Salt Lake City, where we live, is part of an urban area called the Wasatch Front. It stretches roughly 30 miles to the north and south of Salt Lake City. In the 1950s, 500 thousand people lived in this area. These days, it is 2 million, more than two thirds of all the people in Utah.

The town of Herriman, southwest of Salt Lake City, in 1977 and 2012. Aerial imagery from AGRC

Even more people crowd the area this time of year. They come to visit one of the 6 or so ski resorts that are no more than a 45 minutes drive away from downtown Salt Lake City. The resorts hardly have any affordable accomodation, so folks stay in hotels and motels downtown or even in the suburbs1.

Especially in the weekends, when locals + visitors all want to go skiing, traffic up the single lane roads into the canyons is terrible. If you don’t make it up there before 8am, the <10 mile drive will gobble up a good chunk of your morning. In the evening, the reverse. There is ski bus service run by the local transit agency UTA, but relatively few use it, and the buses are stuck in the same traffic with everybody else2.

Al this is to say a lot of folks come here to enjoy the mountains in the winter. Not too much left for those seeking solitude, you would think3.

Or is there?

Solitude

I went for a hike in Millcreek Canyon yesterday afternoon. Millcreek is one of my favorite canyons around here. Except for one restaurant (closed in the winter, I think) and some boy / girl scout summer camp facilities, there is nothing there to attract large crowds. Also, there is a $3 fee to enter (actually exit) the canyon by car, probably deterring some.

I was out for 2 1/2 hours and I saw three other people.

Three.

(And a dog.)

I was only 15 minutes from home. Less than 3 miles from two busy freeways. And this is what I see and hear:

I sat there, in the snow, for a half hour and nothing at all broke the silence.

The two million people around me all chose to be someplace else.

  1. I have a friend who does a brisk business AirBnB-ing her 2 bedroom condo in the unremarkable suburb of Daybreak. There is absolutely nothing there for visitors. 

  2. There used to be a railroad up one of the canyons, used to transport silver ore from the now defunct mines down to the valley. What if we still had that, built a huge parking lot / transit center at the bottom and just ran trains up and down? A few resorts in Europe went that way. They got so sick of all the traffic that they only let locals drive in and out. Everybody else just takes the train. la bestia de los Alpes... 

  3. Ironically, one of the very busy resorts is called just that, Solitude. It is a huge parking lot + a group of oversized ‘chalet style’ condo buildings.