August 5, 2008 Antelope Island State Park, Utah
When I lived in Utah from 1975 through 1977, I never visited the Great Salt Lake because the lake wasn’t easily accessible to the area whereI lived. Since then, Antelope Island was bought by the state of Utah and has since become a first-class state park–of a high enough quality that it should have been a national monument. The largest island in the Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island is connected to the mainland via a long causeway, so it is easily accessible. I camped in one of two established campgrounds, and most of my camping neighbors were Germans, visiting the USA on one of their extended vacations. The Germans often rent RVs to travel the American West, which has always held a romantic appeal for them. What I don’t understand is why more Americans aren’t visiting this extraordinary park.
I had visited several years ago, and vowed then to come back and photograph the landscape and lakescape here. My time was limited to one late afternoon and evening, plus the next morning, so I had limited time for photography. But I managed to get a good variety of photographs of the lake, the dry landscape, the Fielding Garr Ranch, and the wildlife that inhabit this island.
I started with the lake itself, where I went for a swim on this hot day. It was as warm as bathwater! With a variety of Germans and other mostly foreign tourists, I experienced the delight of floating in saturated saltwater with head, feet, and hands easily sticking up out of the water with absolutely no effort–it was as relaxing as a good nap. I even took my expensive digital camera with me and floated with the camera held in one hand overhead to get a picture of my legs pointed out at the lake. Great legs … aren’t they? But perhaps not worth the risk to the camera. Other impressions: the scent of saltwater and the tiny creatures living and dying in the lake. Hiss of brine fly wings as millions take off from the beach, startled by my movement and looking like a miniature flock of birds similarly scared by an intruder. My salt-encrusted body emerging from the lake, sticky and unpleasant until showering. The lake bottom with wave ripples and coated in places with brine flies sitting on the surface by the millions. But they don’t cover the whole lake; they are concentrated in dense brushstrokes across the surface. My saltwater-soaked beach towel dried stiff as a board and I had to scrape salt deposit off the camera where I had handled it with wet hands.
I then set out to explore the island’s roads. I hadn’t realized that so much wildlife lived here, but there are some 500 American Bison, plus Pronghorns, Mule Deer, Black-tailed Jackrabbits and Mountain Sheep–as well as immense flocks of migrating and resident birds. The lighting was wonderful for the landscape and wildlife.
Then I visited the Fielding Garr Ranch, which used to be the headquarters for cattle and sheep ranching on the island. Now it is a living museum, where visitors can see chickens and horses, and a variety of old farm equipment.
Antelope Island State Park is an extraordinary place, one that I intend to return to repeatedly through the coming years. In the busy valley that includes Salt Lake City and Ogden, it is a place apart, where you can still sense the lovely environment that prehistoric inhabitants enjoyed for nearly 10,000 years. [Click on photos below to enlarge them and read descriptions]
One other note: whenever I visit a place, the old stories and historic culture are never far from the surface. This time, on a local NPR station I heard several Mormon historians discussing the book they had just written about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. This little-known event, which took place in a mountain valley near St. George, Utah, involved the slaughter of 120 men, women, and children who were on their way west in a wagon train from Arkansas. The massacre was orchestrated and carried out by a local Mormon militia, who believed that they were on the verge of war with the United States. It is a sad and sorry chapter of American history that has done more than a little damage to the Utah soul over the years.
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