Salt Lake City, UT, Part IV: Great Salt Lake
Salt Lake City is located at the southeastern corner of the Great Salt Lake. The Great Salt Lake has several islands, the largest of which is Antelope Island. Since Antelope Island is located near Salt Lake City, it was a good place for us to see the lake.
Antelope Island is a state park with a causeway to the island that starts on the mainland near Syracuse, UT, about 28 miles north of where we were staying. Along the causeway, we saw flocks of gulls. The dark shadows along the shore in the photo below are billions of brine flies. As the gulls walked along the shore or flew a few inches above it, clouds of the flies would erupt, and the gulls would have a feast.
We stopped at the visitor center which is located on a rise that affords nice views of the lake to the north and west. The next photo is the 6-mile causeway onto the island.
Bridger Bay is on the northwestern corner of the island and is where the swimming area is located. We didn't try it, but swimming is supposedly fairly easy because the high salinity of the water makes it very dense so you float very easily.
As we entered the visitor center, we saw dozens of barn swallow nests under the roof overhang. There were chicks in the nests, and the parents were flitting back and forth trying to keep them fed.
At the visitor center, we learned a little about the lake. The Great Salt Lake is about 75 miles long and 28 miles wide at the widest point. It has an average depth of only about 13 or 14 feet and a maximum depth of about 33 feet. Because the lake is so shallow the size can vary greatly with small changes in depth, and the changes in depth occur depending on the season and rainfall. At an average area of about 1,700 square miles, the Great Salt Lake is the largest salt lake in the western hemisphere.
The salinity varies according to location, rainfall and season, but it can run as high as 25 to 28%, which is 7 or 8 times saltier than sea water.
"America's Dead Sea" is the name sometimes given to the Great Salt Lake, but the lake is far from dead. As we saw on our way across the causeway, there are many California gulls around the lake. There are no fish in the lake, but the gulls, along with other migratory and nesting birds, feed primarily on the brine shrimp that live in the water and on the brine flies. In turn, the brine shrimp and brine flies feed on several types of algae that survive in the salty water.
The Great Salt Lake is the remnant of a larger, deeper lake called Lake Bonneville that once covered most of Utah. Lake Bonneville had an area of almost 20,000 square miles and a depth of 1,000 feet. In the distant past a significant amount of water was released from Lake Bonneville through Red Rock Pass in southeastern Idaho and ran across the southern part of Idaho. We visited southwestern Idaho in 2008 and saw where the water carved out the canyon where Shoshone Falls is located. To read about our visit to Shoshone Falls and southern Idaho click here. Following the release of the water, warming temperatures after the Ice Age increased the evaporation rate of the remaining water. With no outlet, the salinity of the lake continues to increase.
After we left the visitor center, we stopped a short distance down the road at the Lady Finger Overlook. There is a short trail that leads out onto a spit of land that overlooks Egg Island, which is a small island that is a bird rookery. The next photo shows Margery near the start of the trail.
The last part of the trail was pretty rocky and pretty buggy. Fortunately, Margery grabbed a packet with a towelette of insect repellent as she got out of the car. It helped. The photo below shows both of us near the end of the trail.
And the next photo shows Egg Island off in the distance to the left. We could hear the birds out there squawking.
Also contributing to the squawking was a magpie that followed us for a short way.
Looking back toward the main part of the island, we could see the mountainous spine of Antelope Island. There are several trails up to some of the peaks, but we decided to pass on the steep climbs. The peaks are more than 1,000 feet above the level of the lake.
As we said, Antelope Island is the largest of several Islands in the Great Salt Lake with an area of about 42 square miles. Antelope Island has dozens of freshwater springs, and it is the home to pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, coyote, bobcats, badgers, and numerous species of birds.
Antelope Island is also home to a herd of American bison. The bison were introduced to the island in the late 1800s. We'll have more about the bison a little later.
There is a road to the south that goes about 2/3 of the way down the eastern side of the island. At the end of the road is the Garr Ranch that was started in 1848 by Fielding Garr under the direction of the Mormon Church. He selected that location for the ranch because that was the biggest and most reliable spring on the island.
The LDS Church raised cattle, sheep and horses on the island from 1850 until it relinquished possession of the island in 1875. At that time, the Federal Government opened the island to homesteaders.
Investors began buying up the land from the homesteaders. By the late 1800s, most of the land on the island was owned by the Island Improvement Company. The company controlled the island until 1972 when it was sold to another company. The state bought up the land in 1981 to make the island a state park.
Today, the ranch has buildings and equipment from the 1800s to the later 1900s. The corrugated-metal shearing barn in the photo below was built in the 1920s for one of the largest sheep operations in the west. Over 10,000 sheep were on the island at that time. The barn had a gasoline engine that turned shafts and pulleys to operate 10 mechanized shearing stations.
The photo below shows the ranch house. There have been several additions to the house, but the original portion was built in the late 1840s.
One interesting piece of equipment was the sheep camp, which could be considered an early RV. Paul was looking for the electrical hookup.
Margery found the inside to be...well, let's just say it was cozy.
As we said earlier, Antelope Island has a herd of bison that numbers about 600. There were about 40 or 50 of them on the salt flats near the ranch.
One of the bison below is taking a dust bath. It is thought the dust helps ease skin irritation caused either from shedding, which was going on at the time, or irritation from insect bites.
In the fall, volunteers round up the bison. The bison are checked by veterinarians, they're given shots, and animals are selected for sale to keep the herd to a manageable size.
On our way back north toward the causeway and the mainland, we took a short side road part way up the mountain to one of the trail heads. From there we got a great panoramic view of the eastern side of Antelope Island. The photo below is looking to the southeast toward Salt Lake City.
We had time for a quick Walmart stop on the way back to the motor home to pick up a few groceries. We relaxed a while, but there is still more to see around Salt Lake City, so look for our next post.