Antelope Island Bison Round-Up

Let's be honest here.  I really like my new Park Manager job, but it definitely feels less 'adventure-y' than when I was working out at Goblin Valley (ie. fewer SARs, more paperwork.)  But every once and a while the stars align and the job is an adventure again.  This weekend is a perfect example -- I went up to Antelope Island State Park to help with their annual bison roundup, then spent the afternoon exploring the park.  Supercool.

 If you pull out a map of Utah, you'll see AISP -- it's the huge island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.  The park is really close to the urbanized Wasatch Front, but crossing the causeway takes you into a totally different world full of bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and gazillions of shorebirds.  AISP is part of the 'Basin and Range' geologic province, and contains some of the oldest rocks in Utah.  We definitely aren't in canyon country anymore ...

I spent Saturday helping out with the bison check-up, which was incredible.  I've seen bison from a distance before, but it was totally different to watch them up-close.  At the risk of stating the obvious, they're HUGE.  They seem like remnants from the Pleistocene -- big, stinky, powerful, and quintessentially American.

Bison were first boated over to Antelope Island in 1893.  The initial group of 12 grew to over 600 animals, making it one of the biggest and oldest publicly-owned herds in the country.  The bison don't have any natural predators on the island, and left to their own devises they'd quickly exceed the island's carrying capacity.  In order to keep the rangeland habitat healthy, the herd is culled every fall.  The bison are rounded up, corralled, and given a check up.  Excess bison are sold.  The Island's bison are really healthy and have a rare genetic makeup, so they're often purchased to improve the genetic diversity of other herds.

That afternoon, I snuck away to explore the island.  I had good intentions of camping and spending a couple days in the park, but the forecast looked nasty the next day (80% chance of snow!?) , so I ran around trying to see as much as possible in a couple hours.  I hiked up to the top of Buffalo Point to get an expansive 360 degree view of the Island and the Great Salt Lake.  I really like the subdued colors and textures of this place -- it's so different from the red-rock deserts of southern Utah.  And the Great Salt Lake is surreal.  It's much saltier than seawater -- it has no watery outlet so when the water evaporates all the minerals stay behind.  Depending on the lake's level, the salinity can range from 5-27% (for comparison, the ocean is around 3.5%,) and that increased buoyancy means you float really easily.  No fish can swim in its supersalty water, but gazillions of brine shrimp make fantastic food for shore birds. The whole places is really unique and bizarre.  (Check out the Summer of Salt blog for more writers who are enamored with the Great Salt Lake.)

To get to Antelope Island State Park, head to 4528 West 1700 South, Syracuse, UT.  It's about 41 miles north of Salt Lake City.  Take Exit 332 off Interstate 15, then drive west on Antelope Drive to the park entrance gate.  Day use is $10 (+ a $3 causeway fee.)  Make camping reservations at reserveamerica.com.

 

map credit:  www.stateparks.utah.gov