Outside the Wasatch

Beyond the Wasatch: Goblin Valley

Last year, my fiancé and I made it a goal to travel at least once a month. We visited national parks and monuments, state parks, and hot springs, and we were able to round out 2016 with 13 camping trips under our belts. This year, we started out fresh with a January trip to Goblin Valley State Park.

Goblin Valley is basically an enormous playground. There’s something for everyone; campers, hikers, bikers, and climbers. The park’s main attraction is the collection of sandstone hoodoos sprinkled throughout the landscape. Down in the valley, these mushroom-shaped rocks and towers fill your view in every direction, and each one is unique. Inside the park, there are five designated hikes.

Little Wild Horse and the Ding and Dang Canyons are just a few miles away from the visitors center and these slot canyons offer a whole day of fun. Little Wild Horse especially is very popular because you don’t need to be experienced to navigate, climb, and scramble through it.

A day use pass to enter the park is $13. If you’re planning to stay the night, there are 25 sites in the campground and two yurts available. Campsites are $25 a night, and there are options for tents and RV hook-ups. Along with that, there are showers and flush toilets, and each site comes with a fire-pit, picnic table, and shade shelter. Yurts are $80 and are equipped with bunk beds, a seating area, table, heat, A/C, and a BBQ cooker.

For weekend warriors like me, here’s your perfect three-day itinerary:

FRIDAY:

Arrive at the park as early as you can. After setting up camp, explore the three valleys of goblins. They are in close proximity to each other and offer hours of fun if you decide to trek through all of them. Pack a lunch and a lot of water. After a break, take the 1.5 mile hike to the Goblin’s Lair and relax in the fresh cool air of this enormous cavern. If you’re prepared for it, permits for rappelling down into the canyon can be purchased at the visitors center or you can hire a guide for a canyoneering tour.

SATURDAY:

Visit Little Wild Horse slot canyon, just five miles west of the Goblin Valley Visitor Center. The full loop of Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon is eight miles, or you can stick to Little Wild Horse, 3.3 miles one way. It’s easy to navigate for all skill-levels and ages. When you get back to camp, relax your sore muscles by the fire and gaze up at the many visible stars in this Dark Sky Certified Park.

SUNDAY:

On the last day of your trip, take the easy 250-yard trail down into the valley to get a closer look at the Three Sisters, one of the most iconic formations in the park, before packing up and heading home.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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Find Your Pitch, Ice Climbing close to home

Climbers have three options in the winter: drive south, go indoors, or layer up and get on some ice. If you haven’t yet tried option number three, there is still time, the season isn’t over yet. Yes, attaching metal spikes to your feet and holding on by the tip of an ice axe can be a little intimidating, but there are few epic adventures more brag-worthy than standing atop a pillar of ice. Try it once, and you’ll be hooked.

Most people have their baptism by ice at Ouray Ice Park in Colorado: the perfect launch pad for an ice climbing career. The man-made ice is reliable and thick, while in the Wasatch, fluctuating weather patterns and avalanches make route finding a little more fickle.  For those sick of following a Candy Lane trail of colored, chalked-up holds in the gym, put your gloves on instead and try these ice climbing routes.

PROVO CANYON

After driving up this canyon, park at the Bridal Veils parking lot, and you will find another vehicle full of climbers. Accessibility and consistent ice make this place a little crowded, but there is a high concentration of climbs here. Access the famous Stairway to Heaven just off the trail, a multi-pitch climb that can reach up to 10 pitches during a good ice season. The first pitch, lovingly called The Apron because of its width, is easy to set up a top-rope on and do laps. There are a few bolts at the top, so you can hop between routes if you are in a bigger group.

If you keep walking up the trail before turning toward the Stairway area, you will come to the breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls. While it rarely freezes, there are a few fantastic climbs to the right of it. Ice leading experience is required.

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON

You really can’t call yourself an ice climber and live in Utah without climbing the Great White Icicle. It’s a classic multi-pitch easily accessible off the freeway. The views get better and better at the end of each of the four pitches, but don’t get distracted and forget to watch for falling ice. Because of high traffic, you will get hit with ice, so always wear a helmet. Once you’ve done this classic, you might as well hike over to Scruffy Band, a collection of ice dripping off granite slabs. You can switch easily between routes of easy grades.

MAPLE CANYON

When avalanche dangers are high in the Wasatch, Maple Canyon is the perfect alternative. Around every winding cobblestone corner, ice pours into perfect climbing routes. There are several routes accessible off the Main Road, but Box Canyon and Left Fork also reveal hidden treasures. Tennis Shoe Slab is long but sustained, and the intimidating Dagger is just around the corner, suspended over an easy first pitch that has set chains. The Wet Itchies and Bowling Ball Head are a little more steep, but fun if you are ready to push yourself.

JOE’S VALLEY

This famous bouldering destination also has stellar ice in the winter months. The CCC and Donoricicle are both breathtaking pillars of thick ice that just taunt you to climb them. A top rope can easily be set up at the Donoricicle, but leading experience is necessary for the two pitches of the CCC. A plus here is the belayer isn’t stuck with a bad view, the frozen Joe’s Reservoir and surrounding mountainous landscape are visible below.

**If you are going ice climbing in Utah, purchase the detailed guide “Beehive Ice” by Nathan Smith and Andrew Burr. Also, check avalanche conditions prior to the climb and check equipment constantly throughout.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

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The Perils of Filmmaking in the West Desert

After weeks of painstaking exploration, bartering, sabotage, and espionage, I managed to secure an interview with the avant-garde filmmakers known only as Visage. Rumor had it that the illusive crew was stuck in town, treating hypothermia and shock after a failed attempt at producing something “truly transcendental” in Utah’s West Desert.

This clandestine group, led by Chad Powers, traveled the world on a quest to “capture the golden ratio between extreme and obscure,” ultimately leading them to our slice of Northern Utah just three weeks ago. Powers, with his customary head-mounted GoPro and surrounding turtleneck posse, relayed to me the trials and turmoil involved in their recent, largely unsuccessful project.

Shortly after releasing a silent film based on their time living amongst the manatees of Crystal River, Florida, Visage was tipped off about the local Faultline Film Awards. “This was to be the ideal platform for another monumental release,” Powers recalled. “A creative gathering hosted by a little-known student outdoor publication — extreme, yet obscure. Plus, the swamp was incompatible with our attire; it was time for something new.”

The ambitious project they intended to submit was Powers’s magnum opus, the creative masterpiece to get them on the map, while remaining simultaneously off the map, ironically. The premise was simple: “for seven days and seven nights, we were to walk into Utah’s sandy flatlands on a journey… to find ourselves.”

Powers, and the four other members of the crew at that time, drove west on I-80 for an undisclosed distance, only to turn off at what seemed to be the most introspective point-of-departure. “Tents, bags, insulated boots — these are the objects of domesticity. We needed only open minds, open hearts, and our Chacos; the rest was to be revealed in the sands.”

The initial days of their creative spiritual journey were successful, with reportedly over eighteen recorded hours of 360-degree wide-angle panning and sepia still frames of crew members in various positions and poses. This experiment in creative expression and self-discovery took a turn for the worst, however, as the filmmakers came into contact with the then encroaching winter storm.

“We were shocked to see snowflakes falling around us,” the documentarian recalled with difficulty. “All the google images of this bogus state indicated dry, red desert. We saw ground snow on our way in, sure, but we assumed that was just part of the aesthetic, artificial.”

The subsequent couple of days were a whitewashed blur, it seems, as Powers recalled experiencing only perpetual torrents of snow, and the inability to discern anything else, while other members chose not to speak to me for the entire duration of the interview, merely nodding occasionally to ostensibly jive word-choice. “Without any point of reference outside the powder, we experienced the cold, we were the cold, you dig?”

Shivering in a collective ball, Visage was discovered several days later by a good samaritan on the hunt for old aluminum cans and artifacts.

Powers expressed that the crew’s next project will be somewhere with neither sand nor snow, and likely a place that I’ve never heard of.

While Visage’s 72-hour ambient film from this perilous journey will not be shown at the Faultline Film Awards, you are still encouraged to attend nonetheless — it will still be very hip.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Webber

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How I Ended up in Cranbrook, B.C.

The reality of what we had gotten ourselves into only hit me at the tiny, remote border crossing in Roosville, MT. After politely informing the Canadian border patrol agent that our travel plans were to head to Cranbrook, B.C., he followed up with an assertive, “Why?” I noticeably fumbled my words as I crafted a substantial-sounding answer. The words I thought in my head were sarcastically clear — “I don’t know, I definitely didn’t just choose to come here a couple hours ago on a whim because I saw this town for the first time on Google Maps.” He sternly told us to pull aside the border patrol office. For a few anxious moments, we sat stock-still in the car anticipating a full search because of our lack of reason for entering the country. Finally, another Canadian official tapped for the window to be lowered and he handed us our passports back without saying a word.

Apparently, spontaneous traveling without a good reason doesn’t make the cut at border crossings, but it’s a popular activity these days that is increasingly easier. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say many of us adventure-minded folk have dreamed of pointing to a spot on a map in another country and impulsively going. I did exactly this all in one day. I looked up pictures of the city on my phone, booked the cheapest motel I could find for the evening, and went purely for the sake of seeing a new place and the ensuing story that might come from it. Despite the fact this was just a short drive across the border, there are so many possibilities around the world if you can save up a bit of money for a plane ticket. Then the resources of the Information Age do the rest.

The pictures here are of Fernie, B.C., a popular ski town you would have expected us to visit and what the border patrol agent likely expected to hear as our destination. But we didn’t even bring skis. We did pop over to Fernie, but our true destination was Cranbrook, an unnoteworthy, unphotogenic town beside some photogenic distant mountains. That was the beauty of the trip — we went somewhere that wasn’t even adventurous on the outdoors spectrum. It was just somewhere new to explore that we found online on a map.

GOOGLE MAPS AND TRIMBLE OUTDOORS: 

From a random flight generator to adjusted public transit times in cities across the globe. Google Maps is my go-to travel companion and can help me pick my next internet-generated spot on the map to go to every time. Also included: driving route planning, reviews of hotels and restaurants, photos, write-ups, satellite images, and GPS data. Trimble Outdoors gives you access to different map lay-outs while helping you plan mileage and elevation gain on a hike.

COUCHSURFING, AIRBNB, WORKAWAY, HIPCAMP: 

These resources set you up with cheap lodging accommodations and unique travel situations. Couchsurfing sets you up with good samaritans looking to host people for a short amount of time in exchange for stories and connections with unique people. Airbnb costs money, but is a great (and cheap) way to have a personal experience with the residents. Workaway is tailored toward long-term international travelers, who trade work for room and board. Hipcamp is great for finding camping spots outside of traditional campgrounds.

THE OUTBOUND COLLECTIVE, THE OUTDOOR PROJECT, ALL TRAILS:

These handy resources can find you the best outdoor excursions wherever you end up. They are based on solid outdoor community reviews backed up with maps, pictures, and firsthand accounts to get to the best adventure you can find on a short notice.

c.hammock@wasatchmag.com

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A New Moab: From Cozy to Commercial

Twenty-seven-year Moab Local John Williams says “I don’t think there’s any going back to how it used to be.” His tired eyes are fixed on a placid, mid-December Main Street, “Moab is on the rise and it’s going to continue to be on the rise.”

Visitors both domestic and international have come to recognize Moab as a charming place of lodging amongst the expansive almost alien landscape of eroded sandstone and red rock icons. The isolated desert community rests along the shore of the Colorado River near an overlying rim, and serves as an access point to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, the La Sal mountains, and a seemingly endless idiosyncratic natural landscape.

While consisting of only 5,130 permanent residents in 2013, Moab accommodates over two million incoming tourists annually, generating a burgeoning tourist economy that former Moab City Councilwoman Kristin Peterson approximates at $263 million. As awareness of the peerless gem of southeastern Utah grows, so too does its commercial trajectory — with no sign of exhaustion.

Williams has owned and operated outdoor expedition and rafting company, Navtec Expeditions , since its small-scale foundation in 1987. He has experienced Moab’s profound growth first-hand, remarking that “The last two years have been the biggest in the travel industry in Moab that I’ve ever seen. Seasons are extending — we even ran trips clear through November last year.”

With the ubiquitous advertisements and trademark Delicate Arch license plates, it is easy to conceive of tourism as a tacit fact of nature in the Moab area, though that couldn’t be any farther from the truth. What initially existed in obscurity as a small-scale agricultural community mushroomed in size after the eventful early 20th century discovery of high deposits of uranium and other valuable materials, and became known near the 1950s as “The Uranium Capital of the World.”

In the early 1980s, the mines had subsided with the conclusion of the Cold War and mounting environmental concerns, leaving the once flourishing industrial community deflated and in rapid decline. Local governments stridently shifted attention to showcasing the region’s natural wonders, particularly its immense oportunities for  outdoor recreation, thereby revitalizing — even rescuing — Moab for years to come. “Moab has been a tourist town since the uranium industry went under,” Williams stated, “it’s all we have — we need it here.”

Moab’s emergence as a tourist hotspot is a double-edged sword however, and many residents fear displacement as the town becomes progressively more commercialized, and thus more expensive to live in each year. To better understand the extent and implications of this resort-town transition, I travelled to a vacated, snow-covered Moab to speak with the individuals whose lives hang in the balance. Largely unoccupied in the languid lull of the off-season, these local residents were more than happy to share their perspectives.

Marie, or “Moonbeam” as her friends call her, is an 11-year Moab resident and owner of Star Shine Gifts, a metaphysical gift shop on Main Street. She, like virtually every other small business owner I spoke to, notices that “the season starts earlier and ends later,” growing busier each cycle. She recognizes that “Moab is transitioning into a resort town ­— all that’s needed is a bigger airport.” When asked of her conceived worst-case scenario, she emphatically stated, “The worst would be the arrival of big-box retailers” similar to Walmart.

Like many locals who relish Moab’s small town atmosphere, Marie fears that monetizing the area threatens to diminish its natural tranquility.“There are things that you can’t put a price on,” she says, “like clean air, and clean water, and dark skies — peace and quiet. These are beyond priceless.”

Co-owner of Amber Waves Salon and lifetime resident, Morgi Croasmun, suggests that locals can cope with growing commercialization by working to “keep it small town,” by “supporting local businesses first and foremost.” This trajectory, she feels, is inevitable. “If we don’t keep growing, we’ll stop where we are or regress.”

When asked about Moab’s skyrocketing cost of living, she admits that it has grown tougher to afford to live in the town, “especially rent-wise. We make good money through a certain period of time when the tourists are here, but it becomes more difficult through the off-season.”

While local residents and policy-makers were successfully able to block the suffocating induction of Walmart into the town in 2007, largescale commercial developments, particularly in lodging, have multiplied in recent years. Three major hotels, two of which were commissioned by Hilton Worldwide, began construction just last year. Another major resort near the iconic Lion’s Back formation is also in the works, threatening to interfere with access to the popular Sand Flats hiking area.

More troubling still are the soaring property values and increasing cost of living — 11 percent higher than the national average and continually rising— a new fiscal environment that 73-year Moab local and former miner, D, fears is threatening his ability to live in his home town.

Exasperated, D said, “The old people that have lived here can’t afford to pay the taxes. We’re all on a fixed income now. Rent is going up every month — how the hell are we gonna make it here? We can hardly even do it now.”

Reflecting similar anxiety of Moab’s commercial future, another longtime local who chose to remain anonymous shared that she has “good friends in Aspen. The same thing that happened there, and places like Vale and Telluride, is happening here in Moab.” Low-income service workers in Moab, she projects, will no longer be able to afford to live in town, and will ultimately have to live elsewhere and commute — a lifestyle that grows less sustainable each year as the cost of living in neighboring communities like La Sal, Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff increase correspondingly. “I feel a privilege, a huge privilege, that I knew Moab before all of this.”

“That’s one of the big problems we have: housing,” Williams observes, “there’s just not enough good, low-income housing here.” While some low-income housing units do exist in Moab, many residents that I spoke to felt that it wasn’t nearly enough to adequately accommodate the town’s struggling service worker foundation as they face displacement with the encroaching commercial future.

Many locals, however, are optimistic about the new face of Moab, and feel that with proper reception it can potentially be the best thing for the town. Rebecca McAllister, owner and operator of Moab Made, recognizes that “it’s more expensive to live here, but also more sustainable. Tourism has brought a lot of job opportunities that would not be here otherwise. It’s built the economy, and allowed people to live in the middle of nowhere.” Her business is representative of coexistence and cooperation with Moab’s new direction, exclusively selling the work of over 75 local artists.

She, like many other Moab locals, have come to accept the inevitable, and “rather than using our energy to fight it,” she says, “we should spend our energy on handling it wisely and gracefully.”

Moab’s growing tourist dimension seems to be elapsing other, less sustainable uses for the better, as the Bureau of Land Management has just last month declared 451,000 acres protected and non-leasable, preventing surface disturbance like mining or oil drilling in scenic areas such as the Moab Rim Trail, Corona Arch, and Indian Creek.

Although John Williams has observed the severe impact as a result of increased recreational activity, he feels that many tourists “just don’t know what the dos and don’ts are — they wouldn’t do it if they knew better.” Cherishing, rather than exploiting, Moab’s natural resources for monetary gain may be the key to conserving the region as it progresses into the future, as long as the land is treated responsibly and consciously.

Whether this encroaching Aspen-ization of southeastern Utah’s luminescent desert oasis is the area’s conservational salvation or a mechanism for displacement and gentrification is uncertain, but “the future is upon us,” Williams says, “and we have to embrace and deal with it the best we can.” Only time will tell if Moab’s small-town infrastructure and delicate natural environment can cope with the demands of its emerging epoch. This seasoned local warns, “there’s a certain limit to what we can carry here, and we’re getting pretty close now. We are going to have to adjust.”

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Discover a Warm and Groovy Place for a Soak in Monroe

One thing to know about me: I hate being cold. I absolutely loathe it. If I could be wrapped in a heated blanket all through winter I wouldn’t object. Unfortunately, this is not an option, so instead of becoming a hermit all winter long I’ve found that visiting one of the many hot springs in Utah is a much better way to stay warm and have fun.

When I moved here from Pennsylvania five years ago I was determined to take advantage of as many hot springs as I could. One of my favorite springs in Utah, and one that I love returning to, is Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe.

The first thing that sets Mystic apart from other hot springs is its accommodations. Along with tent camping spots and cabins, the resort has some very funky, and very cool, vintage converted buses to spend the night in. Each bus is different; some are set up with bunks to be party buses, and others are cozy for two.

My boyfriend and I stayed in the Ripple bus and spent most of the day soaking, napping, and eating. Mystic is a well-kept secret. It’s never ridiculously crowded and there are so many different pools you never have to wait around to get a tub all to yourself.

The heart of this small town feels like a bubble of calm. There are no loud noises or lights to intrude on the tranquility of the campsite. There’s nothing better than getting into a hot pool at 12 a.m. after relaxing by the fire after dinner. Above, the stars shine brightly due to the lack of light pollution.

It’s not a typical resort with fresh towels and room service, but for what it lacks in modern amenities, it makes up for in atmosphere. The resort has been around for a long time, and when “Mystic Mike” Ginsburg purchased the place back in 1996, he was able to keep the 70’s charm of the resort despite new cabin builds and renovations.

Mystic Hot Springs attracts a diverse group of outdoorsmen and women. It’s a place that invites musicians, artists, story-tellers, hippies, and soul searchers to come and relax. The owners leave personal touches such as chocolate mints, incense, and handwritten welcome letters for each new guest. It’s little things like this that make visiting Mystic worth the drive every time.

 

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Esther Aboussou

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Weekend escape: Bridger Bowl, MT

For the last six years, I’ve had a low-priority objective of trying out new ski areas in Montana. After people filled my ear with good things about Bridger Bowl just north of Bozeman, I figured it was time to explore a new hill.

Bridger is only a 20 minute drive from Bozeman. The mellow paved road is a plus for those of us without four-wheel drive vehicles, or with a minivan like yours truly. Bridger Bowl is often overlooked by the larger Big Sky Ski Resort further southwest, but the short drive and cheap price beat out Big Sky in my mind. The key is the little ski area vibe. While little resort gems dot Montana, Bridger Bowl offers that same feeling, plus big slopes. As expected, there are rarely lift lines, but it has a few resort-like amenities with reasonably fast lifts and nice day lodges for eating and resting.

The big terrain I was told about did not let down, and it’s immediately obvious why Bridger is known for its ridge terrain. Booting up just a little from the top of the lifts gives access to almost always untracked snow in steep cliff areas, trees, and couloirs. This ridge terrain is technically backcountry, but it’s easily accessible. An entire lift at Bridger requires that skiers wear a beacon because of increased avalanche danger.

The wide swath of terrain to explore and frequent good snow, or “Cold Smoke” as they call it there, will keep me coming back for more to explore. If you’re ever in the area, ski Bridger Bowl for a relatively cheap $57 (compared to SLC resorts around $80).

Going to a new ski area for the first time is a fun mini adventure in itself. It’s always enjoyable to explore a new place and try to discover little moments of gold in between runs. The views of the Absaroka Range towards Yellowstone National Park and the Crazy Mountains towards Central Montana were amazing. At the end of the day, skiing Bridger Bowl marked skiing eight of the 16 bigger ski areas in Montana, a nice halfway point for an objective I hope to finish some day.

c.hammock@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Chris Hammock

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The Real Reason Locals Don’t Swim in the Salt Lake

The Great Salt Lake: the largest lake in the Great Basin, the namesake of Salt Lake City, and the body of water everyone ignores just northwest of town. In the summer, the lake reeks of rotting brine shrimp carcasses. In the winter it just sits there, frigid, while everyone is preoccupied with the more enticing skiing nearby. Sketchy chemical plants and refineries appear to drain into the reservoir. Plus, it’s really salty — five times saltier than the ocean.

Perfect conditions for a swim.

It seems like very few people from Utah have swum in the Salt Lake and/or have no desire to. I embarked on a personal quest for answers as to why this is the case. I approached some friends and asked if they had been in the lake before, receiving looks of confusion in return. Swimming in the lake was heresy to them; the in-staters had never even considered it. When I asked if they wanted to join me in my baptismal dip to find out what we could be missing, I was greeted with a more alarmed reaction of repulsion: “You’re going to swim in the Salt Lake?! That cesspool? Ew!” These responses only ignited my fire to give it a try. After this investigation, the only real option that remained to understand why it seems nobody swims in the Salt Lake was to jump in it myself. The only never-before-swam-in-the-Salt-Lake Utahn willing to come along was Wasatch editor Carolyn Webber. We headed out to Great Salt Lake State Park in the afternoon on a Thursday after class.

Arriving at the beach, we were initially discouraged by the sand reeking of a sulfuric scent and the refinery smokestack towering above acting as a likely suspect. But we pushed on, and the lake itself wasn’t too smelly. The only possible gross deterrents were the expected foam and a few live brine shrimp.

Finally on the shore, it was the moment of truth. We tested the water for temperature (not bad!) and went for it, sprinting in and going all the way under. The first words from Webber were, “Don’t open your eyes! It’s salty!” That about summed up the experience: salty. The novel fact that you can float without any effort because of the salt content held true. The water tasted significantly more salty than the ocean. The salt burned a scrape of mine as the online guides said it would. After getting out and drying off with a towel, a layer of salt remained behind.

However, this saltiness was secondary to the tranquillity of the lake. There were no waves and the flat lake extended for miles. This unique beauty was easier to appreciate while  actually soaking in the water, altogether surprisingly close to an ocean-swimming experience.

So,  swimming in the Salt Lake: pass or fail? We rate it as a pass. Just make sure you bring some lotion.

c.hammock@dailyutahchronicle.com

Photo by Chris Hammock

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Birding on Utah’s Salty Shores

Despite its seemingly dead appearance at first glance, the Great Salt Lake is a fascinating ecosystem rich with life. It happens to be one of the most important bird migration stops in western North America. Thanks to the mostly arid Utah climate, birds congregate around bodies of water, making the vast lake home to millions of shore birds, water birds, songbirds, and birds of prey, such as bald eagles and falcons. Birding enthusiasts and conservationists flock to the lake from all over to experience its diverse and colorful bird life. In late summer, watch in awe as giant flocks of red necked phalaropes create their signature whirlpools in the salty waters, stirring up brine shrimp and other invertebrates to feast on before their long journey to South America. In the winter, spot a majestic barn owl on the hunt catch a rabbit in its powerful talons.

One of the hotspots for bird watchers is Antelope Island. This 28,800 acre state park is open year round and hosts antelope, bison, and bighorn sheep. Don’t let the dropping temperatures fool you, now is prime time to bring your binocs and watch the show. Some birds to look for in the winter months include grebes, tundra swans, horned larks, and chukars.You’ll find tundra swans aren’t hard to miss with their symphony of honks, while horned larks are a bit more subtle with soft calls, sometimes seen singing with their yellow colored faces and white underbellies visible while perched on rocks or signs.

Before you embark on your birding adventure, you’re going to need some essentials.

Binoculars: These will transform tiny flying specks into colorful and detailed patterns and feathers. A pair can range from $30 to upwards of $500. With a bit of research you can find the best pair for your needs.

A field guide: Specifically a field guide with pictures, so you know what you’re looking at. You can get a reputable and relatively low cost guide for under $10 from National Geographic or the National Audubon Society. You can also find guides regional to Utah for under $5 at most bookstores.

A camera: One with a telephoto lens if possible. Short-range portrait lenses don’t capture detail from a distance, much like your naked eye.

If you are interested in going full-on bird-nerd and learning more about the Great Salt Lake and its feathered friends, the Salt Lake Audubon Society is hosting their biennial Friends of The Great Salt Lake Birds n’ Bites: Highlights of the 2016 Great Salt Lake Issues Forum on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7:00 p.m., at the Tracy Aviary Education Building.

You can also check out the Great Salt Lake Audubon official website for a calendar of events, including a number of guided field trips with bird watching experts.

a.winter@dailyutahchronicle.com

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Hidden Beauty in the Concrete Jungle: Salt Lake’s Jordan River Parkway

Concealed from the public eye by manifold columns of industrial developments, lies a preserved slice of the Salt Lake Valley wasteland: strange, beautiful and ripe for exploration. I stumbled upon this sublime place while cycling to see the Jordan River Parkway to its endpoint, though found myself halted and mesmerized by the fervent vitality of this hidden oddity.

According to postings scattered around the area, this isolated landscape was initially purchased by Salt Lake County in the early 1970s in deplorable condition, having previously been used as agricultural grazing land. After its cooperative community restoration in 2008, the area was cleared of invasive plant species and revitalized, thereafter dubbed the Redwood Nature Area. Encompassing 63 acres of restored natural wetlands, the Redwood Nature Area now serves as an asylum for many species of wildlife and is a habitual stop for migratory birds. More incredible still is that this flourishing arboreal landscape is merely a single pit stop along an extensive network of riverside wetlands, all connected by the winding Jordan River Parkway.

Constantly meandering parallel to the Jordan River, the Parkway spans over 50 miles of paved asphalt and cuts through Utah, Davis and Salt Lake counties. By bike, the extensive trail provides unmitigated access to major settlements between Utah Lake and, in its connection to the Legacy Parkway Trail, the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

For the Salt Lake Valley’s burgeoning cycling culture, the Jordan River Parkway is a safe and beautiful alternative to navigating the perilous urban landscape within our growing inner-city communities.

Adventurous cyclists exploring the Redwood Nature Area must be conscious of the goat heads: sharp, multi-pointed clusters that grow along invasive puncture vines adapted to dry climates. Due to its close proximity to the river, the Parkway is riddled with these tube-deflating monstrosities. Since avoidance is difficult, if not impossible, I recommend bringing along a hand-pump and patching kit in preparation for the likely misfortune of a flat tire, particularly if you are anticipating a longer journey.

jordan-river-parkway
d.rees@dailyutahchronical.com

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