A group led by two priests--sometimes called the Dominguez-Escalate Expedition--left Santa Fe in 1776, hoping to find a route to the California coast. The expedition travelled as far north as Utah Lake and encountered the native residents.
Fur trappers including Jim Bidger explored some regions of Utah in the early 1800's. The city of Provo, Utah was named for one such man, Étienne Provost, who visited the area in 1825.
Utah's bid for statehood was accepted January 4, 1896, after over forty years of initial request and struggles. The delay was largely due to disputes between the Mormon inhabitants--who had settled in the area in 1847 and were pushing for the establishment of the state of Deseret--and the US Government which was reluctant to admit a state the size of the proposed Deseret into the union, opposed the polygamous practices of the Mormons taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and observed that the region lacked the necessary 60,000 voters required for statehood. One of the conditions to granting Utah's statehood was that a ban on polygamy be written into the Utah Constitution. This was a condition required of other western states that were also admitted later into the Union.
One of Utah's defining characteristics is the variety of its terrain. The Wasatch Mountains run a center spine of the state, and the Uinta Mountain range in the north-east (the only east-west running mountain range in North America) includes the highest point in the state, Kings Peak at 13,528 feet. The Great Salt Lake lies to the immediate west of the Wasatch Mountains, beyond which the Bonneville Salt Flats stretch to Nevada. All land west of the Wasatch Mountains is within the Great Basin, while everything to the East drains into the Colorado River system.
Much of the scenic southern landscape is sandstone, more specifically Kayenta sandstone and Navajo sandstone, cut and shaped by the Colorado River or its tributaries.
Western Utah is mostly arid desert with a basin and range geology. Northeastern Utah (from the Wasatch Mountains eastward and from the Uintah Plateau northward) is largely mountainous with many wooded and alpine regions.