01-Oct-2016 -- Inspired by a TV news story about record low levels of the Great Salt Lake, I decided to make a mad, Friday after work, 1600-mile roundtrip dash from Tucson to 41N 112W and back just to make a 6 mile hike through ankle-deep water, mud, and marsh to visit those coordinates. The following narrative chronicles those 34 hours...
I had been planning to visit this confluence for several years – to connect and join two separate strings of east-west confluences along 41N. But when would the opportunity to visit finally present itself? Reading all of the adventures from previous visitors I knew it would likely be very wet and very challenging.
Years ago, we had stopped by the Saltair Pavilion to see the famous beach – and all my daughters and I can remember from the visit is the foul smell of the beach and being swarmed by gnats, mosquitoes, and brine flies. We ended up salvaging the day with an incredibly interesting tour of the RioTinto Kennecott Copper Mine.
Another trip took my wife and I to Antelope Island State Park where we had driven along the eastern shore to 41N where we gazed eastward across the much fuller lake.
I googled the current conditions and water level at the Antelope Island Marina and discovered that it was about 4192 feet (Elevation above NGVD 1929, feet) and then checked the USGS gaging station at Saltair.
I wondered what the gage height had been during the previous visits and attempts, so I entered a range of dates spanning all previous attempts and visits and got a table showing the monthly mean lake elevation.
I discovered that the current lake level was at least 3 feet lower than on any of the previous narrative dates! Ok, maybe I would finally be the visitor that didn’t even get wet or muddy (or so I thought).
I also hoped that I would have an easier experience than Joseph Kerski did on his two attempts when the water level was about 4195 ft. My hat is off to all the previous visitors – who went on direct paths through the wetlands in deep water or on/through thin ice!
Analysis of Google Imagery from July of this year suggested that it might be much easier if I were to simply follow clearly visible vehicle tracks and a path leading from a gate at the end of Angel St.
Leaving straight from work I was northbound just before noon. Almost exactly 12 hours later, I was pulling into a parking spot where I would get some sleep in my car before my hiking adventure.
The alarm on my watch went off before sunrise. I was hungry for breakfast and I was well within scoring distance of an IHOP , so I walked over and ate a tremendous breakfast!
I noticed a man and woman wearing bright orange shirts eating breakfast across the room from me and saw another group in orange while I was getting gas. It was a Saturday and my thoughts were on getting to my planned starting point at the Jefferson Academy Charter School right at sunrise. I would soon learn why I saw people wearing orange so early in the morning...
In a completely empty parking lot, I chose the spot closest to the road and then donned my Camelbak backpack and headed down Angel Street towards the unmarked gate.
Pre-trip research on the Kaysville City GIS website revealed a link where you could select and display parcel ownership. It depicted that the parcel east of Angel Street was owned by the Utah Department of Transportation and the adjacent linear parcel was owned by Utah Power and Light where three parallel high voltage transmission lines dominated the sky. I did not encounter any posted signs anywhere along my routing.
In a matter of minutes I was walking on dry grass along the route I had created from Google Imagery and uploaded as a track in my GPS. This route led me to a path that appeared to have been mowed sometime this season as it continued deeper into the wetlands. At first, I found that it was relatively easy to avoid the water by walking on the grass clumps. Eventually, the water became ankle deep. My feet were keeping dry wearing Gore-tex boots and I was making very good time.This was about the time when I started hearing the distant gunshots...
At first there were just a few, then it was like I was on a firing range. Shotguns. Overhead quacking. The continuous sounds of shotgun fire. The connection was now made. It was the first of October, and I correctly guessed that today was the first day of hunting season for several different types of ducks, geese, and even swans! The distant tempo increased. I was a long way but became slightly concerned when I realized that my pants, long sleeve shirt, and hat all perfectly blended in with the colors of the grass.
Like most confluences, there is always something you did not consider but wish you had…
Knowing that the ducks have to be airborne before they are a valid target I was somewhat relieved and continued on. After about a mile, I was beyond the wetlands and on the mud flats of the lake. The water was generally about ankle deep and clear and still. Bird tracks were visible below the shallow water everywhere.
I had picked a distant landmark as a point to walk towards across the flats when I started to see motion on the lake bed ahead of me – very close to where I was heading. There were two hunters ahead on the lake. It sounded like everybody else was on the shoreline. They did not see my approach so I shouted my presence and intentions to continue walking to a point about 150 meters beyond where they had an elaborate set up – probably about 100 duck silhouettes and they were supine on their backs in what I learned after my trip was called a coffin blind. It was very low profile and I wondered if they were in some sort of depression because they were lower than the duck silhouettes and the surrounding area was completely flat.
My closest approach to them was probably 50 meters. I was worried that I would interrupt their experience and hunt and yelled that I would only be about 10 minutes. They asked what I was looking for and I said all zeroes!
I found the zeropoint much as everybody else had. It was in ankle deep water in about an inch of mud and there was no place to put anything down. I reversed my Camelbak so I was wearing it backwards and got out my Trimble GPS to start datalogging and get my camera out. I had placed all of my electronics and other stuff in large Ziploc bags in the event that I fell or the water was deep. I was glad this precaution was not needed during my hike. I sent a SPOT message declaring my successful visit and took my pictures and then stood perfectly still while the Trimble continued to capture data.
Picture 1 shows the reflections of the mountains and sky in the perfectly still water. Picture 2 is a fairly decent panoramic shot taken with an iPhone. Picture 3 looks north. Picture 4 looks east and the radar domes on top of Francis Peak are clearly visible. The hunters were just beyond the open water directly below the radar dome. The duck silhouettes are visible on the far side of the open water. Picture 5 looks south and the Salt Lake International Control Tower is visible against the mountains. This confluence lies just 30 meters due east of the extended centerline of Runway 16L and 2000 meters due east of Runway 16R which was the primary landing runway this morning. Picture 6 looks towards Antelope Island. Picture 7 shows my GPS location. Picture 8 shows the mud and looks similar to the conditions Terje Mathisen encountered during his visit. Picture 9 is a view from a few inches above the lake. Picture 10 shows a warmer view of what I think is the same path Craig Riddle used during his visit. The last picture is a camouflage confluence selfie.
I was watching the hunters wave a simulated bird wing up and down while making realistic sounding duck calls. A flock of ducks approached from the north. Bang-Bang-Bang-Bang and this airborne flock was now reduced by four. The hunters were between me and the ducks but even at about 150 meters I could still hear the birds impact the water. It was perfectly still except for the distant sound of other hunters. I was relieved that I hadn’t scared the ducks away – I was blending into the background. I repacked my stuff, announced to the hunters my intentions to depart the same way I came and began the hike back.
It was easy to follow my footprints back. The sound of distant gunfire continued as I approached the tall grass. There had been heavy rain in the area the day before. On my way back through the wetlands, the water level was now a couple inches higher. The runoff from the previous days rains was now percolating through the wetlands enroute to the lake, raising the water level. This was where I found the first hole where the water was deeper than my boot. I found a few more of these before I was back on dry grass.
I simply cannot imagine the challenges previous visitors faced with the water level 3 feet higher or pushing directly through the tall grass or thin ice. I felt like I was in a maze as I walked. At some points the grasses were well above my head and I could only see sky above. For the most part, I was able to keep a fast walking pace along my plotted route.
As I passed underneath the powerlines, I could hear them crackling with life. When I reached my car, I was glad there were no other vehicles in the parking lot allowing me to quickly rinse off and change into dry clothes. My wet boots, pants, and rest of my clothes were sealed in a large plastic bag for the trip back home.
It was just about 10 in the morning. Almost exactly 12 hours later I was pulling into my driveway after driving 2608 km in a little more than 34 hours. My roundtrip hike was 11.3 km and took me 3 hours.
Post processing of the Trimble GPS data (824 positions) reveals that my receiver was 0.415 meters southeast of the actual confluence with a Horizontal Precision of 2.0 meters. The WGS-84 datum for elevation was 1284.701 meters (4214.8 feet) with a Vertical Precision of 1.6 meters. The receiver was at chest level while it was logging positions. This is not the same datum used by the USGS for lake elevation but may be useful for future visitors for comparison.
What an excellent confluence adventure!