Writings of John Muir
Volume 8 - Chapter VIII. Bathing in Salt Lake
[Letter dated "Lake Point,
Utah, May 20, 1877." Editor.]
WHEN the north wind blows,
bathing in Salt Lake is a glorious baptism, for then it is all wildly awake
with waves, blooming like a prairie in snowy crystal foam. Plunging
confidently into the midst of the grand uproar you are hugged and welcomed,
and swim without effort, rocking and heaving up and down, in delightful
rhythm, while the winds sing in chorus and the cool, fragrant brine searches
every fiber of your body; and at length you are tossed ashore with a glad
Godspeed, braced and salted and clean as a saint.
The nearest point on the
shore-line is distant about ten miles from Salt Lake City, and is almost
inaccessible on account of the boggy character of the ground, but, by taking
the Western Utah Railroad, at a distance of twenty miles you reach what is
called Lake Point, where the shore is gravelly and wholesome and abounds in
fine retreating bays that seem to have been made on purpose for bathing.
Here the northern peaks of the Oquirrh Range plant their feet in the clear
blue brine, with fine curving insteps, leaving no space for muddy levels.
The crystal brightness of the water, the wild flowers, and the lovely
mountain scenery make this a favorite summer resort for pleasure and health
seekers. Numerous excursion trains are run from the city, and parties, some
of them numbering upwards of a thousand, come to bathe, and dance, and roam
the flowery hillsides together.
But at the time of my first
visit in May, I fortunately found myself alone. The hotel and bathhouse,
which form the chief improvements of the place, were sleeping in winter
silence, notwithstanding the year was in full bloom. It was one of those
genial sun-days when flowers and flies come thronging to the light, and
birds sing their best. The mountain-ranges, stretching majestically north
and south, were piled with pearly cumuli, the sky overhead was pure azure,
and the wind-swept lake was all aroll and aroar with whitecaps.
I sauntered along the shore
until I came to a sequestered cove, where buttercups and wild peas were
blooming close down to the limit reached by the waves. Here, I thought, is
just the place for a bath; but the breakers seemed terribly boisterous and
forbidding as they came rolling up the beach, or dashed white against the
rocks that bounded the cove on the east. The outer ranks, ever broken, ever
builded, formed a magnificent rampart, sculptured and corniced like the
hanging wall of a bergschrund, and appeared hopelessly insurmountable,
however easily one might ride the swelling waves beyond. I feasted awhile on
their beauty, watching their coming in from afar like faithful messengers,
to tell their stories one by one; then I turned reluctantly away, to
botanize and wait a calm. But the calm did not come that day, nor did I wait
long. In an hour or two I was back again to the same little cove. The waves
still sang the old storm song, and rose in high crystal walls, seemingly
hard enough to be cut in sections, like ice.
Without any definite
determination I found myself undressed, as if some one else had taken me in
hand; and while one of the largest waves was ringing out its message and
spending itself on the beach, I ran out with open arms to the next, ducked
beneath its breaking top, and got myself into right lusty relationship with
the brave old lake. Away I sped in free, glad motion, as if, like a fish, I
had been afloat all my life, now low out of sight in the smooth, glassy
valleys, now bounding aloft on firm combing crests, while the crystal foam
beat against my breast with keen, crisp clashing, as if composed of pure
salt. I bowed to every wave, and each lifted me right royally to its
shoulders, almost setting me erect on my feet, while they all went speeding
by like living creatures, blooming and rejoicing in the brightness of the
day, and chanting the history of their grand mountain home.
A good deal of nonsense has
been written concerning the difficulty of swimming in this heavy water.
"One's head would go down, and heels come up, and the acrid brine would burn
like fire." I was conscious only of a joyous exhilaration, my limbs
seemingly heeding their own business, without any discomfort or confusion;
so much so, that without previous knowledge my experience on this occasion
would not have led inc to detect anything peculiar. In calm weather,
however, the sustaining power of the water might probably be more marked.
This was by far the most exciting and effective wave excursion I ever made
this side of the Rocky Mountains; and when at its close I was heaved ashore
among the sunny grasses and flowers, I found myself a new creature indeed,
and went bounding along the beach with blood all aglow, reinforced by the
best salts of the mountains, and ready for any race.
Since the completion of the
transcontinental and Utah railways, this magnificent lake in the heart of
the continent has become as accessible as any watering-place on either
coast; and I am sure that thousands of travelers, sick and well, would
throng its shores every summer were its merits but half known. Lake Point is
only an hour or two from the city, and has hotel accommodations and a
steamboat for excursions; and then, besides the bracing waters, the climate
is delightful. The mountains rise into the cool sky furrowed with caflons
almost yosemitic in grandeur, and filled with a glorious profusion of
flowers and trees. Lovers of science, lovers of wildness, lovers of pure
rest N611 find here more than they may hope for.
As for the Mormons one meets,
however their doctrines be regarded, they will be found as rich in human
kindness as any people in all our broad land, while the dark memories that
cloud their earlier history will vanish from the mind as completely as when
we bathe in the fountain azure of the Sierra.
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.