OUTDOORS + RECREATION

Solving a weird phenomenon at a Salt Lake County reservoir

Oct 24, 2023, 7:30 AM

Hiker walking on white crust in canyon...

(Cameron Jepperson)

(Cameron Jepperson)

SANDY, Utah — Experts are jumping in to help solve a mystery behind a weird phenomenon two hikers recently discovered at a Salt Lake County reservoir.

Cameron Jepperson said he and a friend were hiking what’s known as the Beatout a couple weeks ago, which is a 14-mile trek that starts in Little Cottonwood Canyon, ascending up the Pfeifferhorn, and down into Bell Canyon, also commonly referred to as Bells Canyon.

As Jepperson and his friend dropped down into Upper Bell Canyon Reservoir above Sandy, they found a huge sea of that white crust covering a whole field’s worth of space.

“As we approached, we realized that it was more of this like paper sort of substance, very flat, looking almost like a desert flat, like the salt flats,” Jepperson explained.

He took out his phone and started filming. The crust crunched under his feet as he walked around, completely bewildered and in awe.

“Honestly, just trying to figure out if it was something related to the algae blooms down in the valley,” Jepperson said, of what was going through his mind. “Kind of wondering if we should be touching it, if we should be walking on it, but also wondering if anyone else had seen anything like this.”

Jepperson asked about the mystery crust in a local hiking group, where people’s guesses ranged from chemicals to treat algal blooms, to dried foam, to calcium deposits, to snow mold.

“I heard salt, just the sodium, as well as like alkaline deposits,” he said. “But that didn’t really seem to match up just because it seems like that comes in more of a crystal form. And this was more like papier maché all crunched down together.”

What could it be?

KSL TV reached out to the Utah Division of Water Quality, which monitors waterways and water bodies around the state.

Dr. Hannah Bonner, recreational water quality expert, took a look at Jepperson’s video and photos.

Her hypothesis was that the water used to be higher but has since receded, leaving behind a crunchy film of mud or organic material.

Bonner couldn’t tell 100% from the pictures and video, but said it doesn’t look like benthic cyanobacteria or anything harmful.

While the crust won’t spark any official investigation, Bonner noted that it was certainly interesting.

Jepperson now has a plausible answer, as he remembers the curious crust that made his hike memorable.

In his video, Jepperson’s friend picks up a piece of the crust, and they inspect it.

“We’re on a different planet,” his friend says. Jepperson replies, “The moon!”

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Solving a weird phenomenon at a Salt Lake County reservoir