Vacationing at Home: Fun Things to Do in Utah

Well, I’ve been on vacation all week…sort of. We had planned to go up to Yellowstone National Park, but we canceled at the last minute because of a sciatic nerve problem that would have made the drive miserable for my wife. So I’ve been vacationing at home instead.

It is far too easy to putter away a vacation at home without actually doing anything substantial. You watch videos, surf the web, eat, neglect the laundry, sleep in, and before you know it you have wasted away the entire vacation.

While we have certainly done a deal of that, we decided to use this home vacation to do some fun things that we don’t usually have time for. The weather this week has been perfect so we have been out and about.

Monday we drove up to The Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy. The entrance fee is half-price on Mondays after five o-clock. We had been meaning to go up and see it for some time, but this was our first time. While the aquarium is still more of a prototype for a more extravagant, future facility, they had some very cool exhibits. There is one section for aquatic life you might find in Utah, and another for out-of-state creatures. We loved the triops, the seahorses, the jellyfish, the giant octopus, and the stingrays (to name of few).

The stingrays are in a large touch-pool and you are welcome to reach down into the water and pet them. They clip the stings frequently, so there is no danger of getting stung. Unfortunately, the pool is just a little too deep for our young children to reach the rays. Some of them swim up high enough to reach for a moment, but our girls weren’t lucky enough to have one swim up to them. I almost bought some triops eggs from the gift shop, but I figured I would just do it later online .

Tuesday we headed up to Alpine to the Peppermint Place candy factory. The factory has upper-story observation windows that overlook different parts of the factory floor and the decorating division that are open to the public for a self-guided “tour” from ten o-clock to Noon and then from one o-clock until three. It was interesting to see how the factory workers combined the ingredients in huge cauldrons and then stirred them with giant, oar-like paddles. Then the assembly line workers pour the white, liquid candy into metal molds as they passed by on a conveyor-belt. We couldn’t tell if the molds were of ghosts for Halloween, or of Christmas trees. The second group of workers in the line added sticks to the bottom of the candy. Then the candy-filled molds passed through a huge metal oven, emerging hardened on the other side where they were removed from the molds and taken to be packaged. Then we browsed the factory store for a long time and each chose a couple of wonderful candies to eat on our way to our next destination.

We took the highway from Alpine out to the interstate and to the nearby city of Lehi to visit one of Utah Valley’s best kept secrets: The Hutchings Museum . Even though I have lived in Utah for a long time, I had never even heard of the Hutchings Museum until this summer when they contacted me to arrange for a puppet show performance from our puppetry troupe. We performed there back in July but didn’t have time to check out the museum itself while we were there.

The museum markets itself as a “Natural History” museum, but natural history is really just one wing of the facility. It also has a wonderful Utah History wing. Too many modern museums feel cold and corporate, with lots of open spaces and fancy multimedia presentations. The Hutchings museum, on the other hand, is the best kind of museum for museum lovers: every wall seems lined and every corner and cranny seems stuffed with stuff in a good-kind-of-claustrophobic way. The museum building itself is historic. They do have some interesting multimedia, but it is crammed in among all of the other fascinating stuff instead of over-emphasized the way it is in other museums. They have also taken pains to have frequent child-oriented “hands-on” exhibits interspersed among the stuff. Magnifying glasses and microscopes are common.

Rocks, minerals, gemstones, fossils, animal pelts, taxidermy, eggs, insects, shells, working horns from old automobiles and carriages, coins, ceramic bed pans, buttons, firearms, wanted posters—there were simply too many things to take in with one visit. One of my favorite items was the ancient dictaphone (ancient in the realm of technology anyway) that James Talmage used to dictate the book Jesus the Christ in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. The gift shop was also fun—-like the museum, packed with stuff anywhere it would fit. Rather than the typical plush toys and postcards of corporate museumdom, which were nearly scarce, they offered all kinds of fun doodads for the inquisitive mind: loadstones, popcorn crystals, books on the history of automobiles in Utah, old-style wooden-handled jump ropes, and birth-stone rings, to name a few.

Incidentally, we are performing another puppet show at the museum on October 16th, so come check out the museum before the show.

Our vacation adventures continued on Wednesday when we went up to the Tracy Aviary in Salk Lake City and enjoyed seeing flamingos, parrots, scarlet ibises, hornbills, cranes, an emu, an awesome Andean Condor, and a handful of other fascinating birds. The aviary has an interesting walk-in exhibit where you can interact with the kinds of birds one might see in the backyard if you lived in Patagonia, like the Guira Cuckoo . One of the Guiras hopped right up to our girls and followed us around the enclosure. It even let them pet it. We got to watch the Bald and Golden Eagles ripping meat off of what appeared to be the remains of rabbits too. Very interesting and fun.

Thursday we took a break from our vacation and I visited the Dump with a carload of junk.

We hope to go up to a Gemstone Fair today in Sandy.

It has been a fun vacation and we didn’t have to live in a car, a tent, or a hotel.

We are looking forward to the LDS General Conference this weekend. Then it is back to work.

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