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Feb 14, 2019

“This is a great activity for date night,” a young employee at the Soap Factory in Provo informed me when I walked in as a party of one. I looked around the room and saw many couples making their own soap (for their future His and Her sinks?). Then I noticed a penguin mold in the bin, and I found my companion for the night.

The Utah Valley city is not your typical destination or college town; it has a long and strong affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Two of its most prominent institutions are Brigham Young University and the Provo City Center Temple, both of which are ringed by majestic peaks.

Provo was named for the French Canadian trapper Etienne Provost and was settled by Mormons in 1849. In 1875, church President Brigham Young established an academy that rose to university status at the turn of the 20th century. Nearly 90 percent of the population is made up of members of the LDS Church, and many residents are current or former BYU students, a distinction that has shaped the city’s culture. For instance, Mormons do not consume alcohol, and the dearth of bars and social drinking is notable in Utah County, much of which is a mountainous area that attracts outdoorsy types with happy-hour habits. (I spotted two bars downtown and overheard one group of friends searching for wine, which they located at the Black Sheep Cafe. The caveat: They had to order food, too.)

But Provo doesn’t need cocktails to stay up late. Many of the BYU campus museums remain open till 9 p.m. on weekdays, as do the shops and restaurants. On a Thursday night, in the dead of winter, I stood on tiptoes to read the chalkboard of flavors at Rockwell Ice Cream Co. The following evening, I set out to hear live folk music at Pioneer Book but ended up in line for country dancing lessons and later at a crafts table surrounded by fragrant oils and paints. (These activities do seem to support the county’s controversial nickname, Happy Valley, and I did feel fairly joyful ending the day with new toiletries and dance moves.)

Read the full article in Chicago Tribune here.