Ancient peoples lived in the caves and mountains here for eons, many along the shores of Lake Bonneville. Remnants of the massive lake now comprise the (salty) Great Salt Lake and the (freshwater) Utah Lake, surrounded by the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Utah is named after the Ute Indians, and that tribe, as well as the Goshute, Navajo, Paiute, and Shoshone hunted, fished and farmed this prolific land long before the first settlers from Europe ventured in.
In the late 18th century the Dominguez-Escalante expedition (two Franciscan priests) from Santa Fe, New Mexico, passed through, looking for a new route to California. By the early 1800's, mountain men (trappers) had explored most of this land- and were trading with the wide-eyed, but suspicious local Indians.
Following Mexico's successful War of Independence from Spain in 1821, the Utah region came under Mexican control, Regardless, Jedediah Smith, one of the great explorers of the day, discovered routes through the rugged mountains that allowed thousands of pioneers to travel west to California by wagon train.
John C. Fremont, another famed explorer of the time, continually researched and mapped this land. In 1846, Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders brought their people west, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, thus changing the face and history of Utah forever.
During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), both America and Mexico fought for control of Texas. When that war ended, (by agreement) the fast-growing U.S. took possession of Texas, and eventually California, Nevada, smaller parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, and of course, Utah.
The Mormons responded by forming their own government and proposed the State of Deseret in 1849. The U.S. Congress did not admit Deseret to the Union, but rather created the Utah Territory in 1850.
Typical in the American West, Native Americans were being squeezed out of their long-held lands and they fought back aggressively. Hundreds of settlers and Ute Indians were killed, and the fighting continued until 1868 when the Indians were moved to reservations.
The Mormons worked hard to succeed, their population increased, and Salt Lake City prospered; needed supplies arrived from the east by overland freight; the Pony Express brought both mail and news; the telegraph brought instant communication, and then came the railroad. Soon after settling in Utah, the Mormons spread south to form the city of Provo.
There was one nagging problem as the Mormon's attitude on polygamy did not sit well in America; polygamists were arrested; church leaders went into hiding; the government seized their property, and Utah was denied statehood until polygamy ended in 1890.
Moving toward statehood the Mormons ended their business monopolies; political parties were established; a constitutional convention was held in 1895, and on January 4, 1896, Utah became the 45th state.
The state grew quickly and when other ethnic groups moved in to work the cattle ranches, farms and mines, the percentage of Mormon population started to decline. Copper mining began in 1906 and floods of immigrants changed Utah demographics even more; new cities emerged; electricity and telephones spread across the land, and new highways and roads were built.
In the 1930's, America's Great Depression severely affected Utah, and unemployment was widespread. World War II jumped-started the economy, as war-related industries brought new jobs and prosperity.
Aggressive growth continued well into the late 20th century, especially in the high tech sector. When announced in 1996 that Salt Lake City would host the 2002 Winter Olympics, the construction and hospitality industries boomed; Utah was now firmly located on the map of the world, and the world took note.
Utah is still the center of the Church of Latter Day Saints and the population of Salt Lake City is 50% Mormon. Temple Square is the biggest tourist draw for the city, with several of the most important Mormon attractions located within. The world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir makes its home here; Brigham Young's historical Beehive House and the Joseph Smith Memorial salute these Mormon founders; and the Family Research Library is the world's most renowned center of genealogy research.
Stunning western landscapes attract all kinds of outdoor adventurers. Provo, Utah is the state's second largest city on the shores of Lake Utah and at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. A hike up rugged Provo Canyon leads to Bridal Veil Falls, a magnificent double cataract waterfall. Both Salt Lake City and Provo are nearby excellent Utah ski resorts in the Wasatch Range, some of them open all four seasons of the year. The austere southwest corner of Utah is home to Monument Valley with some of the most famous vistas of the western United States with colorful sandstone pillars, mesas, and unique landforms to explore.
In this place of stunning, almost unbelievable natural beauty, it's no surprise that tourism is a major economic factor. With its world-class ski resorts, national parks and monuments, historic Mormon attractions, and family recreational areas, Utah is today one of the most impressive convention and vacation destinations on the planet.