Utah - Great Salt Lake and Mount Nebo

2nd - 4th September 2008

Causeway to Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake

We crossed the border from Idaho into Utah and headed towards the famous Great Salt Lake in the north of the state.    It was hard to imagine such a huge, saltwater lake so far inland and the surreal beauty of the place did not disappoint.

Antelope Island, a state park, was reached by driving over a couple of miles of causeway across the lake.   We couldn't pass up the chance to camp right in the Great Salt Lake.   

Once across the causeway, the congested suburbs we'd just left seemed a million miles away.   The island was peaceful and the wildlife plentiful.   The first critter we spotted was a Pronghorn Antelope, after which the island was presumably named.

View from our campsite 

Pronghorn Antelope

The island had its own buffalo herd.   It was a shame we were too early to see the annual autumn round up, when the herd size is controlled by sale of the number of buffalo in excess of what the island can sustain.   The sight of lone buffalo strolling calmly along the beach was quite strange.     

Did he bring his bucket and spade?

Good Morning Campers!

Even more bizarre was the view which greeted us over breakfast the next morning.   A pair of male buffalo had decided to explore the campground and we were glad we weren't lying in a tent, listening to them stomp past!

The bulk of the herd, the mothers and calves, however, kept themselves well hidden in inaccessible areas of the island.

We took a trip to the southern end of the island to visit the beautifully preserved Fielding Garr ranch.   Garr had been assigned by the Mormon church to establish a ranch on the island in 1848.  The church operated the ranch until 1870 when it was purchased by John Dooly, who introduced buffalo to the island.   Later the ranch focused on raising sheep on the island with a sheep population of 10,000 on the island at its peak.   From the 1950s until ranching ended in 1981, cattle were their business.  

All the buildings of the ranch, including the ranch home, shearing sheds and workshops had been preserved as they were in the 1950s.    A tour of an early caravan, used as home by the shepherds for months at a time, made us truly appreciate Harvey's comforts.     Before we left the ranch, Phil tried his hand at a spot of lassoing, which turned out to be much more tricky than the cowboys made it look, even when his two feet were firmly on the ground and the horse he was roping was far from speedy, to say the least.

Sheep-herders temporary home

Don't let it get away!

View of Great Salt Lake from Buffalo Point

Sunset over the Lake

Sunset over the lake was stunning and we took a stroll down to the water's edge.   As we approached the water, the fishy and salty smell of the beach became stronger and more pungent.    The surface of the beach where the water had receded was fascinating.    A brittle salt surface would crack as you stepped allowing the source of the fishy smell, presumably remains of the brine shrimp inhabiting the lake mixed with just a hint of bird poop, to be exposed. 

Of course, one of us had to volunteer to dip their toes in the salty water!

Salty crust over the stinky stuff.

Christine ankle deep in Salt Lake

We waited until after rush hour to find our way into Salt Lake City.    We hadn't been in such dense traffic congestion for a long time and the truly manic driving style of the locals was hard on the nerves.    We were glad to find a parking spot in a car park, where we encountered the strangest payment system.   First you found your spot and remembered its number, then you had to take a walk to a large board containing one slot for each parking spot.    Here you folded up your dollar bills small enough to fit through the slot and posted them into the correct slot.    Luckily a local was paying at the same time as us because we were bewildered!   We were glad set off on foot to explore the city centre.

Salt Lake City was the heart of the Mormon religion.   Whilst non-Mormons couldn't enter the Salt Lake Temple, its exterior was impressive and we were free to explore other buildings including the Tabernacle, home of the famous Mormon choir and the stunning Conference Centre.    One of numerous tour guides, from all parts of the world, who wandered the beautiful grounds of Temple Square to take care of visitors, told us we shouldn't miss the Conference Centre as it resembled "The Starship Enterprise".   We didn't miss it and it was certainly very high-tech, beautifully designed to allow everybody in the 21,000 seat auditorium an unobstructed view of the stage.  There wasn't a single supporting pillar, quite an architectural feat.    


Salt Lake Mormon Temple

Conference Centre Roof Feature

After a quick visit to the city's impressive former railway station converted to shopping mall, the Gateway, we quickly tired of the hustle and bustle and decided it was time to hit the road again, before the afternoon rush hour.   

Back on the interstate heading south, it was during a re-fuelling stop that we decided we'd been traumatised enough by Salt Lake City Interstate driving.   Instead of heading back onto the highway we'd left, we took the back road upon which we found ourselves.    This turned out to be a very good move as we'd stumbled across the Mount Nebo Wilderness Scenic Byway which took us high up into the mountains of the Uinta National Forest.    

We picked out a National Forest campsite at Payson Lake and Phil spent his late afternoon getting to know the trout in the lake.   We were at high altitude and once the sun went down, so did the temperature, dramatically.    

Payson Lake

Cowboys at work

Mt Nebo Scenic Byway

Once it became warm enough again for us to scramble out of bed the next day, we continued our route southwards along the Mt Nebo Scenic Byway.    We were delighted to come across a herd of cows with real cowboys blocking the road (less delighted to clean the cow pat residue off poor Harvey later!).

After a short detour to a village called Wales (well, we had to, didn't we?), we found ourselves back on the Interstate and blasting southwards towards Zion National Park.

Wales, Utah (formerly Coalbed)

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