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Major Lakes, Great Salt Lake

Mormon pioneers, Great Salt Lake, Great Basin, ice sheets, religious freedom

The Great Salt Lake is located in Utah and lies within the Great Basin, an inland water drainage area that encompasses most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho, and California. The Great Salt Lake is the remnant of Lake Bonneville, the largest of many lakes formed in the region when retreating ice sheets melted at the end of the last Ice Age. The Great Salt Lake acquired its name because its water has a high salt content. The lake receives mountain runoff that carries suspended salts, and it has no outlet to the ocean because high mountains surround the Great Basin. The streams and rivers that replenish the Great Salt Lake flow only intermittently. The Great Salt Lake varies substantially in size, depending on precipitation, the amount of runoff that replenishes the lake, and the amount of water that is pumped out for irrigation.

As the frontier of the United States expanded westward in the 19th century, many people traveled through the Great Basin on the way to the West Coast. Few decided to settle there permanently. One notable exception was the Mormon pioneers, members of a religious group who began arriving in the area as early as the 1850s. In their search for religious freedom, they settled near the shores of the Great Salt Lake, began raising crops with irrigated farming, and built a settlement that became Salt Lake City, the regionís major urban center.



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