At this time of year, many of us long for an Island escape. Fortunately, a placid island paradise is close at hand. Travel toward Layton, get off at Antelope Drive (Exit 332) and head west. From there it is a smooth seven-mile drive to the causeway that leads to Antelope Island.
Antelope Island State Park, found in Salt Lake City’s own backyard, has something for everyone year-round. The 42-square-mile-island hosts a diverse and unique ecosystem as well as a rich and interesting history.
Get your binoculars and cameras out at the entrance booth, because even the causeway offers beauty along its route, including thousands of shore birds, a military memorial, and tranquil bays on either side.
The visitor center is a good starting point for your island adventure. It offers an art gallery, along with educational displays about the island’s wildlife, history and geography. A video showcasing the island’s features can be viewed in a small auditorium.
You can obtain maps and expert advice from volunteers and park rangers concerning the island’s topography, geography and geology. The visitor center gift shop includes bird and wildlife identification cards as well as seasonal items such as hats and nets to protect against “no-see-ums”, also known as biting midges. You will also find employees and volunteers who love and have experienced the island to the fullest.
Rachelle Maughan works in the gift shop. Along with her sons, she enjoys exploring the island’s uniqueness. “I have been in awe of its beauty, even in the winter,” she said. It is a photographer’s paradise. Her 16-year-old son has been capturing the island’s beauty in his photos as well.
The island can be explored by foot, bike, horseback or car. There are trails ranging from easy to challenging back-country adventures where camping is permitted. All wildlife has the right of way. Take pictures, but most important, respect the wildlife and keep your distance.
From Lady Finger Point, you can see Egg Island, a vital nesting ground for migrating and local bird species. To protect the habitat, humans are strictly prohibited from Egg Island.
Burrowing owls can often be seen in the area past the visitor’s center driveway. Bison can be seen almost anywhere on the island as they roam freely about. Pronghorn antelope are indigenous to the island, which is also home to mule deer, bighorn sheep, porcupine, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, owls, bats, chukars, scorpions, lizards, gopher snakes and rabbits, just to name a few.
Bridger Bay has the best beach for swimming when water levels are normal. Parking, restrooms, freshwater showers, and the Island Buffalo Grill are available. With the current drought condition, it is a mile walk from the beachfront to the water.
Buffalo Point Trail is a favored location for a half-mile hike with a gorgeous view. Buffalo Point has a public telescope, picnic tables and restrooms. Park visitor AnDrea Nez completed the Buffalo Point Trail. While at the top, she paused to take pictures of her daughter and the sunset reflecting in the lake. “I feel that there is a sacred connection between this island and the heavens. There is such peace here. I feel it every time I come,” she said.
Below Buffalo Point you can travel to White Rock Campground. Antelope Island is an International Dark Sky Park, and White Rock is ideal for viewing the night sky. Bring a telescope if you have one, or come to a Star Party, where astronomers bring huge telescopes and teach you about the constellations.
On the south side of the island, you will find the Fielding Garr Ranch. This is a scenic 12-mile jaunt from the Visitor Center, and the slower you drive, the more scenic it will be.
After calving season in late spring, there can be up to 700 head of bison. The mothers and the calves will stay in groups, while the males tend to be more solitary. The mothers and calves often wander toward the southern ranch areas where they like to gather near one of the 40 freshwater springs before heading toward higher ground to continue grazing. This means they will frequently cross the road.
When asked why she loves coming to Antelope Island, 15-year-old Dentallia Betony answered, “The buffalo of course!” Remember to keep your distance and do not try to pet the fluffy cows!
The trees can contain camouflaged delights. Look closely and you may see a porcupine, or you may be delighted by any number of other species. The flora and fauna are unique, as are the geological features. If you blink you may miss them. Retirees Lynne and Lynn Child enjoy coming to Antelope Island because of its rich ecoscape. “We love the nature and the peace out here, and it is so close to home,” she says.
At Fielding Garr Ranch, the diversity continues. Built in 1848, and standing on its original foundation, the ranch house is the oldest Anglo building in Utah. You can walk through the farm buildings, see the tools that were used, and how difficult life was in the 19th Century.
Native American artifacts found at this site date back 6000 years. The Northwest Shoshone resided on the island until the 1840s.
Events and educational programs are held year-round at the ranch. Manager Carl Aldrich explained the significance of the area. “This is a place where everyone connects. This is the story of the people of Antelope Island.”
To plan an island adventure at Antelope Island State Park, or to see a listing of events, please visit their website.
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