Salt Lake by Moonlight
Antelope Island's pale peaks make it look like a slice of moonscape has been dropped into the Great Salt Lake. Not many Utahns go out there. It's an hour's drive from Salt Lake City, and when you come to the causeway that crosses over to the island, it stinks. I mean, it's redolent, like rotten eggs. The smell comes from about 100 billion brine flies decaying along the lakeshore. Most Utahns try to ignore the huge odoriferous pond and some even call it the Dead Sea. Still, I was intrigued when I heard about the annual moonlight bicycle ride to Antelope Island. So off I went, with about 700 other cyclists, down the seven-mile strip across the inland ocean.
Naturalist Jill Rudman works at Antelope Island State Park. She sees a lot of people who are surprised that the island air is so fresh smelling. Most Utahns assume that the Great Salt Stink covers the whole lake. Rich Archuleta lives just up the road, in Roy.
Archuleta and his wife Kari went on the Antelope Island ride, even after she was warned about the proliferation of insects out here.
You know, it was beautiful, once we got going. Those of us who live in the narrow Salt Lake Valley, sandwiched between two Rocky Mountain ranges, don't have many places where we can ride our bikes flat-out, no hills, no stoplights, and no car exhaust. So, on the causeway to Antelope Island, we made our wheels sing. We took in a wraparound view of the Great Salt Lake, which itself is about the size of a New England state. In the full moonlight, the water glowed ghostly silver. Then we arrived on the island. I was hoping to see some of its wilder residents, maybe a mule deer, a bighorn sheep, a kit fox and at least a few of the 600 buffalo who live here. Rudman tells me there are also pronghorn antelope, coyotes, cottontails, long-billed curlews and burrowing owls. But, with 700 cyclists spilling onto the island, the animals had apparently slipped into their hideaways. Not that I blame them.
Denied that form of communing with nature, I decided instead to test the water. I'd heard the lake is so salty that it gives some swimmers magic buoyancy. But for me, the water didn't have any special powers. I sank. Still, the dip was cool and refreshing after my ride. And both Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake take on a particular charm at nighttime. They're flattered by the soft illumination of the full moon. Broad daylight is too harsh here. It's after sunset, as Rudman says, that this becomes a world apart.
Riding back, it did feel peaceful and not a bit lonely. Swooping up ahead and behind, bike lamps shone like strings of Christmas lights. And right beside me the whole way was a pedaling shadow, cast by the full moon.
For The Savvy Traveler, I'm Diane de la Paz.
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