See Ya In Salt Lake
Mountain vistas, amazing history, friendship and competition await as the National Veterans Wheelchair Games roll into Utah's stunning capital city
It seems fitting Salt Lake City is hosting the National Veterans Wheelchairs Games (NVWG) with the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games only a few months away.
Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, so it has experience when it comes to welcoming large numbers of athletes with disabilities to town for big sporting events. That’ll come in handy as more than 500 veterans with spinal-cord injury or disease will be in town June 27–July 2 for the 36th annual NVWG.
This year’s Games will feature 20 events, including the addition of paratriathlon, which combines, swimming, handcycling and wheelchair racing. Since Utah is home to beautiful mountains and great winter activities, bobsledding will be an exhibition sport.
Co-sponsored by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Games are a sports and rehabilitation program that are more than a competition to see who’s the best. The NVWG are also about camaraderie, health, participation and developing skills.
Friendship is a big part of the Games, and whether it’s making new friends or catching up with old ones, Salt Lake City provides a great atmosphere to do it. From the stunning Wasatch Range, to amazing history, to one-of-a-kind recreational opportunities, the “Crossroads of the West” offers plenty to do with friends, family or on your own.
Faith, History & Family
What better place to start exploring Salt Lake City than at Utah’s most popular and recognizable tourist attraction — Temple Square (templesquare.com).
Located about two blocks north of the NVWG hotel at the Hilton Salt Lake Center, Temple Square is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The square is an amazing collection of incredible architecture, art, history, gardens and so much more that you could spend several days exploring this attraction alone.
The 35-acre complex includes the iconic Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake Assembly Hall, Salt Lake Tabernacle, museums, libraries and restaurants. Free tours are offered from two visitors centers located at the north and south areas of the square.
One of the most popular activities at the square is visiting the world’s largest genealogical repository — the Family Search Center. It’s staffed with volunteers who can help you discover your family history among the center’s more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records.
Salt Lake City's original City Creek runs through the City Creek Center to create a pedestrian-friendly green space. Courtesy of City Creek Center
The Temple Square official website notes that “wheelchair access is available in all of the facilities on Temple Square except the Beehive House.”
Temple Square can be a very spiritual experience, but another popular downtown destination is focused on more material things.
The Gateway (shopthegateway.com) is a shopping, dining and entertainment mecca with more than 115 shops, restaurants and attractions, including Olympic Legacy Plaza. It’s located about three blocks west of the Hilton and behind the main NVWG events venue, the Salt Palace Convention Center.
The open-air retail, residential and office complex was built as part of preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. It hosts many events throughout the year and features Music on the Plaza and street performers during the spring and summer months.
The Olympic Legacy Plaza features the Olympic Wall of Honor and the dancing waters of the Olympic Snowflake Fountain. The water is choreographed to dance along with a wide range of music and lights at night.
Retail Therapy II
Shopping is a popular activity when people travel, and The Gateway isn’t your only option to enjoy some “retail therapy” in downtown Salt Lake City.
A block north of the hotel across from the convention center and Temple Square is City Creek Center (shopcitycreekcenter.com). This unique shopping and entertainment destination features a fully retractable glass roof, hourly fountain shows, waterfalls and a creek that runs through the entire project.
There are more than 100 nationally known and local shops and restaurants at the center. Additionally, City Creek Center offers a self-guided architecture tour with a brochure from the customer service desk and an opportunity each Saturday morning to feed the fish in the trout pond near the customer service desk.
Go With The Float
Downtown Salt Lake City is fun and has a lot to offer, but there are also plenty of nature’s wonders to experience, including the area’s most famous natural attraction — the Great Salt Lake.
The largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River and the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere, the Great Salt Lake is the remnant of an enormous prehistoric lake. Currently covering almost 1,700 square miles, it’s very shallow with an average depth of about 35 feet.
The lake is a popular place to bird watch, sail, kayak and, of course, participate in its most well-known activity — floating. The high salt concentration in the Great Salt Lake makes the water more dense, which makes it easier for most people to float.
There are two great areas to visit the lake, with each offering different ways to enjoy it. The Great Salt Lake Marina (gslmarina.com) on the south side of the lake is only about a 25-minute drive from the hotel. There, you can launch a kayak or boat, go on a sunset cruise or take in the spectacular views.
The best place to swim or float in the lake is from Antelope Island State Park (stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island), which is about 60 miles from the hotel. The island features white oolitic sand beaches and showers to rinse off the salty water. Just driving through this 28,000-acre park is a treat since it’s home to free-ranging bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep, antelope and many other desert animals.
The Right Place
If going for a float isn’t your thing, there are other outdoor areas to explore, including many with historic significance.
That brings us to This Is The Place Heritage Park (thisistheplace.org), which is probably the most important historic site in Salt Lake City. The park is where in 1847, city founder Brigham Young is believed to have said, “This is the right place,” which ended Mormon settlers’ 1,300-mile trek across the country.
Located about a 15-minute drive east of downtown, This Is The Place Heritage Park honors the Mormon settlers of Utah with a monument along Statuary Walk. The walk also features other monuments and sculptures, including one for the Pony Express.
The park has a re-creation of a frontier Utah village with several historical buildings, a Native American Village and allows you to interact with a blacksmith, tinsmith and saddle maker, or try your hand at some old-fashioned pioneer chores.
The official This Is The Place Heritage Park website notes the park is “fully wheelchair-accessible, though the terrain is difficult in certain areas.”
History With Teeth
Interesting history isn’t limited to Salt Lake City, and just up the road from This Is The Place you’ll find a site dedicated to Utah’s amazing past that includes lots of dinosaurs.
The Natural History Museum of Utah (nhmu.utah.edu) features interactive exhibits, from minerals and metals to flora and fauna. Oh, and were dinosaurs mentioned? Utah is one of the world’s richest areas for dinosaur-fossil discovery, and the museum has an impressive exhibit of giant reptile skeletons.
The museum also lets you explore the history of the area’s prehistoric peoples, take a journey through three distinct physiographic regions and see what the ancient Great Salt Lake first looked like.
The museum says on its website that it’s “a highly accessible space,” with elevators and “ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-friendly ramps are located outside of the Museum and throughout the galleries.”
Get Out On Your Own
Salt Lake City and the surrounding area has so much more to see and do, but some things are best discovered on your own.
Whether it’s a scenic drive into the majestic Wasatch Range, heading up to picturesque Park City, Utah, or finding a great restaurant off the beaten path, get out and see what you can find.
For more information on exploring Salt Lake City, the region or the state, check out visitsaltlake.com.
See Ya In Salt Lake
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