Antelope Island State Park Its early exploration & natural features

By Ryan Spelts



JC Fremont
Kit Carson


Imagine the wonder John C. Fremont and Kit Carson experienced in the 1840’s when they explored and mapped much of the West which assisted in the massive immigration into the now Western United States. When Mormon Settlers came to Northern Utah, they weren’t the first to discover and inhabit Antelope Island and its vast surroundings. John C. Fremont had discovered and mapped the island when he and his group of explorers drifted into the Great Salt Lake from the Weber River. Their boat had a leak and they found land on Fremont Island. Kit Carson was Fremont’s companion and he even carved a cross in a rock at the highest point of Fremont Island. Two years later Fremont and Carson rode horses across the shallows to find several herds of antelope on another island. Likely hungry from eating light traveling rations, they were grateful for the bounty they experienced after eating some of them; and in honor of the food they had received they named it Antelope Island.

It is fascinating to me to read about these explorer’s work in Utah. I grew up in Las Vegas, with names like Fremont Street and Carson City, much of our history lessons were tied to these two men. I enjoyed learning about their contribution to Utah’s history as well.

Fremont never mentioned a full time resident of Antelope Island but later in 1847, Mormon Settlers met a trapper named Daddy Stump living on the island. He even helped some of the new settlers to drive cattle onto the island in 1848. In the winter of 1855-56, Stump went missing and was never seen again, presumed dead. The Garr brothers established a ranch on the island and their home was continually lived in until 1981. It was the oldest continually lived in home in Utah up until that point. In 1981 the island was named a State Park.

Today, Syracuse City stands as the gateway to this historic island that is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs. It sits at about 4,200 feet above sea level and the highest point of the mountain is 6,596 feet. Antelope Island is the largest island on the Great Salt Lake at about 15 miles long and 5 miles wide. The island is home to many species of animals–most famously, the Bison, which were brought there in 1893. What started as 12 animals is now 550-700 animals. There are also pronghorn antelope which are native to the island and its namesake. The island also houses mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, badgers and bobcats as well as birds of prey.


The Garr Ranch

Fielding Garr was sent by the Mormon Church to live on Antelope Island and manage the church’s cattle and sheep herds. I cannot imagine being sent to this foreign island, driving sheep and cattle across the shallows of the Great Salt Lake to establish a ranch. Let alone without my wife, not to mention that Fielding had nine children. He built near the Garr Springs which is the strongest of the 40 known springs on the island. The simple Adobe home he built still stands and is the oldest house in Utah that still stands on its original foundation. There are several fun activities that are held at the ranch each year, including a balloon festival, bird watching and even experiencing the demonstrations of what ranch life would have been like in Fielding’s time.


Migratory Birds

The Great Salt Lake is a unique and highly valued lake for the entire western United States. It ranges from 5 to 27% salinity, in comparison the Dead Sea is around 33.7% salinity. The salt comes from two sources. There are 3 major rivers, several minor streams and island fresh water springs that feed the lake but there is not any outlet for the lake. This means the only way water leaves is due to evaporation. This leaves behind the minerals and increases the salinity. However, the largest contributor to the lake’s minearls is the salt that was left behind from the ancient Lake Bonneville.

Though the only life forms that can survive the high salt level are brine shrimp, brine flies and algae, 75% of the wetlands in Utah surround The Great Salt Lake, which makes it a crucial piece of the ecological puzzle. Millions of migratory birds make this area home due to the brine flies which serve as a major food source.


Many opportunities are available on the island. Some of the more popular are trails for hiking, biking (Non-motorized only) and horseback riding. Trail running is also popular. Camping is available in the park’s campgrounds: Bridger Bay, White Rock Bay and Ladyfinger. Guide services are also available for horseback riding and kayaking. It is also a great place to take majestic photography.

We had an interesting Antelope Island experience with some of the boys that I had the opportunity to work with as a Scout Master. We set up camp on the island and were enjoying some mountain biking with the boys. They had to bike a certain distance for a merit badge requirement. The vehicles followed close behind to make sure they were safe and to pick up any boys that couldn’t make it any further. One of the young men was riding out in front of the group speeding down a hill. Unbeknownst to him, a buffalo was running from behind him at an angle and was apparently running straight at him. We all watched in horror as this buffalo seemed intent in plowing this young man over. We honked, yelled and screamed to no avail. The boy didn’t even know it was coming for him but everyone else could see it. Miraculously, the buffalo charged about two feet in front of the speeding bicycle. Of course this startled the young man, but luckily he was able to keep control of his bike and eventually stop. His heart was pounding out of his chest when we pulled up to him. It is a memory that we will always remember and one of warning for those who would try to interfere with the buffalo at Antelope Island–they can be dangerous.

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