"" Writer's Wanderings: The National Park Road Trip - The Great Salt Lake

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - The Great Salt Lake

Yes, I know. The Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake City are not National Parks but we needed to get from Boise to The Arches in Utah and didn't want to make one long drive. I'm glad we stopped. I've always wanted to see the Great Salt Lake.

The lake is huge and can be seen quite easily from space. It's 75 miles long and 35 wide. The lake is salty because tributaries bring in a certain amount of salt even though they are fresh water and the Great Salt Lake has no outlet. Through evaporation, the salt remains.

The lake is too saline to support fish and most other aquatic species but brine shrimp abound. You remember brine shrimp. Their eggs used to be sold and hatched in kits that advertised, "Grow your own monkey fish." Ah, but I give away my age again. The brine shrimp are a great food source for many of the bird species found around the lake.

We were staying the night in Layton just a little north of Salt Lake City and the Antelope Island State Park was close at hand. There is a seven mile causeway that goes out to the island and once you have paid the $10/car fee, you are free to explore. We took a little time in the visitor's center to get our bearings and then decided we would drive out to the ranch that is about halfway out the island's longest road keeping a lookout of course for the bison we had seen and heard about in the center's movie.

Each October the herd is rounded up and put in corrals to be checked and vaccinated and excess animals are sold often to those wishing to start a herd of their own. It is quite a spectacle as they use horsemen and helicopters to gather the bison and get them into the corrals.

We drove for quite a while before we found any wildlife although in addition to the bison there are also several species of antelope. We did see a snake slithering across the street and as we neared it reared its head as if to strike. Just a ways past the angry snake, we drove through an open gate and a few minutes later found the bison grazing between the road and the of the lake. We stopped with others to observe and take pictures and then went on to the ranch.

The ranch was previously owned by the Mormon church and Fielding Garr was assigned to establish it so that they could manage church tithing herds. When the railroad came to Utah so did the Federal Government who did land surveys. The ranch was the only place on the island that was developed so the rest of the island was open to homesteaders. An entrepreneur named John Dooley stepped in and bought the island for one million dollars. He introduced twelve bison to the island to raise for hunting purposes. Eventually the farm turned to sheep and at one point was the largest sheep ranch in the west expanding its numbers to 10,000. When the operation became unprofitable they turned to cattle and then in 1981, the farm became a part of the state park.

The buildings show the history of the ranch farom the 1860s through the time when the park took over. You can self guide your tour and even try your hand at roping a steer--wooden of course.

We would have explored a little more of the other end of the island but someone who shall remain nameless who was driving the car didn't realize we were almost coasting on fumes and had to get back across the causeway to get gas. I decided to forego sticking my feet in the Great Salt Lake (we didn't pack bathing suits) to be sure I wouldn't have to push the car.

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