Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Janet's Guide to Salt Lake City--The Beautiful Mountains

The first thing you notice when you come to Salt Lake City is our beautiful mountains. You can see on this great satellite picture that they surround the Salt Lake Valley with the Great Salt Lake (and Antelope Island) in the Northwest corner of the valley. Downtown Salt Lake is in the Northern part of the valley and the suburbs stretch out to the south. You can see on the satellite image the I-15 main freeway corridor stretching through the middle of the valley (the white line) and down before you come to Utah Lake is the Point of the Mountain where the mountains come together before heading down into Utah Valley.

Salt Lake sits on the western edge of the Rockies. The mountains provide great opportunities for recreation such as rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking and of course skiing. The highest mountain in the valley is Twin Peaks, which reaches 11,330 feet. This stretch of mountains with it's cities to the North of Salt Lake (Bountiful, Layton, Ogden, etc.) and it's cities to the South of Salt Lake (Alpine, Orem, Provo, etc.) are commonly called the "Wasatch front." The Oquirrh mountains that border the western edge of the valley are the home to Kennecott Copper Mine, the largest copper mine in the world. You can always tell where you are on the Wasatch front because the big mountains are to the East and the smaller mountains (the Oquirrh mountains) are to the west. And in fact once you spend a bit of time on the Wasatch front, you miss that instant location guide when you leave.

The main part of the valley is just over 100 square miles. City Creek, Emigration, Millcreek, Parley's, Big Cottonwood, and Little Cottonwood are the main canyons that stretch off to the East. Several of them are full of ski resorts. You can tell if the valley was cut by a stream or by a glacier by looking to see if the mouth of the canyon comes to a v or a u. U shaped canyons were cut by glaciers and V shaped canyons were cut by the river.

The valley was formed by Lake Bonneville, ancient lake that stretched out to the West. The foothills at the base of the mountains, or locally called the "benches," were once the beaches of this huge lake. At its largest, it was almost as large as Lake Michigan. Eventually though, the lake dried up and what is left of it is now the Great Salt Lake. Lake Bonneville's former beaches are now exclusive properties for homes with a sweeping view of the valley--especially beautiful at night.

Elevation in the valley is 4,330 feet/1,320 meters above sea level. There is usually clean fresh air except for when clouds get trapped up against the mountain and create an inversion. High elevation makes it harder to breathe while you are exercising (making it a great place for athletes to train) and alcohol has a stronger effect. It is good to drink more water to help with elevation adjustment. And you should add a little more flour to cakes so that they rise right. The valley isn't high enough to cause any real altitude problems in travelers.

I love being able to look up at the snow capped mountains when the summer starts to heat up. There will still be snow at the top when you arrive making the view just beautiful. But you'll be able to enjoy the warm spring weather and beautiful plants starting to wake up in the valley below.

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