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Nickname: The Beehive State
Statehood: 1896; 45th state
Population (as of July 2016): 3,051,217
Capital: Salt Lake City
Biggest City: Salt Lake City
State bird: California gull
State flower: sego lily
Archaeologists know that people have lived in the land now called Utah for more than 12,000 years, thanks to a recently discovered Ice Age campsite. There, experts found a spear point used to hunt mammoths, as well as bones from waterfowl that prehistoric people probably cooked.
Native American tribes formed over thousands of years, including the Navajo, Goshute, Ute, Paiute, Bannock, and Shoshone. Their ancestors still live in the state today.
The first Spanish explorers reached the land around 1776. But soon, in 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and claimed parts of the area for itself. But that didn’t last, either. In 1848, the United States won the Mexican-American War, and as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded (gave up) Utah to the United States. In 1896 Utah became the 45th state.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Experts don’t agree on Utah’s name. Some say it comes from the Spanish nickname for the Ute Native American tribe, Yuta. But others say the name could come from the Ute word yutas, which is said to mean “the people,” or “people of the mountains.”
Utah is nicknamed the Beehive State because the early pioneers considered themselves as hardworking as bees. The name is thought to have been coined by people of the Mormon faith, who came to Utah in 1847 seeking religious freedom.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
This western state is bordered by Idaho and Wyoming in the north, Colorado in the east, Arizona in the south, and Nevada in the west. Its southeastern corner touches Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Called “Four Corners,” it’s the only place in the country where four states come together!
Utah has three major geographic areas: the Rocky Mountains, the Basin and Ridge Region, and the Colorado Plateau.
The Rocky Mountains region runs from northeastern Utah through the center of the state. It includes the 13,528-foot Kings Peak, Utah’s highest point.
The Colorado Plateau spreads across the southern third of Utah. It might sound like it’s totally flat, but mountains, canyons, and valleys dot the region. Monument Valley’s red mesas and rock spires have appeared in many western movies, and Zion National Park’s Zion Canyon is another red rock hot spot. Bryce Canyon is known for its “hoodoos,” rock pillars that look like crazy man-made statues but were naturally formed by erosion.
The Basin and Ridge Region crosses western Utah and includes mountains and salt flats. Here is where you’ll find the Great Salt Lake, which is even saltier than the ocean!
The Rocky Mountain elk is the state animal, common in Utah’s mountains. Desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, white-tailed jackrabbits, piute ground squirrels, and Hopi chipmunks are also among Utah’s mammals.
Side-blotched lizards, Utah mountain kingsnakes, and desert tortoises are among the state’s reptiles, and Great Plains toads and Arizona tiger salamanders are two of the amphibians that hop and slither through Utah.
Utah’s state tree is the quaking aspen, which is found in all 29 counties in Utah. Utah juniper, canyon maple, pinyon pines, and Joshua trees are also among Utah’s common foliage.
The sego lily is the state flower. Its bulbs were used as food by early settlers. Other wildflowers include Utah honeysuckle, Utah serviceberry, and smallflower woodland-star, which looks like a snowflake.
Manmade ponds in Moab, Utah, produce potassium chloride, which is used in fertilizer, medicines, and foods. The state also mines uintaite (also called gilsonite), a shiny black rock used in making cement, asphalt, and paint. Copper is the state mineral, and Utah contains one of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines. It’s so deep that two 1,454-foot Willis Towers (the second-tallest tower in the United States) could fit stacked inside it!
Rock hounds can visit Utah for its semi-precious stones including rare red beryl, the purple bertrandite, and topaz, the state gem.
- Infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy, hotel chain founder J.W. Marriott, and early television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth were all born in Utah.
- The Sundance Film Festival, an annual independent film festival is held in Park City, Utah.
- Visitors to Utah State University can taste ice cream made only here: blue mint with Oreos and white chocolate chips. Staff and students in the school’s food science program might have invented it!
- A top spot for seeing Utah’s famous red rocks is the 200-million-year-old natural “staircase” called Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Another show-stopping rock formation is “the Wave” on the Arizona border. The striped layers of hardened, windblown sand sweep into giant curves that look like waves.
- Utah’s license plate claims the state has the “greatest snow on Earth” because the snow falls light and dry on the mountains.
- Utah is home to Fishlake National Forest.
Text by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh
Photos: Juergen Priewe, Dreamstime (flag); Pancaketom, Dreamstime (quarter); Kwiktor, Dreamstime (sego); Spectruminfo, Dreamstime (California gull); Terrywen412, Dreamstime (Rocky Mountain elk)
Keep exploring the states!