Saturday, November 24, 2018

Plains Bison - Antelope Island

Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. It is 42 square miles: 14.9 miles long and 4.8 miles wide at its widest point. It has a mountainous central spine with the high point being Frary Peak, with an elevation of 6,596 feet, 2,500 feet above the Great Salt Lake. John C. Fremont and Kit Carson gave the island its name in 1845, just a few years before the Mormons arrived, in honor of an antelope they shot and ate there. 

The Mormons controlled the island from 1848 to 1870 when it was sold to John Dooly who established the Island Improvement Company. 12 bison were taken to the island by boat by Dooly in 1893. The State of Utah purchased the northern part of the island in 1969 from the Island Improvement Company and the southern part, including the Fielding Garr Ranch, in 1981. Antelope Island State Park was formed that same year. The bison herd is kept at numbers between 550 and 700, the amount deemed sustainable. Extra bison are rounded up each year in October and sold, some to be transported to live elsewhere and some are slaughtered for meat. 
Antelope Island is accessed by a seven mile long causeway from Syracuse, near Hill Air Force Base. When the water level is low, like it was when Andrew and I visited in November, the island basically becomes a peninsula.  
The Fielding Garr Ranch is 11 miles south of the causeway on the east side. That is where the paved road ends. A dirt road continues on for a ways. About a half mile south down the dirt road is a parking area for the 5.6 miles Sentry Trail. About a half mile up the trail, which is a dirt road, is Mushroom Springs, a series of springs which were mostly dry when we visited. Andrew spotted it on the map and asked if we could hike to it. It was a nice choice because we saw a herd of about 40 bison to the south, a smaller herd of about 13 bison near the spring, and a lone bull above the spring. 
Small bison herd with the Wasatch Range in the background. The white in the background is salt flats where the water in the Great Salt Lake has evaporated. 
The same herd with a different view. 
One of the springs has been turned into a nice guzzler, with continuously flowing water surrounded by rocks. Large goldfish or small koi live in the water and presumable keep the algae down. 
The guzzler surrounded by large rocks and gravel. 
Herd near the guzzler.
The solitary bull came down while we were there and we ended up being between it and the small herd. He seemed a little agitated and let out a series of quite loud grunts (see this Youtube video of a grunting bison). There was a solitary Russian olive tree which I found sanctuary under in the event that the bull decided it didn't like me. 

View from under the tree. 
The solitary bull went to one of the dry springs and rolled around in the dirt. He walked right by the tree I was under, near the small herd, then retreated again. 
Bull rolling in the dry spring.
The dust still flies as it gets back up.
The same bull rolling in a different place, in the grass. I'm viewing from the hoped for safety of the Russian olive tree.
The bison are a real treat and make Antelope Island a fun destination. 


  1. I'm not sure how a thin-trunked olive tree is going to protect you. Were you planning on climbing it? I think it must have been fun to have a Fremont/Carson experience. I wonder if they needed an olive tree.

  2. There weren't bison on the island when Fremont and Carson were there, plus they had horses and guns.