So on the deck of this empty lot I stand, with the color streaks in the eastern sky stemming from the low clouds near the mountain tops; to the west, the sinking sun spreads its illumination and reflection across the salty waters; below me, the remains of America’s splendid herds slowly meandering across the island valley’s floor; and to the north, the joining point of the nineteenth century’s progress (see “Ponies and Locomotives” from January 2012). I descend the hills, knowing I still need to cross the causeway before the gates drop for the night, but I take time to pull up and stop my car next to one of the historic beasts. I take time – I make time – to speak with him, tapping his anthropomorphic qualities that I imagine he possesses, and I thank him for being here with me. And then I drive away into the falling night.
Get Me to the Island on Time
I didn’t make time. Like most of my travels, two or three highlights per day break the journey into memorable portions and today I have already enjoyed five outings: comparing an AT&T mural to the Norway attraction at Epcot, crossing the Pony Express, finding the Idiot Tree (see “The Idiot Tree” from December 2011), passing Promontory Point, and exploring the rocket garden at the ATK test range. But I still want to squeeze in one more stop today, and considering this one ranks on my lifetime bucket list, it is surprising that I did not allow more time to get here, but the sun still hangs high enough on this early autumn day that I give it a shot and drive a bit harried through Salt Lake City’s early rush-hour traffic.
West of the city, as far west as one can drive and not be submerged in salty water, a toll booth and a digital display of the hours and prices marks the entrance to Antelope Island State Park. The hills at the end of the long, low causeway seem too far away to make by the time the sun begins to set, but with ninety minutes to spare, I arrive in time, pay my fee and continue westward. In my rearview mirror, the clouds mist and borrow the fading day’s light to create a pale rainbow. But I focus on the inhabitants of the approaching island and getting to them while they still have shadows to cast.
So named for its residents, I never find the antelope hiding in their favorite spots, and I instead drive to the top of the first hill, and stand alone on a full-deck lookout on the northwest end of the island. From this empty spot on Buffalo Point, I glance back towards their pens, and see the overlook’s namesakes in the valley between me and highest hill. Tiny dark dots in the distance, these animals remind me of the final few fragments of the American West before the frontier shuttered, just specs of the massive herds from centuries ago. Having seen the American bison up close before, I have met these loud, slow-moving, content-to-eat-grass grazers, but from a distance, these heavy-hoofed creatures appear as the handful of remnants of a nation’s history that it virtually destroyed.