bourdain even do this?! Okay, maybe he does, but what about you guys? It’s no surprise that I saved money eating in, but it was absolutely jarring to do those calculations and figure out that I have typically spent a small fortune ($500-700) per month just to enjoy the fruits of the world…literally. Needless to say, this has given me a massive amount of perspective moving forward and I definitely plan to end the cycle of spending more money on food each month that most people spend on a car payment.

A more positive realization, which became evident from the get-go, was the amount of free food I am lucky enough to be exposed to. Given the loopholes in my challenge, my boyfriend’s parents were able to take me out to dinner the day after I began it. My own parents took me out several times this last month. I went on a business trip where all I ingested was graciously covered by the government gift of per diem. At any given time, my firm would be having a “Bagel Friday” or “Motivation Monday” (yeah, motivation to have a heart attack – donuts and pastries galore in that thing) to sweeten the deal (heh) of us working there. These circumstances came far more often that not and made me realize my incredible luck with this being the case.

I also realized that I don’t really pay attention to how much I spend on food normally – which, as proven, is disastrous. But how did this happen? Well, in the grand tradition of Post-Grads with Good Jobs, I saw nothing but dollar signs in my eyes and was dropping indiscriminate amounts of money on eating wherever I wanted, wherever I wanted. Meeting up with friends? Let’s go out to eat. Date night? Let’s try the new and trendy place down the street. If I was walking around town and hungry, into the nearest $5-a-coffee, $13-a-sandwich joint I went, no questions pondered. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but you can imagine my horror when I actually sat down and did the math. Being a foodie is great, but I’m spending all of this just to fuel my body? Yeah, probably not ideal.

Another (vitally important) realization I made was that it’s really not that hard to avoid restaurant eating. People have this notion that life is boring and pallid without constantly going out to dinner or getting to go out for lunch during the workday, but that’s simply not true. My friends and I were able to enjoy a number of home-cooked, delicious brunches and dinners at our houses for a fraction of what a group outing would cost. My boyfriend and I cooked some award-winning, homemade pizza during some of our nightly hangouts. I showed my gratitude to people by bringing them food that we could both cook and share. It wasn’t just about saving money – it was about minimizing distractions and taking on a fun activity with people I cared about. Not a bad deal.

It’s as simple as that. This experiment wasn’t meant to be ground-breaking, just re-calibrating. Even though I slipped a few times, I still feel like I got just as much value out of it, especially when I did the ending calculations. My new goal is to keep my monthly food expenditure under $300, including both grocery visits and restaurant eating. I could probably get it even lower, but this is good for now.

I’m in Salt Lake City for the weekend, tagging along with my boyfriend as he attends a fitness seminar at the acclaimed Gym Jones. The day is young, and I plan to take the weekend to explore the city and its surroundings full-circle. That said, I should probably get off my computer. Stay tuned for my recap after the jump and feel free to shoot me any suggestions along the way!

Keep adventuring,

– H