I took the opportunity this weekend to go hiking on Antelope Island with my new hiking buddy Mike – he willingly accompanied me to Death Valley back in January. We have both agreed that we are sick and tired of snow. Winter needs to go on summer vacation. There is only so much snowshoeing and winter camping one can do before it becomes tiresome. We decided, therefore, to head out to Antelope Island for a nice hike along the Split Rock Trail.
I can declare that spring has in fact arrived on Antelope Island. Admittedly, the higher elevations still have snow, but the trail was dry and dusty and the birds were singing to each other and flitting through the brush. There are green shoots appearing among the brush as well. But I have lived in the Mountain West long enough to know that spring can easily be crushed under a foot or two of wet heavy snow – this usually occurs around Memorial Day.
Antelope Island really does mark a sort of geographical demarcation between the mountains to the east and the cold desert of the Great Basin for which this blog is named. It is therefore not surprising that its weather is different from the mountains immediately to the east. Extreme early spring or autumn and winter are the best seasons to hike on the island. In summer it can become incredibly hot and from April to June the biting flies are enough to drive any hiker absolutely insane. I imagine that this plague of flies is as bad as any found in the tropics. I have camped near mountain streams slowed by beaver dams and infested with mosquitoes and would surely march into the bog and be fed on by these creatures than spend one minute among the legendary biting sand flies of the Great Salt Lake. It is in fact surprising that I ever return to Antelope Island, because my first experience there six or seven years ago was during the fly infestation.
The island is at first glance rather bland and unspectacular. It does have the famed buffalo herd and of course antelope. I have also always seen one or two coyotes loping in the weeds as well. Perhaps because of the limited space on the island the coyotes are not as skittish as they tend to be in more expansive territory. It is also a grand spot for migratory birds and sedentary birds. We were annoyed on our hike by a pack of chukar who seemed to be trying to discover the most annoying tone ever made by any creature that lives or has lived on this planet – stunningly obnoxious birds. At least they don’t bite like the aforementioned insects.
I realize that my detailing of the annoyances of this place are probably not going a long way toward selling it. And the fact that it has no attraction for a majestic vista or famous monument perhaps limits potential visitors (as does the $9 per car gate fee.) I do like Antelope Island as a spot of apparent desolation so close to Salt Lake City – a spot so different from the mountains directly to the east; a spot that marks the limit of mountain and Basin and Range. It really is the first range of that geologic macro-structure. Its beauty is more subtle and if I were a believer I would say that it is also the source of spring in this valley. It is a warm spot which blooms before others in the midst of the dead calm lake. It is therefore a refuge for those suffering from winter boredom.
A superficial view of this landscape would declare it boring and uninteresting, but a deeper understanding of its geographic placement informed by a keen look at its more subtle details provides satisfaction equal to any of the best hikes in the Salt Lake region. A hike here once again provides a reminder of the dynamic nature of the region we live in. The geology morphs very quickly. Relatively recent historical climatic processes combined with deep geology have made this a most interesting region to explore. It is a shame that the dominant human culture is as bland as a Kansas wheat field, but it does provide a sharp contrast to the landscape that it seems to largely ignore. And at least a Kansas wheat field provides material sustenance.