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Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
The Sun Tunnels are four large concrete tubes and the work of artist Nancy Holt. Above, they are silhouetted by the sunrise on June 21, 2002, the longest day of the year.

Birds, boats, trains and rockets . . . . If there were four words that would best describe Box Elder County, those would be the four.

They would, of course, be making reference to Bear River Bird Refuge, Willard Bay State Park, Golden Spike National Historic Site and Thiokol's Rocket Display.

What you know:

Willard Bay is one of Utah's most popular state parks and waterways. One reason is convenience. Both the north and south marinas are easily accessed off I-15 just north of Ogden.

The bay itself features a dike that is 15 miles long, built on the Great Salt Lake flood plain, that separates the salty waters of the Great Salt Lake and the fresh waters that feed the bay. The result is a 10,000-surface-acre impoundment that offers a full range of watery activities, including boating, swimming, fishing and a steady supply of birds for avid birdwatchers.

The park itself has been improved over the years and offers modern restrooms, sandy beaches, camping facilities (for single families and groups) and hot showers.

After years of drought and low water, the bay filled this past summer and offered excellent boating and water recreation.

Anglers are especially attracted to the bay for a number of reasons, including the opportunity to fish for wipers and catfish. The wiper is a hybrid between a striped bass and white bass. The combination has created a fish that grows rapidly, is relatively easy to catch, puts up a great fight and is well known for its dining qualities.

The Golden Spike Historic Site was, of course, the historic meeting place of the transcontinental railroads back in 1869. The Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads, one coming from the West Coast and the other from the East Coast, met at this location on May 10, 1869. To commemorate the event, four spikes were driven alongside the finished rail — two of them gold.

This event, even today, is considered one of the most important accomplishments in the 19th century.

On site there is a visitors center, showing pictures and artifacts of the time and working replicas of the 1869 steam locomotives Jupiter and 119. There is a 9-mile self-guided auto tour along a section of the historic railroad grade. There is also a shorter 1 1/2-mile tour.

It would be 100 years later, in 1969 that another landmark accomplishment occurred that involved Box Elder County — the first man landing on the moon.

Just two miles from the monument, Thiokol has created Thiokol's Rocket Display, which is an exhibit of solid rocket motors and rockets used in America's space exploration. The display is open to the public.

The Thiokol Chemical Corp. was founded in 1926 and grew to fame from producing the first synthetic rubber. The company changed direction when it discovered a solid propellant fuel binder. What followed was Thiokol's involvement in the aerospace industry.

The company would go on the manufacture deorbit motors for the Mercury and Gemini manned space programs, along with staging and separation motors for Apollo lunar missions, and a variety of motors for the Pioneer, Surveyor, Viking, Voyager.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., established the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge by special act on April 23, 1928. It was the 48th refuge placed under government protection.

The Bear River Bird Refuge is probably best known for waterfowl hunting in fall and winter. Come October, ducks fly in and hunters drive out to meet them, assuming their luck and skills are sufficient for success.

But, there's more to this marsh located on the eastern side of the Great Salt Lake than decoys and duck blinds. It is home, for example, to 208 species of birds, including 29 species of swans, geese and ducks, and 30 species of shorebirds, along with such unique varieties as the northern goshawk, western wood-pewee, willow flycatchers, chipping sparrows and rock wrens.

There is a 12-mile loop within the refuge that offers great viewing opportunities either by vehicle or bike. This is also a place where people can launch canoes and kayaks, get out on the marshes and get an even closer look at the local wildlife. Only about 50,000 people a year take the opportunity to view wildlife close up and in their natural habitat. Binoculars are a must for anyone opting to take this tour.

The county also holds a large section of the Great Salt Lake, its shoreline and, of course, its wildlife.

What you don't know:

Opening in April will be the new Wildlife Education Center on the eastern marshes of the Great Salt Lake near Brigham City. This is a $11 million facility that will offer everything from guided tours on the marshes to educational opportunities, noted Betsy Beneke, recreational planner for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Among its features will be an auditorium that will seat 196 people and entertain a full range of guest speakers and video displays; a teaching lab with classrooms that will be available for arts, crafts and educational activities; a research lab that will be made available to universities and colleges for studies on marsh wildlife and vegetation; a 3,500-square-foot exhibition hall that will hold a full range of exhibits and displays; an observation deck with a parabolic hood intended to bring in the sounds of the marshes; and a half-mile, handicap-accessible trail that will wonder through the wetlands.

While people know about Golden Spike National Historic Site, few realize the history of the section from the monument to the town of Lucin near the Utah/Nevada border.

The railroad grade was build primarily by Chinese labors who helped complete the transcontinental railroad. Along the way are a number of bridges, each with its own signature design. There are a couple of old town sites that were strategically placed to provide comforts for the passengers and fuel and water for the trails.

What remains today is some debris, a few standing wood frames and a cemetery with old headstones. ATVs and motorcycles can ride the railroad grades. There is a dirt road alongside the grade four-wheel vehicles can follow, first to Locomotive Springs and then to what was the town of Kelton and on to Lucin. From there the road turns south to Wendover.

The Sun Tunnels are four large concrete tubes, each 18 feet long and 9 feet in diameter that are the work of artist Nancy Holt. The open ends of the tunnels are aligned with points on the horizon where the sun rises and sets at winter and summer solstices, noted Joan Hammer with the Box Elder County tourism.

There are also a number of holes which, when seen from the inside out, point to four constellations — Capricorn, Draco, Columbia and Perseus.

The Spiral Jetty toward the northern end of the Great Salt Lake was the work of artist Robert Smithson. He created a rock formation in the lakebed resembling sweeping curves.

It was built back in 1970 when the elevation of the lake was 4,195. As the level rises, the work becomes less and less visible from ground level. The best times to see the jetty is during the winter months when the lake level is at its lowest.

Another of the county's secrets is Marble Park, located 20 miles from Golden Spike, which is built on an old gravel pit owned by Boyd Marble. His intention was to create a unique showplace where people could gather socially.

Among other things, the park features a great playground and a large display of horse-drawn equipment and wagons from the 1800s. The main attraction is the range of artwork created out of old metal rims from wagon wheels, along with milk cans, old boilers and timber from the old railroad trestle that once ran across the Great Salt Lake.

Now, looking at the list of activities, if there were two more words to best describe Box Elder, they would have to be fun and educational.

Box Elder County

Well known: Golden Spike, Bird Refuge, Willard Bay

Unknown: Sun Tunnel, Marble Park, Wildlife Center

Contact: www.boxeldercounty.org 435-734-3397

E-mail: [email protected]