Saturday, September 28, 2013

Desert Destination: Antelope Island

 We visited Antelope Island over Memorial Day weekend, and it blew away my expectations. Anyone visiting the Salt Lake City area should take a trip out here. Antelope Island is one of ten islands in the Great Salt Lake, and it's the largest, covering about 42 square miles.

 To reach it you cross a seven-mile causeway. During really low water years, the island becomes a peninsula. During really high water years (like in the early 80's), the road was inundated and the island closed for many years until funding could be found to rebuild.

 Once we got to the island, we went to the visitor center and checked out some interesting exhibits, picked up a junior ranger booklet, and watched the park film. Then we decided to head out and check out a trail.

We chose the Buffalo Point Trail, 0.3 miles long but a little steep and rocky. The kids thought we were hiking to the moon, they weren't very cooperative.

For those a little more enthusiastic about hiking, Antelope Island has about 20 miles of trails. It also has trail runs! I might have to come back for one of those! Some of the trails are open to horseback riding and mountain biking. (Another good reason to return!)
 The views were great. The Great Salt Lake is so large you can almost feel like you're at the ocean. And the high salt content (about 25% at times) makes it even smell a little like the ocean, although it's too salty for fish to survive in the lake.

 Birdwatching is a major attraction on Antelope Island. We had closeup views of some chukar. (Here's a bird list for Antelope Island.)

 At the top of the trail were some really cool rocks, Cambrian Tintic Quartzite. These rocks are old (550 million years old), but there are even older rocks on the island. Precambrian rocks (Farmington Canyon Complex, 1.7 billion years old) are found in the park, and they're as old as the rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. (You can download a geology map of the island here.)

 It was a little windy, but oh, so beautiful. Sitting up there on the rocks, looking out over the Great Salt Lake made me feel quite serene. It's a little piece of peace so close to the hustle and bustle of the Wasatch Front.

 We saw quite a few bison as we drove and stopped to take a few photos. The island was settled in the late 1840s, with the LDS Church controlling the ranch, which ran cattle and sheep on the island, until 1870. Then John Dooly, Sr. purchased the island. He set up the Island Improvement Company, which ran the ranches and managed the island for almost a century, from 1884 until 1981.  The State of Utah purchased the northern part of the island in 1969 and the southern part, including the historic Fielding Garr Ranch, in 1881, and removed the cattle and sheep. (Source)

Twelve bison were taken to Antelope Island in 1893 (or 1897--I saw both dates listed). This was the start of a herd that became the largest in the United States for a time (despite an attempt to hunt them all in 1926). Today, with a herd of 550-700 bison, it's one of the largest publicly owned bison herds in the nation.

Every October, they hold a bison roundup--and they let the public participate! If you'd like to round up bison, you can, with your own horse or a concessionaire horse (check out the Antelope Island State Park website for details).  Sounds like fun!

By the way, if you're like us and wonder how could animals survive on a desert island surrounded by water that is too salty to drink, there are several freshwater springs on the island that wildlife use. Other wildlife on the island include mule deer, pronghorn (the 'antelope' for which the island is named), bighorn sheep, bobcats, and porcupine.

We couldn't stay long, but we'll be back, just like the California gulls. Antelope Island has a couple campgrounds, and that would be a great way to experience the island. There's also swimming in summer and showers to rinse off the salt and sand.

If you do visit, remember insect repellent. This can be a buggy place!

To see posts about other great spots to visit in northern Utah, check out:
Golden Spike National Historic Site
Hill Aerospace Museum
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Utah State Railroad Museum

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fish Monitoring at Gandy Salt Marsh

 A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to help Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) with least chub (Iotichthys phlegethontis) monitoring at Gandy Salt Marsh in the West Desert of Utah. Least chub are tiny fish that only live in a handful of places, remnants from Lake Bonneville days that now are clinging to existence. They favor small springs that are difficult to reach.

As we headed to the site, I couldn't help but notice the numerous bushes with white flowers. It took me a little while to realize that they are white rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus albidus). It was kind of neat to see something so familiar looking but with a twist. 

 Here are the flowers closeup.

I also photographed many, many more plants, but will spare you on this post, and get back to the main subject.

 My friend Kevin was leading the trip, and when we reached this spring to put in minnow traps, he had to do some deep thinking. Fences have been installed to prevent cattle from falling into the springs, which can be deceptively shallow-looking. Many a cow have taken the plunge, never to exit. The fences are good for keeping the cows out, but they were supposed to be removed for the sampling. Since they weren't, we had to find a work-around.

 Installing the traps involved some gymnastics and barbed-wire avoidance skills. Life as a biologist is interesting!

 While we were putting in traps, we saw lots of frogs, including Columbia spotted frogs (above) and northern leopard frogs (below).

 In the spring, egg mass surveys are done in this area, and it can be really difficult to find any adults. It's neat to see them.
 Some of the springs have slurping mud bottoms that feel a little like quicksand (or what I imagine quicksand would feel like, since I've never actually been in real quicksand). I sort of ended up in the mud, because somehow mud and I have a long and complex relationship. Like maybe I still want to be like Desert Girl and jump in mud puddles but now just get sucked into mud holes and muddy caves. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant experience, but it was nice to rinse off later in the day!

 After we installed all the minnow traps, it was time for some physical habitat surveys. We divided up into groups, as we not only had UDWR folks, but also people from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Southern Nevada Water Authority. We went in different directions. My group's direction took us here:
 The water levels are definitely lower in the fall, restricting the fish to the deepest springs. During the spring, after snow melt, the large playa fills with water and is an import migratory stop for birds. In the fall, it makes for fast walking.

 After the physical habitat surveys and lunch, it was time to go check the minnow traps. Many were empty, but a few had lots of fish, and not always in places where we thought we'd find a lot.

 Every fish was counted and measured before being returned to its spring.

We found speckled dace, Utah chub (on the left, above), and least chub (on the right, above).

It was a good day, and I really enjoyed the company and interesting terrain. Hopefully the least chub will continue to do well in their very specialized habitat.

p.s. You can find out lots more about the Gandy area in Chapter 11 of my book.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Take It to the Lake 10K and Kids Fun Run

 Last year I ran a the Take It to the Lake Half-Marathon near Ely, Nevada sponsored by the Ely Outdoor Enthusiasts. It was a difficult course, with 800 feet elevation gain starting at 6,600 feet. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it (despite being sore for quite awhile afterwards!). I put the 2014 race date on my calendar, but as the race got closer, I realized I didn't have the time to do the proper training for a half-marathon. Fortunately this year they had a 10k option, and I trained for that. Not only did I train, but I trained to do really well (by my standards!), including lots of hill workouts and long runs.

The 10k was scheduled to start at 9am, and the weather was supposed to be pleasant, so we decided to camp at Cave Lake the night before. They have two campgrounds, and we found a spot at the Lake View campground. The campsite was nice, and we quickly set up the tent and had a simple dinner. We checked out the flush toilet bathrooms and hot showers (wow!). Then we walked down to the lake to enjoy the almost full moon reflecting in the peaceful setting. Nobody else was down there, and it was great.

After an okay night's sleep (Desert Girl wiggled out of her sleeping bag multiple times and then woke up), we got up, had a big breakfast, and were nice and close to all the race activity. I took the shuttle to the start of the 10k.

 My husband took the kids fishing and then to the Kids Fun Run. Yonder Yoga from Ely led the kids in pre-race stretches, and my husband got great photos. My kids love doing Cosmic Kids Yoga (we've already tried out a couple new episodes!), so they were into the stretches.

 Well, at least Desert Girl was into the stretches! Like her running outfit? She's so stylish!

 Finally it was time to start. The kids lined up...
...and then were off to run a mile.
 Desert Girl ran most of the race with her friend Rose.

 What a great morning activity in the fall!

 Desert Boy did really well, coming in fifth or maybe better. We weren't certain. The race was untimed and we made sure he knew that it was called a fun run, and as long as he had fun and finished, we were happy.

 Desert Girl did such a good job!

 She may not have always run the straightest line, but that's okay. She finished under her own power and got a medal, and by golly, she's been showing that medal to everyone.

 Meanwhile I was out at the windy flat (or sort of flat, flatter than the canyon anyway). Colorful flags marked our starting line, and we cheered the half-marathoners as they came through.

 Then it was our starting time, and we got a gun start to send us on our way. Ely's cool like that.

 I had a goal for the race of 65 minutes or less. That probably doesn't sound very fast to you runners out there, and it isn't. But for me, running uphill at elevation, it was a goal that would push me but doable. I wanted to be at mile marker one by 10:00, but it was 10:20. I wanted to be at mile marker two by 19:00 (it was not as steep), but didn't make it until 20:00. I wasn't so sure I was going to make my goal, because I figured I would get slower as the road got steeper and I got more tired.

 To my great surprise, I was able to stay at 10 minute miles even as the road got steeper. (The tail wind was much appreciated!) I was ecstatic, and feeling really good as I slowly caught up to half-marathoners. Finally I got to the steep hill at mile six and had to walk up it, totally messing with my time. But at the top it was only a short distance to the finish line, and I finished in less than 65 minutes. Yippee!

It turned out that I was the first 10k finisher, male or female. I have many friends who can beat my time, so if you're one of them, you should enter next year! I felt a little bit like an imposter coming in first, knowing that there are so many faster people than me. Ah well, I guess I'll enjoy it while I can!

 The kids showed me their medals and their goodie bags. (The goodie bags rock at this race!)

Desert Girl and I went and cheered on more runners, then took a little walk by the lake. It was cold water but so beautiful.

 In a little while the post-race BBQ started. Yum! That's another thing I love about this race.

 I tried to get a photo of the kids with all our medals under the finish line, but they were feeling a little tired and uncooperative by this time.

 Nancy, the race director. Thanks for such a great race! And many thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors helping with the race. It's so nice to have a local race where you know the terrain and know more of the runners.

My trophy! Super cool.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Quick Desert Hike

 It's been a crazy busy week, hence the infrequent postings. The good part is that I have plenty of material now to share! It seems that every September gets so busy as we try to squeeze in all the things we wanted to do during the summer but didn't have time, plus enjoy the fall colors, get into the swing of school activities, and meet all the end of year deadlines (if you have a calendar year like me of October-September).

We make it a priority to get outside as much as possible (especially since Desert Boy is showing a tendency to become quite attached to computer and iPod games!). I cajoled the kids to go on a bike ride. That was okay, but I heard a bit of complaining. But then we came to a fun-looking arroyo and decided to take an impromptu hike.

 Desert Girl was fascinated with the sparkly golden rocks. She wanted to take them all home, but was agreeable when I told her she could pick just one and it had to fit in just one hand.

 We have had so many mushrooms coming up with the recent rains. They are quite fascinating, but I don't know hardly anything about them.

 We continued until we found a little pool of water. The kids were really happy.

 Desert Girl found some stones to throw in. I started getting a bit concerned that this could end up really messy and we would have an uncomfortable ride home.

 The kids did fine, but I ended up in a bit of mud. (As you can see by my footwear, I really wasn't planning on a desert hike! Fortunately these sandals are up to almost anything.)

 I found the new erosion from the recent rains interesting. The downcutting exposes roots, which are usually deeper than I think they will be.

 Some of the downcutting was a bit deeper, but nothing like what they recently experienced in Colorado.

 Desert Boy thought it was a lot of fun to find steep banks to conquer.

 We saw a little bit of flood debris in the arroyo bottom, but not much. Nevertheless, we made sure to have a conversation about flood safety and where you should go if water starts coming down a canyon. (up!)
The impromptu hike put us all in a really good mood. It's amazing how a little time in the outdoors and a feeling of exploring can make you feel so good!
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