There’s always something to marvel at when you venture outdoors.
Antelope Island State Park, just outside Salt Lake City, has a reputation as a wildlife hotspot— bison, pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, and birds. The best time to find wildlife is in the spring before the heat of summer and swarms of bugs.
Oftentimes, as I find myself now, I am not in places at these ideal times. My opportunity to explore this 42-square-mile island arose on an arid, 100-degree afternoon in late August. I crossed the causeway, greeted by hundreds of shorebirds, hoping for the best despite the heat and bright sun.
The Great Salt Lake water level is at a record low, leaving the harbor bone dry. A sign at Bridger Beach cautions that distances are deceiving and the water line is a one-mile walk across the cracked, scalding sand. Bring water.
Along the Fielding-Garr Ranch Road, bison are plentiful. Herds walk the salt flats where the lake used to be, and lone bulls rest on the hillsides. A single grazing pronghorn buck looked up as I passed by.
The Fielding-Garr Ranch
I drove 15 miles to the south end of Antelope Island Road. It’s too hot for me to enjoy hiking any of the trails. The habitat is grassland with rare trees and little, if any, shade or water. I stopped at the Fielding-Garr Ranch, where a copse of trees creates a birding hotspot. I didn’t hear or see any birds, but I did find wonderfully weathered relics from a time gone by.
Fielding-Garr established the ranch on Antelope Island in the mid-1800s to manage the Church of the Latter Day Saints tithing herd of cattle and sheep. The harsh conditions, isolation, and lack of fresh water deterred many who tried to live here. However, it was continuously inhabited until 1981, when the state bought the land. The Ranch is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nature weathers wood and wire into works of art. The textures, patinas, and patterns are captivating. I wandered here in a state of bliss until I ran out of water.
Despite the name of the island, bison are the stars. They were brought here in 1893 by an entrepreneur who wanted to charge people to hunt them since bison were mostly extinct elsewhere. By the 1920s, hunters on horseback had almost eliminated the herd.
The State of Utah currently manages 550-700 bison in the park. Annual roundups for exams and vaccinations help maintain a healthy herd. Since 100-200 calves are born each year into a disease-free, genetically isolated herd with no predators, some of the bison are sold each year to manage the herd’s size.
Antelope Island is a wildlife-viewing destination. And if bison do it for you, you’ll be deeply rewarded. (One day, I will find a badger!). But if you show up under less-than-ideal conditions, you’ll always find something to pique your curiosity.
If you’re interested in purchasing or licensing any images you see here, please email me: SNewenham at exploringnaturephotos.com, and I’ll make it happen.
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