My attempt to dispel some myths about Antelope Island

Last Friday, our family was part of a discussion panel for the national convention for Families Supporting Adoption. Originally, Steve was going to join Derrick, who was one of four "birthfathers" asked to be on the panel, intended to dispel myths about birthfathers. The other three birthfathers backed out, so we got a phone call the night before, asking our whole family to participate. It was an interesting/odd/insightful/positive experience that is an entirely different story and has nothing to do with Antelope Island. But now that we're into dispelling myths, I thought I would attempt to dispel some myths about Antelope Island. I've been twice, so I am now a bona fide expert.

I went to Antelope Island for my first time in June 2008. My neighbor, Jed, had shown the girls Antelope Island from his top floor window, and they wouldn't stop asking questions and talking about it. I recruited my sister-in-law, Angie, to come with me, and after a little prodding, we loaded the kids and went for Craft Day. It wasn't so much that she was hesitant to go to Antelope Island (like Steve); it was more just that she was kind of resistant to trips, in general. (Not anymore.)

We had a wonderful time. The kids ran around at the Fielding Garr Ranch and we went on a little nature walk and saw baby deer. We toured the Visitor Center, walked up the path at Buffalo Point, and waded in the water at Bridger Bay. It was almost magical, in a liberating sense, to Angie. And for the next fourteen months I defended Antelope Island from naysayers who complained about excessive bugs and hideous smells. I had been there myself and hadn't seen or smelled either.

My nephew, Jake, decided he wanted to go to Antelope Island for his birthday, so we went last Monday. This time there were four adults and fourteen kids. The kids ran around at the Fielding Garr Ranch, where we also had a picnic and ate cupcakes. Things were going so well. We started towards Bridger Bay and I almost hit an antelope. Seriously. So glad that we avoided a collision . . . but it would have made for a great story. 

The next stop was Bridger Bay. There were plenty of people on the beach. Some looked like Europeans, wearing bikinis and speedos, soaking in the sun. I don't know what they were thinking, exposing so much skin to so many bugs. They were everywhere. Clouds of them. Seriously, everywhere. Rachel couldn't handle the smells or the bugs and wouldn't go within 100 yards of the water. Adam started crying hysterically as soon as we went through our first cloud of bugs. As I walked near the water, the bugs completely covered my entire leg. I gave up when I realized I would not be getting any cute pictures of my kids smiling on the beach. Rachel was already halfway back to the car, so I started after her on the horribly long trek back to the parking lot. Lucy cut her foot on a rock, so I had the pleasant experience of walking back with three crying kids. I don't know if the others were more determined to have a good time, or what, but they stayed and waded in the water for a while before ditching the beach. Let's just say many of the fourteen kids were crying by the time they made it back to the car. It was a long walk, and that sand was hot.

Quite a different experience from our first visit. Still a good, fun day, and definitely memorable. And how cool is it that of all places, Jake picked Antelope Island for his birthday party. I just love a non-commercialized kid.

I did a little investigating and learned some things about Antelope Island. And now I will proceed to dispel some myths (with information I stole online):

1. There are too many bugs!
Squeamish tourists often make this claim, but the clouds of bugs found on the shore are brine flies. July through August is brine fly season. Biologists have estimated their population to be over one hundred billion. Brine flies don't bite, in fact, they are harmless. (Not sure if I believe this since Adam's legs were covered with very small, itchless bites after our trip.) They are an extremely important part of the natural ecosystem, serving to remove tons of pollution from the lake each year. Away from the shores, visitors encounter few flies on Antelope Island or out on the Great Salt Lake.

2. It stinks!
When downwind, wading out along the mud flats, or inland on windy days, visitors to Antelope Island may experience unpleasant smells. Under-muds get churned up by breaking waves. These muds are rich in organics from brine flies, fly eggs, brine shrimp, algae, etc. and are being decomposed by bacteria in an oxygen-poor environment, which gives up a gas that smells a lot like rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide). This odor is released and carried by the wind.

3. It's dirty!
The smell on the shore, the flies, and occasional epidemics among birds give this impression, but, in fact, the Great Salt Lake is still pristine in many areas and very much worth protecting against pollution. (Remember that the brine flies remove pollutants? Imagine what a lake with no outlet would be like without them!)

So there you go. It kind of feels like I may have just confirmed more myths about Antelope Island than I dispelled. Kind of like the birthfather panel at the national convention. The one that was supposed to show that birthfathers shouldn't be stereotyped and that many of them are very responsible. But then three-fourths of them waited until the night before to back out on a national conference. . . . hmmm.

I will go back to Antelope Island. It really is quite fascinating. And where else can you pay $9 for an entire carload of people to go on an island? But I have compiled a new set of rules:

1. I will not go in July or August.
2. I will wear pants and long sleeves. (Something about bare skin and a hundred billion flies makes me feel a little vulnerable.)
3. I will not walk out to Bridger Bay unless I am physically (and emotionally) prepared to make multiple trips back and forth, carrying heavy children.
4. I will not wear flip flops that are going to sink into the sand and leave my tender feet unprotected from the hot sand.
5. I will probably try to avoid going with fourteen kids.

In the meantime, I will cherish my memories of my trips to Antelope Island. (Both of them.)


Rachel said...

Fun pictures, and very interesting myth dispelling. We took Elle and Bennett to Antelope Island during the summer of 05 when we were back in Utah for Sam to take the Bar exam. It was hot, and I remember a lot of little black bugs. Haven't been back since.

@udj said...

Informative and entertaining. Thanks for sharing. Would you try September?
Or will you be done recreating by then?

Jenny said...

I've only been to Spiral Jetty. Pretty sad that I've lived in Utah my whole life and never been to any other part of Great Salt Lake.

I want to hit the salt flats as well so if you ever need someone to go on an adventure I only have three kids.

The Conlins said...

Interesting. Thanks for the info. We often remark that we live right here in Utah and have never been there. We will some day, but will try to avoid July and August.

Mindy S. said...

So you finally see, there IS a reason that people don't go to the Great Salt Lake/Antelope Island. An entire childhood full of trips there which included nasty smells (which is actually more than what the information says it is, sometimes it is just down right rotting fish nasty smell) and bugs (they make it sound as if brine flies are something to cherish - they aren't - and there are more than just brine fly bugs there) and itchy, itchy, itchy from the nasty salt water, not to mention if you happen to have a cut on your body somewhere when entering the water - I could go on and on. They only recently "improved" the facilities and the farmhouse - believe me there was not so much enjoyable about it years ago. No, Antelope Island and the Lake are something better enjoyed from a distance - up wind. My fondest memories of Antelope Island include the causeway flooding and washing out, time and time again, or lightening storms catching the island on fire - we watched many a fire on Antelope Island in my childhood while sitting in my grandmother's backyard in Syracuse. Ah, those were the days.