When I hear the word bison, I immediately think of Yellowstone National Park. Large herds of bison roaming the snow-covered grasslands, plowing their heads through the snow to reach the frozen vegetation underneath. But I’ve discovered there are several other locations across the US to view wild bison, such as Montana, Kentucky, California, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah.
Just east of Syracuse, Utah, about 30 minutes north of downtown Salt Lake City, is a wonderful place called Antelope Island State Park, a mountainous island surrounded by the Great Salt Lake, and connected to the mainland by a 7-mile long causeway, the original sandbar, the only link to the island. Antelope Island is home to a free-roaming herd of 500-700 bison. The lowlands of the island are covered in a shrub-steppe habitat which offers a variety of vegetation for the 1,000-2,000-pound herbivores to forage on.
My daughter and I spent the afternoon on the island while she was attending her online courses. Not far past the visitors center, we found several bison resting and grazing among the shrubs and grasses, a safe distance from the edge of the road. It was so exciting and felt like we were in our own mini Yellowstone! We didn’t have 2 feet of snow but it was barely above freezing and we could see the bison’s exhaling breath as he slowly moved among the shrubs.
A cyclist we had passed earlier stopped by our car and asked if he could ride alongside our car when we were ready to move on because the bison were now at the edge of the road. Bison are quite unpredictable and are known to suddenly charge for no apparent reason so I was more than happy to assist him in getting past the bison safely.
Adult bison are the largest mammals in North America, measuring 6 feet tall at the hump, and 9 feet in length, roughly the same size as most cars. And don’t forget their 2-feet long sharp horns. Given their massive size, they are still able to run up to 40 miles per hour. Bison use their heavy heads as snowplows in deep snow and swing it side to side while grazing the shrub-steppe and grasses. They get the strength needed to move their 50-75-pound head from the large pile of muscles in the hump that stretch over the shoulders.
Antelope Island covers 28,000 acres and is 15 miles long and 5 miles wide. Exposed rocks on the southern end of the island are 17 billion years old, the same age as rocks in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. While the bison don’t wander into the upper mountains, they can be found along the base, grazing on the grasses.
As the sun begins to set, the pink sky glows on the snow-covered Wasatch Range behind us. As we start our return drive across the causeway, we see a bald eagle sitting on the frozen lake. An afternoon on the island was the best school day for my daughter, and it was a great afternoon for viewing bison, too.