Mia and I spend an inordinate amount of time on Antelope Island photographing birds so naturally we run across a lot of other folks out there enjoying that wonderful place too – hikers, photographers, campers, swimmers, educational groups and everyday sightseers to name a few. Most of the people who visit the island seem to be considerate of others and mindful of the regulations in place that are meant to make a visit to the island an enjoyable experience for all and protect the natural assets of this jewel in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. There are glaring exceptions though and occasionally (all too often) we see folks doing things that leave us shaking our heads in bewilderment.
I decided to post about this issue in the hope that it might be a reminder to some of the “fringe element” who may be considering a visit to the island that if you flaunt the rules you may pay a price.
Where recognizable, faces have been blurred in these photos. If the image file numbers (seen by passing your cursor over the photo) don’t seem to make logical, sequential sense it’s because I used multiple cameras and lenses for the images.
Last Friday morning as we left Bridger Bay Campground we noticed that this guy in a Jeep had decided to go for a cross-country joy ride across the prairie grasses to get a closer look at a couple of bison, despite the fact that they’re nearly always easy to find right next to the road. In the foreground you can see the flattened grass in his tracks where he left the road.
The previous photo was taken at a longer focal length. In this image taken at a more “normal” focal length you can see that he drove off-road quite a distance to get to this vantage point for the bison.
When we saw him out there we pulled off to the side of the road with our jaws dropped at his brazen behavior. Within seconds we saw a State Parks truck approaching from the east and it turned out to be a law enforcement officer. As he got close I pointed and gestured toward the Jeep (perhaps he had already seen it). As the officer left the road to confront the driver he asked us through his open window “what’s he doing out there?” When we responded that he was apparently watching/photographing bison I could tell by his response that he was incredulous at what he was seeing.
The officer confronted the driver…
and apparently told him to turn around, go back to the road and wait for him. Which he did.
We left the area, traveling toward the north end of the island. Seven minutes later from far away at the top of the hill near the visitors center I happened to look back and see that the officer and Jeep driver were still having a nice little “visit”. I presume that a citation was issued.
I don’t believe that such flaunting of island regulations can reasonably be claimed to have been done out of ignorance. This sign is placed next to the road a very short distance from the entrance to the island.
And this sign is within a couple of hundred yards of where the Jeep driver left the road.
Just before you begin to head south on the road leading to Fielding Garr Ranch you pass through the gate of a large fence with a very conspicuous sign saying that visitors are to stay on either roads or trails on that part of the island. This gentleman apparently felt that such a regulation should not apply to him.
He left his vehicle and the road to approach and photograph a couple of bison that were just out of frame to the left in this photograph. He is not on a trail – the only trail in the area can be seen at the top of the image.
These are the bison he was photographing.
As we pulled away (again in awe at the impertinent behavior of some folks) another State Parks truck came along and stopped next to the photographer’s vehicle. I don’t know if this was an enforcement officer or simply a park employee but the pickup stayed there for quite a while and I assume that he/she waited until the photographer returned and that the photographer received a well deserved lecture on park regulations.
I must admit that I have a difficult time not taking these kinds of behaviors from other photographers personally because it reflects badly on all serious photographers. I’d hate to see park authorities have to tighten the screws on photographers in general because of the boorish and unethical behavior of a few bad apples.
However not all incidents on the island involving boorish and unethical behavior are terrestrial. Last November Mia and I were driving on the road just east of Bridger Bay Campground (in almost the same spot as in the first incident I’ve reported here) when we spotted a couple of planes coming our way at a ridiculously low elevation. As soon as they spotted my pickup (there were no other vehicles in sight early that morning and the campground was empty) they came even lower and deliberately buzzed us. At the time I estimated their elevation at significantly less than 200′. These two planes are souped-up home-made sports jobs (Lancairs) and the noise was deafening. The best analogy I can come up with to explain how loud they were was to imagine you’re traveling on the freeway with your windows down and two bullet bikes or Harleys with no mufflers start to pass you and gun their engines as they’re doing so.
This incident was seriously frightening because they were so low, so loud and they were traveling so fast. As they passed over us and headed toward Bridger Bay we hopped out of my pickup and started taking photos.
This is the second plane.
As we watched we couldn’t believe what we were seeing as both planes banked sharply over Bridger Bay then came back and buzzed us again at an even lower elevation than their first pass. But this time as they approached us both pilots could obviously see our big lenses pointed their way and after they passed over us they skedaddled quickly.
I can only imagine the effect this must have had on the bison and pronghorn that are virtually always present in that bowl of land between the campground and visitor center – not to mention all the birds and possibly coyotes that may have been in the area.
Then in late January of this year we got another rude surprise from the sky. We had just left the island and were traveling east on the causeway just past the “second bridge” when we spotted this plane coming at us. It was following the causeway at an extremely low elevation and very, very close to the road. I’ll try to show you just how close and how low.
In the above photo the darker horizontal line in the background and marked by the red arrow is the causeway and road as it makes a big looping turn toward the mainland. I’m taking the photo from the causeway road. As you can see the landing gear of the plane is significantly below a straight line from my camera to the causeway in the background. Yesterday I estimated the height of the causeway road above the water in that area to be roughly 12 feet. So the belly of the plane is approximately 12 feet above the water and ice here and the wheels about 9 feet.
I’d estimate that as this plane passed by us the right wing tip was roughly 100 feet from my pickup and about 50 feet from the causeway edge.
I took this photo yesterday at approximately the same spot (within 25 yards or so) of where we were parked on the causeway when this incident took place. I used a lens with much more depth of field so you can more clearly see the looping causeway road in the background. The red graphic marks my estimated position of the plane when I took the photo.
After the plane passed us it stayed at a very low elevation as it passed the second bridge. There was no ice near the bridge and that area had lots of waterfowl that were frightened into the air by the very low plane. Here the pilot has already gained significant altitude in order to clear the island.
Another photo from yesterday with more depth of field to show the position of the plane (marked in red) when the previous shot was taken. From here the pilot veered to the right and passed over the first hill just to the right of the visitor center.
I’ll end this long post with a couple of related incidents that I’ve reported on before. In March of last year we were camping at Bridger Bay Campground photographing nesting magpies when two cars loaded with adults and children pulled into one of the empty campsites to photograph some nearby bison. Most of those folks stayed in the protected and relatively safe confines of the campsite but this lady decided she wanted some close up shots of one of the bison with her point and shoot. The first bison was turned at a poor angle for light (as you can see) so she walked by that animal within about 6 feet of it to get at the second bison which is just out of frame to the right.
This was simply a crazy thing to do. These huge creatures are unpredictable and incredibly fast for their size. If this bison had taken exception to her invading his space she would most certainly have been severely injured or even killed and the bison most likely would have been destroyed.
Then a second lady from the same group, apparently inspired by her companions “bravery”, followed her friend and passed just as close to the same animal to get at the better photo op. At least this woman had the presence of mind to keep her eye on the bison as she passed so close she could almost reach out and touch his rump.
I remember my heart pounding in fear as I watched this potential drama play out and I ran over to the men in their group at the campsite and quickly explained the potential danger the women were in but they didn’t really respond and seemed to dismiss my concerns as groundless. In the end nothing happened and the ladies returned safely to their group. This time…
So we left the campground and headed north looking for birds. As we got to almost the same place where I took the 6th image in this post (#1845) I happened to scope the campground almost a mile away with my telephoto to see what had become of the original group in the campsite and was horrified by what I saw. I watched this person (someone else who wasn’t with the original group) walk up to within just a few feet of the bison with the apparent purpose of getting (once again) some close up shots with a point and shoot camera. Suddenly the bison wheeled around with its tail up in aggression and charged the man. Here he is running toward his car just out of frame to the right, with the bison hot on his tail. Thankfully the bison, seeing the man run away, gave up the chase – a case of Bison bison being smarter than Homo sapiens.
With both of these incidents occurring within just a few minutes of each other, we’d had enough and headed for our camper. Can’t remember if I poured a stiff drink when I arrived but if I didn’t I should have…
I sometimes wonder how often other photographers witness behaviors like these when they’re out shooting, thinking that perhaps they’re more common at a relatively isoloated and fairly remote location like Antelope Island than they are in more populated areas. I’d be interested in any feedback about that you’d care to share.