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A Day Trip in Antelope Island State Park

We spent the President's Day long weekend in Salt Lake City this year. Long-time Southern residents from Georgia do not get much chance to play with the snow, so needless to say that we were excited and looking forward to the unique environment of the great salt lake.

 

The first day trip was the Antelope Island State Park. Nestled in the heart of Utah's Great Salt Lake, this park stands as a testament to the resilience of nature amidst the stark beauty of a saline desert. This unique ecosystem, a haven for a diverse array of wildlife including the majestic bison, starlings, chukars, and various predatory birds, unfolds across a landscape where flora and fauna have ingeniously adapted to the high salinity of its surroundings. The bison, in particular, play a crucial role in this ecosystem, acting as natural landscapers that help maintain the health of the grasslands. Their grazing is essential for a variety of plant species and provides habitats for other wildlife, highlighting the interconnectedness of the park's inhabitants. The park offers visitors a rare glimpse into the delicate balance of life in one of the most unusual environments on Earth, showcasing the intricate web of relationships that sustain it. From the serene expanses of the Great Salt Lake to the rugged beauty of its hills and plains, Antelope Island State Park is a captivating destination for nature enthusiasts seeking to explore the untamed and the unexpected.

 

It was a chilling late morning when we arrived at the park. The admission was $15 per car. Maybe it was not the busy season or maybe it was a Friday, we didn't see many visitors. Perhaps 4 vehicles at most for the entire day. It was raining on and off, and the park simply laid its tranquil wilderness in front of us.


I did a quick watercolor by the tranquil lake

 

The first thing you would see, of course, were the bisons. They were everywhere. Chewing in the grassland, licking rocks, pooping, or simply lying there. The island is surrounded by the great salt lake. A vast wintery grassland with barren rocks. Yet it was beautiful and even colorful. Among the dry sagebrush, there were bright colors of lichens growing on the rocks, or even the branches. Bright white snow from the other side of the lake, casting their shadows in blue water.

 


colorful lichen

There is no fish in the salt lake. But it is not dead. The Great Salt Lake, a remnant of the ancient Lake Bonneville, is an iconic natural wonder of Utah, characterized by its vast, shimmering expanses of highly saline water. This unique ecosystem serves as a critical habitat for a myriad of species, including the brine shrimp and the algae upon which they feed, forming the base of a food chain that supports millions of migratory birds each year. These tiny brine shrimp, though not visible to the naked eye, play a colossal role in the ecosystem, providing essential nutrients to a variety of bird species that rely on this habitat for survival. Around its shores, a stark yet beautiful landscape hosts specialized flora and fauna adapted to the saline and arid conditions, creating a biodiverse tapestry of life in what might seem an inhospitable environment. The lake's ever-changing conditions, influenced by water levels and salinity, dictate the rhythm of life here, making it a dynamic study in survival and adaptation. As the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, the Great Salt Lake is not only a vital ecological stronghold but also a place of profound beauty and scientific interest, drawing visitors and researchers alike to its shores.




While driving towards the entrance of the park, we started seeing large groups of aqua birds nearby. There was a hawk standing on a pole too. When we were hiking in the rocks, we clearly heard coyotes' howling.

 

a chukar crossing road

Then there were birds. The gorgeous western meadowlark welcomed us using their crisp singing that kind of echoed in the raining air. The males had vivid yellow and black "scarf" colors, but they can be surprisingly invisible once they decide to hide from you in the sagebrushes. We were lucky that there were not many tourists in the park, so animals were paying less attention to us. A chukar with her baby hurriedly walked into the bush when our car approached.


A handsome Western Meadowlark

 

By the lake bank, we saw a herd of bisons hanging there. Amazingly, when I used my binoculars to watch them, I saw a large school of starlings on the bisons. They either rode on bison's back and flew around them. Were they picking the parasites off bisons like what we saw on documentary TV shows? I never knew starlings would do that too.

 

starlings on a bison

My favorite scene is a tree full of starlings with the snow lake background. It was dusk time. Clouds turned into a dreamy rosy color. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them landed on a couple of big old trees. They let out a kind of digital sound and jointly played a chorus. Usually, I thought starlings were loud and not vocally pleasant. But this time, their song was strangely soothing and brisk. It was truly amazing.


starlings

 

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a soft glow over the tranquil landscape, our adventure in Antelope Island State Park came to a close. This journey not only fulfilled our longing for snow but also deepened our appreciation for the resilience of nature. Amidst the silent expanse of the Great Salt Lake, we were reminded of the delicate balance that sustains life in such a stark environment. As we left the park, the memories of the starlings' soothing chorus and the gentle gaze of the bison lingered, a testament to the unexpected beauty and complexity of nature's ecosystem. In this serene wilderness, we found a connection to the natural world that was both profound and moving, leaving us with a sense of awe and a renewed respect for the delicate interplay of life.

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