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It’s not Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, but it is a unique and commanding destination tucked away in a picturesque canyon of the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, 30 miles from downtown Salt Lake City.
It is so unique to us, in fact, that a small piece of it was our first major purchase when we got married, but only after we bought a piano — a “condition” of marriage 52 years ago.
Park City traces its beginnings as a mining town, having drawn many prospectors to the area in their quest for silver deposits. One of its silver mines, called the Ontario Mine, was sold to George Hearst for $27,000, but little did he expect that the mine would produce $50 million in the years following 1872, forming the basis of the Hearst family fortune. Every prospector/miner in the early days of discovery anticipated that his mine would never play out — but sometimes they do. As in playing poker, the winner is subject to the whim of the draw. Hearst got lucky!
At the peak of the “mining season,” Park City’s estimated population was about 7,000. When the mines played out, the miners — along with most of the merchants whose game is to follow the money — fled for more promising prospects. Incidentally, there were more successful merchants than there were successful prospectors and miners. Every owner, worker, prospector and family needed daily provisions, to the merchant’s pleasure; whereas, relatively few miners were successful.
Mining flourished until about 1949. On a geological time scale, it took millennia for the silver-rich ore to develop, yet only minutes to extract it. While Park City was never classified as a ghost town, it became only a shadow of its former self.
Today, however, Park City has emerged from the past as a thriving ski destination and resort community, due to its numerous and varied ski slopes, excellent snow conditions and close proximity to a major airport. A skier could spend a month in Park City and never ski the same slope twice.
Park City’s fame today is largely attributable to the 2002 Winter Olympics and the Sundance Film Festival, and it is now home to many high-profile people: Mitt Romney, George Hearst (media mogul), numerous Olympians, sportsmen and Hollywood glitterati.
Park City is now a year-round recreation destination determined by the fact summer occupancy is only slightly less than winter occupancy. There are numerous ski runs that operate year-round for sightseers, hikers and mountain bikers. There truly is no “off season” at Park City.
Practically a one-street city, Main Street is quite eye-catching, with most of the retail businesses, theaters, bars and restaurants there. Interestingly, 64 colorful Victorian homes, built during boom times, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and several are located on Main Street or nearby among more recently built homes. However, the hillsides are graced by many new mansions, attesting to the level of success of the town in attracting well-to-do newcomers.
Various other interesting activities take place in Park City, which is also home of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team. Many scenes from 1994’s movie “Dumb and Dumber” were shot in the city. Mrs. Fields Cookies started here.
Park City is the most liberal city in Utah, owing to the fact there are more non-Mormons per capita than anywhere else in the state. The ambience and amenities of the city lure more than 3,000,000 visitors per year.
Aside from the active sports of skiing and biking, a stroll down Main Street will make your heart race. Interesting family-owned restaurants, colorful bars and an assortment of microbreweries, is enough to satisfy every whim or taste. Reserve a day of your stay to just browse Main Street for novelty items, high-fashion clothing and accessories, and enjoy the wide variety of gastronomic treats and libations. Top it off by driving around the hillside roads overlooking the city, where you can return for dinner. This one-day, self-guided excursion will be one of the most memorable of your stay in Park City.
As to our purchases of years ago — we sold our lot in Park City, but I still have my wife, Karyn, and she has her piano.
Postscript: Share your travel wishes: What are the top three foreign countries you would like to visit? Email me at the address below.
Neil and Karyn Sawyer have been residents of Crystal River for 27 years. They travel frequently, having been to 48 states, 64 countries and seven continents. Neil welcomes comments and questions about travel. Contact him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.