Drake: ...why Utah?
Josh: 'Cause! Nothin' bad ever happens in Utah!
Utah's Facebook relationship status with the other 49 states would be "It's complicated." The state's history is heavily intertwined with that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as Mormons. It was founded as a Cult Colony (in the most literal sense of the word) in 1847 by Mormons fleeing religious persecution in New York, then Ohio, then Missouri (after the governor issued an extermination order), then finally Illinois, where Church founder Joseph Smith Jr. was assassinated. His eventual successor, Brigham Young, acting on a notion Smith had entertained of emigrating from the United States altogether, led the largest faction of Mormons out into the wilderness in a modern-day Exodus. Utah was Mexican territory at the time, and was known mostly for being an inhospitable desert where even the water could kill you by being four times saltier than the ocean — a place most wagon trains avoided or passed through as quickly as possible on their way to richer, more fertile lands in California and Oregon. A place nobody wanted, and hundreds of miles from any place anyone would want.
Perfect for a religious movement with less than conventional beliefs.
As it turns out, Utah, dubbed "Deseret" (a term found in The Book of Mormon that means "honeybee") by its new inhabitants, was more hospitable than anyone expected, but not by much. The main settlement, called Great Salt Lake City at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, was made viable with the irrigation and diversion of mountain streams and became the central command center for hundreds of settlements stretching from Sonora to Alberta. Mormon settlers from all over the United States, Canada, the British Isles and continental Europe, converted by zealous missionaries and told to come build an American Zion, would settle in places as diverse as cool green mountain valleys and redrock desert country and eke out a modest existence. A tug-of-war for power between the Mormons, the federal government, and non-Mormons would dominate the territory for the next 40 years, including the Utah War which was the result of a series of misunderstandings, aggravated federal employees annoyed at the unresponsive Mormon settlers, and the dispatch of a fifth of the US Army to put down a "rebellion". Unfortunately, this toxic atmosphere allowed the murder of 120 men and women by some rebellious Church members in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Eventually, the federal government issued an ultimatum to the Mormons: discontinue polygamy or face disenfranchisement of the church and seizure of all its property. Wilford Woodruff, the president and prophet of the Church at the time, issued the 1890 Manifesto discontinuing polygamy and excommunicating any Mormon who practiced it after the Manifesto was issued. Some members disagreed with the new doctrine and struck out to remote settlements where they continue to practice forms of polygamy with varying degrees of legality, ranging from men with a single legal wife and one or more consenting adult "spirit wives" (mere cohabitors in law) to dangerous and malevolent abusers of under-aged girls. To this day, Utah has one of the strongest anti-bigamy statutes in the nation, to the point where some legal scholars have questioned its constitutionality (the statute technically forbids even presenting oneself as being married to multiple spouses, regardless of whether one has a marriage license with them) in light of the Supreme Court's recent Due Process jurisprudence, particularly Lawrence v. Texas (2005), which forbade states from banning "sodomy" or generally interfering with the sex lives of consenting adults; the latter issue is the concern.
However, the rejection of polygamy was supported by the vast majority of the Mormon populace, and Utah would become a state in 1896.
In modern times, Utah has a reputation for being conservative, traditional, and highly family oriented. It consistently has one of the highest fertility rates in the nation (though families are no longer as large as they once were). Utah is also one of only two state-level US jurisdictions, the other being Hawaiʻi, that prohibit all forms of gambling, with Utah's ban being enshrined in the state constitution. The state and its residents are generally thought of as being friendly, cheerful, and socially concerned, though it's separate enough from the rest of the country that outsiders may fear feeling unwelcome or out of place. Naturally, the realities of such things are complex and varied.
Utah is a relatively small state (by population, not area), although it is steadily growing and diversifying. Geographically, its southeastern corner meets with the state borders of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico (making up the Four Corners region); the state also borders Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming. Salt Lake City is the capital and largest city. Reflecting its status as the seat of government and the headquarters of a global religion, its two most prominent buildings are the State Capitol (finished in 1915), a Neoclassical structure on a hill overlooking the city, and the Salt Lake Temple (finished in 1893), an unusual mix of Gothic and medieval castle architectural influences that anchors Temple Square at the center of the city's downtown. SLC has long attracted non-Mormons from throughout Utah and the surrounding states with its relatively low crime, diverse economy, and low cost of living. In terms of demographics, SLC has large Hispanic and Polynesian communities, and a larger LGBT population than you might think, even boasting an openly lesbian mayor (Jackie Biskupski) from 2016-2020; as the largest city in hundreds of miles, many queer Utahns or Idahoans find their way here. This has led to some greater political and cultural tensions between the left-leaning Salt Lake Citynote and its more conservative neighbor Provo, home to the church-run Brigham Young University. Even though Utah is overall a staunchly conservative state, the state's Republicans have an independent streak from the rest of the party. One-fifth of the state voted for the otherwise obscure independent candidate Evan McMullin in 2016 rather than vote for Donald Trump, and Senator Mitt Romney was one of the most outspoken critics of the former president and one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict in his first impeachment trial. The state also elected black former NFL player turned Republican politician Burgess Owens to the House of Representatives in 2020.
Recently, the state is trying to position itself as a new Silicon Valley of sorts, as an alternative to the California Bay Area; its prime offerings are more reasonable taxes and living costs, technical excellence instead of "political correctness" and fostering of family life. Many tech companies are setting up shop here, especially in Provo, and the arrival of Google Fiber only sweetens the deal.
It has one major league sports team—two if you count soccer. The undisputed major-league team is the NBA's Utah Jazz, which moved to SLC from New Orleans in 1979note . As for soccer, Real Salt Lakenote began playing in Major League Soccer in 2005, and shockingly won the MLS Cup in 2009, despite finishing the regular season under .500 and going up against David Beckham's LA Galaxy in the final. College sports are also popular, with BYU Cougars and the University of Utah Utes being heated rivals, and five other NCAA Division I athletic programs in the state (the Utah State Aggies, Weber State* Wildcats, Southern Utah Thunderbirds, Utah Tech* Trailblazers and Utah Valley Wolverines).note There was also quite a party for the 2002 Winter Olympics, but local liquor laws made the celebrations a bit more restrained.note
Outside SLC, outdoor enthusiasts have discovered Utah's vast array of natural wonders, ranging from Monument Valley (You've seen it. Trust us, you have) to flatter-than-flat salt flats to world-class ski resorts. The state is home to five national parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion), the third most of any state behind only California and Alaska. In all, it also has 8 national monuments (Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Bears Ears, Rainbow Bridge, and Timpanogos Cave), 2 national recreation areas (Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon), and 7 national forests (Ashley, Caribou-Targhee, Dixie, Fishlake, Manti-La Sal, Sawtooth, and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache), in addition to several other state parks and monuments. Every so often, NASA shows up for Mars training or to watch a spaceprobe fall out of the sky, and Hollywood makes use of the state to shoot Westerns and sci-fi flicks.
One unusual quirk for Utah (also seen in the Mormon-influenced sections of neighboring states) is the numbering system used for streets. The streets in all but a select few Utah cities and towns are based on a strict grid, centered at a specific intersection of an east-west and north-south road (often called Main Street and Center Street). Each block radiating from the center point is numbered based its distance from the center and its direction from the center; the east-west running street one block north of the center is called 100 North, the north-south street one block to the west is 100 West, and there's also 100 South and 100 East, and it continues from there. Thus you'll see street addresses like 2155 South 700 East (which means it's 21 and a half blocks south and 7 blocks east from the center). Many streets do have names, but they're still assigned a coordinate in the street numbering system; for example, Redwood Road, a major Salt Lake City thoroughfare, is 1700 West. Outsiders are often thoroughly confused at first, but it's an easy system to learn. All of Salt Lake County except for two small sections is numbered based on the intersection of Main Street and South Temple Street, on the southeast side of the Salt Lake Temple.
As far as works are concerned, Utah has a highly active Mormon Cinema with culturally esoteric references and humor. Often parodied is the quirkiness and stiffness of its traditional culture, heavily tied to its Victorian English history.note