I arrived in Salt Lake City yesterday afternoon in the midst of a spring snowstorm. The transition from Moab was jarring. I walked along the main highway bisecting Moab, sipping my Wicked Brew coffee as the hot desert sun burned off the morning chill, on my way to catch the bus northwest. By mid-afternoon I was disembarking at the Salt Lake City transit hub, bundled up in hat and mittens, marveling at the flowering trees drooping under soft, billowy pillows of fluffy, perfect snow. Tulips and daffodils bowed under the slushy weight, burrowing back into the earth’s warm embrace. Mountains and skyscrapers disappeared into shadow and mist.
The sun reappeared today, soothing and whispering the flowers back to life as everything dripped and puddled, inches of snow rapidly disappearing by the afternoon. I wandered the streets of downtown Salt Lake City to the symphony of water.
Thursdays in the city means Truck Thursday, a four hour street party of office workers, food trucks, and pumping hip hop and techno. Despite the chilly bursts of wind, the famished took their food and dined alfresco in the gentle caress of the midday sun. I followed the overwhelming vote of the local crowd and lined up at Cupbop, a local Korean BBQ food truck serving up various spicy meats, mandu, and spicy kimchi in a portable bowl. As they tossed everything into the bowl and smothered the top with hot sauces and peppers to spice up the dish, I had my doubts. It looked like a mess. But tasted fantastic, if not really authentic Korean BBQ.
I also succumbed to my admiration for Nick Rimando and my love of collecting soccer scarves from around the globe. Yes, this Timbers Army faithful now owns a Real Salt Lake scarf, which shall remain meekly nestled among my other scarves whenever the Timbers play RSL. I even bonded with the store clerk over a love for Will Johnson (former RSL and now Timbers team captain) and a shared hatred for the Seattle Sounders. However, never shall a Galaxy or Sounders scarf grace my threshold. Some team rivalries go much too deep.
As the shadows grew longer, college friend Tiff and I headed north to Antelope Island, separated from the mainland by a long causeway jutting out into the Great Salt Lake. Due to the drought, the water level was low, the lake bottom exposed in wide swathes, the shallow water glassy and a perfect mirror for the snow-capped mountains. We drove onto an island big enough to host its own little mountain range and a herd of 500+ bison, great lumbering ships across a sea of windblown golden grass. We stood at the top of a bluff, braced against the wind, and gazed out at almost 360 degrees of mountains, lake as vast as a sea, and crusty salt deposits lapping the golden grasses along the shoreline. The lake was so far out we could walk from the beach well onto the damp lake bed, following the birds, their footprints delicately dancing across the sand. It was eerie – I almost expected a giant tsunami wave to suddenly sweep us away. Not a tree in sight. Just us, the birds, the antelope, and the massive bison.
A note on public transit connections for this first chunk of my journey. Amtrak runs the California Zephyr once a day, starting in Chicago mid-afternoon and chugging west through Denver (18 hours later), Salt Lake City and onwards to Sacramento. From Denver to Salt Lake City is one of the most spectacular stretches of rail I’ve ever traveled, winding through remote mountain passes. I hopped off at Green River, Utah – a tiny river community with a partial ghost town vibe – where I caught the relatively new bus connection to Moab, Utah through Elevated Transit (which partners with Greyhound). The bus is not timed conveniently with the train; you will be required to overnight in Green River at one of the old-school motels whose glory days are long past. It’s a friendly community, just an odd mix of abandoned 1950s storefronts and vibrant neighborhoods in little pockets tucked back from the main road. Elevated Transit also runs a daily bus from Moab to Salt Lake City.