What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

As a boy, we never really went on vacation. We traveled from one point to the next. We spent holidays with family, but never found ourselves setting off to stay at some remote retreat. We would drive from southern Washington to Oklahoma to spend Christmas with my grandparents. I would draw small pictures of really memorable places as they made an impact on me during our travels. A canyon. I great plain with some vast expanse. A lone tree.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

One of the places I remember driving through was Utah. As a boy, it was hard to piece together what exactly I was looking at. I remember passing through Salt Lake City on our way to Oklahoma and not understanding why it was so bleak and gray. The hills seemed to be rolling waves from a gloomy sea, and the city itself was nothing to shake a stick at. There was nothing to do. Of course, the only reason my parents were there is because that's where the freeway went and we needed fuel in our '92 white Ford Bronco.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

Time passed and I found myself playing football in college. I went back to Salt Lake City two more times. Once, passing through to play BYU (bleh) and again to play the University of Utah (eh, okay). Unfortunately, as a college football player, taking in the sights is not really an option unless you count the minutes spent traveling between the airport, hotel and stadiums. Again, the weather was gloomy – darn that football season timing – and the city was not a place we could take part in. Strike two for Salt Lake City.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

Recently, Chelsea has had several conferences in Salt Lake City on days where the boys and I could go as well. I told her we would only come along on the condition that we drive, so I could take pictures and see some places “on the way.” Chelsea told me she'd look up a couple stops. Hesitantly, we embarked.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

The drive out was exactly as expected. A Californian desert filled with rocks and hills and all the little critters I've come to love. In the past few years, I've learned to see more into the landscape and less just at it. Even the heat itself is no longer simply heat. It's part of an environment millions of years in the making. I wondered, as I often do, what it would look like to have a place to stand and watch the way the valleys and mountains formed over those millennia, but in an immortal fast-forward. The world would truly look like an ocean. Every mountain rising and falling.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

We hit southern Utah and things started to change. The weather cooled and the dry air moistened. Rock and sand gave way to farm land and eventually, like Oz on the horizon, there it was. Salt Lake City.

Would my trip, once again, be all be for not?

NOPE.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

I was pleasantly surprised, as Casey might have been had he not struck out. Salt Lake City had changed. It was different. Something about it and its surroundings were new and appealing.

And then it hit me. Time may have brought new vitalization to the city, but I too had brought something else. Children. Along with them, I brought a new perspective on what I wanted and enjoyed in life. It was wonderful, actually. Let my count the ways.

For a city, there was so much to offer. The same University of Utah that we played a few years prior housed the very first museum of dinosaur bones I've ever been to. EVER! Not only was Some Boy excited, but I was running around like a slightly more mature five-year-old. There was so much to see and touch, I almost cried.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

The capital building was right down the street. The surrounding area and Temple Square were welcoming, but the capital building itself was massively impressive. There was even an outstanding Mexican food restaurant with a strange food called “mole” that Chelsea fell in love with during her time spent studying abroad in Puebla.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

Even the mall – which are the most commercial and love-desolate places in California – seemed somehow different in Salt Lake City. Maybe it was because every one of them had a fountain show. Some were even built with outstanding children centers, complete with playgrounds so phenomenal I was certain someone would come around collecting an admission fee.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

Then we drove just outside the city. Up in the hills, the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees. The forest and rock took us in, and we sat atop a mountain marveling at the high country. The boys played in the snow, and the eagles seemed to be the only thing above us before the stars.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

We descended the mountain and headed off to the center of the valley, Salt Lake itself. We were told by a local that Antelope Island might be a good spot for us to check out. Oh, and it was! We drove across the long land bridge and onto the island where we paid the ranger and drove on. Apparently, we didn't pay the ranger enough or they forgot to ask for more because HOLY COW. Well, HOLY BUFFALO!

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

It was like a self guided tour through the great plains. We drove right past a free roaming herd of buffalo. We spotted some lone prong horn and even some skittish dear. Then the rain started to fall. And it was glorious. We even stopped off at the ranch at the end of the road that had been around for ever.

What to see with kids in and around Salt Lake City, from the Capital Building to dinosaur bones to wild animals

Well, Salt Lake City. Take your base. You're one of the best.