Strange Utah

Pretty much anyone in the world who knows that Utah exists, knows that Utah is weird. Outsiders have vague and usually uninformed — but nevertheless strong — feelings about Utah. Residents have more concrete information. The proper reaction is not to deny, marginalize, or rationalize Utah’s weirdness. The proper reaction is to embrace it, because as the degree of weirdness becomes large — and it can — it also becomes awesomeness. Utah boasts some superlatively weird, and superlatively awesome, spots like Gilgal Garden, the Kennecott mine, the Boulder Airport & UFO Landing Site, the Morrison-Knudsen Tunnels, Crystal Peak, and the Mars Desert Research Station. This only scratches the surface, I promise you. Having spent ten years — incredibly, more than a quarter of my life — in this state, I have come to appreciate all of this. I hope to never move away.

How might a person come to grips with Utah? Brandon Griggs’ book Utah Curiosities is great. However, the stories of green jello it tells, the folksy attractions it lists, capture kind of a comfortable, surface-level weirdness. It does not challenge us. On the other hand, Trent Harris’s Mondo Utah describes a deeper and more revealing kind of strangeness. This is the guy, after all, who directed Plan 10 From Outer Space. Mondo Utah tells the story behind Attack of the Giant Brine Shrimp, it describes Oscar Wilde’s 1882 visit to Salt Lake City, it gives a decoder for the Deseret Alphabet. It does not get better than this, folks. In the book’s conclusion Harris gets to the heart of the matter:

For reasons unknown this state seems to nurture strangeness. Some might say it is Utah’s way of protecting itself. They might say that this strangeness, is in fact, Utah’s first line of defense against the rush to become California. For when Mr. and Mrs. Normal from Normal, Illinois, pick up their paper and read the latest news from the beehive state, and then they sit back and comfortably snicker, “Boy, those dumb dorks in Utah sure are weird” and then they cancel there [sic] plans to move to Sandy, we can truly say we’ve won a battle, if not the war.

Amen. I call this “the porcupine effect” and it is real.

3 Replies to “Strange Utah”

  1. I get where you’re coming from, and your love for Utah is honestly & deeply endearing. But “Utah’s way of protecting itself” is an unpleasant phrase (not yours). From what threat? People? As a boogeyman “Mr. and Mrs. Normal from Normal, Illinois” doesn’t really ring true (it did after Nauvoo). Some other groups fit better.
    — El Gay

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