15 Things You Might Not Know About Utah

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1. Utah gets its name from the Ute Native American tribe; it means “people of the mountain.” 

2. Sixty percent of the residents of Utah belong to the Mormon Church.

3. The Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere; it’s the remnant of a much larger prehistoric lake called Lake Bonneville. The lake originally stretched over a good portion of present day Utah.

4. Jell-O is Utah’s state snack. Salt Lake City often has the highest consumption of the jiggly dessert per capita in the world.

5. Richfield, Utah, is home to Pando, the “Trembling Giant.” What appears to be a dense forest is actually a single organism. Once thought to be one of the largest organisms on Earth, this clonal colony of quaking aspens spans over 107 acres. These trees reproduce asexually by sprouting new trees that share the same root system. Its estimated age is over one million years old, making it possibly the oldest organism in the world.

6. Mormon crickets are the scourge of Utah; the insects come in thick swarms that overwhelm roads and ravage farms. According to Mormon folklore, the early settlers almost faced starvation after plagues of Mormon crickets devoured their crops. In 1848, a brigade of seagulls gorged on the insects for an entire two weeks and saved the crops. There is some debate on how true this account is, but seagulls are loved throughout Utah nonetheless.

7. As a result of the “Miracle of the Gulls,” Utah’s state bird is a seagull. A monument to the birds stands outside the Salt Lake Assembly Hall.

8. Despite the name, the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant actually opened in Salt Lake City. Colonel Sanders began his chicken career at a roadside restaurant in Kentucky during the Great Depression, but the first of the franchise opened out west in 1952.

9. Utah is known as one of the best places for paleontology in North America. Due to a vast variety of different rocks capable of preserving fossils, the state has the most dinosaur species in the country. 

10. Citizens of Utah celebrate Pioneer Day every July 24th. The holiday celebrates the Mormon pioneers who settled in Utah. The day is a lot like the 4th of July, but with reenactments and pioneer related activities.

11. The Sundance Institute was founded by actor/director Robert Redford as a means for young filmmakers to explore new ideas without the pressure of the current marketplace. In just a few years, it expanded and became known worldwide as a valuable resource for young and independent artists.

12. The cliff from the dramatic ending scene of the movie Thelma and Louise can be found in Dead Horse Point State Park. Movie lovers can visit the scenic park—but it's recommended they don't try to recreate the scene.

13. Southern Utah has a NASA-funded program for astronauts training for a trip to Mars. Members of the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) use the desert’s rocky terrain as a simulator to help practice collecting data on the red planet. Six astronauts usually train at a time; they live in a Habitat and can only leave while wearing a spacesuit.

14. Utah has extremely strict liquor laws. Any beer that is over 4 percent ABV is considered liquor and cannot be sold at grocery stores, taverns, or convenience stores. Bars in Utah are also known to have Zion Curtains: frosted glass barriers that prevent patrons from seeing the bartender mix drinks. Even more baffling for booze-lovers: No cocktail is allowed to have more than a legal shot of liquor (1.5 oz). 

15. Utah has plenty of strange rock formations. A notable example is Paul Bunyan’s Wood Pile, a group of rocks that oddly looks like a giant pile of timber. The “wood” gets its appearance from ancient lava that folded and cooled into an interesting shape.