We enjoy staying in small towns and state parks most of the time. But a little dose of urban camping seemed a good option when Denisa's Mother was coming for a visit. It would provide a sizable airport that turned into a good thing for Mark to fly back to Oklahoma as well. It would also allow us to visit another cousin, and Denisa and her Mother started our tour of the Salt Lake area right at his house. Craig literally has the Jordan River Temple in his back yard, as the steeple can be seen to the left of the eve of his house.
We also got a tour of the beautiful furniture store where he works. Owned by Warren Buffett, he spared no expense with the building or the inventory. It was a nice place to bring out the cameras since Denisa's Mother loves to take family photos.
The weather didn't cooperate very well with our plans to explore the area, but we took off on a scenic drive called the Alpine Loop in spite of the clouds covering the mountain tops.
As we looped higher on the mountain road, we saw more evidence that fall is on its way. We saw groups of trees already turning orange and red, and whole groves of aspen that were golden. Later, Denisa heard a meteorologist reminding us that trees turn colors based on the smaller amount of sunlight they receive during the shorter days of autumn. The smoke from the forest fires in the northwest has plagued this area for the last weeks has artificially reduced the amount of sunlight, triggering the early leaf-color change this year.
Through our rain-spotted car windows we could see the tops of the Wasatch Mountains that line the eastern side of the Salt Lake valley. As we kept looping higher we got to the summit of one of those mountains.
But the star of the show in this area is Mount Timpanogos. Even shrouded in clouds, we could see most of its 11,752-foot grandeur. Denisa still has a hard time pronouncing the name of this mountain, so she likes to use the local's name for it--The Timp.
After lunch, Denisa had the crazy idea that one should actually visit the lake that this city is named for. Not really a destination for most tourists, we found that Craig hadn't seen the Great Salt Lake since he moved here seven years ago. The Great Salt Lake is 75 miles long, and is the biggest natural lake west of the Great Lakes. So we drove through a rain storm that could only be described as a deluge, to get all the way to the northern sections of the metro area. More than once we thought about turning back, thinking that once we got there we wouldn't be able to see the lake for all the rain.
But we were blessed with clear skies as we turned west over the Davis County Causeway towards the entry of an island surrounded by the Great Salt Lake. You can see the gray ribbon of the causeway road, with the lake on both sides, in the picture below.
Antelope Island is one of 17 islands within the lake, and is a state park. Denisa had read it was one of the best places to experience the Great Salt Lake. Fifteen miles long, this island looks pretty big on the map, and it was a good way to see the lake from several directions. It was also good to visit here to make use of that Utah state park pass that we bought.
The Great Salt Lake hosts thousands of birds throughout the year, and many more thousands that land temporarily on their migration journey. Those tiny specks in the picture below are some of the many birds we saw. These birds may not know that this lake is too salty for fish to live in. But they do know that this salty water is thick with tiny brine shrimp that can fatten a visiting bird up for the long trip home. Those tiny brine shrimp are also the cause of the sulpher-like smell we were experiencing. Craig explained that all of the city "enjoys" that smell when the wind and the conditions are right (or wrong).
Denisa's Mother coaxed Craig into posing on a rock for the next picture. He is obviously pointing out that because of the drought conditions plaguing the west, the volume of the water in the lake is down right now. So the beach is wider than it once was, making the walk to the water longer.
But no trip to the Great Salt Lake would be complete without touching the water. So Craig and Denisa made that quarter-mile hike through deep sand to get to the water's edge. We found the water to be very clear and cool to the touch. We also found that there were plentiful brine flies around the water's edge. There were half a dozen people bobbing in the salty water, but we didn't bring our swim suits. There is so much salt that it is impossible to sink in this lake, and it becomes more salty when the lake level is low. So while it is usually 4-5 times saltier than the ocean, on drought years it can be 6-8 times saltier.
Besides the lake, another attraction of this island is the bison herd that has grown to 600 in number. It was only a short drive down the road before we started seeing these huge mammals lumbering towards the lake shore.
Since we could only get back-side pictures of those bison leaving our area, Denisa had to include another picture of a lone bison lying in the prairie. There is a round-up every October, and the herd will be thinned to keep the number manageable for the island. We're not saying what happens to the excess bison, but we do know that there is a single restaurant on this island that specializes in bison burgers.
After exploring the state park, we drove back to the "mainland." Because traffic on I-15 is heavy during any time of the day, and ridiculous during rush hour, we opted for a stop for tea and appetizers. Later as we drove back towards our homes in the southern part of the metro area, we passed downtown Salt Lake City. The state capitol is on the hill, and visible from the interstate. The clouds that brought the rain today are laying on top of the Wasatch Mountains now. The city was excited about the rain, as it helped to wash away the smoke from the air that has hidden that view of the mountains for the last weeks.
We dropped Craig off at his house, where the setting sun was bringing pink to the sky behind the temple steeple in his back yard. It was a great day of exploring, and we appreciate him using his day off to entertain two gray-haired women. It was interesting that we went places that he had never been since he moved to this city.
We had fun visiting all day long. We talked about all those summers when the cousins stayed at our grandparents' house for extended fun. Through our grandparents we got to experience the old-fashioned way to make sausage, gather eggs, milk cows, make noodles, drink cold water from the tin cup at the well house, can fruit, grow gardens, etc. After comparing notes today, we discovered that Grandma used that excess energy of the boy cousins to make butter with a plunger churn that took more time and work. But Denisa only remembers making butter with the easier hand-turned Dazey churn. Today was a good time of remembering old memories, as well as making new memories.