Moving from Ohio to Nevada was no small feat. I packed up my car with just about everything I own, and, along with my mom, made the cross-country trek, Reno or bust.
We stopped in Rock Island, Illinois, Greeley, Colorado, and Layton, Utah, all before we arrived in Reno. And, of course, there were many detours and side-trips. It wouldn’t be a Mom ‘n’ Kelsey Roadtrip, otherwise (ask me about the Fish Hatchery Debacle of 2012 and I will tell you quite the tale).
Perhaps the most memorable of these side trips was Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake in Utah—maybe you’ve heard of it. My mom and I were going to stop for a few hours, watch some birds, and make the final stretch to Reno. (Okay, I was going to watch birds. My mom just loves me a lot. Or tolerates me a lot. One or the other.) Yes, there were antelope. And bison, every franklin’s gull in the tri-state area, and a chukar or two (I saw two). Apart from the birds and cuddly, impressive mammals, the island had a few (million) other things going for it: spiders.
I know the plural ‘s’ on the end of spiders implies that there were multiple spiders. If I were to add enough ‘s’s to truly explain how many spiders were on this island, I think we’d all run out of breath. There were a lot of spiders. A lot. Like, all of the spiders you’re picturing in your head right now, plus another billion or so.
And these weren’t little spiders, either. Not those lil’ jumping spider with the cute lil’ eyes and short furry legs. Oh no. As I found out later, these were western spotted orbweavers. The larger ones had leg-spans a little smaller than my palm. Since they were orbweavers, they have a tendency to weave those beautiful large webs (the concentric circled webs that you associate with cartoon spiders) across any stretch of space. Any stretch. So, when I spotted a western meadowlark from inside the car as my mom drove up our first jaunt of the island, I jumped out and tried to run into the sagebrush after it. I immediately regretted my decision as I ran through approximately six giant spider inhabited webs within my first step.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I like spiders. I am fascinated by them. They are an interesting and diverse class that intrigues me. However. I do not want a spider to crawl on me without my knowledge. I especially don’t want twelve or so male and female palm-sized orbweavers frantically stuck to my body after I’ve inadvertantly destroyed their homes. That is not on my list of ideal situations.
I was only able to calm back down after walking a bit (my mother wouldn’t let me back in the car) and observing the spiders from a distance. To tell you the truth, what helped me stop feeling those exoskeleton-ed legs crawling across my body the most was when two little girls on vacation with their mom came up to me and asked what I was looking at in the bushes.
They were no older than ten—let’s call them Marzipan and Marjoram. M&M had also noticed the spiders and were pretty freaked out. They had wanted to go to the beach, but after seeing all the orbweavers across and lining the trail down to the water, the pair had thought otherwise. Then we started talking about them. I was able to help them tell the difference between the males and the females (males have smaller abdomens are generally smaller and not as ‘pretty’ as the females, but I guess the last bit is up for debate), and we talked about the different things they were consuming in their webs (it ranged from ants to four-inch-long dragonflies). Orbweavers typically only bite if provoked, and their bite is not harmful to humans. With the bit of knowledge I was able to offer, the girls decided it was silly to be scared of the spiders. And they were right.
My mother had gotten out of the car and was standing with the girls’ mother in the middle of the spider-free parking lot. Marzipan and Marjoram took me by both my arms and bravely led me into the spider-full brush. They were not going to let the spiders and their webs keep them from the beach.
And they didn’t. We stopped a few times when we found a particularly ‘chunky’ specimen, or when they found a really cool rock (they were really into rocks). Our mothers were following very cautiously in a single-file line down the center of the trail. My mom and I left Marzipan, Marjoram, and Mother M&M on the beach to go explore other parts of the island. The girls gave me a hugs and a rock to remember them by.
It was awesome.
We stopped by the visitors’ center on our way out. The naturalist working there was excited that I was excited about the spiders. We went outside and watched a few orbweavers in their webs, geeked out about the barn swallows that were erratically flying around, and the antelope that had sat down in front of my car on the way up to the center. Then she told me about the nesting barn and great horned owls on the island, and gave me very explicit directions on how to find them. And that’s why I arrived in Reno in the middle of the night. But that, dear readers, is a story for another day.
Antelope Island was certainly an adventure. In all, it was a much-needed affirmation that moving across the country to teach and engage kids with nature was really what I wanted, and needed, to be doing. So, thank you Marzipan, Marjoram, western spotted orbweavers, and the Visitor Center Naturalist. Antelope Island was amazing and I can’t wait to go back.
Until then, happy trails & lots of quails!