Geography and Landforms:

Utah is bordered by Idaho and Wyoming on the north and by Arizona on the south. On the east, Utah is bordered by Colorado. On the west, Utah is bordered by Nevada.

Major rivers in Utah include the Colorado River and the Green River.

Utah is divided into three main geographic regions: the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Ridge Region.

The Rocky Mountains occupy a V-shaped section of northeastern Utah and include the Uinta and the Wasatch mountains. The Uinta range is the only section of the Rockies that runs east and west rather than north and south. It contains Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah at 13,528 feet.

The Colorado Plateau covers most of the southern and eastern sections of Utah. It is characterized by broad high country cut by deep canyons and valleys. The area is rugged and largely uninhabitable except in river valleys. Although travel in the area is difficult, the majestic views of Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks Canyon and Zion Canyon are memorable.

Western Utah is part of the Great Basin region and was once submerged beneath an extensive Pleistocene lake. When the lake finally subsided, it left behind a salty desert, wide expanses of arid soil, and a series of lakes, including the Great Salt Lake. This lake, because of evaporation, now has a concentration of mineral salts several times greater than the ocean. Gulls, pelicans, and blue herons live around the lake and on its islands, and much of the lake shore is bordered by mud and salt flats. The Basin and Ridge Region is one of the driest areas in the United States.

Temperatures and rainfall in Utah vary greatly. In the mountains, temperatures are cool and mountain tops may remain snow covered year round. In the desert areas, it can be very hot. Similarly, rainfall in the mountains tends to be frequent, but areas around the Great Salt Lake Desert may receive less than 5 inches of rain per year.

Utah's southeastern corner meets the corners of three other states: Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Referred to as "Four Corners," it is the only place in the United States where it is possible to stand in four states at the same time!


The first Europeans to enter what is now the state of Utah were Mexicans and Spaniards. In 1540, Garcia Lopez de Cardenas may have entered southern Utah and in 1765, Juan Maria Antonia Rivera may have led at least two expeditions into the area. It is most commonly believed, however, that the region was first explored in 1776 by Spanish Franciscan friars Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Dominguez. They were looking for a route between Santa Fe and Monterey, California. During their travels, they visited with the Ute Indians, but early snow storms forced them to return to Santa Fe before completing their trip. Before they left the area, they made detailed maps, and they drew pictures of plant and animal life, geography, and the appearance of the Ute and Paiute Indians. In 1819, a treaty between the United States and Spain recognized Utah as a Spanish possession. Utah remained under Spanish control until after the Mexican American War in 1848.

During the 1820s, traders continued to establish new routes to California, and a trading relationship developed between Santa Fe and the Indians in Utah. In 1824, American frontiersman Jim Bridger discovered the Great Salt Lake. Jedediah Smith made several journeys into Utah during the 1820s, and Miles Goodyear established Fort Buenaventura on the Ogden River in 1844. The Canadian fur trader Peter Skene Ogden led four expeditions into the Snake River area. These early expeditions were primarily focused on developing the lucrative fur trade, but by the 1830s, the fur trade was dying out, and it would be another 10 or 15 years before a second wave of pioneers would come to Utah.

In the 1840s, pioneers from the east began to undertake long journeys westward toward California. In 1841, the Bidwell party left the Oregon Trail and set off across the Great Salt Lake Desert. In 1846, the ill-fated Donner party was in search of a short cut to California through Utah, and met tragedy when their journey took too long and left them stranded in freezing temperatures. This group, a portion of which survived through cannibalism, assisted in showing pioneers new ways to the west.

The most important group to travel to Utah, however, was the Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormons. This group, fleeing religious persecution in the East and the Midwest, was led into the area by Brigham Young in 1847. They established Salt Lake City, and streams of other Mormons soon followed from the United States, Britain and the Scandinavian countries. In 1850, Brigham Young was appointed governor of Utah Territory by the United States. The Mormons originally wanted to name the territory Deseret (which means honeybee), but gave up that idea. To this day, however, the beehive remains a symbol of Mormonism in Utah. Soon, other Mormon settlements were established and by 1850, families were living in Bountiful, Farmington, Ogden, Provo and Manti. Each village was run by a leader selected by the church authorities, and the daily life of the people was dictated by their religious beliefs.

The Mormons wanted Utah to be admitted to the United States as a Mormon-led state. However, the Mormon Church permitted polygamy, or the ability of a man to have more than one wife, and the federal government refused to recognize Utah as a state because of this. At the same time, settlers in the area were encroaching on the land of the Native Americans in the area, and this conflict resulted in the Walker War of 1853 and the Black Hawk War of 1865--1868.

By 1857, the federal government declared that Utah was in a "state of substantial rebellion," and Brigham Young was removed from his post as governor. President James Buchanan directed US troops to act against Mormons if necessary. Church property was seized and polygamists were arrested. This conflict, called the "Utah War" or the "Mormon campaign" was settled peacefully, but the issue of polygamy continued to cause friction between Mormons and the federal government. Finally, in 1890, Mormon leaders issued a statement advising members to abstain from polygamy and by 1896, Utah was admitted to the Union as the 45th state.


Although the land in Utah is not particularly well-suited to farming overall, the original settlers of the state, the Mormons, were determined to use the land for agriculture. They also hoped that the difficulties of successfully farming this arid land would discourage others from settling in the area. Major crops grown today in Utah include hay, corn, barley and wheat, but the majority of the state's agricultural income comes from livestock including sheep, cattle, dairying and poultry.

Ironically, the state is rich in natural resources, particularly, for mining, but the leaders of the Mormon Church discouraged followers from pursuing its development. Therefore, it has been primarily non-Mormons who have become involved in the mining industry. Utah is a leading producer of copper, gold, silver, lead, zinc, and molybdenum. The state also has rich oil shale deposits and low-sulfur coal.

The Mormon Church has also distrusted industrialization, but the establishment of defense plants and military installations in the state during World War II spurred growth in this area. Close to iron, coal and limestone, Provo has become a steel center. Utah has become a center for aerospace research and the production of missiles, spacecraft, computer hardware and software, and electronic systems. Most recently, tourism has become another leading industry in Utah, with Salt Lake City hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics.

First Inhabitants:

Archaeologists call the first people who lived in the area we now call Utah Paleo-Indians. They were hunters and gatherers who hunted big game, including some animals now extinct, like mammoth. There is evidence across Utah of their lives 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, and this evidence helps us learn more about them. Around 8,000 years ago, there were changes in the way they lived and in the tools they used, and archaeologists call this period the Archaic period. The people still hunted, but they began to settle into small villages or caves, and they were less nomadic. They began to make baskets in which to collect plants to eat. They also began to make stone spear tips so they would be more effective hunters. One tool they began to use was the atlatl, which was used to hurl spears at their prey. This tool made them much more successful at hunting.

Around 2,500 years ago, evidence shows that life began to change again for the people living in Utah. People learned how to plant and cultivate their own food, and they grew corn, beans and squash. By this time, we can identify two distinct groups of people living in the area: the Anasazi and the Fremont Indians. The Fremont, who lived in northern Utah, still depended upon hunting and gathering for much of their food, but the Anasazi, who lived further south, relied more on agriculture. They also began to raise turkeys and used them for food. We know that these prehistoric people had trading relationships with groups far away from them. For example, stone tools made of obsidian from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have been found in Utah. Beads made of ocean shells from the Pacific Ocean and jewelry made from turquoise from Arizona have also been found. By 1300 AD, the Fremont and the Anasazi were gone, and no one really knows why. In some cases, the places they lived were simply abandoned. In other cases, their villages were taken over by other groups.

By the time European explorers first came to Utah there were five main groups of Indians living in the area: the Ute, Paiute, Navajo, Goshute and Shoshone. Each tribe is different, but there are connections among some of the tribes. The Ute, Paiute, Goshute and Shoshone all speak related languages, and they lived by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants, especially the pinyon nut. On the other hand, the Navajo language is very different from the others. The Navajo life styles were different too, being more focused on herding sheep, goats, and cattle.

Books Related To Utah

A is for Arches: A Utah Alphabet - Becky Hall
(978-1585360963) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Utah.

The Chihuahua Chase - A.E. Cannon
(978-0374312596) , Fiction
Interest level: 1-5, Lexile: 600, ESL level: 3
Teddy and Addie May set out to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Teddy's chihuahua, Phantom.

Edges - Lena Roy
(978-0374350529) , Fiction
Interest level: 9-12, Lexile: 620, ESL level: 4 - 5
Friends Luke and Ava relocate to Utah after experiencing a set of deeply traumatic events including death, alcoholism, and mental health issues.

The Great Brain is Back - John Fitzgerald
(978-0803713468) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-8, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 3
Tom is still interested in money-making schemes despite his crush on a girl in his class.

I am Nuchu - Brenda Stanley
(978-1934813478) , Fiction
Interest level: 8-12, Lexile: 690, ESL level: 4 - 5
Cal has to move to Utah after his parents divorce, where the students are Ute Indians, and his popularity as a basketball star is unknown.

Journey Home - Yoshiko Uchida
(978-0689716416) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-10, Lexile: 890, ESL level: 3 - 4
A Japanese-American family with a budding adolescent return home to attempt to get back their formerly peaceful life, but they find it difficult because of anti-Japanese prejudice after the war.

Journey to Topaz: A Story Of The Japanese-American Evacuation - Yoshiko Uchida
(978-1890771911) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 970, ESL level: 4
An eleven-year old Japanese American girl has to go to a camp for aliens in Utah during World War II.

Keep Sweet - Michele Greene
(978-1416986812) , Fiction
Interest level: 8-12, Lexile: 930, ESL level: 4 - 5
Alva can accept the rules of living in a fundamentalist compound under a father who has multiple wives until she both finds her own boyfriend and experiences the sect's practice of arranged marriages

The Maze - Will Hobbs
(978-0380729135) , Fiction
Interest level: 8-12, Lexile: 720, ESL level: 4 - 5
After a young teen escapes from a juvenile detention center, he finds himself working with a biologist trying to reintroduce condors into their natural environment.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow - Amy Lee-Tai
(978-0892392155) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-12, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 3 - 4
Mari finds that growing flowers and participating in art projects helps her life improve after her family is forced to move to a relocation center for Japanese Americans during WWII.

Samirah's Ride: The Story of an Arabian Filly - Annie Wedekind
(978-0312384258) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-10, Lexile: 990, ESL level: 4 - 5
Jasper wants to save her favorite filly from being sold, but her actions put them both in peril.

Sisters in Sanity - Gayle Forman
(608-87494) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 760, ESL level: 4
Sixteen-year-old Brit is shocked to find herself in a mental health facility for troubled teens after her family lures her there with deceit; after a period of shock, she begins to work hard and befriend the other clients in order to plan her escape.

Sweethearts - Sara Zarr
(316-014567) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 720, ESL level: 4
Jennifer experiences emotional upheaval when a childhood friend returns to find Jennifer now slim and popular.

The Wheat Doll - Alison Randall
(978-1561454563) , Fiction
Interest level: 1-4, Lexile: 680, ESL level: 2 - 3
When spring comes, Mary Ann is happier and finds that a big surprise helps replace her lost stuffed doll.

Famous Citizens:

John M. Browning
Born in Ogden, Utah, Browning is known as one of the most famous inventors of firearms in history. He made his first gun, the single shot rifle, when he was only 14 years old, and spent the next 47 years inventing and making guns. He held over 100 patents for his work, and is known for his work on the .45 caliber pistol, the Colt Peacemaker machine gun, and the Browning automatic rifle. His Browning automatic shotgun was first made in 1902 and is still made today.

Butch Cassidy
Born Robert LeRoy Parker in Beaver, Utah, Cassidy was known as the "Robin Hood of the West." In 1896, he and a group of other outlaws, including "the Sundance Kid" formed a gang they called the "Hole in the Wall Gang." This group had the longest sequence of successful bank robberies in the history of the American West. Eventually driven out of the US by federal authorities, Cassidy and the Sundance Kid moved to South America and continued to rob banks there. Most believe he was killed in a shoot-out in Bolivia, but rumors persisted that he escaped, returned to the United States and lived under an assumed name.

Philo Farnsworth
Born in Indian Creek, Utah, Philo was fascinated with the study of electricity. Although he attended a small school, he worked closely with his chemistry teacher, and by the time he was 15 years old, he had developed a theory of electronic transmission of pictures. Six years later, he patented and produced the first working, all-electronic television system. His later work contributed to the development of the radar, electron microscopes, incubators for newborns, and guidance systems for aircraft. However, Farnsworth's son once reported that his father said this about television: "There's nothing on it worthwhile, and we're not going to watch it in this household, and I don't want it in your intellectual diet!"

Capital: Salt Lake City
Entered Union: January 4, 1896
Population: 2,942,902
Area 84,899
Bird California Seagull
Flower Sego Lily
Nickname: Beehive State
Governor Gary Herbert

Places to Visit in Utah: (Click the links to learn more.)

Utah Olympic Park - Park City
The site of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Utah Olympic Park is now open to the public year round. Ride the Olympic Sliding Track with an experienced bobsled pilot, try a zipline, or experience the nature trails. There is also a Ski Museum and other exhibits related to the Olympics.

Arches National Park - near Moab
Arches National Park preserves over two thousand natural sandstone arches along with other unique geological formations. In some places, faulting has exposed millions of years of geologic history. An 18-mile scenic drive takes you through the park, but there are also hiking trails, and ranger-led tours.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument - Monument
Rainbow Bridge is the world's largest natural bridge. Native American tribes from this area consider the bridge sacred, and the National Park Service, which administers the site, has a policy of requesting visitors to respect Native American beliefs about the site, including a request not to walk under the bridge itself. Full-day guided boat trips are offered, but many self-guided activities are restricted in deference to the site's spiritual significance.

Hill Aerospace Museum - Hill Air Force Base - near Roy
The Hill Aerospace Museum was founded in 1981 and exhibits 64 military aircraft and missiles. The collection also includes an assortment of aerospace ground equipment, and military vehicles and uniforms. The museum seeks to collect, preserve, and display historically significant artifacts associated with the United States Air Force.

Temple Square - Salt Lake City
A ten-acre block located in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City, Temple Square is Utah's number one tourist attraction. In the center of the square is the granite Salt Lake Temple, begun in 1853 under the direction of Brigham Young. The Temple took 40 years to complete. Although non-Mormons are not permitted to enter the Temple, visitors can learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by touring the nearby Visitors Centers. Adjacent to the Temple is the Tabernacle, home of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the 11,623 brass pipe organ. Concerts and recitals are open to the public.