One of our RVing friends suggested we visit Antelope Island while we were in the Salt Lake City area. It was about a 45 minute drive from our campground so we decided to dedicate one of our days to visit the island.
Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. The Great Salt Lake is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. The lake is a remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville which covered more than 20,000 square miles of land during the Ice Ages. Water flows into the lake from four rivers, carrying 2.2 million tons of minerals into the lake each year. Great Salt Lake has no outlet so water leaves only through evaporation, leaving high concentrations of minerals behind. The salinity of the water is too high to support fish and other aquatic life, however brine shrimp, brine flies and algae thrive in the lake. Because of the brine shrimp and flies, there are millions of migrating birds feeding off this food source. Nearly 80% of Utah’s wetlands surround Great Salt Lake, making its ecosystem one of the most important resources for migratory and nesting birds in North America. The area has over 250 bird species with six to nine million birds migrating through each year.
The island is home to free roaming herds of bison, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep as well as coyotes, bobcats, badgers and birds of prey. While on the island we saw plenty of bison, one antelope, two mule deer, a hungry looking coyote and a ton of birds. Antelope Island has more than 40 major freshwater springs that produce 36 million gallons of water each year which supports the wildlife and vegetation. Twelve bison were brought to the island in 1893. Today there is a herd of between 500 to 700. In the fall some of the bison are rounded up and sold to national and state parks and ranches. The pronghorn antelope are native to Utah and the island. They are the fastest animals in North America and can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.
Antelope Island comprises 28,022 acres and is 15 miles long and 4.5 miles across at its widest. The oldest rocks on Antelope Island are some of the oldest anywhere in Utah. Canyon rocks on the island are 1.7 billion years old which are the same age as rocks found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Artifacts tell us that prehistoric people inhabited the island more than 6,000 years ago. John Fremont and Kit Carson explored the island in 1845 and named the island after observing several pronghorn antelope grazing. The first permanent residence on the island was established in 1848 and is Utah’s oldest Anglo built structure still standing on its existing foundation.
The beauty and wildlife of Antelope Island was beyond our expectations and it took us much of the day to see it all. We even found two geocaches there!