Antelope Island State Park on the Great Salt Lake
Antelope Island State Park is located on a causeway on the Great Salt Lake of Utah which contains up to 17 officially named islands, depending on the time of the year and the amount of precipitation. During times of heavy rainfall, several islands completely disappear. During the times of drought, the close-basin lake may drop over two feet, resulting in a shoreline advance of over one-mile.
In 1845 John C. Fremont and Kit Carson came to Antelope Island during their expeditions into the west to survey and explore the regions for further expansion. It has been told that during a stay on the island an antelope was shot for meat and hence the island was given the name in its honor.
John Charles Frémont, known as “The Great Pathfinder
Before the Civil War, Frémont made himself famous after leading four major expeditions into the west as second lieutenant of the Corps of Topographical Engineers. He led the California Battalion during the Mexican-American War, that led to capture the cities of Santa Barbara, Presidio, and part of Los Angeles.
Christopher Houston Carson, better known as Kit Carson
Kit Carson was an American frontier legend, leaving his home in Missouri at the age of 16 to become a trapper and mountain man. He became a wilderness guide, Indian agent and an officer in the U.S. Army. His oftentimes exaggerated life became the subject of novels, but his fearlessness and outdoor survival skills belied his great tenacity. Carson was hired by John C. Frémont to guide him on expeditions that went through Utah and the Great Basin area as well as California and Oregon.
The first Mormon pioneers reached the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847, and not long after, the LDS sent the widower Fielding Garr and his eight children to Antelope Island to run a sheep and cattle operation on the 28,000-acre largest island on the Great Salt Lake. At some point the island sustained over 10,000 sheep that competed heavily with the animals that had given the island its name. Eventually the Pronghorn Antelope would be exterminated from the island and were reintroduced along with Bighorn Sheep in the 1990s.
The ranch was owned by the LDS church for the primary purpose of funding their Perpetual Emigration Fund which helped finance the immigration of European converts to Utah. The Garr family lived on the island into the 1870s when it was acquired by John Dooly, Sr. Dooly formed the Island Improvement Company in 1884 that managed the island until 1981 when the state of Utah purchased it. That year would also be the last year the Garr home was inhabited making the ranch house the oldest Mormon-built home in Utah that is still on its original foundation.
John Dooly, Sr. recognized that the American Bison was rapidly heading toward extinction across the United States frontier. By 1893 there were fewer than 1,000 head of bison in all North America when Dooly decided to import a small herd of 12 bison onto the island. That small herd has now grown to approximately 600 head, making it the oldest publicly owned bison herd in America and making the herd a recognized heritage breeding stock. Annual bison roundups assess the herds health and allows the state to sell off excess stock to help keep the ecological balance on the island.
The island was also once home to elk but with rapid expansion they were wiped out. However, the island now is called home by mule deer, bison, coyote, bighorn sheep, porcupine, badger, bobcat, and millions of waterfowl. For several years a pink flamingo that had escaped from a nearby zoo also enjoyed the briny waters around the island. Of course, along with the millions of waterfowl that call this place home, so do literally trillions of insects that they feed on, who in turn feed on unprotected human visitors.
To protect the health and welfare of the island’s wildlife, and humans as well, travel within the park is restricted to designated roads, trails and beaches. It is also against regulations to harass, touch, feed, collect or otherwise disturb the island’s wildlife. Hunting is permitted with specific authorization.
Antelope Island, known for its scenic beauty, especially in the northwest quadrant of the island at Buffalo Point and White Rock Bay, is surrounded by the Great Salt Lake. The only car accessible method is via the Davis County Causeway peninsula that runs from the tollbooth at the town of Syracuse to the Antelope Island Marina and the Antelope Island State Park Visitors Center.
Fresh water is not readily available on the island, though there are a few natural springs, mostly in the mountainous spine of the island and towards the south end of the island. Water and restrooms are available in the visitor areas of the island where there is a gift shop. There is also a fast-food restaurant, located at Buffalo Point that is open during the main visitor season. Public beaches, a marina and overnight camping areas are available and are very popular on the northern part of the island.
Archeological investigations have discovered prehistoric artifacts on Antelope Island State Park that date the islands inhabitation to more than 6,000 years ago. and that human activity has taken place here for nearly 1,000 years. With the islands approximately forty freshwater springs, the largest and most prolific being on the Garr ranch, and the once abundant wildlife resources, made for reasonable living conditions for Native American people.
HOURS & INFO:
Open Daily 6:00 am – 6:00 pm
Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas
Visitor Center Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Fielding Garr Ranch Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Antelope Island State Park
4528 West 1700 South
Syracuse, Utah 84075
Fielding Garr Ranch:
On the island you can hike, mountain bike or horseback ride along the park’s spectacular backcountry trails to obtain amazing vistas of the Great Salt Lake and islands scenery. There are several primitive campsites on the island that make for a special, star-filled night. Visitors can enjoy a stroll along islands sandy beaches, and you can take a dip in the lake’s extremely salty waters that some say offers great therapeutic benefits.
Nature watching and photography on and around the island are one of the most popular activities. Be sure to observe caution where animals, like the bison and pronghorn antelope tend to congregate. And make sure to wear protective insect repellant to guard against the hordes of insects.
Above, a bronze replica of a grand elk that once raomed the island
Above, a purple thistle that makes for a nice contrast.
The island is home to many species of birds, including a great horned owl who is nesting nearby the Garr Ranch.
The island holds a yearly hot-air balloon festival, around Labor Day. The Fielding Garr Ranch hosts a bison roundup every October. Along with those activities and the rest of what this wonderful island offers, consistently makes this one of Utah’s top bucket list of things to do.
The “toll” price to visit the island is reasonable, about $10.00 per vehicle and well worth adding to your drop in the bucket.
All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use or for signed, high-resolution copies.