FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake was founded in 1994. The mission of FRIENDS is to preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem and to increase public awareness and appreciation of the lake through education, research, advocacy and the arts. The long-term vision of FRIENDS is to achieve comprehensive watershed-based restoration and protection for the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem.

FRIENDS has a very active Board of Directors and an Advisory Board consisting of professionals in the scientific, political, literary, education, and broadcast communities. The organization sponsors an array of programs, activities, and materials in pursuit of its mission.

Every two years, FRIENDS hosts the Great Salt Lake Issues Forum to provide a focused discussion about the Lake for policy makers, researchers, planners, industry and other stakeholders. The goal of each Forum is to encourage constructive dialogue about the future of the lake's ecosystem and its resources, and to illuminate the complexities involved in research, management and planning for the lake.

The Friend of the Lake Award, given at each Forum, acknowledges a citizen, business or organization working to promote GSL awareness in the community.

In 1998, FRIENDS was awarded the Conservation Achievement Award by the Utah Chapter of the Wildlife Society.

In 2000, Project SLICE, a 4th grade curriculum using Great Salt Lake as a system of study, was initiated. It consists of 7 units of study, a Speakers Network, Teacher Training Workshop, and Lakeside Learning Field Trips.

In 2002, the Doyle W. Stephens Scholarship Award was established. The scholarship provides support to undergraduate and graduate students engaged in new or on-going research that focuses on Great Salt Lake.

In 2002, Lynn de Freitas, FoGSL Board President, was awarded the Outstanding Volunteer Educator Award by the Utah Society for Environmental Education.

In 2006, FRIENDS was the recipient of the Calvin K. Sudweeks Award by the Utah Water Quality Board for outstanding contributions in the water quality field.

In 2006, Lynn de Freitas, Executive Director, received the "Award for Courage, Confidence, and Character" from the Girl Scouts of Utah. The award recognizes women and men who, through their life and actions, have made a difference in the community.

In 2014, FRIENDS established The Alfred Lambourne Prize, an annual recognition and celebration of regional creativity inspired by our inland sea. FRIENDS invited creative work inspired by the Lake in the forms of visual arts, literary arts, sound and movement.

In 2014, our Lakeside Learning Field Trip Program introduced over 1400 fourth grade students to the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem.

In 2015, thanks to a generous grant from Cargill Salt, FRIENDS launched an extenstion of our Lakeside Learning Field Trip Program to serve the Tooele School District.  

Below is a comprehensive list of government agencies, organizations, and businesses involved with Great Salt Lake. This includes groups working on management and protection, as well as organizations involved with industry, recreation, education, and more. Organizations are categorized according to focus area and may appear in more than one category.

Don't see the group you're looking for, or have suggestions for changes to this page? Email us at

Great Salt Lake Education Organizations

Great Salt Lake Recreation Organizations

Great Salt Lake Academic Research Organizations

Great Salt Lake Conservation/Advocacy Organizations

Great Salt Lake Art

Great Salt Lake Industry - Businesses and Co-op's

Great Salt Lake Management - Federal Agencies

Great Salt Lake Management - State/Local Agencies & Committees

Places to Visit (Nature Preserves, Parks, Etc.)

Great Salt Lake Issues

Great Salt Lake supports a rich and dynamic biological system of regional, national and global importance. The amazing abundance of bird life at Great Salt Lake has earned its designation as a "Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve." Birds of regional, national and international significance are drawn to its 15,000 square miles of various water environments, remote islands and shorelines, and about 400,000 acres of wetlands. Every year five million birds from 257 different species rely on the lake to feast during their thousand mile or more migrations. While there, they enjoy a unique and safe sanctuary that supports numerous breeding populations. The ecology of life at Great Salt Lake is an extraordinary example of the rich web of relationships between land and water, food and survival.

Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake with no outlet. Over time lake levels and salinity change dramatically depending on the level and quality of freshwater inputs from the Bear, Weber and Jordan River systems in tandem with seasonal evaporation rates. The geography of the lake combined with man-made causeways, create a diversity of lake environments varying from the extremely salty North arm (almost 28%), to the nearly freshwater Farmington Bay. Such diverse water environments are connected to expansive playas, shorelines and uplands to create excellent habitats for innumerable plants, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds.

Basic Lake Facts:

  • On an average year, the GSL covers 1,700 square miles with a maximum depth of 33 feet. Current lake elevation information is available from USGS for gauges at Saltair (South Arm) and Saline (North Arm). Additional USGS elevation data is available
  • Water enters the Great Salt Lake via direct preciptation, Bear, Weber, and Jordan Rivers, and internal springs. The Great Salt Lake watershed is over 21,000 square miles.
  • Water entering the Great Salt Lake carries dissolved minerals. When the water evaporates, it leaves those minerals and salts behind, resulting in salty water.
  • Great Salt Lake salinity varies across the lake and is typically 3 to 5 times saltier than the ocean.
  • The Union Pacific Railroad Causeway divides the Great Salt Lake into North and South Arms with vastly different ecosystems on either side.
  • The notorious "Lake Stink" is largely attributed to human-caused nutrient loading in Farmington Bay.
  • 75% of Utah's wetlands are located in the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem.
  • Over 7 million migratory birds stop at GSL each year to feed, nest, and rest.
  • The lake is alive! Bacteria, algae, zooplankton, brine shrimp, and brine flies form an important food web.
  • Brine shrimp harvest and mineral extraction industries at Great Salt Lake are worth millions of dollars.
  • The Great Salt Lake Ecosystem is popular for wildlife viewing, boating, swimming, and hiking. It attracts visitors from around the world.

For more information, visit our Weblinks page for a listing of links organizations working with Great Salt Lake.

Lake Fact Sheets

pdf Life Forms at Great Salt Lake

pdf 10 Myths About Great Salt Lake

pdf Wetlands Watch

pdf Physical Features of Great Salt Lake

pdf Biotic Features of Great Salt Lake

pdf What's That Smell?

Steven R. Simms
Professor of Anthropology
Utah State University
Logan, Utah

A smoky haze rises among five domed huts constructed by placing mats of cattail and bulrush over willow frames. There are many more people here than usual, and perhaps four dozen men, women and children temporarily increase the size of the settlement. At least a dozen people shuffle across a patio sheltered by a thatched ramada, swaying gently in rhythm and chanting softly. Inside a nearby reed-covered house, a woman hovers over another woman who is reclined motionless on a woven mat. She bobs a sucking tube near her mouth, pushing it toward her patient and then back toward her lips. Her head, shoulders, hips and knees synchronize a mime of spirits moving from the body of the ill woman. This is a curing, and this shaman from another valley was summoned because she is known to be the best.

A curing ceremony (depicted above) using a sucking tube is hosted inside a tule mat home in the Great Salt Lake wetlands of northern Utah. Female shamans were known in the Great Basin, but were apparently not as common as male curers. Shamans could be specialists or generalists, and if their work did not go well, they could be seen as sorcerers. Their skills were thus a blend of social and spiritual power, and knowledge of illness and curing. This shaman holds a rattle while she bobs forward and back using the sucking tube to draw illness out of the patient. She combines this with a poultice using medicinal herbs ground into a paste using small mortars and pestles. She is dressed in fiber clothing, by far the most common fabric in prehistory. Textiles were the technological foundation of ancient foraging societies. Artwork by Noel Carmack.

The year is A.D. 1304, and the tiny village sits along a mildly saline and murky stream that meanders through a maze of ponds and sloughs in a convoluted effort to reach the open waters of the Great Salt Lake. A chilly October evening is deceptively darkened by an approaching storm. Musty smells of the marsh hover in the heavy, still air. In a living space burned into a clearing among the dense saltgrass and bulrushes, aromas of human, dog, and fermented fish mingle with the strong scents of burning driftwood.

This shaman is a woman. Both women and men could become shamans. Status and role are plastic and allocated by experience, ability, and charisma. If the shaman fails tonight, her reputation may be harmed, at least within this camp group of families. There are kin relations among most of the people here, some by blood and some by marriage. The kinship extends broadly outward, geographically linking villages, camps, valleys, and even regions with a set of memorized calculations. Should this curing be successful or go poorly, the word will be out, but the status and abilities of this famous woman shaman will be gauged according to those kinship calculations. That is how it worked.

The patient is a middle-aged woman, perhaps 35 years old, and the most respected basket maker in the valley. Her family believes that a foreign matter, a force of some sort, has intruded upon her body and her being. Mind, body, soul, spirit, and all of the things of the earth; they are the same thing. Animation and intent can arise from all things including animals, plants, and rocks. They can be found in weather phenomena like dust devils, and especially in topographic features such as lakes, rock outcrops, springs, prominences, and even parts of canyons. There can be no distinction of church and state because these things do not exist. There is no difference between the sacred and the secular. All things are entwined not only in people’s minds, but in the unfolding of everyday events of people, animals, plants, and even weather.

The shaman uses a sucking tube as part of the ceremony and to aid the healing. Tubes like this are used by indigenous curers in many societies around the world throughout history. This one is made of exotic stone from far beyond Utah, and has been handed down among shamans living near the Great Salt Lake. Not all curing can be done this way, and shamans often specialize in the kinds of maladies they treat and in the methods of treatment they use.


This sucking tube (above) was found many years ago at a Fremont site west of Ogden, Utah. Because it is part of an anonymous private collection, not much is known other than what we can glean from the object itself. Sucking tubes are used in curing ceremonies in many societies around the world. This one is made of a steatite reputed to originate near Spokane, Washington. The long distance movement of raw material used in such a powerful object is not unusual. Photo by Laura Patterson and courtesy of Mark Stuart.

The curing ceremony brings together two camp groups. Camp groups are associations of people bound by the daily demands of life, and reflecting a variety of social networks. Camp groups can be amalgamations of people with contrasting life histories. The membership in camp groups can be fluid and is not strictly synonymous with boundaries of family, band, or tribe.

In the group assembled tonight for the curing, there are five or more extended families represented, two bands marking two extended lineages, at least four food-named groups, and there are several people who speak more than one language. One way people keep track of who is who in a camp group is to refer to a “tebiwa” (in Shoshone), which means a living area or homeland. These are sometimes labeled according to distinctive features, and have sometimes been called “food-named groups.” They are common in the Great Basin, but are also found among foraging societies elsewhere, such as in Australia. The Cattail-eaters, the Pine-nut eaters, and the Ground-hog eaters are examples of food-named groups. Even if life takes a person across many valleys, across other food-named groups, across kin and band lines, and even across language boundaries, people know where they are from.

Men and woman recognized as leaders among several different lineages are here tonight. Politics are founded upon kinship ties, and power, like status and role, is plastic and achieved. This means that the decisions of everyday life, such as those involved in food-getting, the collection of raw materials, whether to move or stay, and whether to break into smaller groups, are distinct from the larger networks that might be called political organization. The larger the group and the more settled the people, the stronger the influence of political organization on their lives.

If this curing goes well, the way is paved for marriages, greater alliance between the camp groups, lineages and bands, and even perhaps the sharing of risk by pooling valuable resources or sharing stored food. Marriages are often arranged or completed at such gatherings because individuals must marry outside of the lineage and preferably across band lines. In a place of few people, living in shifting groups, opportunities for marriage are intermittent, and must be exploited when an event such as this curing brings people together. For these people, alliances are paramount for sharing information about where to find the best food, and where other groups are camped, and for ensuring that networks of reciprocity provide support to those in need.

If the curing does not go well by tomorrow or the next day, distrust, conflict, and separation could arise. Scores may have to be settled in the future. This could pose difficult choices because in a dispute, an individual’s decision to align with one part of the family may strain ties with another. Cooperation and conflict are not distinct states of being, but are entwined representations of a social ecosystem.

The past few generations brought change. Stories the elders tell to the young speak of a past, a spirit time when people lived by farming, and the stories suggest that these ancient farmers may have been a different people. The stories imply both connection and distance. They describe people moving away and others moving in. The 14th century was a time of upheaval across what is now the western United States. Warfare in California and mass migrations in the Southwest jostled the continent’s populations, and created new social networks. Immigrants were flung from once successful places and now encountered strife and overpopulation. Even though northern Utah and the rest of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau were far from the epicenters, ripples were felt.

The curing is just beginning as evening approaches and it may last all night. Six men approach across the salt grass meadow, each with a string of muskrats dangling from his waist. The trap lines of snares and deadfalls are checked daily and the struggling animals retrieved for meat and fur. Today it was muskrats. Another trap line set for meadow mice will be checked tomorrow. Several women set off that morning to catch fish for the event, and a pile of Utah sucker are now baking in rock lined earth ovens. Baskets of bulrush seed and piles of starchy cattail roots will provide the foundation for a vegetable stew laced with tidbits of meat and spiced with tiny seeds of peppergrass.

A group of the younger men are not here tonight. They are in the mountains hunting bighorn sheep and mule deer. It is fall and the animals are fat. Rutting season is about to begin and this presents opportunities to exploit the animals’ natural behavior. The people hunt in all seasons, but in the larger scheme of things, meat from large game comprises a small fraction of the diet. The short, sinew-back “self” bows and cane arrows have an effective range of about 20 meters, and hunting requires persistence, skill, and remarkable stamina. Encounters with the animals may be few and reasonable shots hard to come by. Or, they may simply miss. Large animals however, are always sought, and when a bighorn sheep is brought into camp, the moment of plenty is shared widely, signaling another process that knits people together through obligation.  

The people are the main predators in this landscape. They are not like wolves who take only the young, old and sick - people take what they need. The female sheep and deer are favored for their fat and hides unblemished by the fights common among males. If a pregnant female deer is taken, the fetus is a delicacy not wasted. Sometimes the people along the Wasatch Front could kill a bison. They are difficult and dangerous to hunt on foot, but if the opportunity arises, it will not be missed.

Winter is approaching and clothing is being made and repaired. Large animal hides are valuable for clothes, bags, wrappings and so much more. Hides are only one source of fabric and most people wear fiber clothing as does the shaman at the curing. Skirts and breechclouts are woven from grass and bark. Long dresses, leggings, and thick, warm shirts are made of sagebrush bark. Woven cattail and bulrush leaves and stems provide another substantial fabric. Rabbit skin robes are made of strips of fur individually wrapped around strands of milkweed cordage and then sewn together make thick, pliable and very warm cloaks. These are the most coveted garments, and are passed down among generations.

Far from being cast into a wilderness with only the food and tools on their backs, ancient people lived in a highly managed, “built” environment. This man (above) is retrieving a cache of 88 stone tool blanks. Each blank is flaked on both sides and prepared for final manufacture into knives, scrapers, arrowheads, drills, and gravers. This cache was found by amateur archaeologists in 1990 in the marshes northwest of Ogden, Utah. The obsidian is geochemically sourced to a location 60 miles away, northwest of Malad, Idaho. Such pits are common and enabled people to work without having to carry everything they need wherever they went. The flakes were carefully placed in a shallow hole along with a small, round quartzite pebble. Perhaps the pebble conveyed power to the cache or signified the man’s intention to return. We will never know the reason why the person who created this cache never retrieved it, but through their misfortune we can glimpse their life (Cornell et al. 1990:159).

For an important event such as this curing, people will find enough food to sustain everyone for awhile. When an area was used up, families relocate to exploit a different part of the wetlands. They might split into smaller groups, but when there is enough food they will congregate as long as it lasts. Some times of the year large groups will assemble; during the spring sucker spawn, the fall pine nut trip, the biannual pronghorn migration, and the famous rabbit drives of early winter.

Firewood is collected relentlessly and fires burn throughout the camp because heat and fuel are constant needs. Fire is part of life and not restricted to the hearth. In summer, burning keeps insects at bay, and is used to open up space for living. The people employ fire across the landscape to improve hunting, to improve seed bearing, and to maintain prime raw materials for basketmaking. The landscape is a mosaic of burned and less burned areas, and this works for the people because unlike us, they are not fully settled. This landscape is burning and burned, but it is not denuded or even dangerous. Fire is part of everyday life.

The people move within their ancient Utah wilderness with the nimbleness of long familiarity. They have lived in the wetlands, deserts and mountain valleys of northern Utah all their lives, as did their parents, grandparents, and all of the people before them in a past they can only imagine. In their language, there is no word for "wilderness." They mark no separation between humanity and nature, and cannot conceive of our juxtaposition of humanity versus nature. There is harmony and balance, but these are not static. The people are shaping their wilderness. They use and even exhaust the resources. The balance they achieve is not a final state, but rather an unsteady relationship between the impact of the people and the difficult realities that determine their choices. For the past 13,000 years the wilderness of the Ancient Desert West was a human wilderness.


The Orbit Inn site (above) located at Brigham City, Utah on the edge of the Great Salt Lake wetlands is an example of life during the Promontory period. This camp was used repeatedly between A.D. 1425 and 1450 for taking Utah chub and other suckers during the spring spawn, and again in the late summer for hunting waterfowl during their molt. Seed resources and small mammals were also taken, especially muskrats. Each time the camp was occupied for perhaps a month. It was one of several points of anchor as people cycled among the wetlands during the year. Specialized task parties went to the mountains for resources ranging from toolstone to mule deer. A brown chert commonly used at the Orbit Inn came from a mountain pass about 12 miles to the east. Even though the Promontory economy was based on foraging in contrast to the preceding Fremont farmers, a tradition of pottery making continued. Despite the degree of continuity in heritage, the demise of farming fundamentally altered the notion of place and life itself.

Excerpt from: Ancient Peoples of the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau, Steven R. Simms (2008)

Lakeside Learning Field Trips

Lakeside Learning is a 2.5 hour inquiry-based field trip program for fourth grade students. Students will experience Great Salt Lake and learn about its ecosystems through informal environmental education strategies, incorporating science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) to reinforce the Utah Common Core State Science Standards. Lakeside Learning emphasizes learning through participation.

FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake offers Lakeside Learning Field Trips in September, October, April, May, and June. The trip includes wetlands exploration, bird watching, and wading in Great Salt Lake (weather permitting). Your students will get their hands dirty and their feet wet!

Lakeside Learning Field Trips take place at two locations: Antelope Island State Park (open to all schools) and Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina (open only to the Tooele School District). Please see below for details and how to apply for field trips.

This program is only available to fourth grade students and teachers.

SUBSCRIBE to our Lakeside Learning mailing list to receive updates about application deadlines and program changes!


Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina Lakeside Learning Field Trips (Tooele School District only)

cargill 1 logo png transparent  This field trip program is made possible thanks to the generous support of Cargill Salt. 

Trip size is limited to 75 students and is restricted to schools within the Tooele District ONLY.

On this field trip, we gather students to talk about Utah’s wetlands, the water cycle, and plant and animal adaptations. Students learn how to use binoculars and observe birds, plants, boats, and land formations that have shaped Great Salt Lake’s unique ecosystem. Down at the beach, students will construct their own watersheds, experiment with oolitic sand, and wade in the Lake searching for brine shrimp and brine flies for a salty, hands-on experience.

Fall field trips run from the last week of August through mid-October. Fall 2019 field trips are fully booked, and applications are now closed.

Spring field trips run the first week of April through the first week of June. Spring 2020 field trip applications will open in January. 

Subscribe to our Lakeside Learning email list to be notified when applications open.


Antelope Island Lakeside Learning Field Trips (Open to all school districts)

Trip size is limited to 75 students. 

This field trip starts off with a visit to the playa, where we talk about wetlands, plant and animal adaptations, the water cycle, and the unique features of Great Salt Lake. Next, students learn how to use binoculars and travel over the causeway to observe and identify birds and wildlife. We conclude with a visit to the beach at Ladyfinger Point, where students learn about oolitic sand and wade in the Lake for a salty, hands-on experience with brine shrimp and brine flies.

Fall field trips run from the last week of August through mid-October. Fall 2019 field trips are fully booked, and applications are now closed.

Spring field trips run the first week of April through the first week of June. Spring 2020 field trip applications will open in January. 

Subscribe to our Lakeside Learning email list to be notified when applications open.



Field Trip Costs and Transportation Reimbursement Policies

We are pleased to offer financial assistance to public schools by offering FREE field trips PLUS bus reimbursement grants. For private schools and homeschool groups, we charge a small instructional fee and are unable to offer transportation grants at this time.


Group Type

State Park Admission Fees

FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake Instructional Fee

Transportation Reimbursement Provided by FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake


Public School

 Public Charter School 


Paid by FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake



 $150 per field trip

 (Field trips with less than 40 students do not qualify for a transportation award) 

Checks are sent at the end of our field trip season.

Visiting school is responsible for arranging transportation.


Private School



 Paid by FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake

$50 for groups of 30 students or less
$150 for groups of 31-75 students


None available



Thank You to Our Lakeside Learning Sponsors

Cargill Salt

The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation 

The Sorenson Legacy Foundation

Union Pacific Railroad


Thank You to Our Education Supporters


Kathleen Anderson

Joyce and John Barnes

Greg Barrus

Stephen Bloch & Kara Pettit  

Karleen Broadwater

Lynn and Bradley Carroll

Edward and Carleen Clark

Jack Clark

Peter DeLafosse

Susan Fleming

Jerry Ford

Greg L. Gochnour



Pam Gremillion

Joseph Hicks

Jim Hill

Connie Holbrook

Elliot & Susie Hulet

Frank Jarvis

Jane Ann Johnson

Robert & Mary Perrine Johnson

Benjamin Kim

Dr. John L. Kammerdiener & Dr. Ellen M. Leonard  

Jennifer & Loren Majersik

George and Nancy Melling

Margie Nash and Joe Donaldson



Kaye Nelson

Don and Kayleen Paul

Joan Peterson

David and Shari Quinney

Janet Robins

Heather Roth

Jennifer P. Speers 

Jean Francois S. Van Huele and Susan Chasson

William and Donna Vogel

Erica Wangsgard

Tom and Nikki Ward

Richard West


Report on Research Funded by the Doyle Stephens Memorial Scholarship for 2005

Carla Koons Trentelman, Doctoral Student in Sociology, Utah State University

For my research, funded by the Doyle Stephens Memorial Scholarship, I conducted two focus groups to explore how residents who live close to Great Salt Lake (GSL) in Weber and Davis counties feel about the lake, specifically how connected or attached they feel to GSL. The discussion included how focus group members feel about living close to the lake, why they chose to live there (including whether the lake played a role in the decision), and what they see as the positive and negative aspects of living close to GSL. The focus groups were part of a qualitative study of these issues, which also included interviews with a number of other residents living within one mile of the lake and its environs, county commissioners in Davis, Weber and Box Elder counties, and a number of resource managers and rangers from the refuges, preserves and state parks that are part of the lake system. This report includes findings from this broader qualitative study. The findings here cannot be taken as representing those who live closest to the lake in general, but do provide a glimpse of how some of these lake neighbors feel about Great Salt Lake.

Click here to download the full pdf.

Two retired Weber State professors recently kayaked a Great Salt Lake crossing to Fremont Island one calm, sunny July day. For years I have gazed across the sound at this Island, resolving someday to paddle to it and back. To make it an adventure, I would do it in my two-man, rigid frame Folbot built from a kit years ago. I wondered what I would encounter: exotic birds who inhabit only the distant western reaches of the Lake, huge salt water shrimp, harassment from the Air Force, swarms of flesh feasting insects or a sudden storm washing me upon a tiny, rocky island?

fremont-cloud-reflections.jpg There are not many qualified retirees around willing to do this but I did manage to enlist Eric, of sturdy nordic heritage, and a student of code encryption. Thus, he could do the hard paddling and we would have plenty to talk about.

We slipped out of the Antelope Island marina early morning heading north. Fremont Island was barely visible but within a half hour of steady pacing we could make out the distinctive square knob of its highest point. In fact soon, it seemed as if we were almost there. This it seemed, but hardly so.

Often, we would stop and let the lake enfold us. Save the soft lapping of the waves against the fabric hull and a few busy gulls, it was silent. No noises of the city or even F-16's roaring above. I gazed into the lake water as far as I could see. It looked infinitely deep. Suddenly the waters came alive; I could see millions of tiny brine shrimp swimming in every direction. Clearly the Lake is a living organism itself.

It occurred to me that I was experiencing the Lake from a rare vantage point; usually visitors see it only from the shore, or from a commercial motor boat that is always moving or from an airplane. Seldom do we enjoy looking directly into the depths of the Lake and at what is there from a quiet, vantage point.

Two hours later we approached the shore of Fremont Island. We needed to stretch our legs and take a break. There was no convenient beach, only a sharp, rocky shelf which we gingerly guided the kayak over on foot so as not to rip the fabric.

Before us lay Fremont Island covered with cheat grass. A few cattle grazed in the distance. But, Immediately in front of us was a menacing phalanx of spider webs spun across the belt of bushes only a few yards from shore. Clearly these spiders were enjoying a full feast of brine flies.

We declined to breach the defenses and it was a good thing as well. Although there were no "No Trespassing " notices, we later learned that the island is leased from Granite Furniture and requires permission to enter.

The return journey took longer as our arms tired and the day heated up. For awhile the F-16's would make noisy passes overhead. A much more impressive aerial display was the huge flocks of pelicans wheeling five hundred feet above us. There were squadrons of them all executing an avian ballet. It astonished Eric and me how they would turn at the same time. We speculated whether this behavior was learned or instinctual but in any case, what its survival value might be. It seemed difficult not to think they were just soaring about for the fun of it. Perhaps that's just what GSL does to man and beast when you go there.

Finally we entered the marina again, our clothing stiff and crusty, ourselves weary and spent. I found that this unique water scape best offers herself to the visitor if you approach her on her own terms. Go quietly, slowly and open yourself to what may be there.

Jock Glidden, September 2006

gslride.jpg It began the way I believe many bicycle tours do, or at least should. I was aimlessly studying a map of the state when I saw a dirt road that connected to a gravel road, which led to the railroad tracks, which could be followed to this road, which winds its way up to that county road, which-ah hah. I had just discovered that it's possible to ride all the way around Great Salt Lake.

‘Discovered' may be too strong a word, but I don't think so. I bounced the idea off a few non-cyclist buddies, to which the general reply was "The military owns the land out there and they'll never let you through." In January I took a drive out there and found a public road that went through the Air Force property, so I knew it was possible.

Next I tried the idea on some cycling friends. When invited, they just stared at me incredulously and finally said "no." Finally I asked Mark Muir, whom I met in Seattle three years ago. He was another Utah expat who missed the stark desolation of the Great Basin as much as I did so it was easy to convince him to come. That's how it began, two Utah natives setting out to rediscover the bastard-child of Utah's natural resources. We were ready to take on what may be the first circumnavigation of Great Salt Lake by bicycle. We wanted to see the lake for what it is and for what our society has done to it. We wanted to feel the desolation of the desert and see the impact of the industries along the shoreline. We wanted to swat the flies and smell the stink.

And we needed to do it all in one weekend, which led to the name of our expedition: Ride around Great Salt Lake in one weekend, or RAGSLOW.


causeway.jpg Our first day of riding set the theme for the entire ride. We spent most of Friday afternoon hastily mounting racks and panniers to our bikes and packing them with gear. Our 2:00 pm departure time was pushed back to 6:30 that evening. We had wanted to get in about fifty miles that day but were happy to make it to the Great Salt Lake State Marina just west of Saltair. On the way we met up with a group of six riders from the Bonneville Bicycle Touring Club. We rode with them for several miles and told them about our trip. As we arrived at Saltair and said goodbye, one of them portended "I hope you have enough water." So did we.


If Friday's late start was a dark cloud looming on the horizon, then Saturday's ride was the tempest in her fury. We paid for our hasty preparation all day long.

The problems started before we left the marina. My front tire was flat. I had Slime® in my tubes so I thought I could just pump it up and continue. I made it about a hundred yards before it went flat again. The slime was the problem. Some of it had dried up in the stem, preventing the stem from sealing properly.

I laid my bike on its side without removing the panniers to change the tube. The weight of my load must have bent my rack slightly because when I started riding again my fender was rubbing on the rear tire. I fiddled with it for another fifteen minutes before I gave up and removed the fender. I strapped it on top of my panniers next to my defunct Slime® tube.

The goal of our ride was to circle the lake by riding as close as practical to the shoreline. So this meant we took the road along the railroad tracks just north of Interstate-80. It seemed like a good idea based on our map.

harris3.jpg About five miles down this rocky road the interstate bends to the south around the lakeshore while our road continued straight. There was water on both sides of us and we were engulfed by a flock of seagulls. Somehow over the noise of the birds Mark heard some jarring noises coming from his rack. One of the bolts that held the rack to the frame had vibrated loose. Well-prepared bicycle tourists have extra bolts stowed away for this sort of emergency. We borrowed one of the bolts holding on Mark's water bottle cage instead.

My rack had the same problem a few minutes later. This was the first of four times that my rack came off that day. My bike doesn't have braze-ons on the seat stays for mounting a rack so I used some pipe clamps purchased at a hardware store. I'd used this method on several tours before; in fact, I was using the same clamps from previous tours. When my rack started making noises I saw that I had not only lost a bolt down near the hub, but one of my pipe clamps had broken too.

I used the bolt from the broken pipe clamp to replace the bolt I had lost on the rack. Then I connected both frame supports to the one remaining pipe clamp. Once again, well-prepared bicycle tourists have extra pipe clamps stowed for emergencies like this.

When I-80 rejoined the railway we decided to leave the rocky railway access road and ride on the freeway. Here Mark discovered the first of two broken spokes his rear wheel suffered. Well-prepared bicycle tourists have extra spokes stowed for emergencies like this. This time we were prepared with extra spokes.

harris4.jpg We rode about twenty miles on the freeway and got honks of support from a passing car with a bike rack on the roof. We turned north on the road to Rowley and the US Magnesium plant with its thick yellow cloud of chlorine gas. US Magnesium removes magnesium chloride from Great Salt Lake water to produce magnesium metal. In the process they release millions of pounds of chlorine into the atmosphere and are the top producer of dioxins in the country, according to EPA's 2004 Toxics Release Inventory. We were happy to have tailwind blowing the toxic plume away from us as we approached.

North of US Magnesium we turned west again and climbed over Wrathall Pass in the Lakeside Mountains. The last pipe clamp holding on my rack broke on the way down the pass. My panniers dragged on the road before I could stop. Some guys in a Union Pacific truck stopped as we were fixing it to see if they could help. We had the rack reattached by then and didn't need help, so they warned us that some Indians were camping near Lakeside, about 20 miles away. I don't know what they meant by that, but we were going to camp at Lakeside anyway.

With the gear problems we'd had you might think we staggered the last 20 miles into lakeside to set up camp. But that's not how it happened. The dirt road through the military land was smooth like pavement. The sunset was brilliant and the Indians turned out to be Basque sheepherders. We set up our tent between the railroad tracks and Strong's Knob, one of the small islands in the lake. We cooked cheese ravioli and watched the Avocets feeding on the shore. The noise of the wind and passing trains kept us awake for a while but soon exhaustion set in and we slept.


harris5.jpg On Sunday we turned west from Lakeside toward Hogup Siding and the pumping station built after the 1983 flood to control the lake level. We rode on another rocky railroad causeway and were again passed by some Union Pacific workers in a truck. They stopped and asked "Are you lost?" This was a legitimate question considering how out of place we must have looked. I smiled and asked "is this the way to Wendover?" In hindsight, I should have asked them for some water.

We chose to ride a dusty two-track along the lakeshore instead of an improved road through the Hogup Mountains because we wanted to stay within sight of the lake. The dusty two-track had been trampled by cows and was the roughest road we rode on the whole trip. We could have walked as fast as we were riding. We questioned passing up the improved road through the mountains, but our reasons for undertaking this adventure were views of the lake and the desolation. This dusty two-track gave us both.

Our water supplies were running low when we finally met up with an improved dirt road west of Dolphin Island. We left Salt Lake City carrying about six liters of water each and were lucky to have camped at the State Marina on Friday night where they had running water. We were twenty miles from the ghost town of Kelton, which our map said had a flowing well. Thankfully, road to Kelton was straight and smooth otherwise we might have run out of water.

harris6.jpgI had an inch of water in my bottle when we arrived at the Kelton cemetery. Mark's water bottle was half full. We strolled through the cemetery and read the historical signs put up by the Bureau of Land Management before we looked for the well. We figured it would be an island of greenery in this sea of sage. Instead it was a mirage. The well was still there, but it was full of cobwebs. I couldn't see water down in the pipe, and had nothing to retrieve it if any was there. We had to continue east to Locomotive Springs, fifteen miles away.

Some teenagers in a pickup truck drove by and gave us their last bottle of water. I drank half of it before they had driven out of sight. It made the last few miles to the springs easier.

After pumping water from Locomotive Springs we rode east along the historic railroad grade to Monument Rock. We camped that night on the salt flats at the base of the rock and contemplated riding across the smooth surface all the way to Promontory Point.


We woke up early Monday morning to a light rain and the necessity of riding all the way to Salt Lake City before nightfall. We had twenty miles of gravel road over the Promontory Mountains before we got to Golden Spike National Historic Site and paved roads. We didn't spend long at Golden Spike because we were looking forward to a huge lunch at Idle Isle in Brigham City, the third oldest restaurant in Utah.


Our stomachs were slightly distended when we rode out of Brigham City so we labored through the first few miles of highway 89 through Perry, Willard, Plain City and Hooper. We made one last stop at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve southwest of Clearfield where The Nature Conservancy has preserved 4,000 acres of marshes, ponds and mudflats with a mile-long boardwalk running through them to a 30-foot observation tower overlooking the lake. It's a peaceful place for birders, kids and cyclists.

The last 25 miles were a race against the sun with North Temple in downtown Salt Lake as the finish line. We crossed it shortly after 8:00 that evening, shook hands in front of Crown Burgers and sprinted for the light rail. People on the train looked at us a little funny. I wanted to explain to them what we had just done, but I thought they would not understand the significance of it. Something inside us had turned around. We set out to rediscover an underappreciated natural resource. We had seen the treasures of Great Salt Lake and experienced the harsh realities of its stark landscape. We had felt the desolation and knew the irony of being parched on the shore of a desert oasis. Yet we already longed to be out there again. We had turned the pedals but it was the lake that had turned on us to show us its unique beauty.




Miles ridden


Salt Lake City

Great Salt Lake State Marina



Great Salt Lake State Marina





Monument Rock



Monument Rock

Salt Lake City






PLEASE NOTE:  This article first appeared in the May 2006 issue of Cycling Utah (

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