Category Archives: Spiritual

Utah- A Place Like Nowhere Else

Downtown Salt Lake City

Most of Utah’s population lives in a region referred to as the “Wasatch Front“, which is essentially the area from Ogden to Provo, including Salt Lake City, boxed out in red in the map below.

It’s a place I have not previously spent much time, as most of my prior Utah experience had centered around recreation destinations like Moab or Park City, or places I stop at on road trips. However, if you want to understand the culture of a place, it is usually good to visit where most people live.

My entire time in the Wasatch Front region of Utah, I felt this strange mix of feeling partially at home but partially kind of elsewhere. This is probably due to my suburban upbringing and current life in Colorado. Utah’s mountains are quite similar to the ones I visit all the time in Colorado.

Like where I live, the culture revolves quite a bit around hiking, with hikes to beautiful destinations like Stewart Falls.

And, because of the mountainous terrain, the weather can be variable, and the rainbows amazing.

Anywhere in this region, mountains can be seen in nearly all directions. It is also quite suburban. My basic assessment of the area is that it all feels as if they took Schamburg (a suburb of Chicago known for giant shopping malls, wide suburban roads, retail and restaurants) and dropped it into the middle of the mountains.

People will often try to approximate the culture of a place by considering some basic characteristics, such as region, demographics, political and religious affiliation. Utah’s political affiliation is pretty clear as it is a solidly Republican state. However, unlike in many other democracies, in the United States we only have two competitive parties. This makes how much you can truly tell about a place based on political affiliation pretty limited, mostly limited to certain “hot button” issues.

Utah is nothing like Alabama, and, as a New Yorker I learned early on that New York is very different from California.

What makes Utah more unique from nearly all other states is its religious affiliation.

Utah is the only state in the country that is majority Mormon. This gives the state a culture and a perspective that is unique from any other place, as some Christian groups don’t view them as Christian and see them as more different than, say, Catholics would view Protestants. This, and the state’s history, likely gives the place an interesting view of its place in the world.

It is customary for Mormons to go on missions when they are young. In Utah, it is common to hear “while I was on my mission” casually dropped into conversations. In these missions, many people travel to foreign lands and get exposed to other cultures.

As a result, there is much more exposure to other cultures here than one would typically associate with a “conservative” place. However, this exposure to other cultures and these types of experiences does not appear to have shifted the population in the direction of the post-modern sentiment that there is no absolute truth nor towards a nihilistic lack of pride in anything.

There may be limitations to my observations about the culture of Utah, given I was only here for a few days and primarily came to engage with my co-workers in a work setting.

However, it does feel like the people here are more confident and happier than most others I observe.

Hearing about some of these mission experiences it feels as if the Mormon population is well aware that, outside of Utah (and parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Arizona), most people oppose what they believe in, some quite intensely. They’ve navigated being opposed and being hated in a manner that has strengthened their resolve in a manner that actually seems healthy.

I recall going to see “The Book of Mormon” years ago. The play pokes fun at the church a bit and was written by people who are generally skeptical of organized religion.

In the playbill, the Mormon church placed an advertisement that literally said “You’ve seen the play, the book is better.” This told me that this is a community that can take a joke.

Ultimately, what we are all looking for is to be happy.

Sometimes our approaches to happiness can be misguided. We pursue things that actually make us more unhappy, like drugs and alcohol. Or, we can become too obsessed with things that only facilitate happiness, like money and good looks. The formula for happiness is complicated because there is no one formula. We all need something different in our lives to truly be happy. If someone appears to be happy, and they are not harming anyone, why hate? Hate is so much more exhausting than love.

Backpacking the Holy Cross Wilderness: Day 3 Nature and Spirit

I became fascinated with weather as a fairly young child. While looking into weather, I would often find old books, written long before people could look up a weather forecast on the computer or even turn on The Weather Channel. These books would describe how sky and wind conditions indicate likely changes in weather. This knowledge seems generally obsolete. However, the combination of knowing how weather patterns typically shape up in late August in the Rocky Mountains and observing the morning sky lead us to expect to be able hike the final 6.2 miles back to the trailhead before encountering rain.

One thing that did get somewhat frustrating on this and other recent camping trips, is the equipment. It is common for people to buy equipment for activities such as camping or hiking and feel as if they are done making purchases. However, on this trip, it became apparent that this tent was going to soon need repair or replacement.

The same can be said for my hiking pants and spork.

It’s taken me a while to realize how warped most people’s view of money and finance is. It seems common to focus only on expenses we can psychically see and on the short-term. When it comes to outdoor and sporting equipment, the line between renting and owning feels quite blurry. The more one uses an item, the sooner it needs to be replaced. So, with certain variance for the quality of the item and how well we take care of our things, even when we buy our own equipment, we are still sort of paying per use. The first dozen or so times anyone uses something like a tent, they rarely think about the cost of eventually replacing it and how those trips are taking them closer to that inevitable expense.

Throughout the trip, we continued to encounter deer up close. We must have chosen to set up camp in their territory or something. Once, when I left the tent to go to the bathroom before going to sleep, I encountered a deer and got startled. By Sunday morning, with clear weather, it almost felt as if we were hanging out with them!

Looking at us, I was wondering if the deer were having their own “Low Key F2020” type of experience. I can imagine them thinking….

Ugh! First there is all this smoke, then this hailstorm comes through, and now these humans are in our way! Can we do like the bears, hibernate and skip to 2021?

Heading back across the valley, the sky continued to point to a more typical late August scenario and the expectation that rain and storms would come, as is more typical, in mid-afternoon.

Heading across the rocky area, we encountered some more furry creatures.

Then headed up fancy pass, a slightly higher pass than the one we had trekked in on Friday.

Heading up the pass, it got kind of windy. I wonder how the people who set up camp closer to the pass, in an exposed area, had fared that morning.

This was the challenging and exhausting part. First there was the nearly 1000 foot climb up Fancy Pass, where we could clearly see that Missouri Pass was lower.

Then, the other side was a steep, rocky downhill, which can be just as tiring as the uphill.

The Fancy Pass Trail experience was a bit more pleasant than the Missouri Lakes Trail experience two days prior. There was no crazy avalanche area where the trail was covered with downed trees and difficult to pass. Also, all of the trail’s features were quite exquisite in the morning sun.

First, Fancy Lake (okay, maybe the names of these things need more variety)

Then, just below the lake, the water funnels into an amazing tall, skinny waterfall.

The final three miles trail is pretty homogenous: a gentle downward slope through a pine forest.

It was in this section that I had a spiritual experience!

As I walked through the woods for what was the final hour and a half of this journey, I suddenly felt as if I was getting some deeply profound messages about my life. They were the kinds of messages that gave me clarity about what I am meant to be doing, confidence in who I am supposed to be and context around some of my more unpleasant past experiences. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

It felt like the result of a confluence of several circumstances.

  • I was tired enough to slow down my mind typically very active thought process. Yet, I was not so exhausted that it was all I could focus on.
  • There were not too many distractions in that section of the trail (i.e. fantastic panoramic views, wildlife, waterfalls, etc.)
  • My mind was somewhat de-cluttered from having done no-news August and having spent three days without access to Wi-Fi

While people believe different things, I genuinely believe that I received messages from either God or some kind of guiding spirit and came away from it with an unexpected boost.

It also gave me that answer to a question that had been looming on my mind for years. There is no question that our modern technology and conveniences have made our lives better. People live longer, are healthier and have more free time and other fun experiences than they did before we had all of our modern technologies. Yet, some chose to forgo conveniences like running water, electricity and computers for periods of time to take part in activities like this one. Regardless of whether or not one believes God speaks to us through nature, taking a break from the modern world gives us the opportunity to connect with something we don’t typically connect to.