Salt Lake City, UT

In 15 years of extensive Airstream travel, it is amazing that we never managed to get to Salt Lake City, Utah.

It wasn’t for lack of interest. Our Airstream friend Jim had been telling us for years that we needed to come to SLC, but it was never quite on our route. Salt Lake City is an easy stop if you are heading east or west on I-80, but we always took Bugs Bunny’s famous “left turn at Albuquerque” (or Denver or Flagstaff) and missed it. The few times we were headed further west we tended to go north and end up in Washington state.

This time I made it a goal. SLC still wasn’t “on the way” but after all that rushing through the midwest we had earned some slow & meandering travel, so after Flaming Gorge we headed northwest instead of the obvious southbound route home.

Jim had very kindly offered his driveway in central SLC (a 10 minute walk from downtown), which was very appealing. I always treat driveway camping offers with a little healthy skepticism because it’s fairly common for people to not appreciate how difficult it can be to maneuver a 30-foot trailer into a driveway. The homeowner’s car, truck, and boat may get in there easily, but things change when you are in a rig that measures 54 feet long and 8.5 feet wide.

I did my usual vetting of the site, using Google satellite images, and it looked marginal but worth a shot. Unfortunately a satellite image doesn’t tell the whole story: when we arrived there was heavy rush hour traffic even in the residential side streets, and lots of cars parked along the street that reduced our turning area by a crucial 6-7 feet. We took a few stabs at it with Eleanor standing outside holding a walkie-talkie to guide me and stop traffic (massively annoying local commuters in the process) but after a few attempts to back the Airstream in, it became obvious it just wasn’t going to work.  I called it quits after digging some ruts in Jim’s front landscaping and “trimming” a bunch of tall flowers near his mailbox.

I try to always have a backup plan for situations like this, and so we already knew there was a decent KOA near downtown. All we had to do was navigate downtown rush-hour traffic with a big trailer … which can be incredibly stressful but as always we survived and I’m sure the locals that I traumatized while changing lanes in their faces with a giant slab of aluminum will eventually recover.

SLC signsDowntown SLC

Salt Lake City surprised us. It’s actually a pretty interesting town with a good food scene and natural beauty in the surrounding hills. We hoofed it around the downtown for half a day and visited the Natural History Museum of Utah, which is world-class. If you like dinosaurs it’s worth a visit just to see the well-presented collection, but there’s also a lot more worth checking out including a thought-provoking native culture exhibit.

Ut Natural History museum fossil lab

Jim got a behind-the-scenes look at the room where volunteers prepare fossils. It’s painstaking work, done by dedicated people who spend many hours wearing noise-cancelling headphones (the fans and tools can be loud) while they focus on details that most people would never notice. There’s a certain thrill in being close to the fossils as they gradually emerge from the stone that has held them for tens of millions of years.

SLC Jim B and Eleanor_That afternoon we hit a Italian grocery that Jim recommended, and Eleanor stocked up on several interesting cheeses, chocolates, olives, and tiny “champagne” grapes. Together they hatched a plan to have some sort of crazy cheese-and-chocolate pairing session before we had the dinner that Jim made.

I’ve never had cheese and chocolate together but, yes, it works. Especially when you are sitting out on the backyard patio with friends and the sky turning to stars as you eat.

Two night in Salt Lake City weren’t enough, but we made a note to come back for another visit with Jim. SLC won us over, so I’m sure we’ll make another detour.

At this point we still had a few days left and nowhere in particular to go. All we knew at this point was that we should be generally heading south. I took a look at the map and decided we’d visit Glen Canyon National Recreation Area next, near Page AZ.


  1. David B Johnson says

    Hi: Interesting Maze. I have a good friend here that grew up in SLC. He took me there last August. It was a great experience. We visited his childhood home that his sister lives in now. We visited downtown, his old West High School, and the Temple. We also went to the Bonneville Speed Week event in Wendhover. Fast hot rods. Great fun.

    I had a similar experience backing into my son’s driveway here in Denver. A tight 90 turn is difficult or impossible on a side street. We made it after several attempts. Most campgrounds have angle parking making it easier.


  2. Doug says

    If it’s along your route a bit of a side trip to Goblin Valley State Park is highly recommended. Don’t make judgement until you walk to the Goblins….perfect timing for the Halloween season!