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Adventures to Antelope Island

12 February 2014
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One of the first places we visited when we moved to Utah was Antelope Island. We’re huge fans of State Parks and I was so excited to see the lake, I mean, it is “The GREAT Salt Lake." We loaded up our car, packed some snacks, and took off for the Island.

You take, of course, Antelope Drive to head out in search of buffalo, antelope, and adventure! Antelope Island is huge (42 square miles) and it's the largest of the ten islands in the Great Salt Lake. When the lake is at extremely low levels, it becomes a peninsula. The first known non-natives to visit the island were John C. Fremont and Kit Carson during exploration of the Great Salt Lake in 1845. It is said they shot a Pronghorn Antelope and, in gratitude for the meat, they named it Antelope Island. The Bison were introduced to the island in 1893.

Fielding Garr Ranch is on the South Eastern end of the island and it is the oldest Anglo building in Utah still on its original foundation. The ranch is one of the oldest working ranching operations in the Western United States. It was initially established in 1848 when Fielding Garr, a widower with nine children, was sent by the LDS church to manage the church’s ‘Tithing Herds’ of cattle and sheep. The adobe ranch house was continuously inhabited thereafter until 1981 when the State of Utah prepared to set up Antelope Island as a Utah State Park. Other people have tried to live on the island, but the isolation and lack of fresh water made it difficult. At one point, the island supported a population of 10,000 sheep and it was one of the largest sheep ranches in the United States of America. In 1981, the cattle and sheep were removed and the island park was created to protect the wildlife and allow park visitors to enjoy the scenic beauty and to camp, boat, and visit the beaches of the Great Salt Lake.

I won’t mince words, sometimes Antelope Island has a funky odor. Really funky. It’s not there all the time, but when it’s there; it’s strong. But really, WHAT IS THAT SMELL? From Utah.com: “It should be noted that the “lake stink” that we often smell in Salt Lake before a rainstorm, is not a result of the water or the mud under the lake as many people think. It is actually caused by decaying algae washed up on shore. When you are out on the water, you don’t smell anything but the same smell as the ocean.” You can read more about it here (http://wildlife.utah.gov/gsl/facts/smell.php)

So, now you know the history of the Island, here is what to do while you’re there!

Visit The Ranch: On the South Eastern end of the Island, The Fielding Garr Ranch house is a fun place to bring kids. You can tour the house, the gardens, the barn, and see all of the cool old farm equipment. Contrary to the idea of a ranch, the Buffalo are not located at the ranch house. The grand lumbering beasts are actually free roaming on the island, and you can happen upon a small herd at any time.

See The Bison/Buffalo: “Twelve bison, 4 bulls (males), 4 cows (females) and 4 calves were taken by boat to the island on February 15, 1893 by William Glassman and John Dooly.” These 12 animals apparently came originally from a small private herd in Texas and became the foundation for what has grown into the Antelope Island bison herd. Every year, in late October, all the bison are herded towards a central area in a “Great Buffalo Roundup” and sent briefly into pens where they are examined, weighed and vaccinated and decisions made on culling and selecting breeding stock. The majority of the bison are then turned loose within a few days and allowed to roam free the rest of the year. The Antelope Island bison herd fluctuates between 550 and 700, and is one of the largest publicly owned bison herds in the nation. The reason for the variability of the size of the herd is that approximately 150 to 200 calves are born every year, and since this is prime prairie habitat for bison, with no significant predators, the herd can increase by up to 1/4 every year.

See The Other Species on the Island: Of course, Pronghorn Antelope! It is estimated there are about 200 on the island and we have spotted them almost every time we have visited- mostly seen on the flat grasslands between Buffalo Point and Bridger Bay. The island is also home to bighorn sheep, coyotes, porcupine, bobcats, badger, and millions of Waterfowl!

Check out The Geology: Get this. There are Precambrian rocks on the island which are older than the Precambrian rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! That is 4567.17–541 million years ago!!! You can see these rocks in the central mountainous area, maybe while on a…

Go on a Hike: The Trail Map can be found here: http://stateparks.utah.gov/img/maps/aispprintable.jpg Trails on Antelope Island range from easy to difficult, from only .3miles to 11.6 mile loops. Many runners use the trail as well. Worried about the Buffalo? Don’t be, they will usually get out of your way. If not, just give them some space and go on your merry way! In the winter, you can cross country ski or snowshoe!

Go Camping: Antelope Island has two campgrounds. White Rocks Bay Group Campground, and Bridger Bay Campground.

At Bridger Bay, 26 primitive campsites include picnic tables, fire pits/grills, and vault toilets. There is no water, electricity, or shade in the campground. Wheelchair accessible campsites are available by reservation. Two vehicles and up to eight people and two tents are allowed per campsite. There is a fee for additional vehicles or recreational equipment. Horses are not allowed.

At White Rocks, – 12 primitive campsites are available by reservation for groups up to 70. Picnic tables, fire pits, and charcoal grills are located at each site. Vault toilets are available. No water or electricity is available in the campground. Horses are allowed.

Reservations – Advance reservations are available for group and individual campsites. For reservations at Bridger Bay, please call (801) 322-3770 in the Salt Lake area or toll free 1 (800) 322-3770. To reserve sites at White Rock Bay, please call (801) 773-2941. Unreserved sites are available on a first-come, first-serves basis.

Go Horseback Riding: Horseback riding is available year-round, but horse rental concession is closed for the winter. The rentals are done though R&G Horse and Wagon http://www.randghorseandwagon.com/

Go Boating: Bring your canoe or kayak and paddle on Utah’s inland sea. For sailors, the Antelope Island Marina is open and boat slips are available for rent.

Get some Snacks: Island Buffalo Grill provides food services at the Bridger Bay Beach indoor pavilion building. Open daily at 11 a.m., beginning March 9. Yes, they serve Buffalo burgers. Yes, they are delicious!

FEES, HOURS, and more info here: http://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island/hours

Annual Events on the Island:

The Buffalo Run – To be held on Friday, March 21, 2014; The Buffalo run has lengths at 25 kilometers, 50 kilometers, 50 miles and 100 miles. – http://www.buffalorun.org/

The Great Salt Lake Bird Festival – Held in May, the 15th Annual Great Salt Lake Bird Festival features bird watching, presenters, Keynote speaker Kevin Karlson, workshops and Field Trips. Learn more here: http://www.greatsaltlakebirdfest.com/

Moonlight Bike Ride – A favorite of my husband, the Moonlight Bike ride truly is a sight to behold. The ride starts at 10pm at the Marina, and is lit by the full moon (and the bikers themselves!). The 22 mile route goes from the Marina to the historic Fielding Garr Ranch and back. Bikers dress in costumes, light up their bikes and bodies with LED’s and flashlights, and the island comes alive for the night! http://www.daviscountyutah.gov/go/moonlight/

The Antelope Island Stampede and Balloon Festival – held Labor Day weekend, Hot air balloons float over the island, there are skydivers, kite flying demonstrations, paragliders, a kids activity tent, live music, vendors, food, and there was even a BMX stunt demo in 2012! Read more about it, and the plans for 2014 here! http://antelopeislandstampede.com/

The Bison Range Ride and Roundup – held every autumn this event attracts tourists from around the US and the world. Bison are herded from all edges of the island to the holding pens on the Northern end where they are vaccinated, microchipped, weighed, measured, and the herd is kept at a manageable level. About 150-200 head are auctioned every year, which nets profits to keep the park running. http://www.outdoorhub.com/news/utahs-26th-annual-bison-range-ride-and-roundup/

And of course, you can check out ALL of Antelope Islands events here: http://stateparks.utah.gov/calendar/now/aisp They lead hikes, guided tours of the ranch, Astronomy programs, and more!