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This is the column I never wanted to write.

After nearly four years as The Salt Lake Tribune's metro columnist, I've been reassigned as a reporter to cover the military and the state's American Indian tribes. I also will be a "rover," turning news stories about people and events across Utah.

Today, I want to write about my Utah, the place where I was born and, after many travels, returned to for good in 1980. Two years later, I landed my first job as a real journalist and launched a career that somehow has lasted since then.

Utah is, for better or worse, one of the most fascinating states in the Union, and the descendants of its Mormon settlers figure prominently in many of our business, educational, political and social systems.

Its geography is unlike any other — from alpine peaks to arid deserts. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, the sky is a marvel on good-air days; as I write this, clouds hover atop the mountains to the east and west. (Then, summer and winter, the smog develops and things get bad for anyone with lungs.)

Our deserts draw visitors from all over the world, and why not? Have you ever camped atop Cedar Mesa and hiked down into its canyons? Explored its arches and natural bridges? Cooled your feet in its crystalline streams? Could anything be better?

Well, maybe the Uintas, with their sky-high lakes and forests. Or the Wasatch Range and its trails and ski slopes. And how about the San Rafael Swell?

All are on federal lands that occupy about 70 percent of the state. But in its wisdom, the Utah Legislature wants to seize most of that turf, excluding our five national parks, and exploit them for timber, oil, gas and minerals, even uranium, in order to better fund public schools.

This is the Legislature that for decades seemed to be content that Utah schools are last in the nation in per-pupil spending because lawmakers won't pony up adequate money through tax reform. It's also the Legislature with a Republican supermajority that only occasionally allows a Democrat's bill to pass.

Those Republicans are elected by affinity voters, loyal to the men and women — mostly men — who share not only a political purview, but a faith as well.

When I spent my teenage years in what's now Holladay, the view from our front porch was of a distant little city and a broad swath of farms and open land. Today, there are more than a million of us here, and growth in the valley is proceeding apace.

That's one reason I loved to hit the open road as a columnist, talking to people I otherwise wouldn't have even met.

Such as the shopkeepers in Panguitch, worried sick about the Alton strip coal mine, or the guy in Castle Dale who breeds zebras and Watusi cattle. I've talked with a heartbroken merchant whose Gunnison dress shop went bankrupt due to an underground gas plume and who got only a pittance in a settlement.

And it was in Gunnison, years later, that I talked to prison inmates who work with wild horses brought in to big pastures by the Bureau of Land Management. When I asked the guys what that taught them, they invariably said "patience" — a good thing for someone who someday is going to be an ex-con.

Then there are the big deals: the legislative sessions, congressional delegations, elections, criminal investigations, courts, wildfires and one execution.

Now, I'm putting down my columnist's pen and picking up a reporter's. It's a significant change — jettisoning my printed opinions — but one I can manage and, I hope, perform well. The best part is that I'm still working in a career I've loved since the day I walked into The Associated Press newsroom where it all began.

Finally, thank you, dear readers. You've been honest with me, sometimes painfully so, and that's the way it ought to be.