Friday, September 12, 2008

Swimming in the Great Salt Lake

On Labor Day I had the fun experience of taking a swim in the briny waters of the Great Salt Lake.

The morning started out a little rough...it was raining and hailing, but my sister Suzy's family and I had been planning a trip to Antelope Island (a large island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake) for a long time, so we decided to go despite the weather.


We first drove across the 7 mile causeway between the island and the shore, and saw many beautiful shore birds. Next we drove up the hill to the visitors center and trudged through the rain to go inside. They had fun exhibits and movies. One of them showed how each year on the last weekend in October, they use horses, cowboys, pickup trucks, and helicopters to round up the 700+ Bison that live on the island so they can vaccinate them and sell some of them off. It sounds like quite an event...the public is welcome to attend.

Another highlight of the visitors center was the aquarium filled with brine shrimp, with magnifying glasses you could use to check them out "up close and personal". With the exception of people out for a swim, brine shrimp are the only living things in the lake. They give the lake its sweet (not!) scent, and are harvested and freeze dried to be used as fish food. I think some of the eggs might also be harvested to be used for kids science projects...my nephew Parker grew some brine shrimp for one of his. Here's Debbie checking out the shrimp:



The girls loved the stuffed animals in the gift shop, and weren't sure they wanted to let them go. So, we took a photo to remember them by:


Next we headed to the Garr-Fielding Ranch that is on the island, which is where some of the LDS Church's cattle herds were kept back in Brigham Young's time. The ranch has had several owners since then.
Driving along the island is a lot like being in Yellowstone, because you see lots of animals up close, but it is less crowded. Because of all the lightening the island attracts (I'm not sure why), there are frequent fires there and so there are not many trees to block your views of the animals. At one point, we were stopped watching an antelope and another car went around us...somehow that spooked the antelope and it started running directly in front of the car. Man...that animal can run fast! We were thankful it avoided being hit.
Another time we were watching an antelope (I'm actually using the wrong term here...the official name for them is "pronghorn") when it suddenly froze in place as it noticed a coyote approaching. Once it realized the coyote wasn't after it, it relaxed and started eating again. Here's a photo of the two of them:



The Bison roam free on the island, so sometimes they cross the road in front of you. Here's one up close:


The Garr-Fielding ranch was really fun. They had a museum filled with the objects of everyday life on the ranch. Suzy commented on how funny it felt to see stuff like this in a "museum" because we had played with this kind of stuff at our family ranch as children. They had pulleys that reminded me of swinging on the big thick chain hanging from the pulley in my dad's shed. The girls loved playing on a little tricycle, sitting on a saddle, and roping their dad Rick.




Outside, they had these fun barrels and sawhorses where you could practice your roping skills; the ground was too wet for us to use the rope outside, but we enjoyed the practice animals anyway.
When we checked out the real horses and chickens, Debbie was quite confident that the horse she was petting really, really liked her. We toured the farmhouse nearby, and were glad that we didn't have to sleep on the bed with a straw-filled mattress, held up by a rope lattice. We saw a huge spider in the ranch hand house that was built next to an ice house, and didn't stick around long since we're not big spider fans. One of the rangers let us borrow his binoculars to check out the great big owl sitting in the top of a tree near the house. Because it was a holiday weekend, they had special ranger programs which we enjoyed--making rag dolls, dipping strings in hot wax to make candles, and having the ranger's 10-year-old son make us each a prairie diamond ring out of a nail.

We went to another point on the island where people were flying their model airplanes. Here's a shot where you can see a model airplane on the lower left, a bison, and the city in the distance:


Finally, when it had warmed up enough, we headed to the beach for swimming. The lake is at the lowest level it's been since the 1960's, and so we had a really, really, really long walk from the car to the water.


Because of the morning's rainstorm, the Dooley's hadn't brought their swimming suits, so they found flat rocks to skip along the surface and only waded in the lake. Or, to be more precise, they *intended* to wade in the water, but the girls ended up swimming in their clothes, and going home in their underwear. To avoid embarrassing the girls when they get to be teenagers and discover that photos of them in their underwear are on the internet, I've censored the underwear photos. Instead, here's a pre-swimming photo of the Dooley Family at the water's edge:


The lake is about 12 times saltier than the ocean, so it's quite easy and fun to float. You can see all the brine shrimp swimming around you too, many of them bright orange or white so they are clearly visible. Swimming with them around you is a little bit weird if you think about it too much, but not a problem if you don't think about it! Here's a snapshot of me floating:

After swimming a bit, we left the water and made the long trek back across the beach to our car. The walk was long enough that the water evaporated off our clothes and bodies, and we noticed salt crystals forming on our legs and on the hair of our arms...wild. As we walked, we saw that someone had used a stick to write several letters in the sand, 10 or so feet apart from each other. "It's a secret message!" I said, and Debbie was very interested to discover what the secret message could be. We couldn't figure it out, and so she and Rick created a secret message of their own. I won't spoil it here...but it will be waiting there for you to decipher if you ever decide to visit Antelope Island!

1 comment:

Lori said...

Thanx for the info...we're are planning to visit soon. Its good to learn what possibly to expect.