Did you know that Utah has 27 state symbols? Well, 28 now, with that Gila monster decision. The state Legislature approved another state symbol recently: Utah’s state lizard — the Gila monster. Residing primarily in Arizona and New Mexico, the venomous Gila is named after a Colorado River tributary. It eats birds, frogs, insects, tortoise eggs, and small mammals such as baby cottontail rabbits. Most Utahns have never seen a Gila monster because there aren’t that many in Utah. But then, who wants to run across a two-foot black and yellow lizard with a squirming, crying baby bunny in its fork-tongued jaws?
In case you’re wondering, I’m puzzled with this decision. I do admire the Santa Clara students who persuaded Rep. Lowry Snow to sponsor this bill. But a state lizard?
Anyway, Utah’s 28 symbols cover quite a variety of interests. I grew up knowing a few of them: The state bird — the California seagull — chosen because of the early pioneer story about the gluttonous gulls gobbling up the crop-devouring crickets. And the state flower — the sego lily — which kept the pioneers from starving because they dug up the bulbs and ate them. So I knew I shouldn’t shoot a seagull or eat a sego lily (not that I ever wanted to do either).
Pioneer influence is also reflected in other state symbols like the state folk dance — the square dance — and the state cooking pot — the Dutch oven. Nope, didn’t make that up. The state historic vegetable is the sugar beet, while the regular state vegetable is the Spanish onion. Both vied in 2002 for the title, so the compromise bill (those happen often in legislation) pulled them both in with their respective titles.
A few others include the state animal — Rocky Mountain Elk (is it OK to eat one of those, because I think I grew up on them); state fruit — cherry; state gem — topaz; state mineral — copper; state firearm — the John M. Browning designed M1911 automatic pistol (say what?); and a double state sport — skiing and snowboarding. I was disappointed with that one; I thought being pulled around in the snow behind your dad’s old four-wheel drive on an overturned car hood packed with kids and blankets had a lot more history. But I could be wrong about that.
Some state symbols are no brainers. The beehive is the state emblem, derived from the Mormon pioneers’ word “Deseret,” meaning honeybee. The state’s motto, “Industry,” was born from that same concept.
So back to the Gila monster induction. What other Utah state symbols await discovery? How about a state snake to pair with the state lizard? It’d have to be the common garden snake. Most Utahns have had the heebeegeebeez scared out of them when one of those creepy gray things slithered across their grass. They’re a much more suitable choice than rattle snakes, which have probably killed more Utahns than Gila monsters.
We could have a state crustacean: the humble brine shrimp. How many other states can boast a great salty lake from whence these tiny critters are harvested by the millions of pounds and exported, contributing to the state’s economy?
How about a state casserole? It has to be funeral potatoes, hands down. Some folks might argue for green bean casserole. But that’s more a Thanksgiving tradition, while funeral potatoes are served year round because, well, you know.
Another state food could be Jell-O — lime of course. Even Olympic pin makers recognized that.
And a state sauce — fry sauce, of course. Created right here in Utah.
How about a state religion? It’d most likely be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After being harried and hassled from burned-out farm to burned-out farm, those pioneers came far enough west to settle in a place no one else wanted. Finders’ keepers would suggest they own that title. However, those two words side by side — state and religion — make some folks twitchy. So it’s likely the Legislature would politely decline. Besides, there are other religions that take over certain Utah Sundays, Super Bowl being one of them.
With 28 symbols already designated, it appears Utah doesn’t plan to cap state symbols any time soon. If you’ve got a hankering to make Utah history, this might be the way. Apparently all you need is a (semi)good idea — and an accommodating legislator to sponsor it.