Steep Trails/Chapter VIII
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 shoreline 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 curbing 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 fro 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 me 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 climates is delightful. The mountains rise into the cool sky furrowed with canyons almost yosemitic in grandeur, and filled with a glorious profusion of flowers and trees. Lovers of science, lovers of wildness, lovers of pure rest will 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.