Saturday, September 28, 2013

Desert Destination: Antelope Island

 We visited Antelope Island over Memorial Day weekend, and it blew away my expectations. Anyone visiting the Salt Lake City area should take a trip out here. Antelope Island is one of ten islands in the Great Salt Lake, and it's the largest, covering about 42 square miles.

 To reach it you cross a seven-mile causeway. During really low water years, the island becomes a peninsula. During really high water years (like in the early 80's), the road was inundated and the island closed for many years until funding could be found to rebuild.

 Once we got to the island, we went to the visitor center and checked out some interesting exhibits, picked up a junior ranger booklet, and watched the park film. Then we decided to head out and check out a trail.

We chose the Buffalo Point Trail, 0.3 miles long but a little steep and rocky. The kids thought we were hiking to the moon, they weren't very cooperative.

For those a little more enthusiastic about hiking, Antelope Island has about 20 miles of trails. It also has trail runs! I might have to come back for one of those! Some of the trails are open to horseback riding and mountain biking. (Another good reason to return!)
 The views were great. The Great Salt Lake is so large you can almost feel like you're at the ocean. And the high salt content (about 25% at times) makes it even smell a little like the ocean, although it's too salty for fish to survive in the lake.

 Birdwatching is a major attraction on Antelope Island. We had closeup views of some chukar. (Here's a bird list for Antelope Island.)

 At the top of the trail were some really cool rocks, Cambrian Tintic Quartzite. These rocks are old (550 million years old), but there are even older rocks on the island. Precambrian rocks (Farmington Canyon Complex, 1.7 billion years old) are found in the park, and they're as old as the rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. (You can download a geology map of the island here.)

 It was a little windy, but oh, so beautiful. Sitting up there on the rocks, looking out over the Great Salt Lake made me feel quite serene. It's a little piece of peace so close to the hustle and bustle of the Wasatch Front.

 We saw quite a few bison as we drove and stopped to take a few photos. The island was settled in the late 1840s, with the LDS Church controlling the ranch, which ran cattle and sheep on the island, until 1870. Then John Dooly, Sr. purchased the island. He set up the Island Improvement Company, which ran the ranches and managed the island for almost a century, from 1884 until 1981.  The State of Utah purchased the northern part of the island in 1969 and the southern part, including the historic Fielding Garr Ranch, in 1881, and removed the cattle and sheep. (Source)

Twelve bison were taken to Antelope Island in 1893 (or 1897--I saw both dates listed). This was the start of a herd that became the largest in the United States for a time (despite an attempt to hunt them all in 1926). Today, with a herd of 550-700 bison, it's one of the largest publicly owned bison herds in the nation.

Every October, they hold a bison roundup--and they let the public participate! If you'd like to round up bison, you can, with your own horse or a concessionaire horse (check out the Antelope Island State Park website for details).  Sounds like fun!

By the way, if you're like us and wonder how could animals survive on a desert island surrounded by water that is too salty to drink, there are several freshwater springs on the island that wildlife use. Other wildlife on the island include mule deer, pronghorn (the 'antelope' for which the island is named), bighorn sheep, bobcats, and porcupine.

We couldn't stay long, but we'll be back, just like the California gulls. Antelope Island has a couple campgrounds, and that would be a great way to experience the island. There's also swimming in summer and showers to rinse off the salt and sand.

If you do visit, remember insect repellent. This can be a buggy place!

To see posts about other great spots to visit in northern Utah, check out:
Golden Spike National Historic Site
Hill Aerospace Museum
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Utah State Railroad Museum


Pale-winged Trumpeter said...

I like Antelope Island. While most of Utah's State Parks are reservoirs and cater more to sportsmen, Antelope Island is a jewel among the state parks. I think it's comparable to many of the National Park lands that I've been to, both in variety of things to see and do, as well as in visitor services.

Desert Survivor said...

It really felt like a national park to me! It had such a great feeling of wildness to it, and also a touch of mystery with its interesting geology and topography.

Thanks for commenting, Pale-winged Trumpeter!

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