Exploring Northern Utah: Salt Lake City, Antelope Island, and Fishlake National Forest

posted in: Utah, Van Life | 2

Let me start by saying, “Wow”. Utah is everything I dreamed it would be and more. The ever expansive and uniquely diverse landscapes of this area fill my heart in ways I never imagined possible. It is an outdoor playground in epic proportions—84,899 square miles of adventure.

Salt Lake City

I’d driven through the Salt Lake area many times, usually just passing through, never stopping to explore. In all of my years of zipping by this not-so-little gem, I hadn’t realized that the Wasatch mountain range towered over this mega metropolis. I’m not sure how I missed that! Perhaps this area was overshadowed by the completely epic drive through the Rocky Mountains along I-70? Sure. We’ll blame it on the majestic Rockies. Either way, I’m glad we made the stop.

George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Wildlife Education Center

Eric overlooking the wildlife preserve and views of the Wasatch Mountains

Yes, the name of this place alone is a mouthful! It’s worth the stop just for the views of the preserve from the education center. Boasting large windows, excellent views, and knowledgeable volunteers, this was one of our favorite stops in the greater SLC area. They have several short nature trails worthy of a casual stroll and if you’re lucky you will spot some of the hundreds of thousands of different birds that migrate through the area at any given point during the year.

An evening bike ride
Easter Egg Island with Antelope Island in the background

Antelope Island State Park

Overlooking Elephant Rock in the distance

Words can’t express how happy I am that we made Antelope Island one of our stops. After venturing a bit out of the way with little to no expectations, we were blown away by the beauty and remoteness the largest island on the lake had to offer. We witnessed some of the most glorious sunsets we’d ever seen and the mountain biking was excellent! What was supposed to be a 2 day trip easily turned into four.

Lakeside Trail Loop

The first night we were there, Eric and I ventured out together. Initially, we were going to walk down to the beach but this rather large bison blocking the trail quickly sent us in the opposite direction. What can I say, he was bigger and undoubtedly tougher. Perhaps just misunderstood? Maybe he was just trying to be helpful in pointing us to a more scenic location! 🙂 Thank you Mr. Buffalo.

Narrow single track along the hillside.
Giving thanks to the buffalo from 500 yards away…haha

It was a great, well maintained trail which started off through fields of tall grass and wildflowers (or weeds) which grow rampantly throughout the park. As we went on, the trail became more rocky and also much more scenic!

Eric looking for sharks in the salt water

There were tons of interesting rock formations along the way, like this one below.

This one reminded me of a dinosaur or monster

We also spotted about a dozen lizards. Man those things are fast! Surprisingly, they were pretty friendly and we walked up to several of them without them zipping off behind the rocks.

The most photogenic lizard we met

We didn’t stumble upon any other buffalo on this trail which was A-OK with Eric and I. A great start to exploring the island for sure!

I love this guy!

About half way through the mosquitoes were getting worse, so we decided to turn around and hike the short 2 miles back to camp.

Awesome views! A good place to turn around to avoid the bug bites!

Eventually we did make it down to the beach. Pee-ewe was it stinky. The smell of death rose up through the air and deep into our nostrils where it planted mini aromatic stench-pockets that lasted well into the night. Not your typical beach. It was however, beautiful and interesting with great views of nearby islands and the mountains.

Eric walks along the salt beach
Interesting crystal-like formations were scattered across the beach
A closer look
Nice views…
White Rock Loop to Elephant Head

This was the day I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.

It was perfect in every way.

The sun was shining and the wind was crisp as I set out for my ride that morning. I still wasn’t feeling 100% at that point but I forced myself to go out anyways. I made my way to the White Rock Loop Trail which had some fun, short hills and excellent views of the lake.

About 4 miles in, the terrain becomes more rocky with a steady (and eventually rigorous) climb.

Yikes!

Considering I’m a newbie at mountain biking and I don’t really have the proper mountain bike for this rugged of a trail, I’m pretty proud that I was able to ride a majority of the way to Elephant Head. It was scary at times, but overall, a blast! I was concentrating so hard that I can’t say for sure, but I could almost guarantee that I was grinning from ear-to-ear.

So beautiful!

I’m smiling just writing this and remembering all of the feelings I felt that day. This is why I write this blog and THIS is what makes life worth living.

The views from the top were panoramic!

When I reached the end of the trail, I celebrated with a selfie to reflect my enthusiasm at the time.

Perhaps my favorite selfie of all time!

My favorite photo of the day:

Winner of the Photo of the Day contest that I have with myself (haha)

I can’t say enough about how much fun I had that day. I don’t know if it was the fact that I spent 5 hours in total solitude OR if it was the views and exhilaration from climbing 1,450 feet OR a perfect combination of many things, but either way, it was magnificent!

If you enjoy hiking or biking, I highly recommend this trail!

  • Distance: 15.72 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,450 ft
  • Ride Time: 2h 56m
Mountain View Trail

While this trail didn’t have the wow factor as my prior days adventure, it had an excitement factor like no other. From almost start to finish, I was in an adrenaline pumping state—There were buffalo everywhere!

They are bigger than they look!

It started off great! I spotted several antelope by the waters edge. You can barely see them in the photo, but it felt much closer through my own eyes.

There are 4 antelope in this photo, to the right (not pictured) there were about 4-6 more.

The coolest part (and perhaps a bit unnerving) was when the leader came running through the red/orange field of sand to ensure the others were safe from the crazy cyclist that I am. He stared me down for a long time. I had already seen 3 bison, now antelope, and I had only ridden about 1.5 miles. Today I was NOT alone and I questioned turning around because this side of the island was obviously full of potentially dangerous wildlife.

After hearing of a few recent attacks, I have to admit, I was a little on edge during this ride. At some point (because it wasn’t all that much fun riding due to overgrown trails and biting bugs) I almost threw in the towel. So glad I didn’t (more on that later).

With butterflies in my stomach, I rode on.

This was TALLER than me (I’m 5’8″)

Another few miles down the trail, I saw this (see photo above), and came to a dead stop. I had to smile. Were the Gods of Adventure (GOA) testing my willful spirit? I think they were. This wheat-like grass stood as tall as I did at 5 foot (almost 8 inches). Do you think I could spot a buffalo in this jungle? Heck no. Those things are hard enough to see mixed between the rocks and smaller shrubbery scattered about—and that’s when they’re standing. I can’t imagine if one laid down to relax their hoofs in the mid-day sun. I’d be screwed!

I scanned the area, took a few pics, and even got off my bike to stretch my legs—I was totally stalling.

I took a deep breath, said a sad little prayer to the GOA and peddled on in the name of adventure. The high grass felt like it lasted an eternity and I crept along slowly whistling as if I were in bear country. I wondered if making noise would be better than startling them. Then I thought, perhaps I was only allowing them time to stand up and prepare for a charge in my direction.

I obviously made it, and the GOA rewarded me with this stunning view!

My reward

I loved each of these photos so much, I put them both in because it’s my blog and I can do that! 🙂

Photo of the Day winner right here!

and one more for good measure!

My favorite section of the trail!

This is the section of the trail that helped me forget all about the buffalo, biting mosquitoes, and potential snake hazards. It was just me, the trail, and my trusty stead.

Unfortunately, that was short lived. I hit one area with loads of shrubbery but then it opened up again.

Shrubbery area
Open area

One thing I really liked about this trail was the diversity that can be found in just 12 short miles.

After crossing back over the main road (where I got to see 2 cars—HUMANS!) the terrain became more rocky and appeared overgrown for miles! I was hitting massive spider webs, weeds, and the trail was super bumpy even in the rock-free areas. After the 5th dried flower got lodged in the webspace between my fingers and popped off (the first time being incredibly funny for some reason but it got old quick), I exited the trail and rode the pavement the remaining 3-4 miles to the ranch.

Notice the black dots freckling the landscape in the photo above. Those are thousands of dried weeds/flowers that stand 4-5 ft tall and like to get caught in wheels and apparently web spaces of your fingers while riding.

This is a decent bike ride but I recommend bringing a partner. I rode a LOT slower than I normally would have (easy trail) but due to fear of startling a bison, I slowed my pace. I wouldn’t recommend this one for hiking (too boring with minimal reward).

  • Distance: 12.83 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 508 ft
  • Ride Time: 1h 47m
Fielding Garr Ranch

This place was surprisingly awesome. Perhaps I was just in the mood to practice my photography, but I really enjoyed the ranch. I’ll spare you a long write up about the history of the area because you could research that on your own if you felt so inclined. Here are some photos from my afternoon.

A stroll through a garden of trees
A nice natural pathway
Several trees had interesting bark
The style of the times.
The lines and shadow interested me.
A golden sea beyond the fence
Old farm equipment was scattered about
An old truck with a view of the lake and mountains
A horse trough just outside the stable area
Inside of a wagon trailer…the original van dwellers!
Now that is a dorky look with a view!

The Antelope Sky

Yes. The beautiful, color-filled skies of Antelope Island are worthy of their own heading. I did what I could to capture the moment, but some things are not meant to view from the lens of a camera but rather the lens of the eye. The evenings were beautiful beyond words or pictures. In my opinion, it is worth the $10 admission fee just to experience this place first hand.

A bonus buffalo in this sky shot.

All four evenings we had on Antelope Island were truly magnificent, each night offering us a new perspective; telling a different story.

Salt Lake City

After some much needed alone time, which we surprisingly got at Antelope Island, we set our sights on the big city. What can I say, we’re gluttons for punishment. I really wanted to check out the downtown area and take pictures at night. We splurged on an Airbnb near the state capitol which was outfitted with retro, 50s-60s-70s flair.

A night at a cute retro apartment in the city

The apartment had quite an eclectic collection of…things. My 2 favorites were the alien cookie jar and the shadows cast by the dancing solar powered bobble people. Not just any people—Important people. The Pope, Devil, Queen Elizabeth, Mother Mary, Einstein and Jesus danced the day away while Eric and I did laundry. It was quite the party!

The alien
Shadows

It was an eventful night that involved overpriced beer, lots of walking, and hundreds of pictures. Let’s get started!

Temple Square
A view from one of many flower gardens in the square

No matter what you believe, there is no denying that Temple Square is a beautiful place. The temple itself reminded me of the castle at Disney World minus the Mickey Mouse ears and fireworks! Instead, those items were replaced by a shiny gold statue of an angel blowing a trumpet and several folks walking around with special underwear.

Winner of “The Most Serious Building on the Block” Award

I seriously thought this building may have belonged to the FBI, CIA, or the DEA but according to the signage, it is just the office building for the LDS church. I still think there is a good chance that only people with super secret-extra special underwear can get in.

Jokes aside, I really enjoyed walking around the area and taking in all the breathtaking sights.

This was my favorite statue in the square
Almost too perfect

Just below the temple was a water feature similar to an infinity pool. I enjoyed standing in the distance watching the reflections bounce off of the temple walls. It was quite striking, but almost eerily perfect.

Another look
AND another…

What can I say? This building was like Chris Hemsworth—Beautiful and looked stunning from every angle. So I did what any aspiring photographer would do…I took a LOT of pictures!

My favorite photo of the day was this one (see below)

After walking around Temple Square, we hoofed it downtown to check out the local beer scene. It was…disappointing and extremely expensive!

This one was HARD to swallow.

This is what $15 will buy you downtown (photo above). After combing the menu for something that sounded worthy of consumption, we made our selection. It wasn’t until the beers arrived that we realized we had picked something that wasn’t on draught—A pure shame! Honestly though, they should be ashamed to charge those kinds of prices for bottled beer. Highway robbery!

Oh well. We drank our liquid gold then ventured out in the cold like 2 addicts in search of a proper fix. Haha (not really). We walked about 2 miles to the next bar. After another beer (which was equally as pricey but at least locally brewed and in draught form) the unthinkable happened—WE RENTED SCOOTERS. Yes, the two of us scooter hating hypocrites rented these annoying little things. It was bumpy, but oh so fun.

I can’t believe we did it! We’re so ANTI SCOOTER. Hypocrites I tell you!

After trying 2-3 places we finally stumbled upon Proper Brewing Co. The name says it all because it was the only brew in town that properly suit our picky palates.

Pretty in Pink

My brew of choice…

Revenge is Mine! Literally. It was mine.

After feeling like we somewhat succeeded in our journey to try some local beers, we took in a few more city sites before making our way back to our apartment for the night.

Walking downtown along State Street.
I may be in trouble for posting this one!

This was the look on Eric’s face when I told him I wanted to go back and take MORE pictures of the Temple at night. 🙂 No, really, he was a trooper. It may have helped that I encouraged him to get a bit liquored up first. Either way, we laughed and joked while hovering close to one another trying to stay warm in the frigid 30 some odd degree weather. Brrrr.

So here are a few shots of the Temple at night.

Some honorable mentions:

Lush gardens everywhere.
An almost full moon lighting up the night
Wonderfully lit walkways
Ornate decor
More ornate decor

There was so much to look at, I’m sure I could go back time and time again and find something new.

Do you ever wonder how much tax payers pay to light these buildings up?

All I remember about our walk back up that gigantic hill, which lead to our home away from home, was an urgency to pee. Why does cold weather increase urinary frequency? Ok, maybe it was the adult beverages consumed only moments before.

Despite all of the traffic, thoughts of dropping trow on every grassy patch we walked by raced through my mind. At some point, I felt my icy fingers reach for the button on my trousers, as if they had a mind of their own. But, as I took position next to a sturdy tree, a cop drove by and I froze. Somehow, I managed to scissor and squirm my way up that hill without pissing myself. It was quite the sight, I’m sure. As we crested the top, we were greeted by this beautiful monstrosity—The State Capitol. And then, just like that, we were ‘home’.

Salt Lake City was an experience no doubt.

What’s Next?

After a day in the city, Eric and I were ready to return to no man’s land. We rose the next morning, packed up, and headed south for warmer weather and solitude.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the blog. As always, feel free to comment below. Did you miss the last blog? No problem! Click here to read it.

Stay tuned. The next blog, entitled “Van Life: The Learning Curve” will be out next week! I’ll be sharing stories from the road, our pros/cons list about van life so far, and our plans moving forward. It should be a good one!

Until Next time friends…..

2 Responses

  1. Heather

    I love rocky areas they can be so unique. What a beautiful place antelope island is.
    I’ve never spent any time in Salt Lake either but wow temple square is intriguing. Love the comparison to Chris Hemsworth. lol Love the night photos especially with the flowers in front

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