People tried to have Antelope Island made a national park in the early 20th century. In 1981

People tried to have Antelope Island made a national park in the early 20th century. In 1981

Antelope Island worth a stop

Array

By CAROL PATTERSON

Special to the Advocate

Great Salt Lake’s Antelope Island makes a great stopover for Albertans travelling the I-15 to warmer climates each year.

Not well known outside of Utah, Antelope Island looks like the lyrics to the song Home on the Range come to life.

Buffalo roam; deer and antelope play, and the skies are clear most days.

The island sits in the middle of Great Salt Lake, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi, but saltier than the ocean.

Four rivers drain into the lake, but the only way for water to leave is evaporation.

The result is a saline environment with large numbers of shrimp, brine flies, and algae.

The bugs are a great food source for birds, although not as popular with humans.

On the day I visited, the only comment in the Antelope Island State Park’s guestbook said “Stinky!”

Nearby was a sign warning “Biting flies are very bad on the Island.”

Now before you write off a smelly place with lots of insects as somewhere you would not visit, keep in mind much of year is relatively bug free, and when the bugs hatch, the island is alive with wildlife.

And car windows can keep you away from the bugs while you enjoy the views.

Over 250 bird species are found around Antelope Island, and six to nine million birds migrate through the Great Salt Lake area each year.

On the day I visited, there were several thousand eared grebes, avocets, black-bellied plovers, and other shorebirds, all of them busy resting and refueling before continuing their journeys.

If you like your wildlife a bit larger, your fun will start after you drive the 11-km causeway onto Antelope Island.

The largest of eight major islands on the lake, it is home to deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, Plains Bison, bobcat, and coyote.

The antelope are natural residents, but the bison were introduced in 1893.

Today there are 500 to 700 of them, one of the largest and oldest publicly owned bison herds in the U.S.

Each fall the bison are rounded up for health checkups and the public can pitch in!

I was able to drive surprisingly close to several bulls.

And I saw a few brave souls hiking within a kilometre of these hulking behemoths.

Other activities on the Island include horseback riding, trail running, and photography. There is a scenic drive the length of the island and interesting interpretative displays at the visitor center and Fielding Garr Ranch.

The connection between this landscape and the people of Utah is easily felt as you travel over the island, and it goes back many years.

In the 1840s, crickets almost destroyed Salt Lake City’s harvest. A large flock of gulls devoured the crickets and saved the crops.

Residents were so thankful for the bird’s intervention they made the California gull Utah’s State Bird and after a day on Antelope Island I could appreciate their fondness for the birds.

If you go:

• Take Exit 332 off Interstate 15 and drive 11 km west to Antelope Island State Park Entrance.

• The bison roundup happens Oct. 26 and 27. Each fall, the bison get a checkup and vaccinations, and surplus animals are sent to other facilities or culled. You can watch from the comfort of your car, or rent a horse and participate by registering at http://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island.

• If you like birds, you will love the Great Salt Lake Bird Fest. Held each May, there are dozens of tours and events to choose from, but chose early as they book quickly. www.greatsaltlakebirdfest.com.

Carol Patterson has been speaking and writing about nature tourism and emerging destinations for two decades. When she isn’t travelling for work, she is travelling for fun. More of Carol’s adventures can be found at www.naturetravelgal.com.