USA Trip: Day 16 – Stetsons, Ski Jumps & Shutdowns

USA Trip: Day 16 – Stetsons, Ski Jumps & Shutdowns

Salt Lake City

After two days of being on the road we had a rest day in Salt Lake City. We still had things to do but a late start and early night was on the cards. We had gradually worked our way down reputable hat suppliers and the last place on the list was AA Callister. Despite Salt Lake City having a population of 1.1 million we followed our satnav to just 50 metres of the Drive-In cinema when pulling into AA Callister. Utah like Nevada and Colorado is a relatively large state with a small population dominated by one major city. Salt Lake City has just under half of Utah’s population and most of it’s cultural and financial clout.

Utah is America’s most religiously homogeneous state with over 60% being Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). For many reasons Utah is one of the most sought after places to live as it often tops the tables with regards to quality of life, education, medical care and infrastructure. Utah was accepted into the Union in the late 19th century but how it came to be went back a few decades before that. In 1846 Mexico and the US went to war. At this point in time Mexico owned the entirety of the US west including what would become Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and California. Over the wars course of 18 months the US dealt out quite a kicking and expanded west. Texas had been fighting for independence against Mexico for a number of years and the US helped it gain that independence before quickly making Texas a part of the US. Texas has never truly been happy under any control as it was born out of individualism. Texas used to be the sparsely populated area of ‘New Spain’ that bordered the US. To stop the Americans laying claim to it Spain/Mexico allowed any immigrants not just those of Spanish or Mexican origin to populate it in a move of deterrence. If you were an outcast or thought differently Texas was the place to go, so it has never felt wanted or had a strong allegiance to Mexico or the US which lives through to modern times. Anyway this diary is about Utah not Texas.

Getting Our Stetsons

The Mormons were the human version of Texas. Their founder and leader Joseph Smith had been brutally murdered in 1844 and the Mormon community needed to find a safer place to live as one. They left their land and businesses back in the East and moved West. They struck a deal with the US government that if they fought in the war against Mexico they would be rewarded financially which would enable them to purchase land. The Mormons decided The Great Basin would be the place to go. This is the high plateau that we had sent a lot of time on that covers nearly all of Nevada as well as Utah and some of California and Idaho. So quite quickly small villages and communities were formed under the leadership of Bingham Young. Much in the same vein as the Jewish and Israel, Mormons from around the world descended on what was now their homeland with the church providing loans to help those make the journey that couldn’t afford it.

The US government did not agree with the new state that was forming within the boundaries of the US and eventually in 1857 the two sides went to war. The casualties were minimal and eventually the US President granted a pardon for all Mormons in return for allowing a non-Mormon governor to be installed. This led to the gradual transition of power and the entry into the union for the state of Utah.

We walked into AA Callister and immediately we knew we would be leaving with cowboys hats. Along the back wall was a counter stocked high with hats and a young local steaming a hat. We walked up and introduced ourselves. His name was Dustin and he could sort us out with hats. We quickly learned that choosing a hat was not a case of picking the only one in your size and seeing if it fit. Dustin had every hat in every size with every style. He made it his job to find us hats that not only we liked, but fit like a glove and suited us. He not only had my size but he had a decent amount to choose from. After 7 hats I found one I liked and he set to work shaping the crown and creases so it fit the shape of my head. He did the same with Emma then spent 40 minutes steaming the hats and reshaping by hand. The tool he was using for the job was an original wooden shaper from the Stetson Hat Company. He took great pride in his work and it showed. We walked out very happy despite having a much lighter wallet. The hats were both black felt Stetsons and were comfortable to wear. We didn’t have any chinstraps and it was a bit too windy and we were a bit precious to keep the hats on outside so they were stashed safely in Bertha for a non windy day.


First Ever KFC

With new hats and a hunger in our bellies we made our way to KFC, not just any KFC mind you. This was the Harman Cafe, the original KFC restaurant and a must eat for anyone who love a bit of fried chicken. We walked up to the counter and was asked if we wanted the menu or the buffet. KFC has a BUFFET? Obviously we smashed the buffet. Have you ever wondered why KFC has gravy and no other fast food place does? It is because KFC is meant to have mash with the gravy. The Buffet was how KFC made its name in the US, it was three types of fried chicken, mash, biscuits and vegetables. It was not fast food, it was a meal that deserves mash! It was delicious, it embarrasses the KFC we have in the UK the fact we don’t have this buffet available to us. The biscuits are like large salty scones and are just fantastic for dipping in mash and gravy. It was a pleasant surprise and all round the restaurant they had original KFC memorabilia to look at including the Colonel Sanders’ suit.
First ever KFC, Buffet amazing need it in England, now we know why they have gravy for mash, veg and biscuits which are like salty scones.



Barely able to walk out of KFC we climbed back into Bertha and headed east into the Mountains.Ever since I was a child I have loved the Olympics and everything it stands for. One of my favourite Olympics was the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Unlike the summer Olympics they tend not to be in the city centre due to the nature of many of the events. Typical there are 3-4 clusters of venues ranging from the ice rinks down town to the ski slops high in the mountains. We were heading to Park City where the alpine events were held, it was where the majority of the good stuff happened and it had a museum. We got there without hassle to find the place empty. There were only a handful of cars outside the building and quite frankly tI thought the place was closed.  It wasn’t and we walked into the main lobby to find two members of staff there.


Olympic Park

I looked around, inquired about the tour which were not on that day and looked at the exhibitions. They informed me that bugger all was going on that day despite there being lots advertised. We were deflated as this was meant to be a cool Olympic park. The only things we were able to see were the museums. Despite the disappointment of the Olympic Park being a ghost town the museums were awesome and we spent a lot of time there.



There was a small theatre in the museum that was showing six short films on a loop. The two we saw were both about the journey of gold medal winners with a good back story. The first was of Jimmy Shea, an American Skeleton racer. He was the 3rd geenration of Winter Olympian in his family after his father and grandfather. Shortly before the Olympics his hero and gold medal winning grandfather passed away leaving the Shea family devastated. Along with his father he carried the Olympic torch into the stadium and passed it over to the 1980 Miracle On Ice team to light it. Jimmy Shea was a huge fan favourite and with the back story well known to the public in true US action hero style he come from behind on the final time split to win gold by 0.05 of a second. America went crazy and he pulled a picture of his grandfather out of the helmet to kiss. The video is well worth a watch:

The museum had some great information about the games and the history of ski jumping. We had heard the term powder a few times since being in Utah and there was an informative video on why the Utah snow was so powdery compared to everywhere else. The weather system that brings Utah the snow it is famed for comes from the Pacific, which then travels over the Great Basin desert and dries out leaving it quite dry before sucking up moisture from the Great Salt Lake. The lake is only 10 metres deep and therefore is much more prone to heat up faster and load up the cloud ready for dumping it high in the Wasatch Mountains.This process means the snow is very fluffy and dry so it moves like a powder. The lack of water means that it basically looks cooler when flying down a mountain and is pleasing on the eye. I am sure there are a lot more reasons for this that a local could probably fill me in on, but I was disappointed that it was still a couple of months from snow season.





We were kicked out soon after leaving the museum and with an empty schedule we went back o the RV park to get some necessary chores ticked off. This was unknowingly a pivotal point of our trip. Emma used the KOA campground’s facilities to wash and dry all our laundry while I went over the plan and timings of the next few days. We were due to drive west to Bonneville Salt Flats to watch the World Finals of Speed hosted by the Southern California Timing Association. This was a four day festival of speed across the salt. There had been unseasonal rain recently in the area and unfortunately it had been cancelled. We decided to head there anyway to look around and we went to bed disappointed. I kept to myself the other bad news I had read that the USA was just 24 hours from a shutdown and I had no idea how it would affect us for the rest of our trip.

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