The Great Salt Lake is the largest lake west of the Mississippi River. The lake receives water from many streams and inlets, but has no outlet. Because of this, mineral salts carried into the lake remain, causing it to have a salt content as high as 27 percent; eight times more salty than the ocean. Only the Dead Sea has salinity greater than the Great Salt Lake.
The salt content of the lake depend on its water level. The water level depends on precipitation and run-off from the mountains. The more rain and snow that fall in the mountains, the larger the area of the lake and the less salty it is. On average, the Great Salt Lake is 70 miles long and 30 miles wide. Its average depth is 13 feet and its greatest depth is 34 feet. The only form of life able to survive in the Great Salt Lake is tiny brine shrimp used primarily to make fish food.
The lake is a favorite for sailing and when salinity is high, swimmers are able to float without sinking, buoyed by the salty water.
The Wasatch & Uinta Mountains
In the northeastern part of the state the Wasatch and Uinta Mountain ranges are representative of the Rocky Mountain Province. The Wasatch Mountains are gnarled and steep. The range's highest peaks tower over 11,000 feet. Other mountains loom 5,000 to 7,000 feet above the major Utah cities nestled at their base.
The Uinta Mountains are one of only a few ranges in North America to run east and west. King's Peak, Utah's highest point at 13,528 feet is part of the Uinta chain.
The majority of the Uinta range is set aside as a Wilderness Area. Popular for backpacking and wildlife watching, this area remains rugged and remote. By contrast, the canyons of the Wasatch Mountains are easily accessible and popular for summer and winter recreation. The majority of Utah's ski resorts are located in the Wasatch Canyons outside Salt Lake City.
Animals & Birds
Utah's varied landscape hosts over 700 species of animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
Hoofed mammals such as mule deer and elk are some of Utah's most common species. They live in all areas of the state except the most barren desert regions. Pronghorn antelope race freely across sagebrush-dotted rangelands. Herds of buffalo have been established in central Utah's Henry Mountains and on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.
Alert visitors to backcountry areas across the state may see moose, black bear, mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes. Mountain goats and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep make their homes on the craggy peaks of northern Utah mountain ranges. Some cliff areas in southern Utah are inhabited by desert bighorn sheep.
Many small animals thrive in Utah's mix of climate and landscape. Examples include beaver, mink, ferret, weasel, badger, muskrat, fox, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, prairie dogs and porcupine.
Birds of nearly every variety find nesting spots in Utah. The marshes of the Great Salt Lake are home to the California gull, great blue heron, marsh wren, cormorant, egret, ibis, and the great white pelican, as well as nearly 200 other other species.
Utah is positioned in the "Pacific Flyway" and each year thousands of waterfowl nest and breed here before they flying south for the winter. State Waterfowl Management Areas protect these breeding grounds and provide viewing areas. Varieties which are most often sighted are loons, swans, geese, great blue herons, sandhill cranes and several species of ducks.
Ringneck pheasants, turkeys, sage grouse, quail, mourning doves and chukar partridges live in low elevation forests and brushy areas.
Predatory birds found in the Utah wilds include several species of hawks, osprey, vultures, rare peregrine falcons, kestral, and ten kinds of owls; including the burrowing owl which is just slightly larger than a robin. In addition, populations of golden eagles and bald eagles are growing in Utah under protective measures.
Nearly every type of songbird native to North America is found in Utah at different times of the year. Favorites include robins, house finches, steller, scrub and pinion jays, bobolinks, swallows, blackbirds, sparrows, mountain blue birds, indigo buntings and meadow larks.
Sixty-four species of reptiles slither, creep and crawl in Utah. This include 34 kinds of snakes from rattle snakes and gopher snakes to small, harmless grass snakes. There are 29 species of lizards which are easily seen basking on sun warmed rocks in the deserts. The desert tortoise, a threatened species, lives in the extreme southwestern corner of the state. Toads, frogs, tiger salamanders and other amphibians live near Utah's rivers, lakes and streams. in these waters many varieties of trout flourish. Other fish found within the state are bass, bluegill, crappie, perch, walleye and kokanee salmon. The Bonneville cisco is a rare fish found only in northern Utah's Bear Lake.
The variety of Utah terrain falls into six climatic zones. More than 4,000 species of plants cover the land.
Arid desert regions are dotted with sagebrush, mesquite, chapparal, Joshua trees, yucca and many cacti. In southern Utah, stands of tamarisk grow along streams and washes; they once served as markers for precious water sources.
Semi-arid mountains and plateaus are covered with gnarled juniper trees and hardy pinion pines. Higher mountains are lush with blue spruce, ponderosa pine, lodge pole pine, Douglas fir, alpine fir, and shimmering fields of aspen. Willows grow along mountain streams, and in the valleys several species of cottonwoods line the banks of streams and canals.
Fields of wild flowers explode with color from April to September. Sego lilies, Indian paintbrush, dogtooth violets, monkshood, clematis, mallow, white geranium, columbine, wild rose, prickly pear, sweet pea, sweet William, iris, western wallflower, flax, yarrow, mountain aster, and scarlet monkey flower are only a sampling of the varieties which are abundant throughout the state.
Utah is divided east and west into two mostly arid regions by the moisture-intercepting Wasatch Mountains in the north and the high plateaus in the south. The state's precipitation varies greatly, from an average of less than five inches per year in the Great Salt Lake desert to more than 60 inches in some of the higher locations in the mountains. In the areas of greatest population, where most crops are grown, the annual precipitation ranges from 1 to 15 inches, making irrigation from mountain streams necessary.
On a typical winter day visitors in Utah may enjoy powder snow on the ski slopes of northern Utah or short-sleeve golf weather in southern Utah's "Dixie". Utah's climate varies greatly from desert to mountain. Winter temperatures infrequently fall below zero and prolonged periods of extremely cold weather are rare.
Summer temperatures occasionally climb over 100 degrees, however low humidity (averaging 37 percent) ensures generally comfortable weather. Night time summer temperatures often drop to sweater weather, even in the desert where summer days are always hot.
Utah harbors mineral deposits as varied and valuable as any on earth. Over 200 useful minerals are found in the state. Crude oil, coal and natural gas are the most important in terms of production, but Utah ranks first in the nation of gilsonite, potash and beryllium produced, and second in the value of copper and gold.
Many of the minerals mined in Utah are processed in-state. Kennecott's huge nonferrous smelting center in Magna produces 200,000 tons of refined copper annually. Moab supports a major uranium mill, Delta has a beryllium plant, and salt and mineral recovery plants along the shores of the Great Salt Lake are big business in Utah.
Utah's crude oil production accounts for about one percent of the total U.S. production and has been concentrated in three areas of the state: the Uintah Basin (Duchesne and Uintah Counties), the Paradox Basin (San Juan County) and the Overthrust Belt (Summit County).
Other significant minerals mined and produced in Utah are: bentonite, calcite, carbon dioxide, cement, clays, common salt, diatomite, dolomite, gemstones, gypsum, lime, magnesium, oolite, perlite phosphate, pumice, quartzite, silica, stone and vanadium.