However you slice it, Utah is an ancient place. Inhabited by Native American tribes for centuries, it became the home of the Mormon church in the 19th Century. Take one look around the state and you can see why, it’s like the Levant in the Middle East, except scaled up in proportion and awe in a way only the United States can. Utah, however, is known for much more than Mormonism. In this article, we will explore 20 things Utah is known for.
To compile a list of the 20 things Utah is known for, 24/7 Tempo consulted a range of lifestyle and travel sites. These included Hey Explorer, Matador Network, and Nomads Unveiled. Next, we selected things that had a diverse array of cultural impact. After that, we confirmed particular details using sites like Britannica.
Beehives and Honey
One of the things Utah is known for, surprisingly, is bees and honey. Visit the state and you will see representations of the honey bee everywhere. Not only is it on the state flag, it’s also the official symbol of the state. It’s for good reason too, as Utah produces more honey than any other state.
As to where this symbol came from, however, one must look to the Mormons. Though the story isn’t too easy to parse out, it is thought that the early Mormon settlers to Utah identified with the honey bee due to their industrious nature as well as their tireless work ethic.
Believe it or not, the first electric traffic light was invented by Lester Wire, a police officer in Utah. Created in 1912, the first electric traffic light was installed in Cleveland, Ohio. However, the first interconnected traffic signal system was installed in Salt Lake City five years later.
Sundance Film Festival
Another thing the state of Utah is known for is the Sundance Film Festival. Started in the Summer of 1978 to attract more filmmakers to Utah, the Sundance Film Festival has grown into the largest independent film festival in the United States. Nowadays, up to 50,000 people attend each year. What’s more, it also provides the first look at many movies that have gone on to win Academy Awards.
The “Mighty Five” National Parks
One thing Utah is known for is its incredible geological formations and natural grandeur. This is best represented in any of the five national parks that call the state home. You have Arches, which unsurprisingly, contains many natural stone arches. There is also Zion National Park with its sandstone precipices, Canyonlands with its awe-inspiring canyons, Capitol Reef with its “wrinkle in the earth,” and Bryce Canyon with its unique rock formations called Hoodoos.
What’s so impressive about Utah’s natural beauty is that the “Mighty Five” only accounts for part of it. The state also features 14 National Historic Sites, eight national monuments, and other untold wonders. (If you’re looking for other awe-inspiring vistas, discover the most breathtaking natural marvels in each state.)
Another thing Utah is known for is its own Mormon-friendly version of beer, Apple Beer. Based on the old German-style beer fassbrause, Apple Beer follows a similar formula except it’s entirely alcohol-free. Considering the Mormon Church’s strict adherence to temperance, Apple Beer is hugely popular in Utah. Currently, it’s produced by The Apple Beer Corporation of Salt Lake City.
One of the things Utah is surely known for is its unique relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Though Joseph Smith founded the church in upstate New York, after much discrimination and conflict, he took his followers to Utah and made it home. Even today, Mormons account for at least half of the state’s population. It is also the only state where a majority of the population belongs to a single religious denomination.
The Great Salt Lake
A unique fixture of Utah’s breathtaking landscape is the Great Salt Lake. Situated in the northern part of the state, the Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the western hemisphere as well as the eighth largest terminal lake in the world. Sometimes called “America’s Dead Sea,” the Great Salt Lake is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Utah.
It gets its name due to the unique natural processes that make it salty. Though three major rivers deposit into the lake, the Jordan, Bear, and Weber rivers, the Great Salt Lake has no outlet. This means all the minerals from those rivers fill up the lake, giving it its unique salinity.
Though technically four states are involved, another thing that Utah is known for is being one of the four corners. Aptly named for the quadripoint where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, the Four Corners is a popular tourist destination.
While it’s arguably an arbitrary landmark, it is the only place in the United States where four different states touch. Plus, the area surrounding the Four Corners is home to five state and federal national parks. What’s more, it is also the first place in the country where helium was extracted. Nowadays, the area is an increasingly important extraction point for high-quality “green” helium, one of the rarest elements in the world.
While Utah has a reputation for its natural landscapes, it is also known for its heavy religious iconography, especially in Salt Lake City. Take the Temple Square, for example. Not only is it an imposing and ornate religious complex in the heart of Salt Lake City, but it is also the ostensible headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.
The sprawling complex features the Salt Lake Temple, the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Salt Lake Assembly Hall, and visitor centers, as well as various walking paths, gardens, and offices. Though Temple Square welcomes millions of visitors every year, the Salt Lake Temple itself is off-limits to non-Mormons.
While he’s not necessarily a household name, one of the things Utah is known for is the long list of things invented by Utah native Philo T. Farnsworth. Perhaps his best-known invention is the first fully functional electronic television system. Though the exact providence of the television is disputed amongst various inventors in the same era, Farnsworth made the television possible.
Besides his some 300 patents in radio and television devices, Farnsworth also invented the Farnsworth Fusor, a small nuclear fusion device. It was not practical for generating nuclear power, however, it did serve as inspiration for later fusion devices including the Polywell Reactor.
Bonneville Salt Flats
Besides the Great Salt Lake, another thing Utah is known for is its neighboring formation, the Bonneville Salt Flats. Around 12 miles long and five miles wide, the Bonneville Salt Flats hold an estimated 147 million tons of salt, most of which is the common table salt.
Named after Benjamin Bonneville, an Army officer and early explorer of the area, the salt flats are also home to some incredible races. What’s more, land speed and land speed racing records have been set at the Bonneville Salt Flats many times over due to the unique flat expanse the area provides.
Another thing Utah is known for the world over is Monument Valley. Situated near the Arizona-Utah state line, and comprised of grandiose rock formations, Monument Valley is arguably one of the most photographed areas in the world. Its inclusion in various movies, especially Westerns, has given audiences the defining image of the American West.
Originally inhabited by the Navajo Nation, the valley was considered sacred by them, and you can see why. Not many places come close to topping the standalone mesas and buttes circumvented by long, wind-swept desert plains quite like Monument Valley. It is, indeed, a hallowed ground of the west.
Another thing Utah is known for, though usually dreaded by residents, is The Inversion. In meteorological terms, an inversion is when a warm layer of air traps cooler air near the ground. This often traps pollution in that lower zone, destroying air quality in the process.
Due to Utah’s unique geological formations, the inversion plagues the state every winter. This is especially true along the Wasatch Front near Salt Lake City. What’s more, it can last over a week, meaning the residents of Utah must battle the smog each year until a storm blows it away.
Another thing that Utah is known for is its Fry Sauce. A simple combination of ketchup and mayonnaise, this fusion condiment is rumored to have been created in Utah. Like many food inventions, however, its true origins remain unverified. That said, it was first popularized by food carts and Stan’s Drive-In in Salt Lake City.
Considered the most popular condiment in the state of Utah, residents have even put their spin on the sauce over the years. Nevertheless, fry sauce in its original ketchup and mayonnaise form remains a symbol of Utah cuisine and a staple of its inhabitants.
Another thing Utah is known for is its very own professional basketball team, the Utah Jazz. It was created originally as an expansion team for New Orleans during the 1974-74 NBA season. However, only a few years later the team relocated to Salt Lake City. It was there, under the momentum of classic players like the unstoppable duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone, that the team became a professional contender.
The Pastrami Burger
Another food item that Utah is known for is the Pastrami Burger. Though it was confirmed to have been invented by James Katsanevas at Minos Burgers in Anaheim, California, it was perfected in Utah. That’s because Katsanevas moved to Utah and opened Crown Burgers, which featured the Pastrami Burger as its signature dish.
Since then, the Pastrami Burger has become a staple dish of Salt Lake City. Not only was it named one of the best burgers in Utah by the television show “Man Vs. Food,” it is featured prominently in the Salt Lake City backdrops of “The Book of Mormon” musical. (For famous foodstuffs from other states, explore iconic drinks from every state everyone should try.)
2002 Winter Olympics
While many cities and states have hosted the Olympic Games, Utah is known for its 2002 Winter Olympics. This is for several reasons. For one, Utah is a perfect winter state for all types of athleticism. Plus, the games concluded with a budget surplus of over $40 million. Due to this, Utah was able to maintain the facilities it constructed for the games. Remarkably, these facilities are still in use today.
The Gayest City in America
Perhaps the most unexpected thing Utah is known for is the LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere of Salt Lake City. Though the state’s history is marked by extreme religiosity and a certain piousness, Salt Lake City is an exception. Due to it being a liberal bubble in an otherwise conservative-leaning state, five percent of the city identifies as LGBTQ, which is a higher percentage than Los Angeles. Throw in an openly gay mayor and plenty of pride events and you get a surprisingly tolerant city.
Another thing Utah is known for is dinosaurs. Due to the ancient history of its geological formations and biomes, especially in the eastern part of the state, Utah has gained a reputation for the sheer number of dinosaur bones and fossils found there. What’s more, it even has the Dinosaur National Monument.
Comprised of over 200,000 acres, the Dinosaur National Monument features a dizzying array of dinosaur bones as well as a museum that illustrates the long history of dinosaur habitation in the area. You can even see thousands of dinosaur fossils still encased in stone.
It should come as no surprise that one of the things Utah is known for is its winter sports. It is covered in mountain ranges and sandwiched between the two heavy winter sports states of Nevada and Colorado. For that reason, Utah is home to some of the best winter sports activities on earth. As previously mentioned, Utah hosted a celebrated year of the Olympic Games in 2002. Plus, the state is also home to a wide variety of ski resorts and mountain towns. (For a more western state with great winter activities, discover 20 things Oregon is known for.)