The website VisitOgden says it all: “First of all, forget everything you think you know about Utah.” My preconceived notion was that it’s a stronghold of Mormonism. Yes, it is, but it’s not like there are Mormons packing the streets. They’re there but they just look like, well, everyone else. Granted, there’s no state lottery, but that saved me a few wasted bucks.
It was my first visit to the state, and I went in thinking it’s a button-downed, straight-laced kind of place. Wrong. I was out skiing the state, mostly in the Salt Lake City area, a bustling urban center, but stayed a night and day over in Ogden, about 45 minutes away. I found it a most surprising place, and I love travel surprises, being delighted by the unexpected. And Ogden, in many ways a working-class place with grubby industrial areas, is a city on the rise, and has been for the past 20 or so years, now a place of fine dining, upscale shopping and a bustling nightlife.
The area of 25th Street is the hottest street in town, says Rich Koski, sales director for Visit Ogden Convention and Visitors Bureau. It was here about 16 or so years back that Roosters 25th Street Brewing Company set up shop, and the change was underway, drawing more businesses willing to take a shot at Ogden. This had for a long time been an area of hard-scrabble bars and upstairs brothels, but it soon changed over into what it is now, a magnificent western street of boutique shops, art galleries and incredible food.
At Tona Sushi Bar and Grill on the street, I had some of the best sushi ever, blown away by the high quality and variety of the seemingly urban dish in tiny little Ogden. They had it all, from hamachi crudo, served with purple fingerling potato chips and charred brussel sprouts, to ahi poke, chunks of ahi tuna, Fuji apple, wasabi cheese, jalapeno, olive oil and sea salt, to escolar cilantro, spicy tuna, snow crab and cuke inside, topped with cilantro, escolar and lime.
The best was the most artistic, called “The Green Globe,” snow crab salad and spicy tuna wrapped in a ball of sliced avocado, drizzled with tataki sauce and topped with wasabi tobiko. It looked too good to eat, but not for long. All that with some hot sake made for a very tasty evening. The street has all manner of ethnic food, Chinese, Italian, Greek, you name it, it’s here. Sad to say I didn’t get the chance to try the yak over at Jasoh. Maybe next time. Summer rocks here when the street bustles in a non-stop series of outdoor festivals, in a city that touts all the area offers from hiking to fishing to kayaking.
There’s tons of great places to stay, too, large and small. I opted for the Marriott Ogden, which has the look and feel of a typical chain hotel but with nice locally added touches, such as actual chair lifts hanging from the ceiling in the western-style lobby.
Ogden is known as “The Crossroad of the West,” and for good reason. In 1869, about 57 miles northwest, is where the transcontinental railroad tracks met up at Promontory Summit. Ogden was incorporated as a city in 1851, and the railroad put the town on the literal map. At the old Union Station, once the hub of transportation, you’ll now find the Utah State Railroad Museum, the Eccles Rail Center, the John M. Brown Firearms Museum and the Browning-Kimball Classic Car Museum. It’s all well worth checking out.
And so is any of Utah, one of the most picturesque places on the planet, albeit one with a seemingly incongruous pollution problem. The valleys, particularly up around Salt Lake, suffer from inversion, when low-lying clouds trap pollution spit out by the many cars and refining operations here. Though Salt Lake sits at the base of the towering Wasatch Mountains, on terrible inversion days, you can’t even see them from downtown, only when you drive up toward the ski areas, and your windshield is filled by the sight of those 10,000-foot monsters mountains, more than double in size anything we call big back East. It’s a problem long being fought in Utah and one of the only black marks on the state’s otherwise pristine environmental agenda. Consider the many films shot in the state, among others, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Eiger Sanction,” “Forrest Gump,” “Planet of the Apes (1968 and 2001)” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Chances are good that at least some part of a movie featuring gorgeous natural landscape were shot in the state. That famous cliff scene at the end of “Thelma and Louise” was shot at Dead Horse Point State Park, near Moab.
There’s a lot of Utah to explore, meaning I just have to go back. The Green Globe and yak are beckoning.
For all-things Ogden, check out www.visitogden.com, and for Utah, www.visitutah.com