Had I not grown up Mormon, I’m not sure Utah would have made my list of places to visit. Rumors of polygamists, a bizarre attraction to green Jell-O and the “Zion Curtain” (more about that later) are enough to scare any gentile off the path to Utah. A brief stint at Brigham Young University in 1988 changed my mind. I discovered then, that it’s a lot more fun to play, not pray, in Utah.
I’ve been visiting Utah for nearly 30 years. I have a routine. Fly into Salt Lake City, grab a rental car and head up the canyon to heavenly, Park City. A quick stop at the State Liquor Store for provisions (yes, all the fire water is state controlled) and the fun can begin. So, the Zion Curtain thing… Utah has long had weird liquor laws. For one, in restaurants, you’re not allowed to see the booze bottles or your drink being made. Restaurants must build partitions blocking the view. These rules are crumbling and the cocktail culture in Utah is changing. Drinks with dinner or out on the town are no problem.
Park City is Utah’s cultural crossroads. The mountains are its main draw. Once a sleepy silver mining town it has become one of the world’s greatest ski destinations boasting over 7000 acres for every conceivable winter pursuit. Accommodation choices abound for all tastes and budgets, with the mountain surfer types heading to Park City Mountain. Families with active kids love The Canyons and the tony set heads straight for Deer Valley to soak in the luxuries of the St. Regis and Montage hotels.
When the snow melts, the mountains become a playground for nature and adventure lovers. Hiking, mountain biking and trout fishing are popular pastimes, but the less outdoorsy are just as enthralled with shopping and dining on historic Main Street. Like to enjoy it all? Take the chair lift up the mountain in the morning and hike your way down. Magically the trails all seem to end at an open air, terrace cafe where your afternoon becomes an alpine la dolce vita complete with a charcuterie of handmade cheeses, meats, clover honey and huckleberry jam. Wash it all down with a locally made “Polygamy Porter” and you’ll feel perfectly sinful.
Don’t linger too long though, Utah has a lot more to offer. A visit to Salt Lake City offers cosmopolitan comforts. A busy, bustling downtown, it sets itself apart from other metros with a concentrated area of shopping, dining and historic attractions. The world’s largest dinosaur bone exhibit? Salt Lake City. It’s easy to navigate and one of the prettiest downtowns I’ve visited. In the winter, Temple Square is home to a million Christmas lights and in the summer, it’s an urban garden with endless flowers in bloom.
Utah is a big state and it holds a lot of other big attractions. Down in southern Utah you can visit the “Mighty Five”, Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Bryce and Zion National Parks. The National Park experience is enhanced by the rich cultures of the Navajo and Ute tribes. In Canyonlands, you can view 9000-year-old cave artwork.
Utah is known as the Beehive State. Everyone is as busy as bees. After the work week is done, seemingly every Utahan heads out for adventure. They take campers into the wild. They weekend in Park City. They raft, bike, hike, fish, zip-line, spelunk, shop, eat green Jell-O, hunt for more wives and sneak around the Zion Curtain. Whether you are a fan of the great outdoors or more of a café-culture aficionado, in a state with so much to see and experience, when you visit Utah you’ll be buzzing around too.
Being a Southerner, I never had a desire to visit the north. What good could possibly exist in a place that seemingly every Northerner was trying to escape from? They invade our shores first as snowbirds and eventually pull up roots completely to retire in the beautiful south. As I grew older, and after a few forced business trips I discovered the North wasn’t so bad. I loved architecture and history and the north had plenty of that so, my explorations continued.
Maine had eluded my checklist of states visited. Having no clue what was worth seeing, I asked the experts, my neighbors Ken and Joan Fink who call Maine home for much of the year. Ken is a highly descriptive man (all Mainers are) and it didn’t take long for him to paint a picture that appealed to me. Truthfully, all the talk about outdoor activities, scenery and must-see national parks was great but “my son owns a lobster boat” was convincing enough.
Ken and Joan wanted to treat us to our first lobster meal in Maine and their home was along our drive to Bar Harbor. Following Ken’s directions, we turned off the main road onto a boulder lined, gravel drive. I was wonderstruck by how lush, green and alive everything was. Pulling up to Ken and Joan’s home they greeted us in the yard and I asked, “Is this where the Hobbit’s live?” It was like The Shire had been dropped in the middle of the Maine woods. Wild ferns grew high on a forested bluff, and I could see glimpses of the ocean through the trees. I could have cancelled the trip and sat on their porch forever, but there was more of Maine to see. After a couple of fresh from the ocean lobsters, we left “the Shire” and continued north.
The scenic drive up US-1 was a charmer. Single church hamlets dotted the way, looking like movie sets. There were endless antique stores and artisan boutiques with locally handmade items from artwork to specialty foods. It’s shocking how many things a Mainer can make out of a blueberry.
Bar Harbor itself is a coastal beauty, its harbor filled with boats and yachts of every kind. Seemingly, all of Maine is a comparison of contrasts. It can be bright and sunny one moment, and in the next, shrouded with fog. One minute you’re walking across a land bridge connecting the town of Bar Harbor to Bar Island. Moments later, you better be ready for a chilly swim because the land bridge gets gobbled up by the tide and completely disappears. Our highest recommendation is a stay at the West Street Hotel. Bar Harbor's newest, most modern and stylish digs with Maine's only rooftop pool (heated)!
Walking through town you’ll see contrasts in the people, stores, homes and even the landscape. The homes in town range from blue collar bungalows to gilded-age mansions.
Bar Harbor draws a variety of visitors with its shops, taverns and hotels offering easy access to Acadia National Park. Admittedly, I had never heard of Acadia but after spending time exploring, it’s no wonder why it’s such a huge attraction. Unfortunately, I did have to pass on the famous sunrise viewing from atop Cadillac Mountain. I don’t do well with suggested arrival times of 4am.
Be sure to stroll along historic Shore Path. Starting from town, the path, created around 1880, winds along the eastern shore of town with views of the Porcupine Islands on one side and mansions on the other. By the time the path brings you back towards town, you’re in a shop laden area where you can refresh with a local blueberry soda and a lobster roll for lunch.
I must say that while I just needed to check a state off my list and had no real expectations, Maine was full of welcome surprises. For Heaven’s sake, even Paula Deen proclaims Bar Harbor’s Side Street Café as having one of the 10 best mac-n-cheese dishes in the country. If that can’t lure a Southerner north, nothing can.
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