The Great Salt Lake presents an opportunity to view many unique wildlife habitats in a panoramic landscape that is unlike any other place on earth. The Great Salt Lake is the remnant of a gigantic ancient ocean that has disappeared over time as the land mass rose to a high elevation. As the water level of the Great Salt Lake fluctuated, the outlying areas become dry salt beds and salt crust peninsulas now link some of the islands to the shoreline. Antelope Island is one such place and this State Park is well worth checking out, even on an overcast winter day.
Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake and it is located near Salt Lake City. The southtern shoreline turns west near Salt Lake City, so Antelope Island can be viewed anywhere from up north near Ogden to west of the city along the Interstate Highway 80 corridor.
Back in the 1840s, the Fremont Expedition was led by the legendary mountain man, Kit Carson. Fremont and Carson made peace with the local natives in the Great Salt Lake area and their interest peaked when they heard stories about hunting on island at the southeastern end of the lake. When the hungry explorers learned about the island, they almost immediately set off across the salt crust peninsula in search of easy prey. The trek across the salt crust was treacherous by horseback, but they somehow made it across. The stories of abundant wild game were true and after bagging a Pronghorn Antelope, they were so happy to get food in their belly that they named the island after their first kill.
As mentioned earlier, the salt crust peninsula to Antelope Island was accessible only when the water in the Great Salt Lake dropped below a certain level. This means that plenty of animals were landlocked on Antelope Island between years of drought and wet weather. Antelope Island has a few mountain peaks, but most of the island is covered with grassy plains and meadows. This means that this large island is capable of sustaining plenty of wildlife.
Even way back in the late 1800s, everybody agreed that Antelope Island was such a special place that is needed to be preserved for future generations. Many people sought to give Antelope Island the National Park status, but the efforts fell short of the mark due to local ranching and mining industry pressure. Eventually the State Of Utah successfully purchased one large tract of land after another till Antelope Island could be given the protection of Utah State Park status. Antelope State Park definitely is a model for all public conservation efforts nationwide.
In modern times, visitors no longer have to make the perilous journey across the salt crust peninsula to get to Antelope Island. In the 1960s, a long causeway was built that connected the island to the mainland. Rock was quarried from Antelope Island for both the causeway and to raise the land for the nearby Interstate Highway 80 project. As folks soon found out, raising the land a few feet for a roadway was not enough, because a few years later the level of the Great Salt Lake rose and the causeway road was submerged. The locals then gave the causeway “The Road To Nowhere” nickname.
During the time that it took to rebuild the causeway, access to Antelope Island was closed and the landlocked wilderness area returned to its natural state. The herd animals that had been depleted by too much hunting were restocked. The bison herd that was introduced in the early 1900s proved to be valuable breeding stock that helped this majestic species survive in other regions of the west. In fact, the bison herd project was so prolific that the herd had to be culled, so other herd species like Mountain Sheep, Pronghorn and Mule Deer could survive after being reintroduced.
The drive to Antelope Island is easy to navigate from Salt Lake City. The Antelope Island Visitors Center is the best place to find information about the scenic spots in this State Park and it is located at the end of the causeway. There are several historic points of interest to be found and the unique wildlife habitats can be accessed either direction that one travels on the scenic drive loop.
Antelope Island is a beautiful place to visit during the winter months. The tall snow capped mountains that surround the Great Salt Lake provide a panoramic backdrop for nearly every view of the grassy meadows where the buffalo roam. Visitors do not have to go far to see one species of wildlife after another on Antelope Island. As can be seen in the slideshow photos, bison and Mule Deer were out in great numbers. I spotted a coyote hunting for small game and photographed a few magpie birds in flight. Everything from porcupines to pika can be seen moving around in the rock outcrops, while seagulls, terns and wading birds fly into view long after their calls are heard.
The view of the vast Great Salt Lake at the northern end of the island is enough to let visitors know just how small the world they came from really is. The waves and the salt air can cause the imagination to roam and before long, reminding oneself that this is not a seaside resort in a foreign country is necessary, especially on a chilly overcast winter day. The majestic snowcapped mountain backdrop on the mainland even looks like somewhere in Alaska after a while. A trip to Antelope Island in the winter will take a visitor to places that they never imagined that they would ever experience!
The only let down that I experienced at Antelope Island was when I discovered that every photo that I shot that afternoon was captured while my Nikon D-90 SLR Camera was on a custom setting for night time fireworks shows. At first, I thought that the photographs were a complete loss. Every photo was jet black and it took many hours of photo editing to get the exposure level to a range that looked like the photos were taken shortly before dusk, which was the time I was there. Plenty of photos suffered from what looked like excess noise. Initially I debated whether to publish the photos at all, but the effect from the dimmed exposure created an interesting effect, which enhanced the Antelope Island experience on an overcast winter day. There really is something special about Antelope Island and the mode of the recovered photos does prove this point.
When visiting Salt Lake City, be sure to try to keep the “National Park that almost was” in mind! Antelope Island has always been revered as a very special place throughout history and the trek to this wilderness area is well worth putting on the lifetime bucket list. Touring Antelope Island State Park when the snow covers the landscape definitely will offer some dramatic views!
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