Saturday, July 6, 2013

Antelope Island State Park

The Great Salt Lake has ten islands, of which Antelope Island is the largest.  After driving past the city of Ogden, Utah we drove onto the causeway which led us into the park.
Our first stop on the island was the Visitor's Center where we learned a lot about the Great Salt Lake. It is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi, and is located in several wide flat basins.  It is salty because it has no outlet.  Rivers and streams constantly bring in small amounts of salt which have been dissolved in their fresh water flow.  Because of its mineral content the Great Salt Lake is so dense that it buoys at least 25% of the human body above its surface.  The lake's salinity ranges from 25-28%, two million tons of chemicals are extracted annually from it for commercial use.  Currently the lake level is down and large slat flats cover the island.  At first glance it seems to be a place of stark desolation.  No nice sandy beaches here!
As Wallace Stegner (American historian and novelist) has noted:  "it offers no refreshment, and only beauty in place of recreation".  As we found out Friday, the island is also a land of contradictions.  It has more than 40 major fresh water springs.  Those springs support the island's wildlife and vegetation.  As we were leaving the Visitor's Center John noticed some strange birds scurrying on the ground.  They reminded him of  the chachalacas we had seen in Texas.  Consulting our bird book, we later discovered they were chukars.
Bison are the island's most famous residents.  By the late 1800s there was fear that the American bison were becoming extinct due to excessive hunting and killing of them.  In early 1893 12 of them were introduced to the island and are now the foundation for today's herd of 500 to 700.  We took Buffalo Point Trail up a hill to get a view of the valley and also to look for herds of buffalo.  What surprised us was the evidence of their dung on the trail as well as on top of the hill!   Another interesting feature of the trail was the large rocks which are strewn over it.  They are comprised of smaller colorful rocks which look like they have been imbedded in concrete.  A park's brochure said that the large rocks were tufa, deposited by the pre-historic Lake Bonneville (the Great Salt Lake is a remnant of that ancient body of water).
  At the top we only saw a few solitary bison grazing below- we did see a large herd however, by the end of the day. More on that in my next posting.

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