Stones, ponies and different drumming dinosaurs

At the end of the previous post, I’d just finished visiting Pioneer Memorial Museum but the day was still young and there was plenty left to see and do. Let’s start by walking down the hill from the Capitol to walk around Temple Square and get a look at the main Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) because, well, isn’t that de rigueur in Salt Lake City? So here it is:

This might not be the best or most imposing angle but you didn’t think I’d stand at the front and take the expected picture, did you?

If you were hoping for more about the Temple itself, you’ll have to look to someone other than me. There’s a visitor’s center and I believe visitors can enter the Tabernacle (which was completed in 1867 under Brigham Young’s supervision and leadership) but I visited neither.

I can tell you that if these sorts of activities interest you, Temple Square and the surrounding area is rife with places you’d find interesting from the Temple itself to the Church History Museum to the Family History and Church Libraries and well, you get the idea. As for me, I had other plans beginning with a stop at the This is the Place Monument. There’s a lot to learn here so settle in.

Galloping into legend

The main purpose of This Is The Place Historical Monument is to mark one of the signal events in the history of the LDS church by celebrating the place where Brigham Young is supposed to have uttered his famous statement prompting the settlement of the Great Salt Lake Valley. (I’ll have more on that below.)

The entire complex of This is the Place Heritage Park encompasses much more than the public monuments that I visited. It’s also a commercial enterprise that combines a history park and its “Heritage Village” – a place I didn’t need to visit since I’ve visited Nauvoo – with an amusement park. The public space has three prominent monuments plus a fourth less prominent but equally important memorial that requires a bit of a search.

The first monument I encountered was one I didn’t expect – a memorial to the Pony Express. I think most Americans reading this are at least familiar with the legend of the Pony Express. In some ways, just as Monument Valley implanted itself in the American consciousness as the landscape of the west, the Pony Express also became symbolic of the 19th century westward expansion mainly because of its use as a recurring motif in dime novels, western films and generally finding its way into frontier lore.

Even Americans, however, might not know that the Pony Express officially operated for only 18 months between April 1860 and October 1861 or that its actual operation was suspended in May and June of 1860 when the battles at Pyramid Lake were fought  between the U.S. Army and local Paiute Indians. This interruption in service immediately created significant financial stress for the fledgling company which was officially called the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company.

At a time when regular mail delivery typically required 25 days to cross the 2,000-mile route between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, the need for a service like the Pony Express became almost essential in the late 1840’s when the westward expansion of European and Anglo-Americans accelerated. The exodus of the Mormons from Nauvoo was one driving factor as was the discovery of gold a Sutter’s Mill in California.

Using horse and rider relay teams to shuttle mail along the route carried in specially designed saddles the methodology employed by the Pony Express had its riders switch mounts every 10-15 miles and, after covering 75-100 miles, hand their cargo to a new courier. The process was so efficient and the riders so daring that the Pony Express usually covered the full distance in less than half the time of its competitors usually needing just 10 days to travel from Missouri to California.

But not only can speed kill, it can cost, too. The riders, who were limited to weighing no more than 125 pounds but who were also very well paid earned fixed salaries of between $100 and $150 per month. The cost of supplies, the horse changing stations and maintaining the number of horses needed (consider that a typical trip could require more than 100 horses) made the service exceptionally expensive. Each half-ounce piece of mail a rider carried cost the sender five dollars. That would be a lot of money today. It was really a lot of money in 1860.

Congress started hammering the final nail that killed the Pony Express merely 10 weeks after the service began operating when it authorized a bill to subsidize a transcontinental telegraph line to connect the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast.

Though it continued losing money, the Pony Express operated as usual while the telegraph lines were under construction. Once the line was complete, however, the bell tolled for the Pony Express but it still galloped into legend.

Marching beyond Deseret – the Mormon Battalion

When the charismatic Mormon leader Joseph Smith purchased the town of Commerce, Illinois and renamed it Nauvoo, he hoped that the followers of his LDS Church would find it a haven from the persecution and religious conflicts that had dogged the believers wherever they’d settled. It didn’t. Harassment, both legal and violent, continued.

Smith, who was far from a non-controversial figure particularly because of his belief in the practice of polygamy, was murdered (some say assassinated) in 1844. After fighting off the claims of other potential successors, Brigham Young emerged as the principal leader of the Church. Even after Smith’s death,  anti-Mormon violence persisted and the Mormons knew little peace.

Early in 1846, Young concluded that the Mormons had to abandon Nauvoo and seek a new sacntuary. He organized the exodus that would eventually lead them to the Great Salt Lake Basin. On February 10, 1846, Young began leading 1,600 of the 12,000 Nauvoo Mormons to a winter camp at Sugar Grove, Iowa. As the spring approached, Young sent an emissary to Washington to ask the federal government for some sort of protection on their march.

That emissary, Jesse Little, landed in Washington a mere eight days after Congress had declared war on Mexico. Local contacts helped him meet with high officials and Little then offered the services of a battalion of Mormon men. On June 2, 1846, President James K. Polk accepted the offer on the condition that at least several hundred men would enlist. Thus was created the only religiously based unit in United States military history – the Mormon Battalion.

More than 500 men enlisted under the command of the Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Kearny who ordered them to march from near Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California under the leadership of Captain Philip St. George Cooke. One of their main tasks was building a wagon road along the 2,000 mile trek. Although they played a role in the “Capture of Tucson” – a narrative I’ll detail on my return to that city – their march was uneventful excepting one rather singular incident near the San Pedro River in Arizona.

Having set out in July, they reached this part of Arizona in November, 1846 where they encountered a herd of untended wild cattle. Their presence apparently disturbed the bulls who charged the camp destroying some of the mules and wagons and wounding two men. The soldiers responded as soldiers will. They loaded their guns and killed between 10 and 15 of the offending beasts in a skirmish that sarcastically came to be called “The Battle of the Bulls.”

The Mormon Battalion reached San Diego on January 29, 1847 where they remained for the next five months until their discharge on July 16, 1847. By this time, both Kearny (Brigadier General) and Cooke (Lt. Colonel) had received promotions. While there, the battalion also performed duties in several locations in southern California including serving as peace keepers in a dispute between the Californios and Luiseños tribes.

Some confusion arose between John C. Freemont and Kearny regarding the governance of the territory. Thus, the most significant service the battalion provided in California was likely serving as a reliable unit under Cooke that General Kearny could rely on in his conflict with Fremont over who should rightfully serve as Governor of California.

Young, who during his lifetime proved himself not only an effective and savvy leader but who was also an exceptional businessman, was able to make shrewd political and financial use of the battalion. Politically, although some of his counselors were wary of a government betrayal based on their past experience, Young viewed the enlistment as a potential public relations victory for the Church because it would provide concrete evidence of its loyalty to the United States.

Financially, while Little had been unable to secure direct financial aid from the federal government, the men who enlisted were given an annual uniform allowance of $42 each that was paid in advance when they reached Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. However, because they would be allowed to wear their civilian clothing for the march, they immediately donated the bulk of the money they received to a general Church fund which Young then used to purchase wagons, teams, and other necessities for the LDS American exodus.

This is the right place

I’m not going to provide you with an extensive biography of Brigham Young (possibly to the relief of many) but rather will concentrate on his leadership in getting the LDS to Utah.

As I noted above, Young was a shrewd and effective leader. He was also exceptionally well organized in planning the long journey to what he hoped would be a final safe haven for the flock of the church he now led. So extraordinary was Young’s planning that it wouldn’t be a stretch to call this migration the largest and best organized westward trek of pioneers in American history.

After setting up the winter camp in Iowa, which included preparing for the eventual arrival of most, if not all of the 12,000 people who had been living in Nauvoo, he began developing a plan to cross the country in stages. He sent out his reconnaissance teams to plan the route across Iowa and Nebraska, dig wells at camping spots, and sometimes, plant corn so the emigrants could replenish their food stores.

In April 1847, Young led a party of 25 wagons headed toward the Rocky Mountains traveling along the Platte River. In part, Young chose to create a new route along the Platte’s north bank to avoid encounters with other settlers on the Oregon Trail who might assault them. He, too, had a continuing fear of encountering the sort religious bigotry that had forced the Mormons to leave Nauvoo.

The early part of the journey across the plains was relatively easy and the pioneers eventually arrived at Fort Bridger, Wyoming – the trading post established by the same Jim Bridger you met in the previous post. At that point, they followed the same route south into Utah as the Donner-Reed Party had just months earlier.

By this time, Young had contracted and illness – likely Rocky Mountain spotted fever – and had to be transported by wagon. On July 21, 1847, an advance team of nine horsemen passed through Emigration Canyon and entered the Salt Lake Valley.

The Donner-Reed Party had passed this spot a year before but the LDS scout team chose a different path. Donner Hill sits about a mile and a half northeast of the This is the Place park. Reaching this very narrow spot, both parties faced the choice of trying to either up and around it or continue to try to hack their way through the brush and over the boulders on the on the canyon floor. While the Donner Party chose the former, the LDS advance team chose the latter. Orson Pratt, one member of the party described the scene in his journal (from,

“Bro. Erastus Snow, (having overtook our camp from the other camp which he said were but a few miles in the rear) & myself proceeded in advance of the camp down Last Creek 4 _ miles to where it passes through a Kanyon & issues into the broad open valley below. To avoid the Kanyon the waggons last season had passed over an exceedingly steep & dangerous hill. Mr Snow & myself asscended this hill from the top of which a broad open valley about 20 miles wide & 30 long lay stretched out before us at the N. End of which the broad waters of the great Salt Lake glistened in the sunbeams, containing high mountainous Islands from 25 to 30 miles in extent. After issuing from the mountains, among which we had been shut up for many days & beholding in a moment such an extensive scenery open before us we could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand & lovely scenery was within our view.”

Three days later on July 24, 1847, 111 days after he set out, Young entered the valley in his wagon and, according to legend, Young lifted himself from his sickbed, looked out and said, “It is enough. This is the right place.” (Although some accounts report him as saying, “This is the right place. Drive on.”) According to the same website, this is what he wrote in his journal.

“We have been kicked out of the frying-pan into the fire, out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay. God has shown me that this is the spot to locate His people, and here is where they will prosper. . . . I have the grit in me and will do my duty anyhow.”

The rather elaborate monument most visitors see today,

was dedicated during Utah’s pioneer centennial celebration in 1947. It’s complex and detailed. If you’re interested in reading about some of the figures depicted, there’s a brief article on the Utah History to Go website.

However, if you know where to look, you’ll find it’s not the only arrival memorial on the site. (This is the fourth one I mentioned above.) Tucked away a few hundred yards to the east of the Visitor’s Center is a much smaller, simpler marker. It’s a 10-foot-tall white obelisk that was installed by the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association and dedicated by LDS Church President Heber J. Grant on July 25, 1921. For some reason, although there’s little, if any, documentation to support it (there are even no contemporaneous accounts of Young making his famous proclamation) many historians believe the placement of this marker is more accurate in its location than the one above.

At the circle of standing stones

After grabbing a quick fast food lunch, my next Salt Lake City stop was Gilgal Garden but before I get there, I need to take a brief narrative detour to mention Salt Lake City’s street names. From my brief time there, I sensed that most of the city’s streets are laid out in a relatively easy to navigate grid pattern. I’d also guess that for long time residents the street naming and numbering system makes sense. For me, as a visitor in town for a day and a half – not so much.

Here are some inferences I drew from driving in the city:

Most, if not all the streets are numbered regardless of whether they run south to north or west to east. Thus you can have an intersection where, say, 200 N crosses 200 W so you need to pay close attention to every part of the street name.

For example, the address of Gilgal Garden is 749 East 500 South. This places it between South 700 East and South 800 East. The specificity of “East 500 South” cites your location relative to the southeast corner of Temple Square which is the location of the “Base and Meridian” – the point from which all of the city’s streets are named and numbered.

Also, a street can have both a number and a name. Here, the example would be the address of the Peery Hotel which is listed as 110 Broadway. However, as you can see if you look closely at the screen shot from Google Maps below, Broadway is also 300 South.

So, my advice is that if you’re ever in Salt Lake City, have a good map or a good GPS and, above all, pay close attention to the directions included in the street names.

On to Gilgal Garden. According to the Jewish Bible, Gilgal is the name of the place where Joshua settled the tribes of Israel when he led them into the “Promised Land” after taking over leadership of that exodus following Moses’ death. There is a neolithic site near Jericho that archaeologists have named Gilgal I. (Gilgal, by the way, translates from Hebrew as “circle of standing stones.”)

The Gilgal Sculpture Garden in Salt Lake City is the creation of Thomas Battersby Child, Jr. who was a Bishiop of the 10th LDS Salt Lake Ward. The idea came to him as a way of manifesting his life-long spiritual quest. He began working on his sculpture garden in 1947 when he was 57 years old and that work would consume most of the remainder of his life (he died in 1963) and much of his savings.

Gilgal Sculpture Garden contains 12 original sculptures and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and literary texts and for Child, each represents an idea that carries spiritual truth.  In constructing the garden and opening it for free to the public, he aimed to inspire viewers to ponder “the unsolved mysteries of life” and struggle to find their own answers.

He expected that many people would find Gilgal Garden strange but wanted it to challenge every visitor’s personal vision of spirituality. “You may think I am a nut,” he once said, “but I hope I have aroused your thinking and curiosity.”

One article on Gilgal Garden calls it, “significant as the only identified ‘visionary art environment’ in Utah.”

Dinner and a dino show

Let me start by saying the dinner cited isn’t mine. This day’s not even close to dinner yet.

Because that mysterious news item made me decide I needed to be back in Salt Lake City by 18:00 or so, I knew I’d have to skip a few of the sites that were near but some distance outside the city that I’d considered seeing. It was early enough that I had time to visit one of them but late enough that if I had to drive too far, I might feel pressed for time.

My decision was affected by the fact that, rather than bringing my detailed list, I’d packed my short list of places to see and everything on the short list was north of Salt Lake. (Had I brought the complete list, I would have probably chosen to go to the Homestead Crater near Park City.) As it was, I headed north to the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden.

With Mount Ogden looming above the city just a few miles to the east of Weber State University, the drive to the park was pleasant and, based on this description of the park from,

The George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park is an eight-acre park featuring realistic full-sized dinosaur sculptures enhanced with sound, robotics and artistic details that resemble the real thing. As you enter the park your adventure begins in the Elizabeth Dee Shaw Stewart Museum, which features some of the latest dinosaur finds in Utah and from around the world. The museum includes full-size dinosaur skeletons, real dinosaur bones, teeth, and many other educational exhibits.

I thought this might serve as a reasonable substitute for deciding skip the Museum of Ancient Life near Lehi. That will remain an open question.

While I did find some of the exhibits and the fossils displayed in the museum interesting and engaging, my experience in the rest of the park generated less excitement.  Admittedly, had I been able to unleash my inner five year old, my reaction might have been different.

Although the re-creations are imaginative, fearsome and, perhaps even realistic

and I sense that portraying inactive dinosaurs would make a boring display, I quickly tired of seeing nearly every dinosaur depicted in attack mode – either eating or contemplating their dinner.

I have some pictures here or you can watch the park’s official three minute video.

I still have a few bits to report about this Friday in Salt Lake City and I’m going to cover them in my next post. But, for now, you deserve a rest and so do I.

(By the way, I hope you weren’t waiting for me to tie this post to the hit song by Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys. Other than the odd connections my brain makes, the two are unrelated.)


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