Editor’s note • This article is part of 150 Things To Do, a reporting project and newsletter exploring the best that Utah has to offer. Click here to sign up for the 150 Things weekly newsletter.
Friends Kim Woodbury and Kim Petersen were driving home from a trip to Bear Lake in 2016 when they passed an exit for the tiny town of Newton, Utah.
Petersen commented that her family is from Newton, which surprised Woodbury because she’d never even heard of it.
That sparked a discussion about how, even though they’ve both travelled extensively all over the world, there were so many places in their home state they’d never seen.
“We both just kind of looked at each other and kind of thought, ‘Hey, we should visit every city in Utah,’” Petersen said.
What started out as a joking suggestion soon turned into a serious endeavor that, from May 2016 to October 2018, took Woodbury and Petersen through 246 incorporated Utah cities.
Their adventures rewarded them with everything from breathtaking sights and delicious food to surprising discoveries and history lessons from locals.
“We had wonderful conversations with so many different people around the state,” Woodbury said. “[We] really gained an appreciation for how friendly Utahns are. Everybody wanted to tell us about their town, and they were happy to show off their buildings or tell us about history.”
Defining their goals
Woodbury said that early on, she and Petersen realized they would have to define exactly what constitutes a “city.”
For instance, an area might have a name, but if only one person lives there, can it really be called a city?
That’s why Woodbury and Petersen ultimately decided they’d visit every incorporated city in Utah. According to the Legal Information Institute, an incorporated city has been granted powers by the state to administer local governmental affairs, such as being able to establish a police force.
At the time of their trip, Woodbury said there were 246 incorporated cities in Utah.
During their travels, they also explored census designated places, which, according to the Federal Register, are “geographic entities” that represent communities which are locally recognized, but which lack legally defined boundaries and active governmental structure.
The friends didn’t go out of their way to visit census designated places, but decided they would stop if they happened to see any, they said.
On one of their earliest trips, they were visiting the Coalville and East Canyon area when they stopped in census designated place Echo and came across a tiny church, Petersen said. A woman who lived next door gave them a tour, told them about Echo’s history and even let them ring the church’s bell.
“We were both just flabbergasted at the history of this small little area,” Petersen said. “And I think that kind of invigorated us for the rest of [our] trips.”
One other rule for their trek: they took a picture at every stop of something that said the city’s name, Woodbury and Petersen said. Most cities have some kind of welcome sign, which they said usually made it pretty easy. But some stops required more creative documentation with photos at city council buildings or lone street signs.
Independence, Utah, stood out as the one place where even this approach proved impossible, Woodbury said. Ultimately, she and Petersen resorted to making their own sign.
‘Moments of serendipity’
Woodbury and Peterson didn’t visit all the cities on their list in any particular order. Instead, they planned their travels around how much time they had for a given trip, they said.
A five day itinerary in southeastern Utah included visits to towns like Moab, Bluff and Monticello. Others were weekend getaways or day trips on Saturdays. And some places, like Murray or Midvale, they visited together after work.
Sometimes family or friends came with them, but usually it was just the two of them, they said.
Woodbury said Petersen usually drove, so she’d spend road trips researching whatever she could about their destination.
No matter how much preparation they did, many of the best moments were surprises. At a library in Vernal, they came across a display of dolls dressed in the First Lady inaugural dresses up through Nancy Reagan. In Spring City, they visited a pottery shop that operates on the honor system: the owner always leaves the shop’s door unlocked, Woodbury said. If he’s not there, he trusts customers will follow the instructions to leave their payments in a cash box.
“There were so many moments of serendipity and unexpected surprises,” Woodbury said. “We tried to plan our best on every trip. But inevitably, things would change… and we tried to be open to those unexpected things.”
For Woodbury, one of the most significant moments came at little post office in Clawson, Utah.
Clawson is in rural Emery County, and Woodbury said throughout the drive there, she wondered why anyone would choose to live in that area. But when they stopped at the local post office, they struck up a conversation with a woman who shared how much she loved living in Clawson.
“I just walked away from that conversation really humbled,” Woodbury said. The encounter challenged her to “appreciate what [each] place has to offer” and ask “What’s unique about this place?” From that point on, she tried to see each stop through the eyes of the people who love living there.
Living in the moment
It took an actual quest for Woodbury and Peterson to explore so many places in Utah. And, Woodbury said, it helped her realize — and savor — just how much beauty is in our own backyard.
Petersen and Woodbury loved seeing the very first Greek Orthodox Church in Price, the Garland Tabernacle in Garland and the Coke Oven Ruins in East Carbon. And they were occasionally astonished by nature itself.
One night, when they were staying in Mexican Hat, Woodbury said they pulled onto a side road and turned off their lights.
“I am not kidding. It took my breath away,” she said. “I’ve never seen stars like that.”
Other outdoor recreation highlights included the San Rafael Swell and a slot canyon in Kanab.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodbury was grateful she could “look closer to home for adventure and for beauty,” she said.
Her travels across Utah taught her the importance of seizing the moment.
“It’s really easy for all of us to just let life pass us by,” Woodbury said. “And if we don’t make an effort to get out and go see something different, we just get caught up in the routine.”
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