Editor’s note: Thank you to Sam for another amazing story from his Utah home. For more tales of Sam’s travels, near and far, click here to visit his index page.
The Great Salt Lake is the largest lake in the United States outside of the Great Lakes and it is from this lake that Utah’s capital gets its name. When visiting Salt Lake City, one of the best half day trips and the place with perhaps the best views of the Great Salt Lake is Antelope Island. At 15 miles long, and 4.7 miles wide, Antelope Island is the largest of ten islands in the Great Salt Lake, and its mountains can be seen from Salt Lake City – plus it is only about a half hour drive from downtown. The history of Antelope Island is also interesting in itself.
The first white explorers of the island were the legendary frontiersmen John C. Fremont and Kit Carson in 1845, who traveled to the island across the Great Salt Lake on horseback (one side is more wet sand than water given the lake’s recession). However, Native American history dates back between 10,000 and 12,000 years according to archaeological evidence. Yet the human history of Antelope Island is a blink compared to the geological history, with rocks on Antelope Island dating all the way back to 2.7 billion years old, some of the oldest in the United States, older than the rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Antelope Island also was important to early Latter-day Saints history with a home, that still stands, being built in 1848, making it the oldest still standing Latter-day Saints home in Utah. It was here that the Fielding Garr Ranch was built in the 1870’s and continued to function for 133 years. The farm helped provide funding for the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which helped converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints afford to move to Utah from Europe. Today, the ranch still stands and gives you an insight into pioneer life in Utah.
Yet what Antelope Island is most famous for is its wildlife. As the name implies, there is an abundance of antelope on the island, which is why Carson and Fremont gave it this name. There are also porcupines, mule deer, bobcats, badgers, coyotes, millions of waterfowl, and even bighorn sheep in the mountains. However, the most famous residents of the island are the American bison herd. In 1893, the owner of the island, John Dooley, saw the slaughter of the American bison and that the species, which once had a population of approximately 60 million, was on the brink of extinction due to overhunting. Dooley took four adult male, four adult female, and four calf bison and brought them onto the island to protect them. Today, the bison number approximately 700 on the island, making it one of six wild bison herds in the United States today and the third largest, all within half an hour of Salt Lake City. These bison are researched and, due to inbreeding, are unique genetically to all other bison. Seeing these massive creatures walk on the beach and stand within twenty feet of your vehicle (stay clear, I saw a car get charged that was too close) is a memorable and beautiful experience.
There are plenty of other activities to do on Antelope Island. When you arrive on the island by driving across a land bridge (there is a $15 state park entrance fee to do so), you are immediately greeted by a booth offering to rent bicycles and electric bikes for you to explore the island if you prefer. There is also a wonderful visitor center on the island with a gift shop, informative and interactive exhibits, and a movie theater with a video about the island’s history. On the island is a restaurant, the Buffalo Grill, and many campsites right on the Great Salt Lake. Being on the Great Salt Lake with its millions of birds is a beautiful experience; however, be weary of the sandfleas and the putrid smell of the countless brine shrimp that call the lake home. On the island itself, there are almost no trees, but rather grassy plains that make their way up steep mountains. In these mountains are phenomenal hikes, but the easiest and perhaps most beautiful is Buffalo Point, which is only half a mile. At the top of Buffalo Point, you will be treated to views of the entire Great Salt Lake, the skyline of Salt Lake City, and the snow-capped Oquirrh and Wasatch Mountain ranges. Additionally, you will get to explore spectacular rock formations on the summit that look like the red rocks of southern Utah – and also from the top you can look below to spot bison.
Antelope Island can be done over a period of several days of hiking or you can explore the highlights in a few hours. If you choose the latter, perhaps consider coupling it with one of Utah’s other nearby attractions, such as the Golden Spike Monument, where the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. Maybe go to the old railroad town of Ogden, only minutes away from Antelope Island, with its old, yet trendy and fun, downtown, or if you have kids, go to Utah’s premier theme park, Lagoon, about 20 minutes away. No matter what, a trip to Antelope Island and the surrounding area is not only a must do while in Salt Lake City, it is a reason to visit Salt Lake City in itself.
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