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Satire: Extreme Sledding at ShredFest

The previous decade has served witness to a plethora of new and unusual pastimes emerging from the hearts of a listless population and the internet. With most recreational mediums having already been exhausted, outdoor adventure junkies have deferred to radical remixes of past traditions. These remixes have come to fruition in the form barefoot mountain climbing, unicycle fly-fishing, umbrella base jumping, competitive rock and bark chewing, and most notably, the controversial activity of extreme sledding.

Following the announcement of a large-scale extreme sledding extravaganza in Salt Lake City this November, the SledShred420 Tributary SledFest, what was once an isolated internet phenomenon has drawn fiery scrutiny from concerned Utah locals hoping to rescind the event altogether. At present, one question rests on the minds of local legislators and media representatives alike: What on earth is extreme sledding? And how did it come to be?

The singular traceable origin of this practice is a sequence of YouTube videos published between 2013 and 2014 by a bearded young man identifiable only by the screen name SledShred420. Over the course of that year, the YouTuber accumulated mass viewership as his videos grew progressively more outrageous; what began as tame sled and snowsuit reviews quickly transitioned into death-defying sled runs. The Colorado local took his collection of sleds — some circular, some railed, and in one instance simply a tarp under his knees — to some of the state’s most precarious slopes and plummets, including the Capitol Peak knife-edge ridge. SledShred420 became a spark, and subsequently a martyr, for the emergent sport when he tragically perished in New York City after sledding down the Statue of Liberty’s nose — his death a result of choking on a gourmet hot dog at a food cart in downtown Manhattan later that day.

With the help of online forums and social media, SledShred420’s supporters and extreme sledding activists coalesced to form the Extreme Sledding Federation (ESF). They are behind the SledShred420 Tributary SledFest.

On the event’s final day, festival attendees plan to link hands and perform an unprecedented ‘Flying W’ run, sledding down from the Millcreek ridge, up and over the Cottonwood Divide between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, and ultimately land (ideally) somewhere near Red Pine Lake, where they will have lunch and take a group photo.

At the moment of the festival’s announcement, fervent protests ensued, primarily from concerned parents and environmentalists — the latter claimed sledding on bare inclines damages natural foliage and ecosystems. Many of the demonstrators present were unfamiliar with the organization and were drawn out by the insatiable compulsion to protest something.

A startling detail not present on the ESF’s website is the fact that over 65 percent of its members are children. While the organization requires a permission slip for all minors aspiring to join its ranks, Utah mothers fear that even the presence in the city is harmful.

One exasperated mother at last week’s anti-ESF rally believes the organization puts her daughter at risk.

“Last week, Sally said that she wanted to go to sledding. I told her that we couldn’t go, since it hasn’t snowed yet,” the mother, Brittany Smith says. “Shortly after, she took her sled and flew right off the roof, destroying our garden and covering herself in scrapes and bruises. Sure enough, the first item on her search history was that darn extreme-o website. These maniacs must be stopped.”

Another parent I spoke to, however, was supportive of the ESF and its upcoming festival.

“Well, the kiddos have been raving about this fad for weeks now,”  Jim Bumps says. “It’s a little dangerous, sure, but as long as it gets them outside and off the Xbox, I’m okay with it. So what if they get a little beat up? When I was their age, I used to chase rattlesnakes with a stick and wrestle the neighbor’s horse. I turned out okay.”

His children are currently practicing members, and they plan to train for the festival on Olympus’ northern face later this week.

At present, it is uncertain how long protests will continue, though it certainly appears that the festival is still on. A recent tweet from Powers advises that “[Utah locals] better wax their sleds or stay inside — it’s going down, and going down quick.”

The outcomes of this largescale event are anyone’s guess, but it is advised that you wear a helmet if you plan to participate and avoid hiking in the canyons that day if you do not.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Practicing Self-Care in Nature

Lowering temperatures, gray skies, and a loss of sunlight are signaling the change of the seasons as the winter months quickly approach in Utah. The “winter blues,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as it’s officially called in the DSM-IV (the manual of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association), is a common disorder that affects many men and women as the seasons change. Unfortunately, it’s not always recognized for what it is.

It can be easy to dismiss symptoms of SAD as just being “moody” or having a bad week. Certainly, everyone has those moments. The problem occurs when you can’t seem to shake those feelings. If you’re a student, there’s the constant stress and pressure of looming tests and projects. If school isn’t part of your life, there’s work, bills, kids, appointments, etc. There is always something else, and it can be exhausting and overwhelming. Regular everyday struggles coupled with SAD can trigger a downward spiral that feels impossible to overcome. Feelings of exhaustion, hopelessness, anxiety, and depression are serious problems no person should have to struggle through alone.

A dead tree on Antelope Island. During this time of year, the feeling of deadness can be felt in many ways.

In life, there’s always going to be a job that needs to be finished, a deadline to be met, or a relationship to nurture, and these are all wonderful things that keep us enriched. At the same time, when the pressure becomes a bit too heavy, there’s no shame in slowing down and taking time to stop and smell the pine trees.

In Utah, we’re lucky to have an amazing contrast of outdoor spaces. I’ve found that one of the best ways to practice self-care and get back to myself is in the solitude of nature. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I have a handful of places to go where I can relax and unplug; taking these mini getaways has been a life-saver when I need a rejuvenating mental health day.

 

Diamond Fork Hot Springs

There’s nothing better than a good, long, mineral filled soak after a winter hike. Fifth Water Hot Springs in Diamond Fork Canyon can be reached after a 2.5 mile hike. The best time to go is in the fall before any heavy snow falls force the road to close. The blue and green colors of the swirling pools are vibrant and absolutely mesmerizing.

Stansbury Island

Stansbury is one of the largest of the Great Salt Lake’s 15 islands. There are primitive camping spots all throughout Stansbury Island, and it’s secluded. Stansbury is located in Tooele, Utah, and you can witness the most amazing sunsets and sunrises. The colors reflecting off of the still salty water make for a fantastic sight. I love taking one-night car camping trips to Stansbury after a long day of work.

Neffs Canyon

I love gazing out over the Salt Lake Valley from the top of the Neff’s Canyon Loop trail, a moderate 1.2 mile trek. Neff’s is one of my favorite canyons to visit at the beginning of fall when the leaves start to change. It’s perfect for a lazy afternoon stroll.

Silver Lake

A good workout always helps me take my mind off of things. Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who hates the gym and organized workout sessions. The most exercise I do comes from hiking and snowshoeing. In the winter, Big Cottonwood Canyon is perfect for skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers alike. The area around Silver Lake has great trails for this latter group.

Heber City

Going for a ride on the Heber Valley Railroad is a cute and quaint way to spend an evening; fares range from $8 to $30 a person depending on the route. It’s wonderful to view Wasatch county through the windows of a slow moving train as you sip a hot beverage on a chilly day.

Crystal Hot Springs

Did you know that little old Honeyville, Utah, has hot springs with the highest mineral content in the world? These developed springs are just an hour north of Salt Lake City,

and it is absolutely worth the drive. Soaking is $7 and camping starts at $20. There’s a small hotel nearby that has an Airbnb style self check-in option. The Olympic sized lap pool at Crystal is one of my favorite ways to enjoy this resort.

While visiting these places is certainly a wonderful way to unwind and combat the feelings of depression the season’s changes bring on, I also want to make a point to mention that sometimes extra help is needed to make it through the winter months. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reaching out to a close friend, a counselor, or a psychiatrist is a good idea. Listen to your body and pay attention to your emotions. We all need a little help sometimes, and at the end of the day, taking care of your personal happiness and health should be a priority.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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Bomber and Company: More Flashy than Functional

I stray far from the frivolous. Every item I purchase, or think about purchasing, is weighed against the possible experiences I could have for the same cost. Spending $50 to replace the rain jacket I lost last October? No thanks. I’d rather swing by Walmart and grab a dollar poncho before heading up into the Uintas for an overnight backpacking trip.

Needless to say, when Bomber and Company’s package showed up in the mail for us to review here at Wasatch Magazine, I was skeptical. At first glance, these seemed frivolous. I was, we’ll say, half wrong.

In the neatly packed box were five items: the Bomber Barrel (duffel bag), the Mini Bomber Travel Kit (amenities bag), the B-2 Nano Blade (truly tiny pocket knife), Bomber Carabiner Paracord Keychain (exactly what it says), and the Bomber Firestarter Paracord Bracelet (bracelet of woven paracord with firestarter flint). At first sight, all these products absolutely nailed one main factor: design. Everything was sleek, black, and modern, from the cleanly woven paracord zipper pulls on the duffel to the tactical shape of the “world’s smallest pocket knife.” The whole lot was a solid mix of tactical survival with modern, everyday city life. Anyone carrying these items would certainly give off the outdoorsy, bad-to-the-bone, Bear Grylls-esque, “I survived behind enemy lines for three days eating only cactus,” impression.

However, from a first impression, I suspected this is where the products would end. The actual utility of these items seemed like an afterthought. That didn’t sit well with me, so I decided to use these pieces of trendy gear like they were advertised. I ended up with mixed results.

The duffel is easy to rate. It paired with the travel kit to make for a very useful bit of luggage. I toted it along on a weekend backpacking trip to Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyon and found that it served perfectly as my “doesn’t belong in the backpack” bag. That is, the bag with all my snacks, books, chargers, etc., that would not be accompanying me on the trail. I found the bag to be a good, medium size with a simple number of pockets, just enough to hold all your small bits without acting like a puzzle when you have to get something out.

The two paracord items, the bracelet and keychain, also proved at least functional. They clearly were still created for form over function, though, they did still function. The firestarters on both worked (after scraping off the black coating). I found that by wrapping the keychain around your knuckle and using the separate circular striker, you can throw decent sparks off the flint and steel. Of course, if your fire-making skills aren’t already pretty solid, it won’t be of much use.

The B-2 Nano Blade, on the other hand, I found frivolous. I saw no use the tiny pocket knife could provide that a much cheaper Swiss Army knife couldn’t. At least you get a toothpick with the Swiss Army. It only seems useful if you want to feel like a marine while opening your envelopes.

The major downside of all these products ties into their biggest positive. They are all far too expensive. The duffel catches a cool $200, while the paracord products each hit the $23 mark. The hopelessly small pocketknife asks a steep $35. To me, this only reinforces that these products were made for looks, not necessarily use. They aren’t bad, but paying that much for an extraneous piece of gear isn’t something I’m chomping at the bit for. These are targeted towards consumers who are trying to put on a facade and don’t mind paying a little bit more for it. For that market, they’re doing great.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Bouldering in Bishop

Rock climbing in Happy Boulders in Bishop, CA with Nik, Trevor, and Jill on Sunday, November 6, 2016. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

The time has come for regular climbers to plan their annual fall trips. With Utah getting cold fast, your best bet is to look elsewhere for thrilling climbs. One place I’ve taken to venturing to is Mount Whitney in Bishop, California.

If you have not, Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous 48 states, standing at 14,505 feet, and it is located one hour south of Bishop, California. The drive is long if you’re coming from Salt Lake City, about eight hours if you go through Nevada, so make sure to have some playlists ready. After reaching the Nevada-California border, you’ll begin to see some of the highest mountain peaks in the lower 48. They are crested with white snow and sit atop the horizon. The best place I recommend stopping for food is at Erick Schat’s Bakery for fresh Dutch bread and treats before heading out to the camping spot known as the Pit. Of course, you should make sure you already have supplies for your climbing expedition.

The Pleasant Valley Pit Campground, located 8 miles west of Bishop on Highway 395 is the perfect campground and is relatively inexpensive. The cost will set you back $14 per night with a maximum stay of up to 60 days. That is, if your body can handle that long of a trip. The view from the Pit is stunning. You’ll fall asleep directly under the stars while looking at Mount Tom, which towers over you at 13,652 feet. Most of the fellow campers in the Pit are also climbers looking to either boulder or climb in the Gorge.

Rock climbing in Happy Boulders in Bishop, CA with Nik, Trevor, and Jill on Sunday, November 6, 2016. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Owens River Gorge, about 11 miles north of the Pleasant Valley Campground, is the perfect place to work sport climbing routes. With over 577 climbing routes, including both sport and traditional, the possibilities are endless. I recommend heading to a few routes in the Holy Trinity crag in the Upper Gorge. Routes range from 5.9 to 5.12 with excellent protection. The routes will almost be shaded from the daytime sun since they run next to the river in the gorge. Pick Pocket, 5.11a, was my favorite route. It is easily noticeable because of the specific chalk holds that have marked the path up to the bolts 60 feet off the ground. Other notable climbs in this area that are a must are Triple Play cliff, great for warm ups, and Gorgeous Towers, awesome crack climbing, especially on Wacked Scenario 5.10b. You will absolutely love this crack.

After you’ve finished climbing in the gorge, head back up to your car and drive north to take a dip in the Crab Cooker hot spring 20 miles northwest. The Crab Cooker is located on your way to Mammoth, a classic California ski resort in the Inyo National Forest. The hot springs have adjustable temperature settings with a wrench to turn the valve. Once you’ve relaxed in the hot spring, head back to camp and catch some shut-eye before bouldering the next day in the Happy Boulders area.

When you wake up the following morning, get a well-rounded breakfast and head due east about 4 miles to the Happy Boulders for another exciting day of climbing. The only bouldering I had done prior to this trip in Bishop, California, was in a Salt Lake City gym. After bouldering outside in Bishop, I finally understand the desire to boulder — it is so much more fun to be outside with friends, climbing on real rock. The thing about bouldering is that there are so many different routes to climb it is unbelievable. In the Happy Boulders area alone, there are 481 marked routes. One climb I would put down for the record books is Monkey Hang V3, which starts out with an unbelievable Gaston hold, a technique where you push against holds instead of pulling on one to gain leverage, and a foot hold. While keeping your hands placed on the starting hold, you swing your body around to latch your feet on the top edge of the boulder. Once they have been placed, carefully reposition your body to mantle (a move where you push and flop like a beached whale) up over the lip to finish the route. You will be breathing heavily after completing this route, but you will feel like a champion once reaching the top.

Rock climbing in Owen’s River Gorge near Bishop, CA with Nik, Trevor, Jill, Felix, and Kristen on Saturday, November 5, 2016. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

As always, climb with friends in case of an emergency, and remember to take the proper equipment such as sun screen, clothing, and food. Document your adventure with a camera and tell others about the awesome area in Bishop. On your drive back home, I suggest stopping by Erick Schat’s Bakery for some cinnamon pull-apart bread to enjoy in celebration.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Beginners’ guide to skiing and snowboarding

Living in Utah, you should already know that the winter season is a big deal. If you were like me growing up, I never saw the middle school skiing/snowboarding program, Snow Blitz, appealing as a young tween. Wearing layers upon layers of snow attire and falling down a mountainside didn’t sound fun, and the expense was unattainable — until now. Even though I’m interested now, I must warn you, the falling doesn’t stop. Which leads me to the first of many tips when you begin to learn how to ski or snowboard — get used to falling, but before you start falling, you’ll need the gear for it.

Gear

Buying skiing and snowboarding gear right off the bat can be quite the commitment and can start at $600 and easily reach into the thousands.

Luckily, if you’re a student at the University of Utah, you’ll find the cheapest rentals rates in the state at the Student Life Center. Pro tip: you don’t need to be a student to rent from the university, but you can get 20 percent off the already cheap rates if you bring your UID. You can rent a basic skiing and/or snowboarding package, which includes skis/snowboard, bindings, boots, and poles (if skiing). You can also rent a coat and snow pants. The staff is there to help you get fitted, teach you proper gear technique, and you can store all this information for future reference. While the U would be the cheapest and easiest rental place, there are places all over Utah you can rent gear from like Ski N’ See & ARCS, which offers discount lift passes if you rent from them.

What you’ll need:

  • Beanie
  • Helmet
  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Coat
  • Snow pants/overalls
  • Layers
  • Boots
  • Bindings
  • Skis/snowboard
  • A snowy mountain

Lift Passes

Lift passes are the other expensive part of this hobby. As a beginner, no one wants to dish out $400+fon a season pass, but it can be pricey paying by day. Brighton Ski Resort is a great place to begin. If you can handle the cold, single day evening passes at Brighton are your best bet. While single full day passes allow you to ride from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and start at approximately about $82, night passes start at about $47, allowing you to ride from 4-9 p.m.

Though it can get rather cold and dark, night riding is a great time to learn since there are less people around. While a seasonal night pass to Brighton Ski Resort is only $319-$419, a seasonal day pass can range from $599 to $750. The best part of Brighton is the promotional offers it runs during the season. You can always find promotional deals on night riding like “2 for 1” rides or a discounted night pass if you bring canned goods during their food drive. Find the entire list of promotional deals on night riding and lessons on the Brighton webpage.To do it right, you need lessons.

Lesson

Once you have your gear and a pass, it’s time to hit the slopes.

If you don’t have a patient enough friend, adult lessons will help develop your skills. While you have the option between group lessons or private, you will learn skills and techniques to help ride more of the mountain while having fun with other riders. Keep in mind; resorts, like Alta, are for skiers only, so instructors may not know how to teach you how to snowboard. While lessons can range from $50 to $100+, Brighton offers the cheapest skiing/snowboarding lessons starting at $55 for a night lesson. Remember, safety first. I highly suggest not trying to teach yourself how to ski or snowboard as it can be fairly dangerous without proper skills and technique.

Tips

  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone else on the slopes.
  • Helmets are cool; wear one.
  • Skiers, don’t cross your tips.
  • Always keep your knees bent, but not too bent.
  • Wear proper winter clothing. Do not wear cotton (it absorbs and holds water, making you colder).
  • Save money on gas by using your pass as a ticket for public transportation.
  • Snowboarders, there are such things as butt pads.
  • Look for promotional deals.
  • Bandanas/masks make a big difference in keeping warm.
  • Your boots should be snug, but still have enough room for when your feet swell.
  • Have fun, but safety first.

a.duong@wasatchmag.com

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Bindings—A Ski for all Reasons

How do you pick the right pair of bindings for your skis? There are so many variations of bindings available that it’s difficult to find the right pair just for you. You can listen to vendors describe the intricate details of why their bindings are better than their competitors, but it all boils down to one simple concept –— bindings are used to attach your skis to your boots. With this in mind, there are three categories of ski bindings: alpine, alpine touring, and telemark bindings. With these bindings, it is important to know what type of ski boot you are using, because there is no ski boot that fits all three.

The first step to choosing a new pair of bindings is determining what type of skier you are. If you prefer to ski exclusively in resorts and on groomed trails, then alpine bindings are the right choice for you. These bindings are designed for skiers who are learning how to get down the mountain to Olympic skiers who race down mountains at freeway speeds. These bindings have a release setting based on your skill level and weight. This setting is known as the DIN of your bindings. Generally, the higher the DIN setting, the better or heavier a skier you are.

If you are a more experienced skier who is looking to transition from waiting in long lift lines to making the first tracks down the mountain after a recent storm, then alpine touring (AT) bindings will fit your needs. These bindings are designed to release from the heel and pivot to about the toe to mimic the motion of cross country skis. Alpine touring bindings are used for scaling mountain sides with the ability to transform back into a downhill ski. There are two main types of alpine touring bindings: frame AT and tech AT bindings. Frame AT bindings will work with your normal alpine boots, whereas tech AT bindings need special boots that only work with tech bindings. The main difference between these two types of bindings are the weight savings, tech bindings being much lighter than frame ones. If you are a veteran backcountry skier, the tech boots and bindings are the best way to go. If you are just getting into backcountry skiing and are looking to save a penny or two (or a couple hundred dollars), then frame AT bindings are the best option. Both types of bindings will get you to some of the best, untouched powder available.

If you are the type of person who’s looking for a challenge and wants to look good while doing it, then telemark bindings are the best choice. These bindings allow for a novel type of skiing that mixes downhill and cross country skiing. The toe is connected to the ski, but the heel is free the whole time. This is unlike AT bindings, where the heel is free for the ascent, but then clips in for the descent. You have to change your style of skiing because you are essentially making a lunge motion down the mountain. While elegant to watch, just know that telemark skiers love to work their legs to exhaustion in an already tiring sport. Only telemark boots will work with telemark bindings. The range of motion allowed by the combination of the boot and the binding allows you to make these dynamic maneuvers.

In summary, think about what type of skier you want to be this season before purchasing a new pair of bindings. Look at your boot inventory and decide which bindings will be compatible with them. Once you have made all of these decisions, mount your bindings to your skis. Have a professional set your DIN release setting, then get on the mountain and ski.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Is GoPro’s Value Justified? (The answer may surprise you)

Contributor submission from Tom Gerber. 

Action cameras don’t come more intelligent than GoPros. And with this technology comes a hefty price tag. GoPro’s CEO Nick Woodman once remarked that “GoPro is not just a camera company anymore.” Following this statement, not too long ago GoPro joined the drone space by unveiling a drone of their own named the Karma drone.

The drone hasn’t had a smooth sail, prompting a recall, though hope is not lost as it’s set for a relaunch later this year.

Promising Start

Three years ago, GoPro was the darling IPO (Initial Public Offering, or the first time a company puts it stock on the market) launching with an initial offering price of $24. At the time, the company was valued at $5.3 billion. This is not a meek valuation by any standards, even though the numbers said otherwise (a look at the 1st quarter of 2013 vis-à-vis 2014’s showed a fall in revenue by $20 million from $255 to $235 million).

The company explained the difference by saying that the delayed unveiling of its Hero3 camera in late 2012 translated to its sales being experienced more in early 2013, hence the larger figures in the first quarter of 2013.

Diminishing Valuation

Four years down the line, what does the valuation look like for GoPro? Well, it looks bleaker and the numbers speak volumes. 2016 was the year that saw the company cut down jobs and any ambitious endeavors in order to save its flagging sales.

But even after that, their forecast for the first quarter of 2017 is disappointing with the company announcing that it would generate at least $60 million less than analysts projected they would generate. Industry analysts projected $270 million in revenue as opposed to the figure of $210 million that the company now says is the expected revenue.

With such a rough start to the year, are there results to justify the valuation of GoPro?

The company already announced record quarterly revenue for the APAC and EMEA region and also experienced a 30% increase in installs of the Quik Mobile App in 4Q16. In addition, the Hero5 black was the best selling digital imaging device locally in the US and in the EMEA market as well.

However, apart from the Karma drone that is to be launched later this year after being recalled due to a problem with losing power mid-flight—according to Ben Popper from The Verge the problem with Karma was “a mechanical issue related to securing the drone’s battery”—the company is still struggling to get back on its feet and solve this issue.

Bleak Prospects in 2017

Photo credit to Tom Gerber.

Shares have been down and the company cannot meet the forecasted revenue for the first quarter of 2017. Rising up from the ashes of such losses proves difficult year after year. The company was relying on the re-entry of the Karma drone and the new Hero5 camera to boost sales and enable it to meet it projected revenue. However, unforeseen delays undermined their efforts and this was not to be.

In truth, after having its shares peak at $93.85 in 2014, GoPro is now at an all-time low. In fact, since 2015 the company’s shares have not been able to get over the $24 threshold. While this is not good for GoPro, it gives their competition cause for a good night sleep.

Companies like Sony, Gamin and Olympus have plugged the gap left by less demand for GoPro products with a vengeance. They are weighing in with low-budget alternatives that are similarly tech advanced but that cost less. These companies have borrowed heavily from the top features on GoPro products and attached a bargain friendly price tag.

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Antelope Island Weekend Getaway

What to Know

Antelope Island is the largest and arguably the most scenic of the 15 Great Salt Lake Islands located in northern Utah. The 42 square miles that make up this state park are filled with beautiful scenery, and a wide array of wildlife. The flat expanse of land is ideal for viewing mule deer, pronghorns, jackrabbits, coyotes, and American bison as they roam freely throughout the island.

Antelope Island has quite a few amenities, so it’s a comfortable getaway for even the most casual camper. Showers, bathrooms, the Island Buffalo Grill, horse rentals, boat tours, and a gift shop are just a few of the amenities that make a trip to Antelope Island a pleasant experience.

What to Do

If you’re planning on visiting Antelope Island this fall, the weekend of Oct. 27 is a fantastic time to check it out. The park’s annual bison roundup will be in full swing, making that weekend a perfect opportunity to see these animals close-up.

Here’s a potential step-by-step itinerary for your stay:

Friday: Arrive at the park. Camping at Bridger Bay and Ladyfinger is $15 a night. If you miss out on these affordable sites, there is always White Rock Bay Campground, where campsites run at $30 a night.

Take it easy at first and check out Buffalo Point trail (.8 miles). A moderate hike with benches along the trail, it’s the perfect way to get plenty of amazing views of the island as you travel to the point. It’s also a great spot to view the sunset at the end of the night, as the fading light shimmers and glitters on the waters of the Great Salt Lake.

Saturday: The top of Fray Peak is also a great hike, and at 6,595 feet, this peak marks the highest point on the island. Frary Peak is strenuous, with an elevation gain of 2100 feet. The climb is absolutely worth the strain, though. Just like Buffalo Point trail, there are gorgeous views to be had on this hike; what’s different though, is that you get to enjoy them in solitude. No horses, bikes, or dogs are allowed here, and it’s not as popular as many of the shorter trails because of its 6.6-mile roundtrip distance.

Sunday: Relax and breathe. Antelope Island is not too far from the mainland — but it feels like it is. Enjoy the serenity and take a walk along the beach. If you’re adventurous, you can also float in the salty (and admittedly smelly) water of the Great Salt Lake. For the more stylish, you can book a Sunday lunch cruise from Gonzo Boat Rentals and Tours at $55 per person. End the evening by joining a star party, where you can gaze at incredible constellations that can be seen clearly at this certified Dark Sky Park.

What to Pack

Bug spray, bug spray, bug spray — and sunscreen. Brine flies, midges, gnats, mosquitos, and biting gnats are constant inhabitants of Antelope Island. The biting gnats, referred to as “no see-ums,” are very active in the warm months of spring (April-June). There is little sun shade or shelter from the elements, so a head net and hat can also come in handy.

Binoculars, or a telephoto lens for your camera if you’re a photographer. You won’t want to miss out on getting a shot of the bison as they roam across the plains. They are easily found, and not too shy. Wildlife viewing is one of the biggest attractions that Antelope Island has to offer for good reason.

A road or mountain bike. The Davis County causeway that connects Syracuse, Utah, to the island has a designated bike lane, and many of the park trails allow for non-motorized vehicles. Biking is a great way to explore the island, so definitely bring one if you can.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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Saving Our Zion from Ourselves

Half a century ago, American author and essayist Edward Abbey laid forth a description, in his classically cynical style, of the forces pushing the National Park Service and ultimately shaping our public lands. In his mind, there were “The Developers,” the ones who wanted to see as many cars crammed into Yosemite valley as possible, and “The Preservers,” the ones who wished to see none. As Abbey put it, “the most important issue and perhaps the only issue [between these two factions] is the one called accessibility.”

Fast forward 49 years, and this issue is no longer just the ramblings of a grumpy man living alone in the desert, but the central concern of many popular national parks. No park is more worried about it than the fifth most visited park, directly four hours south of Salt Lake City.

Zion has been experiencing massive growth since its founding nearly a century ago. In my lifetime alone — 19 years — park visitation has increased by about two million people annually (from 2.3 million to 4.3 million). From 2015 to 2016, the jump was a little under 700,000. Those are numbers nearly on par with Disney World, something that would make anyone batting for “The Preservers” shiver in their goretex boots.

It bears noting that increased park traffic is good, to a degree. As John Marciano, the public affairs spokesman for Zion National Park, said, “Every person or vehicle that pays the admission fee and enters the park is a vote for the park.” Lawmakers and influencers see these “votes” and realize how valued places like Zion are both as an economic resource and a part of Utah’s unique identity. Zion played a huge role in generating the $8.15 billion tourists spent in Utah in 2016.

The fact remains though, too many visitors can lead to a degradation of Zion as a natural place.

Shuttle line at Zion National Park. Photo credit Zion National Park.

Because of Zion’s special configuration, most of the park’s 10,000 daily visitors stay within a narrow seven mile corridor along the Virgin River. Even there, the visitation is compounded to just three trailheads: Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools, and The Narrows. This quickly leads to issues. In the main canyon there are only 12 designated trails, but over 800 social trails, totalling 35 miles. The animals in the park, especially the chipmunks on Angel’s Landing and the squirrels in The Narrows, are so tame they’ll roll over and play dead for a piece of your Clif Bar. Sure it’s cute, but it’s not natural or how a healthy, protected ecosystem should function.

None of this even mentions the incredible lack of infrastructure that exists in the park. Inside Zion, there are perhaps 1,000 parking spots, enough to cover a 10th of the visitors on an average day. Lines for the shuttle can frequently back up to the bathrooms or parking lot and run multiple hours. Throughout the main canyon there are maybe 40 toilet systems — 40 for what is sometimes, on a holiday weekend or busy day, 30,000 people.

“We have to do something,” Marciano says. “The visitor experience is diminished and the resource is being trampled.”

This begs the question, what can be done? How do you add accessibility to a place already so highly visited? If you’re one of Abbey’s “Developers,” the answer is easy: develop.

“There’s an empty space here, or there” Marciano says, motioning across the fence in front of us to a field, sarcastically embodying a “Developer.” “Build a big parking lot.”

Crowds at Zion National Park. Photo credit Zion National Park.

Fortunately for Zion, and us, this is not an option. Legally, the park is mandated by Congress to “protect [their] resource in perpetuity as it is.” Slathering the ground in fresh slabs of tar and concrete certainly would violate this. Ethically, neither Marciano or Jeff Bradybaugh, Zion NP superintendent, want to see the park become any more degraded by adding more parking lots. One point to the “Preservers.”

The trouble is, Zion is not getting less popular; something still needs to be done that can fix both of these problems while still preserving the park. Luckily, we have some inventive people in the office down south. They’ve put their heads together and have begun creating the Visitor Use Management Plan, or VUMP, which aims to do two things: First, maintain accessibility, and secondly, protect the park. Creating and implementing this VUMP will be a long road — an estimated five years — and requires intensive data collection to ensure the right solution is implemented. The park is confident that by the end of that time when a solution is reached, it will be the right one.

Part of this confidence derives from how much public input they are receiving. In mid-August, the Preliminary Alternative Concepts — the first “proposals” for how to mitigate overcrowding — closed their public comment period. These included ideas such as a reservation system to enter the main canyon, allocating time slots that certain groups could do certain trails, and changing nothing (an option that is looked upon poorly by the park). Well over 1,000 responses were received. Now, the park is sorting through all that data and will come out with a Preferred Alternative, which will have its own public comment period as well.

Zion is grateful for any and all ideas or comments the public has to make on this issue. By the time most of us graduate, these policies will be in place. If they are effective, other parks dealing with the same issue of accessibility and overcrowding could adopt whatever system Zion implements. This means that adding your voice now, while the park is encouraging you to do so, could not only affect the future of Zion, but the National Park System as a whole.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Firsthand Encounter of the Solar Eclipse

As has become common knowledge by now, a total solar eclipse is when the moon passes in between Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow upon the Earth and momentarily blocking the Sun. Due to the elliptical orbit of the moon, total solar eclipses occur once every 18 months, or about two times every three years. Prior to the August eclipse, the last eclipse to take place close to Utah was on Monday Feb. 26, 1979 — 38 years ago. This meant that the August eclipse, at least for us Utahns, was a big deal.

We looked at different maps of Wyoming as we planned our trip to view the full eclipse. We decided to venture up to Lake of the Woods on the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming, a remote destination approximately 40 miles due east of Jackson. We traveled north with a group of nine on a Sunday afternoon in preparation for the total solar eclipse the following day, Monday, Aug. 21. This was going to be the first total solar eclipse any of us had ever seen before, so we had no expectations, predictions, or emotions for what was coming our way. During our drive up, the excitement kept building as we saw more and more people from all over the United States traveling to witness totality.

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

Building Excitement

As the sun set that first night, the air turned colder and colder. The temperature dropped even more once the sky turned black and the stars appeared. We could hear other eclipse chasers enjoying themselves with music, laughs, and the company they came with. A group of us walked down to the water’s edge to see one of the other party’s telescopes they had set up earlier. When we approached the other group, we found out that they had traveled from Colorado to view the eclipse. They invited us to look through their telescope to view various features within the night sky. You could visualize meteors burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, and constellations were as clear as glass. The Milky Way Galaxy was visible because it was a new moon. Polaris, the North Star, was shining brilliantly in the constellation Ursa Minor. The best, by far, was being able to see Saturn — we could actually make out the individual rings orbiting the planet. There was so much excitement in the air it was difficult to sleep knowing what would happen in less than 12 hours. We all fell asleep at some point anyway, gazing at the heavens above.

The next morning, we made breakfast and began setting up our chairs and cameras to view the solar eclipse. We had a few of our group members continually checking the sun’s status using eclipse glasses to let us know when the moon was beginning to make its pass in front of the sun.

Then they yelled, “It’s happening!”

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

The Path of Totality

We all rushed to prepare for what we knew was coming next, quickly putting on our eclipse glasses. As parts of the sun began to disappear, the camping group next to us set off a few gun shots to notify everyone in the area. Suddenly, the intensity of the sun’s light began to decrease. The penumbra (partial shadow cast from the moon) was upon us. As the penumbra continued to pass overhead, and the moon was obscuring more and more of the sun, the thermometer we brought showed the temperature of the air was indeed dropping, just as our bodies told us it was. Every 10 minutes or so, we had one of our group members yell out the temperature.

The moon kept moving over the face of the sun, and more and more light was disappearing right before us. It got darker as we were nearing the umbra (the full shadow cast from the moon). The shadows became visibly sharper as the sun took on a crescent moon shape. We looked at the shadows around us as they, too, took the same crescent shape. We found ourselves struggling to believe our eyes at this amazing view.

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

The moon’s course didn’t slow, and the sky and space around us continued to darken. For a few seconds, the Diamond Ring effect was visible, and then what are called Bailey’s Beads appeared as the light from the sun passed through the valleys of the moon’s surface. The umbra was overhead, and since we were in the path of totality, we were able to remove our glasses, looking with our naked eye at the eclipsed sun.

We cheered during this moment of complete totality. The corona, or the outer surface of the sun’s atmosphere, was the only light visible along with a small reddish layer that is the inner layer of the sun’s atmosphere, known as the chromosphere, shining intermittently around the perimeter of the moon.

Around us was a 360 degree sunset. The orange glow layered the horizon, transitioning from blue to a deep black near the sun. Stars became visible. The closest star visible to the naked eye was Regulus, which is seen in the night sky of the northern astronomical hemisphere during the winter time. Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun in our solar system, was visible along with Jupiter, Venus, and Mars. The eclipse created the darkest black we had ever seen. A small Cessna airplane flew right in front of our view, perfectly silhouetted by the corona.

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

After exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds of this miracle, sunlight began to peek over the moon through Bailey’s Beads, and then the diamond ring appeared vibrantly again before we were blinded by the light from the sun.

An Unforgettable Experience

From that point until the eclipse ended, our eclipse glasses never again left our faces. Just like that, totality — where daytime transitioned to nighttime in the middle of the day — was over. Even so, the shadows on the ground remained extremely sharp, and crescent moon shapes lay underneath the trees.The only difference now from before totality was that the temperature was increasing.

This was an experience of a lifetime. We are already marking our calendars for the next astronomical spectacle that will occur in the United States in 2024, starting in Texas and moving towards Maine.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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