I wasn’t able to post a blog last week because I made a weekend pilgrimage to the Land of Zion for my nephew’s wedding. You went to Israel in a weekend? Nope, I’m talking about the sacred city in Utah that is Salt Lake.

I was raised a Mormon in Salt Lake City, went to college at the University of Utah (or U2 as Steve teasingly refers to it) and lived there until I escaped to San Francisco one night when no one was looking.

It’s only fitting that I write about Salt Lake today because in Utah, the “24th of July” is a holiday more celebrated than the Fourth of July. Bunting was already hanging on front porches last weekend. The holiday commemorates the date in 1847 that Brigham Young looked into the valley and declared “This is The Place.” He was right, it really is a place like no where else.

I was reminded that Salt Lake is a world unto itself even before I got on the plane. While I was waiting in the airport, I started to hear words pop out of conversations that would not make any sense unless you were familiar with the culture of Salt Lake.

For instance, you don’t talk about if someone is “Mormon,” instead it’s “LDS” which is an acronym for Latter Day Saint. And then there are “wards” as in “I’ll bet I can borrow a stroller from someone in our ward when we get there.” A ward is a congregation within a certain geographic area. I also overheard someone say that the meeting would be at the stake house. They weren’t talking about Cattleman’s but the ward house that oversees several wards.

It’s all rather complicated and could require a “Mormon Culture for Dummies” book for anyone new to the area.

I hadn’t been to Salt Lake in 11 years, so what struck me about the city?

First, it still is a beautiful setting. The valley is surrounded by hills that due to a late spring, were green and still had snow on them. Skiers in Salt Lake are totally spoiled because the resorts are so close to the city. You can leave your job and be on the mountain with your skis on within an hour.

But there is a lot that has changed. Whereas the approval process for developments and shopping centers in Sonoma County is like moving through quicksand, the arms of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission members must get tired from stamping “Approved” on everything. There are shopping centers galore and more mixed use developments being built. It’s a pretty safe guess that the Mormon Church is behind most of all of the building. I think the Angel Maroni is immune to the recession.

It’s a small but significant change since I last spent any time in Utah that you can now buy an alcoholic drink in a restaurant without becoming a “member.” Growing up in Salt Lake, I remember debates about whether “Liquor-by-the-drink” laws should be approved. I guess the argument was that one 3.2% beer was a gateway drink to the really hard stuff like a triple espresso.

Every time Steve called me he asked if I was sober. Yes, even though it was easy to buy drinks now in Salt Lake, four days there was plenty. Then is lapsed latter day saint was ready to return to Sonoma County.