Week 33 Review: A Trip to Antelope Island

Disclaimer: This isn’t a Week 33 review at all. It’s simply a description of our Saturday on Antelope Island.

We spent Saturday morning on Antelope Island, the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. The smell as we drove across the causeway from the mainland was awful, and I worried it would just get worse on the island. Luckily, it was no worse on the island than it always was when we’d go hiking along San Francisco Bay back in California.

Before we left, friends told us, “This weather is perfect for Antelope Island! The cold and wind keep the bugs down!” Unfortunately, cold and wind also aren’t great for my kids. We chose a trail up to Frary Peak, the highest peak on the island (an elevation gain of >2000 feet from the trailhead). We knew we wouldn’t make it the whole way (it’s 6.6 miles round trip). As it turned out, though, we made it only about 1/4 mile up the slope before the whining and the fierce winds drove us back down to the parking area.

The view from our brief hike. (The snow-covered Wasatch were visible in real life. You can’t see them here.)

Something to be said for Utah: back in North Carolina, we knew that if we chose a trail that was longer than 3 miles, we’d have it to ourselves, even on a nice day. On a windy, cold day in Utah, a 6.6-mile round trip trail was practically hopping. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, Utahans are more outdoorsy than North Carolinians. On the other, we have to be much more rugged to seem rugged in Utah.

After the failed hike attempt, we headed to Fielding Garr Ranch (on the way we saw either a lone antelope or a lone coyote. I couldn’t decide which was more likely to be “lone”, so I’m leaving it at that). I could have spent the entire day just at the ranch. It was built, literally, by Fielding Garr in 1848. He was a Mormon stonemason who built his 6-room home (and surrounding adobe and brick structures) for his wife and six children so they could pasture their animals, Brigham Young’s animals, and animals owned by the church for the purpose of the Perpetual Emigration Fund (if you have to ask which church, you’re clearly not from Utah). It took a good half hour to get to their homestead by car from the edge of the island. I can only imagine how remote this location was back in 1848.

I loved seeing their home, which is, according to the brochure, the oldest Anglo-built structure in Utah that currently stands on its original foundation. There are 40 fresh-water springs running through Antelope Island, which provide 36 million gallons of water a year to provide for the farmlands on the island. One of these springs runs through the Garr Ranch spring house. I was surprised to learn that my husband had no idea what a spring house was. (It’s a kind of cellar built over an underground spring. The spring is cooler than the summer air and keeps dairy products from spoiling in the hot high desert summers.) We have a spring on our property and my husband jokingly suggested that we build a spring house on our property here in the city. If I knew for sure we could do it, I would totally build  a spring house. I love the idea of a spring house, even though I don’t consume dairy.

Another thing they had on the property: an old-school RV! This was an RV dwelling crafted out of an old covered wagon. Of course I took pictures of it, given my love of RVs.

Old-school RV!

Bed in old-school RV.
Stove in old-school RV.

I found two things disconcerting about my visit to Garr Ranch. One was the smell. There was a sweet smell in the root cellar and the barn that I found unsettling. It wasn’t a horrible smell, but I wanted to get away from it. I wondered if perhaps there were some dead animal in those spaces and that’s the smell I wanted to avoid.

The other unsettling thing: All of the linens in the house and RV were disheveled. I don’t know why exactly, but I found that unsettling. The closest I can figure is that the reason it’s OK to walk around someone’s residence is because they no longer live there. With the bed clothes messed up on both the mattress in the RV and the rope beds in the main house, I felt like an interloper, like the residents of the house would come by any minute wondering why it was I was in their home.

The corner of the island where Garr Ranch is located is beautiful, though. With all of the still water, I’m sure the bugs are just awful in summer, but I could totally see the appeal in early spring. I would not want to trek out to an outhouse in the middle of a Utah winter, though. (In case you haven’t guessed, I imagine living in any of these home-like places I visit.)

There was also an exhibit of four generations of washing machines in a room off of the kitchen in the main house. I was very excited about this and tried to interest my daughter in it, but she wasn’t taking the bait.

Washing machine generations 1 and 2 (and an old-school sewing machine).
Washing machine generations 2 through 4.

In case you were wondering, this is just the kind of thing I like to do when I visit a place. I love spaces that are left as the original inhabitants would have lived (or restored to the way they might have lived). In Durham, the Duke Homestead was my place, as was the McCown-Mangum House at West Point on the Eno, where my husband and I were married. The added awesomeness at Duke Homestead was the old movie at the Tobacco Museum. They’ve since changed it, but the movie that was on the first several times I was there was classic. Campy and wonderful, it talked about how Duke arrived home from the Civil War (or did they say, “The War Between the States”?) with two quarters in his pocket and riding a blind mule. From that, he built up his tobacco dynasty out of “brightleaf tobacco”, founding both the city of Durham and Duke University on the raisin-like aroma of cured tobacco.

I’ve been on tours like this all over the South, and now I’m adding to my repertoire in the West.

It’s a really great, nerdy good time.

I read books like East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery, and I am simultaneously convinced that I would do fine without indoor plumbing and certain that I would absolutely hate not having it. I suppose it’s something one grows accustomed to, if one has to. I think I could handle the primitive washing machines, if not the lack of hot water from the tap.

My son’s favorite part was the chickens.

Antelope Island chickens

My daughter didn’t like any of it. She refused to even use the restrooms, which were real toilets not latrines. What a primadonna.

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