PROVO, Utah's third largest city, is built on a wide terrace or bench level of prehistoric Lake Bonneville, along the south bank of the Provo River in Utah Valley. The city huddles at the base of the precipitous Wasatch Range, the western face of which is an almost perpendicular fault scarp. Provo Peak, rising to an altitude of 11,054 feet due east of the city, extends sharply above the jagged ridge of the Wasatch Range. Northward there rises the long bulk of Mount Timpanogos, 12,008 feet high. The Provo area slopes gently westward, and beyond the city limits are farmlands and pastures, and broad, fresh-water Utah Lake, which can be seen only from the upper streets of the city. Across the lake rises the low range of the Lake Mountains, and other mountains are visible in every direction.
The town centers about the intersection of University Avenue and Center Street. Within a four-block radius are the principal stores and most of the public buildings, mainly two- and three-story structures of the architectural style popular soon after the turn of the century. Outside the business district the streets are bordered by the trees and lawns of modest brick homes. To the northeast is the sharp rise of University Hill, with the brick and graystone buildings and landscaped grounds of Brigham Young University, one of the State's three major educational institutions.
Like other Mormon-built towns, Provo has wide streets laid out in the four cardinal compass directions. There is a profusion of shade trees, mostly Lombardy and Carolina poplars, Norway maple, box elder, elm, and walnut. In the residential sections the houses are set well back in spacious green lawns, which must be watered every day; and in the backyards there are usually vegetable and flower gardens. The city is large enough to have its share of modern conveniences, yet small enough to retain an old-fashioned neighborliness. Provo is the commercial hub of a normally prosperous agricultural region, and railroad shops, warehouses, packing plants, lumber and coal yards line the railroad tracks. Although many local people are associated with commercial, industrial, and educational enterprises, a goodly portion of the population consists of retired farming people.
Two Spanish priests, Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, were probably the first white men to visit Utah Valley. Exploring the region for a more direct route from Santa Fe to the Catholic mission at Monterey, California, the two priests and a party of seven men arrived at the shore of Utah Lake in September, 1776. They "ascended a low hill and beheld the lake and extended valley of Nuestra Señora de la Merced de los Timpanogotzis, as we called it . . . surrounded by the peaks of the Sierra." Provo River, Escalante recorded, "runs through large plains of good land for planting . . . plenty . . . if irrigated, for two and even three large villages." In 1825, Étienne Provot, a young French-Canadian for whom the city and river were named, explored the valley with a party of trappers employed by General William H. Ashley of St. Louis.