One Antelope causeway landmark is the entrance station. At left, small parts of road are in the background.
Although it has been six years this July since the 7.5-mile-long causeway to Antelope Island was closed because of the rising waters of the Great Salt Lake, visitors still make their way to the eastern end of the eroded road.There's probably not a time on weekend evenings when a person can visit the edge of the causeway and find solitude. It seems there's always one or more cars stopped there. Weekday evenings can also be crowded.
Visitor traffic seems to be on the rise, not only because of the warmer weather but because of last year's drought, which has lowered the lake level by almost 3 feet and caused a portion of the jagged causeway to re-appear above the water. (But the old causeway strip can't actually be spotted until you get close enough to see around the old entrance station.)
Ever since the causeway was closed, visitors have kept coming to this entrance - even some out-of-state visitors - despite signs near I-15's exit No. 335 that clearly declare the Antelope Island road, six miles away, is "closed."
The first thing that may hit visitors to the causeway entrance (depending on the wind direction and temperature) is the area's occasional "rotten egg" odor. But you get used to the smell after awhile.
There's also no parking lot, but there is some limited space along the rough roadside. Water damage to the road was sustained dozens of yards to the east of the entrance shack as well as to the causeway.
Some visitors to the start of the defunct road never get out of their cars, but it's now possible to walk about 120 yards past the old entrance station and out into the lake along a skeleton portion of the old causeway.
This short walk not only illustrates that the lake's level has indeed dropped, but it will also impresses visitors with the power of water and wind erosion.
The end of this uncovered portion of causeway doesn't just fade into the water, it abruptly ends, with little continuing asphalt visible under the water. The stormy lake apparently tore whole sections of the road away; it didn't just bury it.
Some additional sections of the causeway are visible farther out, but it would hardly be worth the effort (nor advisable for safety reasons) to attempt to reach them by wading out or swimming.
A walk on the old section of causeway is a sad experience, though. The causeway's only a ghost in the wind now, and it's hard to imagine that there was ever a road reaching almost 39,600 feet into the heart of the lake and meeting Antelope Island.
The causeway's remains are an echo of man's attempt to overcome nature - and his failure. The longer the causeway is out, the more mysterious Antelope Island likely will seem to the public.
In the past 22 years, the public has been able to travel on the causeway probably not more than a combined total of 11 years - only half the time.
HB230, a bill introduced in the Legislature by Rep. Scott Holt, R-Syracuse, calling for $3.85 million in state funds to rebuild the causeway, failed to even reach the House floor last winter, and thus any new action to restore the road may have to wait at least another year.
The causeway's history spans 25 years that include the Great Salt Lake's all-time lowest and highest elevations - both reached within a span of 23 years.
Plans for the causeway were, ironically, made at a time when the Great Salt Lake's level had almost reached its lowest point ever - 4,191.35 feet above sea level on Oct. 31, 1963. But water was almost 5 feet over the 4,207-foot causeway by May 1986, when the lake hit a peak of 4,211.85 feet, the highest level it had reached since measurements were recorded.
The lake started its annual rise late last winter and now stands at 4,206.70 feet. The level is expected to go as high as 4,207.25 feet this spring, depending on weather conditions, and thus could soon cover portions of the re-emergent causeway once again.
(shadow box on history of causeway)
Like the lake, causeway has stormy history
Like the Great Salt Lake itself during the past quarter-century, the causeway to Antelope Island has had a stormy history. Here are some highlights:
-1964: Much of the road base for the causeway is built early in the year, but the base itself is constructed only 6.25 miles out into the lake, since a 1.25-mile-wide sand bar allows access to the island because of the lake's low level at the time. But the rising lake cuts off part of the roughed-in road to the island by fall.
-1968: In the spring, the causeway is completed as a 7.5-mile dirt road and unofficially opened to the public for a brief time - until the lake washes away a portion of the road a few weeks later. By October, construction on a 70-foot bridge at the causeway's west end is completed, while most of the dead-end causeway remains open 24 hours a day until November, when a control gate is placed on the road's east end (and locked during off-hours) to curb vandalism.
-1969: The causeway to Antelope Island officially opens on Jan. 5, 1969. By Feb. 1, high waves force closure of the road and begin to erode it. By late February, a 3,000-foot section of the road is under water. The road remains awash but safe later in the spring, and $100,000 is spent to repair and strengthen the road. (About 124,000 tourists cross the causeway in its first year.)
-1970: Winds and high water threaten the causeway again in the spring. The road is raised 2.5 feet along a two-mile section susceptible to washouts. The dirt road is again soon passable, though bumpy, for the year's 198,000 tourists.
-1972: In late January, 14 cars become stuck in mud on the wet road and it is closed again. A month later, the road is reopened and repaired.
-1973: The road receives its annual spring dunking and is again awash in several places. The lake's spring level reaches 4,200.30 feet. In the fall, high winds wash out a 100-foot section of the road.
-1974: Unexpected wave damage temporarily halts causeway reconstruction intent on raising the road bed 4 to 5 feet.
1975: The causeway hastily reopens in April and then closes again "in the blink of an eye" as construction continues to raise and widen the road. On Oct. 11, the causeway reopens after being closed for nearly two years straight. (It has actually been six years since it was open for any real length of time.)
-1976: The road is closed during February for bridge work. In March, the lake attacks the causeway again, but the road remains undamaged for a change. The road closes on weekdays starting in August until October so it can be completed as a two-lane paved highway.
-1977: The causeway is blamed for increased odors around the lake and also for drastic changes in lake salinity.
-1978: More than 400,000 visitors cross the causeway en route to Antelope Island.
-1979: A $1 per car fee, the first such admission cost ever, is charged at the east end of the causeway.
-1983: The rising lake and spring winds threaten the causeway. By June, portions of the causeway's pavement width have been reduced from 44 to 15 feet. For the first time in seven years of uninterrupted service, the causeway is closed. By fall, the lake level is only about 2 feet below the road.
-1984: The causeway is still closed and now under almost 2 feet of water.
-1985: A ferry system with rubber rafts allows some visitors to cross the lake parallel to the causeway and visit Antelope Island.
-1986: The ferry service ends because of a lack of fresh water on the island. Most of the causeway is almost 5 feet under the lake.