Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Antelope Island State Park, Utah

Out in the Great Salt Lake is an area of the Great Basin that is not quite like the typical sagebrush, juniper covered basin and range.  Antelope Island State Park, Utah is one true place of beauty and oddities.

The island is reached through the Great Salt Lake via a causeway from Syracuse, Utah about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Once you get to the island one of the first things to see is the bison herd. One of the Wests "free roaming" herds of about 600 to 1000 bison call the mountain island home. They can be found throughout the island grazing in alone or in small herds.

From Antelope Island you can see the vast expanse   of the Great Salt Lake in all directions. Off in the distance are the Wasatch Mountains a sub range of the Rockies.

Antelope Island has been used by various people for thousands of years. First, American Indians utilized the island for game and fresh water from the natural springs that come out of various places throughout the island.

When the Mormons arrived in 1847 they soon to began to have an impact.  The island was used for ranching for many years.  

One ranch remains on the south end of the island and is maintained by the State of Utah.  The ranch has an old ranch house, a barn with artifacts of early 20th Century ranching life, a picnic area, and plenty of areas for exploration.

Antelope Island was turned over the The State of Utah in the early 1980s. Surrounded by the Great Salt Lake the island maintains a unique desert environment.  Sometimes though in drought years the island can be reached by land as the lake has dried up enough to actually make the island a peninsula, a mass of land surrounded on three sides by water.

The island derives its name from herds of Pronghorn, which are of the sheep family, but not true antelope. They live on the island along side the buffalo.  The bison are not native to the island but were introduced by concerned conservationists about the mass slaughter of the plains bison that occurred in the 19th Century.

The herd has been maintained ever since by both private and now Utah State. Each year the bison are rounded up and herded into a corral area on the north of the island for immunization, the sale of excess animals to public and private interests, and to individuals for slaughter. This is done because the ecosystem of the island can only sustain a certain number of buffalo at any given time and also to keep the genetic stock fresh.

The topography of the island is wetlands near the Great Salt Lake, plains and foothills ascending toward the mountain peak.  A variety of microclimates exist on the island due to the Great Salt Lake moderating the weather of an otherwise hot summer and cold winter.

Antelope Island is truly a desert within a desert. Its unique isolation, its moderated climate, its topography from rock outcroppings to dunes on the northeast give the island a variety of landscapes unique to areas of the Great Basin.

The beauty of the desert is that things are not always what they seem. A desert can be hot in the summer, cold in the winter, have varying degrees of climate and wildlife.

The top predators on the island are probably the bobcat and the coyote, though some do suspect cougar may be present.

Lake Bonneville receded thousands of years ago leaving behind the Great Salt Lake and a basin and range type of province.  The eastern Great Basin has more temperate climate than the central Great Basin due to the  Wasatch Mountains and their weather regulation.  Antelope Island takes that a step further by extending the non frost season longer than other areas around the Wasatch Mountain Range.

I hope to go back and camp in the dunes again like I did as a child. This is one place to get away from civilization and still be able to see it or get to it across the Great Salt Lake. Antelope Island is truly worth exploring for the desert enthusiast.


  1. I can't believe I had lived in Utah those many years and had never been there! That's one place we need to go back to and do some exploring. We were pretty rushed when we went before.

  2. I believe this is the only "zone 8" area in northern Utah!

  3. I must admit. It surely makes a strong case for a 7b and 8a.


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