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By now, a lot of us have used up our vacation time and we're casting around for fresh ways to experience our home turf. What about touring a nearby state park by bicycle, or seeing it by night under the full moon? Diane de la Paz did both.

Salt Lake by Moonlight
by Diane de la Paz

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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.

Salt Lake by Moonlight

Jill: "A lot of people view the lake as a big, stinky mud hole."

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.

Rich: "When the wind blows this way, it's like, 'Oh, it's our smell. We live in Utah'."

Salt Lake by Moonlight

Archuleta and his wife Kari went on the Antelope Island ride, even after she was warned about the proliferation of insects out here.

Kari: "We went to the dentist and the hygienist said, 'I can give you some masks. I've been on the ride before and you just breathe bugs.' But it's been beautiful tonight. They said this was the most beautiful night in the seven years they've been doing it. Yeah, mom and dad's night out."

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.

Jill: "There are some people that expect it to be a petting zoo. It's wild animals, roaming free."

Salt Lake by Moonlight

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.

Jill: "We're totally a unique place out here, and a lot of people appreciate that. One thing people come out to the island for is the solitude of it, the peace of the area, the lake and the island."

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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