Unusual Quirks About Life in Utah

Arches National Park
Arches National Park | © Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Shea Drake

To the west of the United States, there’s a quirky little state bursting with character. You’d never guess Utah had so much going for it, but it has both cultural and natural marvels unlike anywhere you’ve seen. Here are some of the most unusual and quirky trends to emerge from this state.

Mysterious fry sauce

Yes, Utahns have a sauce created specially for french fries. While this trend started out as half mayonnaise and half ketchup (known in New York as 50/50), Utah has taken this a step further. Most local restaurants have a house fry sauce, the ingredients of which are kept a secret. At grocery stores large and small throughout the state you can find various brands of fry sauce next to the ketchup. Do not pass up this delightful pink sauce if you find yourself at a burger joint.

A desert made of salt

Just 90 minutes to the west of Salt Lake City, there lies a great plain of salt that stretches up against the state line dividing Utah and Nevada. During the winter and spring, water floods the flats, creating stunning reflections of the sky and mountains above. As the water dries during the summer, what’s left is a crust of cracked white salt stretching across the plains.

There’s car racing during the summer, and chances are you’ve actually seen the salt flats in a commercial. Car manufacturers love to film there as the flats are the perfect backdrop to let stunt drivers go wild.

White Bonneville Salt Flats near Salt Lake City

Crazy liquor laws

While there is much to love about Utah, visitors should prepare themselves for some odd laws when it comes to alcohol. First off, beer can only have 3.2 per cent alcohol by weight, or 4 per cent by volume: anything higher than that is considered liquor, which is only sold at state-run liquor stores. The liquor stores can have odd hours and limited selections, and at bars there’s no such thing as making your drink a double, so be prepared.

Interesting local cuisine

Mention “funeral potatoes” to any native Utahn and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Recipes vary from family to family, but the general idea is potatoes or hash browns, cream of chicken soup, cheese, and there’s debate on whether you should top it with corn flakes or not. Another Utah standout is the scone – which is nothing like the light, dainty English version. Utah scones are closer to fry bread, taking up an entire dinner plate and often topped with honey, butter and jam for dessert – or chili and cheese, if you prefer a savory option.

Home-baked Funeral Potatoes Casserole

Incredible sunset and sunrise views

Utah is home to five national parks, also known as the “Mighty 5”. All are located in southern Utah, and there are several resources out there designed to help you see all five parks in as many days. Amazing sites include Delicate Arch (as you may have seen on some of Utah’s license plates), Goblin Valley and Zion Red Cliffs. Rise early for sunrise or stay up for sunsets – the colors and vistas are always different and always beautiful.

Amazing skiing and forests

Not to be outdone, Northern Utah has plenty of national and state forests, and also boasts some of the finest ski resorts in the country with light powder-like snow. Oftentimes, you can ski in the Wasatch Mountains and golf in the Salt Lake Valley in the same day. There are both easy and moderate hikes to be enjoyed, with Mount Timpanogos Cave standing out as a local favorite for novices and experienced hikers alike, especially given its fantastic backstory.

Tram terminal at Snowbird Ski Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Wasatch Mountains

The unique Utah accents

If you go to Salt Lake City, you’ll notice the valley is flanked by two gorgeous mountain ranges: the Wasatch Mountains to the east of the valley, and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west. They’re the first things you’ll notice given their size, but the second will likely be the way people say “moun’ains” instead of “mountains” – and that the letter “t” is mysteriously absent from most other words with a “t” in the middle, too. Other things to listen out for are “sull” instead of “sale” or “sail”, “melk” instead of “milk”, and “rut” instead of “route”.

Jaw-dropping churches

The predominant religion in Utah is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), the members of which are encouraged to have large families and be active in the community. There are many LDS church houses located throughout each city, but you’ll also find various ornate LDS temples across the state. Visitors who don’t carry a special recommend cannot go inside, but they are allowed to walk in the grounds outside. Even if you’re not a person of faith, the gardens and architecture are quite something to behold and well worth a visit.

188th Semiannual General Conference of the Church in Salt Lake City

“Dirty” soda shops

“Dirty” soda shops aren’t a hygiene risk – the name is a reference to shops that add flavoring syrups and other fun additives to soda. Given the strong LDS influence in the state, many residents don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol (as per LDS church teachings, which are also responsible for those strange liquor laws), so many Utahns indulge in dirty sodas instead. Typically, the shops only sell the soda and cookies, so if you have a sweet tooth, try one of the multiple chains and one-offs to be found in most towns and cities.

A plethora of unusual pets

You won’t run into them often, but there are locals who own pet foxes, and even ranchers in more rural parts who have bison herds. It’s legal in Utah to own a red fox, camel or bison, as long as the animal was legally bought from a captive breeder and not taken from the wild.

Bison on Antelope Island State Park near Great Salt Lake

Of course, Utah has many more attributes and quirks – but some things are better experienced first-hand.

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