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Island retreat: Untouched beauty found on Antelope Island

By Cassidy Warren for The Daily Herald - | Jul 13, 2014
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Mountain biker on Antelope Island stops for a moment. Along the mutiple-use trails for hiking, biking and horseback rideing are many vistas of the island shoreline and the vastness of Great Salt Lake. 

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In spite of its name, Antelope Island's most popular wildlife is the herd of about 500 bison. It is one of the largest publicly owned bison herds in the United Sates and is recognized as one of the oldest herds in the nation. 

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A ranch house on the east side of Antelope Island. 

With a seven-mile stretch of road ahead of me and my downtown student life behind me, I was already beginning to feel liberated and re-engaged into life again.
 
Surrounded by the Great Salt Lake, I drove into the indigo-speckled mountains in the distance; a brilliant beginning to a sublime afternoon. I had great tunes in the stereo, a friend for good company, a camera and my white compact car; and perhaps best of all, I left my text books at home.

The inspiration for my little venture to Antelope Island came on a dreary afternoon in a crowded coffee shop in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City.

A few of my girlfriends and I were sitting around a table discussing the upcoming weekend, which was to include a some live music, textbook brain frying, and, of course, more coffee. I heard the screaming of the espresso machine as more and more $4 lattes were being sold and people rhythmically calling their usual specialty.

Rolling my eyes, I began to feel a little lackluster as I stared into my own foamy drink. I felt an itch to do something different. It was that kind of itch that drives you crazy, like that unreachable one in the center of your back that is too far down for the arm reaching up and too far up for the arm reaching down. And so to satisfy this desperate itch, I needed fresh air.

I found Antelope Island to soothe this kind of agitation that results from being cooped up in the cell of mid-semester student life. It is for those looking for a relaxing, beautiful afternoon. A girls-day-out for me, but it is also a great place to bring a date or a group of friends.

I brought along my camera for capturing pictures of wildlife, plants and the sunset. We had not driven five minutes on the paved causeway when we began to see wildlife. A large flock of birds gathered in a patch of water in the vast lake. My friend and I, along with other bird watchers stared, almost hypnotized, by their rhythmic sounds that accompanied the rippling movement of the flock.

Located on the north end of the island is the visitor center. Having been at least five years since either of us had been to Antelope Island and unsure of where some good trails might be, direction was necessary.

The visitor center offers information regarding history of the island and the Great Salt Lake, geographic and wildlife facts, island facilities and maps. Other features of the visitor center includes a bookstore, amphitheater, exhibits, park guides to offer advice and answer questions, and quality restrooms — with flushing toilets, stalls and soap. It served as a great starting point to orient us to the island, but considering that this trip was to get us out and into the fresh air, we did not spend a lot of time inside.

We decided to begin our adventure on the Buffalo Point trail to hike, which was recommended by the park guide. It is short but offers a great view of the island.

Wildlife is plentiful on Antelope Island, being isolated and protected by the state, it serves as a refuge for the animals. A spotty group of brown mounds in the distance were soon discovered to be a small herd out of the 500 American Bison that inhabit the island.

Numerous tiny cotton-tailed rabbits popped out of a burrow and disappeared into the rocks as quickly as they were spotted.

Antelope Island is also inhabited by bighorn sheep, mule deer, badgers, lizards, mice, snakes and of course the pronghorn antelope that gives it its name.

Tips for spotting the wildlife include speaking quietly and your most stealth hiking. Binoculars are also recommended. Coming in a large merry group is fun but the added noise may limit your wildlife viewing since you could scare the animals away.

I however am not stealth and romped around the trail, chatting and laughing, and was perfectly satisfied with my experience.

I came across numerous friendly hikers, young guys who allowed me to snap their picture, couples on dates and parents with their kids.

With such a variety of trails offered by the island, boasting at least 11 trails varying in length from 0.3 mile one-way trails to 11.4-mile loop trails, each varying in difficulty, there is a hiking trail for the beginner and for those looking for more of a challenge.

Easier hikes, like the Buffalo Point trail, is great for first time dates since it’s fun and light and there will not be any chance that you will embarrass your novice hiker date or maybe even yourself!

Antelope Island offers more than just hiking. It’s also perfect for biking, camping, boating, sailing, kayaking, canoeing and horseback riding are other activities to try.

If you are the equestrian type, big open spaces are great for loping with your horse. Picnicking and group pavilions are available on the island for use. The Buffalo Point bistro offers food for those who did not pack a lunch, souvenirs, and wildlife safari tours by reservation only.

My friend and I enjoyed simply taking photographs on our hike. The pinnacle moment was when we reached the top of Buffalo Point right as the sun began to set over the lake, creating a stunning yellow glow.

I was surprised by the fun I had on Antelope Island and by how easy and quick it was for me to get there. With the island being just a 45-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City, it is an inexpensive and relaxing retreat.

Whatever activity you decide to do and whether you go solo, on a date, or in a group, Antelope Island is a fun afternoon or weekend retreat to reconnect with nature and friends.

Antelope Island

Directions: Heading North on Interstate 15, take exit 332 and then drive west on Antelope Drive to the park entrance.

Cost: $9 per vehicle and $6 for cyclists and pedestrians. $13 for camping

Park Hours: November-February, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; March, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; April, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; May-September, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; October, 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

More info: (801) 773-2941, 4528 W. 1700 South, Syracuse

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