October 5, 2008

Stroll 6.5-Mile Sandbar to Freemont Island

By Lynn Arave Deseret News

One of the most reliable indicators of an extra dry Great Salt Lake is the presence of a large sandbar that leads to Fremont Island.

You can't walk on water without divine help, but you can get a kick out of a limited kind of "Red Sea on dry ground" experience by walking on this waterless sandbar to Fremont Island when the Great Salt Lake level is 4,194.5 feet or lower.

That's certainly the case now, as the lake level sits at 4,194.1 feet above sea level. This sandbar is located about 1.6 miles from the causeway to Antelope Island.

Why boat the lake when you can simply walk some of it now? Seeing first-hand how dry this large tract of lake bed is illustrates perfectly the impact of low lake levels.

The window of opportunity for this kind of feat is small, with the sandbar being water free only 13 times in the past 158 years.

In normal years, when the lake is at its 4,200-foot average elevation, the sandbar is under nearly six feet of salty water. During the lake's record high level of 1985 (at 4,212-feet), the sandbar was under 17 feet of water.

Fremont was last accessible by foot for a few weeks in September 2004. Prior to that, the sandbar had consecutive dry periods during portions of 1960 to 1965. The years 1936 and 1937 and 1939 to 1941 also offered brief periods of a dry sandbar.

The sandbar is huge. It's almost a mile wide in places and goes 6.5 miles northwest to Fremont Island.

Walking across the sandbar would be like walking on the moon -- no vegetation, almost nothing. It's the void itself that becomes an eerie attraction.

The first few hundred feet off the causeway are the muddiest. From there, you might sink a bit in the crusty lake bed, but it is far easier than walking through sand.

It's startling how empty the vast lake bed is. Bird feathers here and there are the most common sight. There are also periodic dead birds, tumbleweeds, rocks, shotgun shell casings, old tires and bottles. A few ropes and plastic buoys also crop up.

Faded tracks of three-wheeled ATVs are sometimes visible along the sandbar. Fremont Island's owners can legally use them to reach the island on the sandbar and these tracks were probably from as long ago as 2004, the last time the sandbar was this dry.

It took about 2 1/2 hours to walk the entire sandbar to Fremont Island.

Any potential lake bed walkers should be aware that Fremont Island is privately owned and requires permission to legally visit it. Also, there is no parking allowed along the causeway to Antelope Island,

If wet, sections of the sandbar could be very hard to traverse. Also, lightning during any storms would be of the greatest danger here.

Lynn Arave walked to Fremont Island and back on the sandbar on Sept. 25, 2008. He also walked it in September 2004.

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