10 weird landmarks in Utah many new residents don’t even know about
Mar 11, 2021, 4:09 PM | Updated: May 26, 2021, 2:28 pm
From Arches National Park to Temple Square, there are a lot of famous Utah landmarks for both tourists and locals to explore. But beyond the typical destinations you might read about in a brochure, there are plenty of unique and weird landmarks in Utah to check out.
Even if you were born and raised in Utah, there are probably a few items on this list you might not know about. Here are some bizarre and weird landmarks in the Beehive State worth exploring:
1) The Hole N” The Rock House
When planning his family’s dream home, Albert Christensen decided to dig instead of build. Starting in the 1940s, he spent 12 years digging a 5,000 square foot home inside a giant rock. The dwelling features 14 rooms, a fireplace with a 65-foot chimney and even a bathtub carved directly into the surrounding rock.
Although Albert died soon after completing his cave home, his wife lived there for several decades until she passed away in the 1970s.
Today, the strangely punctuated Hole n” The Rock is now a roadside tourist attraction, diner, petting zoo and picnic area about 12 miles (19.31 km) south of Moab, Utah.
2) Mars Desert Research Station
Map: Hanksville, UT
Even though humanity is still years away from launching a manned spacecraft to Mars, that hasn’t stopped researchers from training for the eventual journey. But where on Earth can you find conditions similar to Mars? Utah, of course.
The unique terrain near Canyonlands National Park created the ideal location for the Mars Society to construct the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS). Participants at the facility help test procedures, new technologies and even have to wear a spacesuit when leaving their habitats.
Visiting the MDRS might sound like fun, but unfortunately, the test environment is not open to the public. Unless you are invited, the only way to tour the Mars Desert Research Station is virtually, using Google Maps or via their photo gallery.
3) The USPS Remote Encoding Center
My grandfather had terrible handwriting, and I was always amazed when his letters would arrive at my house. So how were the people at the Post Office able to read his handwriting when even I couldn’t?
When you mail a letter, computers with optical character recognition (OCR) software will try to read the address and automatically sort for an item. But when an address is unrecognizable, the letter’s destination address is scanned and sent to a USPS Remote Encoding Center (REC) for review.
In 1994, the first REC was established by US Postal Service in Salt Lake City. The program expanded rapidly and by 1997, there were 55 REC locations across the United States. Collectively, these facilities were staffed 24/7 and at their peak processed 19 billion address images annually. Wow! That’s a lot of sloppy handwriting, folks.
But as email adoption increased, and OCR technology improved, the REC locations were slowly phased out. By the end of 2013, only one REC facility was still operational, the original Salt Lake City location. It’s officially the first and last of its kind, and for the purposes of this article, being declared a Utah landmark.
The USPS Remote Encoding Center in Salt Lake City doesn’t offer tours, but you can always drive by and gawk at this weird Utah landmark. It’s only a few miles south of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
4) Thistle Ghost Town
Map: Thistle, Utah
In 1890, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) transformed a small homesteading town called Thistle into a vital maintenance hub. With easy access to the railroad, Thistle was a cute small town full of promise. That all came to an abrupt end when an unusually wet year created a massive mudslide that wiped out the town.
In April 1983, a mudslide slid into the Spanish Fork River creating a dam that diverted an unstoppable deluge of mud and water into Thistle. Residents fled Thistle and were never able to return. Government officials have named the Thistle Mudslide one of the costliest mudslides in US history. It was also the first presidentially declared disaster area in the State of Utah.
Today, Thistle is an abandoned ghost town and many of the homes and buildings are still underwater and buried in mud.
5) Gilgal Sculpture Garden
Did you know that just a half-block away from Trolley Square is a hidden public park full of giant sculptures? Created in the 1950s by Thomas Battersby Child, Jr., the Gilgal Sculpture Garden contains 12 sculptures, and more than 70 engraved stones.
One of the more interesting sculptures is an Egyptian sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The property was originally Child’s backyard. He began working on the sculptures when he was 57 years old. It became somewhat of a fascination for Child. He devoted much of his energy to the project until his death in 1963 at age of 75.
In the year 2000, Salt Lake City took over maintenance of this Utah landmark and it’s now a hidden public park.
6) The “Victim Of The Beast 666” Headstone
— Cameron Robinson (@CameronMVM) January 31, 2018
Among the many graves in Salt Lake City Cemetery is a headstone so unusual, it attracts paranormal tour groups. Instead of saying something like “Beloved Mother” or “Rest In Peace,” the inscription for Lilly E. Gray‘s headstone sounds like a Motley Crue song from their Shout At The Devil album. Her headstone reads: “A Victim of the Beast 666.”
Although not much is known about her early years, later in life Lilly married an ex-con named Elmer Gray. The couple were both in their early 70s and wed in Elko, Nev., on July 10, 1952.
Before their marriage, Elmer served prison terms in Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Utah for burglary and other miscellaneous charges. According to his appeals records, Elmer was a difficult prisoner and obsessed with several conspiracy theories. He believed that his prison terms were a “farce Termination” and that he had been “kidnaped[sic] by 5 Democrat Officials.”
With both Lilly and Elmer already in their 70s when they first met, the couple’s marriage only lasted a little over six years. Lilly became ill and died on Nov. 14, 1958. Foul play was not suspected as Lilly passed away after spending a week in the hospital. Elmer died six years later at the age of 83 on Halloween Day, Oct. 31, 1964.
Little is known about their relationship, but Elmer was ultimately responsible for the strange inscription. Why he chose to engrave “A Victim of the Beast 666” on his wife’s headstone will forever be a mystery. But by doing so, he unknowingly created a weird Utah landmark.
If you want to pay your respects to Lilly E. Gray, her grave is found on the northeastern side of the Salt Lake Cemetery.
7) Pando: The Heaviest Known Organism On Earth
In 1976, Jerry Kemperman and Burton Barnes discovered a massive tree colony in south-central Utah. After using genetic markers, researchers were able to determine that the 108-acre cluster of quaking aspen trees all had one connected root system. That’s right, it’s essentially one giant plant.
Researchers named the unique phenomenon Pando, Latin for “I spread,” but it’s more affectionately called Trembling Giant. The nickname comes from the title of a 1993 article about the tree cluster in Discover Magazine.
It’s estimated that Pando weighs an incredible 6 million kilograms making it the heaviest known organism on Earth.
Pando is also likely one of the oldest. But because an aspen clone can’t be identified by its tree rings, the exact age of Pando is unknown. Estimates loosely place it somewhere between 10,000 to 1 million years old.
8) The Devil’s Slide
Map: I-84 in Weber Canyon
If the Devil built a playground, what would the slide look like? That was how James John Walker, one of the first residents of Weber Canyon, described this odd pair of rocks.
The Devil’s Slide is a rock formation that consists of two 200-foot-long limestone strata rocks that strangely run parallel to each other. Estimates place the age of the rocks at between 170 million and 180 million years old.
You can see the Devil’s Slide the next time you’re driving through Weber Canyon. It’s off the southern side of I-84, just west of the town of Croydon.
9) The Real Up House
Map: Herriman, Utah
The 2008 Pixar movie Up was a huge hit with both critics and audiences. But apparently, some people loved the movie more than others. Home builder Blair Bangerter liked Up so much that he got permission from Disney to build a replica of the famous house from the film.
According to a KSL-TV report, even the furniture inside the home was custom-built to match every detail from the movie.
Trip Advisor lists the real Up house as the #1 attraction in Herriman, but don’t ring the doorbell expecting to get a tour. Even though the home is a unique Utah landmark, it’s still just a private residence.
10) The Summum Pyramid
In 1975, Salt Lake City resident Claude “Corky” Nowell claimed to have had an encounter with an alien race called the “Summa individuals” who revealed to him the secret of the universe. Soon after the encounter, Nowell founded the Summum religion, so he could share those secrets with others. He also changed his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra.
Between 1977 and 1979, a pyramid was constructed to serve as the Summum church’s main headquarters and location of their modern mummification practice. That’s right, members of the Summum religion practice mummification. In fact, as part of their fundraising efforts, you can hire their mummification services for $67,000 per person or only $15,000 for a small pet under 15 pounds (6.8 kg). By the way, they also make wine inside the pyramid.
If you want to visit the Summum Pyramid, it’s only a few blocks south of the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. The Summum church also offers a live stream of their religious readings Wednesdays at 7 pm.
Did you know about all of these weird landmarks in Utah?
If you grew up in the Beehive state, then you might already know most of these unique Utah landmarks. But what about those of you who have recently moved to the state? How many of these weird landmarks have you already visited and did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know on our Facebook page. Thanks for reading!