PROVO, Utah — Provo is not your typical destination or college town.
Nearly 90 percent of the population is made up of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and many residents are current or former students at Brigham Young University, a distinction that has shaped the city’s culture. For instance, Mormons do not consume alcohol, and the dearth of bars and social drinking is notable.
But Provo doesn’t need cocktails to stay up late. Many of the BYU campus museums remain open till 9 p.m. on weekdays, as do shops and restaurants.
The culinary scene is partially influenced by the Mormon tradition of international missionary work. Members who leave for proselytizing return to Provo with expanded palates. You can play spin the globe in the historic downtown district, settling on pho, Belgian frites, sushi, Indian food, Czech pastries, Mexican fruit pops or kronuts in a French bakery.
Here are a few worthy stops:
Spectacular road trip
Hop on the Provo Canyon Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 189, and watch civilization fade away in the rear-view mirror. The 24-mile route runs from Provo to Heber City, but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t reach the end. Several parks will draw you in and out of your car, such as Mount Timpanogos Park and South Fork Park. The Provo River runs parallel to the road, and you can often see fly fishermen standing in the water. In Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, the 607-foot-tall Bridal Veil Falls unleashes curtains of water in the summer and freezes over in the winter, becoming a spidey course for ice climbers. About 16 miles up, Deer Creek State Park offers activities including stand-up paddling, zip-lining, ice fishing and camping.
Travel back in time
On a tour of Provo Pioneer Village, Stevens Nelson doesn’t temper the truth. “When they got here,” said the museum director, “life was hell.” The open-air historical attraction focuses on the period from 1849, when the first Mormons landed in Provo, to 1869, when the railroad arrived. The seven original buildings demonstrate the early inhabitants’ will to survive, and sometimes in style. In the Turner Cabin, porcelain tableware and figurines adorn the shelves and a framed picture of hair art (yes, hair) hangs by the front door. The cotton coverlet in the Haws Cabin features a decorative chenille star pattern. “The women civilized this place,” Nelson said. “They made it happen.” In the summer, a working blacksmith practices his trade.
Unique garden center
When designing Shade Home and Garden, in nearby Orem, Todd Moyer looked across the Atlantic for ideas. The Utah native wanted to replicate the European garden centers he had toured with his English wife. He envisioned a pastoral escape from the city, where customers could leisurely shop for their window sills and front yards. Moyer describes the store’s aesthetic as “modern farmhouse,” assuming your barn is in the desert (cactus and succulents) or Kyoto (bonsai trees). In addition to fauna, the store carries decorative planters, straw baskets with pompoms and pillows with cactus designs. In the cooler months, a herd of goats turns the greenhouse into a yoga studio, where the animals climb on practitioners’ backs.
Book lovers’ heaven
Open since 1980, Pioneer Book fills its two-level shop with used, signed and rare books, without a whiff of mustiness. The ground floor contains every category of literature except fiction, which dominates the stacks upstairs. For regional reading material, check out the books filed under “Western, Americana, Utah and Native American,” or the entire wall of Mormon nonfiction. Blue index cards designate customer and staff picks, and if you find your reviewer soul mate, congrats! A backroom upstairs showcases local art and hosts folk music jams.
The glamour of Sundance
I first spotted Robert Redford in the hallway leading to the Tree Room, one of five drinking and dining venues at Sundance Mountain Resort. He was cuddling a golden eagle, and I am pretty sure everyone who passed by the wall of photos wished they were that raptor. In 1969, the celebrity benefactor bought the Provo Canyon land that morphed into the year-round playground. Sports enthusiasts can ski and snowboard in the winter and then switch gears to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding in the warmer months. The fire pits are seasonal, but the zip lines operate in all four. Most of the noncardio activities take place in the village, such as the Owl Bar, a watering hole, and the Art Studio, where artists teach guests to make pottery, jewelry, soap and other crafts.
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