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With its unworldly scenery and unusual history, Utah ranks among the most intriguing destinations in the U.S. This big western state has magnificent mountain peaks, stark deserts, colorful canyons, and the second saltiest body of water on Earth. Utah is home to five national parks and seven national monuments, making it a paradise for travelers who love the outdoors. Also, the state is justly famous for its excellent skiing, river rafting, bicycling, and backpacking. But Utah's fascinations don't stop at its scenic and recreational attractions.
Visitors to Utah are often surprised to learn it is the most urban state in the American West. More than 80 percent of the population of about two million lives along the Wasatch Front of northern Utah; only a few towns outside this Salt Lake Citymetropolis have more than 5,000 people. The majority of Utahns are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons. Largely because of the church's emphasis on worldwide missions, Utah is more cosmopolitan than you might expect; even in the smallest towns, you're likely to meet many people who have lived abroad. Yet the strict Mormon code of ethics and reliance on family and community can also make Utah a very 1950s sort of place.
Utah has nine state-designated travel regions. Although these designations are still used, the state also divides its attractions into four "geoprovinces." The Rocky Mountain Province includes northern Utah east of the Wasatch Mountains (including Park City), as well as Bear Lake, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, and Dinosaur National Monument. The Wasatch Front Province includes Salt Lake City and many of its suburbs. The Red Rock Province, also known as the Colorado Plateau or the Four Corners region, includes all of Utah's national parks and many other public lands. The Great Basin Province includes most of Utah's western half, a thinly settled area including the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Utah's earliest inhabitants of about 15,000 years ago were hunter-gatherers, followed by the Fremont and Anasazi peoples, who lived agrarian, village-centered lives until about 800 years ago. In recent centuries, the region became home to several Native American tribes, including the Goshute, Navajo, Shoshoni, Southern Paiute, and Ute peoples. The state took its name from the latter group.
Although Spanish explorers and mountain men visited Utah in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Anglo settlement was slow due to the state's harsh conditions. In 1843, John Fremont explored what is now the Great Salt Lake Valley area, noting not only its weirdly saline water but the fertile valleys shadowing the mountains. Fremont's findings inspired Mormon leader Brigham Young, then in Illinois, to plan a caravan west to an empty land where his people would not be persecuted. "This is the right place," Young said when he and his followers arrived in 1847. The Mormons quickly laid out a city, dug irrigation canals, started farms, and set about creating self-sufficient, church-centered communities in the land they called Deseret. It was their industriousness that gave Utah its nickname, "the Beehive State." In 1896, Utah became the 45th state.