15 Things You Might Not Know About Utah

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istock

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.

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.