Sen. Kamala Harris, in Utah early ahead of vice president debate, visits This Is the Place monument

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., makes a brief "cultural stop" to This Is The Place Heritage Park on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, as she arrives early to Salt Lake City in anticipation of her upcoming vice presidential debate next week.

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris has arrived in Utah, where she’ll take a quick tour of the state and then spend the next few days preparing to square off in the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City.

Harris, the running mate of presidential nominee Joe Biden, got in late Friday night, according to her campaign staff, five days ahead of the Wednesday showdown at the University of Utah.

That event is still expected to go on, the school says, despite President Donald Trump being hospitalized with the coronavirus. Harris will take the stage with Vice President Mike Pence, who has so far tested negative, as has she.

The California senator started her visit to Salt Lake City on Saturday morning with a 20-minute walk around This Is the Place Heritage Park at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. The iconic monument honors the Latter-day Saint pioneers who came into the valley in 1847.

“Look at that,” she exclaimed as she stood in front of the towering stone obelisk. “When you think about the spirit of America, including the pioneers here, that is so much of the fabric of this nation. They were essentially immigrants. They were fleeing persecution. They were fighting for religious freedom.”

Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants, was led around the monument by former Democratic state Sen. Scott Howell. He is chairman of the Biden campaign in Utah, and the so-called cultural stop was part of a continued effort to connect the candidate to Latter-day Saint voters. Her campaign has noted that several prominent members of the faith, including former presidential candidate Evan McMullin and former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, have endorsed her.

The religious-themed visit also fell on the first day of the General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is being held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic instead of in person at Salt Lake City’s Conference Center.

Harris and Howell both wore face masks as they chatted about church history and stopped at each plaque at the monument, reading first the description of fur trappers and traders in Utah. Harris, who was raised in a household with Hinduism and Christianity, carefully studied the bronze sculpture of Brigham Young on top. The name of the park recalls his reported famous utterance upon seeing the valley: “This is the right place. Drive on.”

“So this is the place?” Harris asked with a smile. “Isn’t that something.”

“Brigham Young was no dummy,” Howell responded. “He could’ve been a great politician. And he was in a lot of ways.”

Harris then asked: “His grandson is the architect of the monument, right?”

Howell nodded. “I like history,” she responded, staring up at the statues, which include two other figures next to Young and dozens below, including the Native American people who lived here before the pioneers' arrival, as well as Spanish priests and mountain men. Harris kept pointing and repeating: “Wow!”

“Part of the spirit was shoulder to the wheel, which is really about everything that I think we’re talking about right now in America,” she said. “Let’s put our shoulders to the wheel. Let’s do the work that is necessary and continue to fight for our ideals and our values and, in this case, what they fought for so many years ago, which was for freedom and to hold our country accountable for the values we say we hold dear.”

The candidate looked out over the Salt Lake Valley, too, imagining the view the pioneers saw upon entering. But much of the scenery was obscured by smoke from the wildfires in California, the mountains to the west barely visible beyond an outline.

Her visit Saturday also marked exactly one month to the Nov. 3 election.