March 27 – March 29
Note: most of these pictures – but not all! – were already on Instagram
I have covered my travails and woes at Antelope Island – now, let’s get to the good stuff. Let me just tell you: it is totally amazing there. If you ever have the chance to visit, seize it. Go there. Although, caveat as always – I have no idea what it’s like in the summer. Possibly horrible. There aren’t any trees, for one thing and for another I got the impression that it functions as a sort of Utah Joshua Tree: good place to take shrooms and go camping when you’re 17. But in the winter / spring / fall it is all you could hope for in a state park (I felt bad for the shrooming boys, though, it was COLD at night) and more. Antelope Island, to start with, is set in the Great Salt Lake. The whole island is the state park and it is huge. Enormous. Much, much bigger than it looks on the map. Big enough that Moby used a quarter tank of gas* going around it and, since there’s quite a lot that’s inaccessible to cars, that quarter tank only covered maybe half. It is also hauntingly beautiful – the snowcovered mountains (the Rockies?) rise in the background like something out of Coleridge. In Xanadu. . . I had thought that I would stay a couple days and spend one going into Salt Lake City, a place about which I know nothing, but then I google mapped it and discovered that it’s a good hours drive away from the park. I am slowly realizing that I’m back in the part of the West where the distances are much huger than they appear. Thus I skipped Salt Lake City. I hear there are Mormons there. I know very little about Mormons, either, except the stuff I gleaned from a Cosmopolitan article I read when I was 12 – they wear special underwear – and from a cousin who converted – they have to have a lot of bottled water stored away. But, whatever, Mormons, schmormons: there are BISON on Antelope Island!
In fact, Antelope Island is almost overrun with bison. They are everywhere. I got super excited the first day I was there when I saw two of them fairly near the road. I pulled over and hopped out and started taking pictures, nervously aware of the big signs all over the park that say, flatly, BISON ARE DANGEROUS. They look dangerous. They’re really big, for one thing, and shaggy, and they have horns. But familiarity breeds, if not contempt then a certain relaxed attitude and by my last day on the island I was blasé enough to be telling tourists, oh, there are a ton of them over there, much closer to the road. I took so many pictures of bison that my camera began to reel under the weight.
But the bison are not alone on Antelope Island! I clambered up about half an “intermediate” level trail and saw more bison and several magpies, and listened to some warbler, well, warbling, then drove down and proceeded to wander through some tall tall reeds trying to get to the actual lake. The reeds were above my head. I knew there were three bison over by the small mountain I had been climbing. I didn’t know if there were any in the reeds, although there was evidence that they had been there, but then that evidence is, uh, everywhere on Antelope Island. Watch where you step! There was something in the reeds, although it may not have been bison (shades of the notorious 1996 Monster Incident**) I don’t know what it was. It felt big. “HELLO!” I said loudly as I walked backwards quickly. “HOW ARE YOU? BEAUTIFUL DAY, ISN’T IT?” and I had backed myself politely all the way to the truck, where I climbed in, shut the doors and laughed for a few minutes. I may be a paranoid idiot but by god I’m polite to wildlife.
Then I drove over to the historic ranch house, passing herds of bison like, ho hum, more buffalo, yeah, wevs. So quickly we become accustomed! The ranch is fascinating – all the original structures are there, over a century of Utah farming history. There was also a great horned owl in a tree, glowering down at the tourists underneath. Two German photographer dudes and I crowded around, shooting away. I gave one of them lens envy, which is cool, since I had already experienced lens envy with the lady who told us about the owl in the first place. And there was another bison, a big one, nibbling away among piles of historic ranch detritus. I thought, ooh, there’s a fence, I will get close! But I did not notice that the fence had a gate and the gate was open, until I was already pretty close. The bison raised his head and glared at me and I retreated without even asking him how his day was. Later, though, a young couple were not cowed and he did the retreating, so nobody got gored while I was there at least. And I saw mule deer and a wonderful ringnecked pheasant. I had never seen one before, except stuffed under glass in one of those macabre Victorian centerpieces. He was beautiful! And very nervous, which, since they basically only exist as game birds, is understandable.
On the way back there were more bison. That night I heard the coyotes singing – I hadn’t heard them in a while and it was lovely. They sound like the Yip Yip Martians on steroids. A small herd of deer came galloping through the campground in the evening and you know, I could do this forever, maybe.
Early the next morning I went on another hike, an “Easy” one this time: Ladyfinger Point. Where there was cell service! The trail was easy, or it would have been if I could figure out what was the actual trail and what was extra trail made by deer or tourists or god only knows. I saw two bunny rabbits! There are not any raptors on Antelope Island that I saw and I’m surprised by that, because there most certainly is plenty for them to eat. The rabbits were plump and healthy. I climbed over a lot of rocks and got out to as far as I could go on the point, trying to get a decent picture of Egg Island, which is a small island in the Lake that’s a nursery for California gulls. It’s off limits to people but there were just tons of gulls coming and going AND, which I was not expecting, great blue herons! If you zoom in on this picture you can see them, kind of blurry, it was quite far away, but still. Great blues and gulls, coexisting just as they do on my left arm.
Then I decided it was time to leave enchanted Antelope Island and that is when I saw the pronghorns: the eponymous antelopes of the island. There was a group of six or so wandering around and two who got quite close, nonchalant, beautiful. And with that, it was time to head out, first back to Charlies Auto to learn about trailer brakes – argh – and then up the mountains and into Wyoming. I wish I could have stayed longer but I’m on a deadline now, heading back East and fleeing bad weather as best I can. It is a magical place.
Although it may be a little TOO magical. At some point in the last ten days I have picked up a passenger: there’s a mouse in the back of the truck! Aaaaiiieeeee!!! I am blaming Antelope Island, with its mad surfeit of wildlife and inexplicable shortage of hawks. And myself, because I have a bag for Goodwill in the back of the truck – along with, basically, enough junk and stuff and random bits of clothing and art supplies and rolls of paper towels and insulation and an entire made up bed to outfit any sane person for a year’s happy travel – and in that bag I had tossed a bag of rice I didn’t like and a box of Zatarains, ditto, thinking perhaps they could go off to the charity with the shrunken t-shirts and those sweatpants Audrey was right about. Well, the mouse has made him/herself right at home. They found the shoebox in which I have been storing a bottle of Haraszthy red wine to take back to Asheville and made a nest in the tissue paper. And they gnawed a hole in the rice bag and so, this mouse has itself an RV AND IS PROBABLY RECRUITING MORE MICE TO MOVE IN. And I do not know exactly what to do beyond removing the rice, which I did today. MOUSE! HELP! SEND CATS AND FALCONS AND EXPERTISE!! Or, wait, I have expertise, I don’t want it, send somebody who will just DEAL WITH IT and I will, um, heap them with treasure. Or at least cook them dinner and get them drunk.
* Moby is a 2006 Ford F-150 pickup truck. He gets abominable gas mileage. I am ashamed. But a quarter tank is about 6 gallons and without the camper he rocks around 10 – 12 miles per gallon, so easily 60 miles or more of driving just around Antelope Island!
** In 1996 or thereabouts I was hiking in Maryland when I heard something ENORMOUS crashing through the dry grasses by the trail. It kept getting closer and closer and I thought the dog and I were bound for glory. Goodbye, I said, keeping a tight grip on his leash, I’m sorry it has to end this way. And then the monster came out of the grass. It was a BOX TURTLE and I have never lived it down – my friends who I told about my trauma were just not exactly sympathetic.