Friday, August 8, 2014

The Great Salt Lake

As the family was in Park City, UT at the start of July, we did the needful and visited the Great Salt Lake, via Antelope Island State Park.

Let me paint you the picture, then I'll frame it for you.

You emerge out of your car, having already been exposed via your air vents to the stench of sea death, and are assaulted by the sun. You've parked at the beach access area, and from where you're standing the man-made sand beach quickly descends into several hundred feet of dried lake bed - grey sands, flat stones, little patches of salt.

You/re looking forward to getting to the water. The lake's maximum depth anywhere is around 33 feet, so it'll be nothing but wading. The water should be cool on your flip-flopped feet - it certainly beats the hot sand.

Much like kelp left on the beach, the water here leaves something on shore - brine fly chrysalis. A reddish-brown line of minuscule shells baking in the sun. Stepping over that, you reach the waterline.

Here, at the waterline, brine flies - a constant undulating cloud at toe level. They pop up as you step through them, landing as you pass. They'll land on your foot, but jump right off as you continue - they don't want you, they want the algae.

The water is comfortable and warm - it should be, it's extremely shallow. It will take some time to even walk out to knee level. Dead flies float on the surface as far as you can see.

Nothing else lives in the lake - just flies on top, invisible shrimp underneath, the water is clear. It's up to 8 times the salinity of seawater, depending on where you're at, and if you reach in to pick up a stone, the water will leave salt dust on your arm as it evaporates in the sun.

There in the first week of July, you just missed the biting gnat eruption. What's left are hundreds of large spiders, orb weavers, throwing innumerable webs among the sage brush. They're not poisonous, but they are large and omnipresent - you'll see more spiders there in a half hour than you will in an entire year.

Spiders, flies, tiny shrimp shells, heat, salt, sun.

It's a wonderful feature of nature, to be sure. It's a remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville. It's an important waypoint for migratory birds, as you'd learn if you visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

It is, also, some strange post-apocalyptic parody of an ocean beachfront. Hard grey earth and salt rather than soft beach, brine flies by the millions, spiders, undrinkable water, a hard sun.

You can drop this into a Mutant Future / Gamma World campaign with very few changes.

There's a road on a dike crossing through the lake to the island - very defensible. There could be all manner of reasons creatures just can't swim or boat across. Maybe the brine shrimp now act like invisible omnivorous piranha - creatures or boats entering the water get swarmed and slowly disintegrate as the shrimp attack.

The visitor center is a brutal concrete slab of a building - very easy to modify into a fortress; maybe dig underground for more room (not sure you can easily).

There's antelope and buffalo on the island - mutate them a bit, just enough to be fun but not enough to not be a food source.

Water can be taken from the many natural springs, or, maybe there's some mad scientist in the group occupying the island that's got some sort of Rube-Goldberg desalinization machine. Maybe the resultant salt is formed into bricks and used for fortification.

Let the island be a refuge; a safe base. There's plenty of room for a small settlement, if the muta-buffalo aren't too aggressive and the spiders haven't become man-eaters. Remember to keep the lake level a little higher than usual - in fact, if you flood it out, you get the water into the ruins of the surrounding urban areas, which is fun - everything useful on Antelope Island is pretty high up.

There's plenty around the area to get into:

You've got Hill Air Force Base in Layton just across the way; it'll be full of old-world weaponry, perhaps. The ruins of Salt Lake City aren't far - maybe there's some  'Planet of the Apes' cobalt-bomb style cult in the ruins of Temple Square. There's the old Hercules Powder Plant, now some company called ATK, which should have some weaponry and interesting explosives.

In fact, here's some Google Earth mapping, with a 6 mile hex overlay:

The light blue line, if you can see it, is the shoreline of the lake (at whatever point Google Earth decided it was). That line coming out of the green Visitor Center marker, that seems to separate the water of the lake, is the road to Antelope Island. Imagine a chase scene on that tiny stretch of road; the party racing to get to the wall just ahead of a pack of mutants; on either side, invisible, deadly shrimp waiting for their next meal.

The white stretches are the salt flats, I believe, left behind as the lake level changes. It's so shallow that even small volume changes create large area changes - that's why you'll want to raise the water level, to keep the island an island.

I'm pretty sure the Salt Lake is already a feature in Gamma World (Zalt Lake?).

And there's much more in the city that could be used than I even know about - we were off the map to the right a bit in Park City.

There are plenty of places on the globe where Nature has taken it upon herself to post-apoc' the environment. Sadly, there are places we've done it ourselves. Visit a few yourselves; find ideas for your game; and decide who is the more formidable.

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