personal reflections photography road trip

Salt Lake City smoggier than Los Angeles

Salt Lake City and the Utah Valley are surrounded by mountain ranges with peaks over 11,000 feet. Too bad the mountains are not clearly visible from a distance of more than a few miles. The air was so hazy and brown today that I was compelled to locate some air quality information to determine if this was truly air pollution or perhaps some blowing sand or fire haze.

A quick internet search revealed there was no natural cause for the dirty air today. This is some serious air pollution in Utah.

[Update July 11: In the comments, reader Bruce posted a link for a news article stating the large 25,000+ acre fire burning for more than a week near Las Vegas has resulted in poor air quality in the Utah Valley. So I am incorrect stating the air pollution is not fire haze. Although, the winter inversion layer mentioned in the other comment is one that was widely reported in January 2013 and that was not due to fire.]

I recalled the air quality being terrible when I stayed in Salt Lake City in July 2011. This trip I thought I might get better air by staying in the town of Tooele, Utah about 30 miles west of Salt Lake City and separated by a mountain range.

No such luck. The smog of SLC was visible from 100 miles away at the Nevada state line when we arrived yesterday and still lingered around today.

In May 2013, when I traveled through Southern Utah and visited several National Parks, one of the prominent slogans was ‘the clearest air in America’. I actually wrote a piece with the title Clearest Air in America telling how visibility averaged 145 miles.

Here is my photo looking east from Tooele, Utah this morning to the mountain range in the west less than 20 miles away.


Deseret Peak west of Tooele, Utah.

Our drive out of Tooele heading to Colorado took us south around the mountain range east of Tooele and into the Utah Valley, then across the Wasatch Mountains via Highway 92, the Alpine Scenic Highway.


View of Wasatch Range 25 miles away from Cedar Fort in the Utah Valley, a town a few miles northwest of Utah Lake and located in the Provo-Orem metropolitan area south of Salt Lake City.

As we approached the Alpine Scenic Road through American Canyon, I looked up the air quality index for July 10 and Salt Lake City was listed as 74 and Los Angeles was 48.

An air quality index of

  • 0-50 is considered “good”.
  • 51 –100 is moderate.
  • 101-150 is unhealthy for sensitive groups.
  • 151-200 is unhealthy.

Salt Lake City is located in an incredibly scenic location in a valley at the base of high mountains. Too bad the times I have visited over the past two years the air was too dirty to see the mountain features until you are actually above the valley and in the mountains.


Wasatch Mountain Range seen from Timpanogos Cave National Monument Visitor Center.


Wasatch Range seen from 8,000 feet on Highway 92.


Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.

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  • Bruce July 10, 2013

    The air quality yesterday and today are due in great part to winds from the south carrying smoke up from the Las Vegas area:

  • Christopher July 11, 2013

    Last time I was in salt lake city in the winter there was an inversion which I’ve never experienced. All of the frozen air and pollution particles stuck in the valleys and clean and warmer air up in the mountains.

    Increasing suburbanization will surely make things worse going forward.L.A.pollution isn’t that bad in L.A.since there’s an on-shore ocean’s the L.A.northern and eastern valley’s which are exceptionally bad and hot.

  • Ric Garrido July 11, 2013

    Thanks Bruce for the article about the Carpenter-1/Mt. Charleston-Las Vegas area fire making the air hazier in Utah Valley. That is a sign that the air is not that bad all the time.

    Although the AQI maps only show Las Vegas and the Salt Lake region as having the moderate pollution levels, so obviously there is an impact from the local area too.

    Nevada is burning big time with both the Bison Fire south of Reno and the Mt. Charleston near Las Vegas over 25,000 acres burned and days more to go before containment.

    I am scheduled to be in Las Vegas in seven days.

    @Christopher – My grandparents lived in Covina, California in San Gabriel Valley. I attended high school one September in 1975 in that area and rode my bike ten miles a day to school. In the afternoon, after cycling home from school, I would need to rest on the couch to get my lungs breathing properly again after all the smog intake.

  • Kevin July 11, 2013

    Happy to report, it rained this afternoon and cleared the crud out, that blew in from fires around the area.

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