For some reason I can’t get up before 7am on a workday, but today I was up at at’em at 5am (sans alarm) so I could make it up to the ridge on Stansbury Island at sunrise. I had a long run planned for the morning and didn’t want to run on the road or in the muddy and icy trails above the city so I ventured out to Stansbury where the trails are dry most of the year and the views are a unique tangle of salt and sky.
Stansbury Island is the second largest island on the Great Salt Lake, which is accessible by car via a dirt causeway just off of Interstate 80 west of Tooele, Utah making it not technically an island anymore. The island is 11.5 miles long and only 4.5 miles wide and is essentially a desert mountain rising abruptly from the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Stansbury is a for reals desert island complete with sagebrush, rolling tumble weeds, rocky ridges, lizards, wild turkeys, jackrabbits, and grazing cattle of course since this is Utah Public Land.
From Stansbury you have views of Salt Lake City, the entire Wasatch range, Antelope Island, the Oquirrh Mountains, and the Great Salt Lake as far as you can see where it appears to blend in with the sky. The 10-mile singletrack bike trail makes for a great trail run and you can easily make the run shorter or longer by cutting down on one of the many dirt roads or heading deeper into the island by following one of the ridges. Some day I would like to do the entire Stansbury Island traverse following the main ridge up and over Castle Rock, the highest point on the island at 6647 feet above sea level before arriving back down to the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake.
After our run, we drove off to the end of the road to the Stansbury Island Interpretive Trail, which runs on the northern tip of the island with interpretive signs that explain the Great Salt Lake’s geological history. At the parking area, we headed out across the salt flats to get to the shoreline of the lake where Roo quickly discovered that the water was not potable. I was hoping Roo would run out into the water so I could see him float, but the water was half frozen and only ankle deep for as far as we were willing to walk out into it.
Stansbury Island is seriously one of the most unique and gorgeous places I have ever visited, but it is also one of the most raped and pillaged lands I have ever experienced too. The west side of the island has been diked off and used for extraction of magnesium and the American Salt Company operates a salt refining plant and salt evaporation ponds dot the south side of the island. The remnants of several other mining operations line the west side of the island and random backhoes and broken down equipment have been left to rot all over the island.
The amount of beer bottles and garbage on the side of the road makes me think that more people visit the island to party and do who knows what else than to appreciate its beauty. Along with the beer bottles are old refrigerators, TVs, couches, tables, boxes, and even teddy bears all used for target practice and left for someone else to clean up. Shotgun shells and clay pigeon debris are everywhere not to mention cowpies bigger than my puppy lying all over the trails from the cattle that graze and roam the island free! That being said, I highly recommend running or biking in bright colors or avoiding the island all together on weekend days or you might end up like Teddy below shot up and lying dead right alongside the trail.
It is a surprise to me that such a place of beauty has nearly zero protection or oversight. Although a desert I like to believe that this quote by Chris Maser rings true for all wild places, “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” If we destroy ourselves, the next species of archeologists will think Stansbury was a war zone and in some aspects it is. It is a war between those that appreciate natural beauty and those that take and destroy and I wonder who will win.