Posts Tagged ‘Henry Mountain’

Buffalo (Bison) On The Henry Mountains

Monday, November 11th, 2013
Buffalo - Henry Mountains

A buffalo herd moves across spring grassland

Utah’s Henry Mountain range is home to one of the only free roaming bison herds found on North American public lands. With between 250 and 400 bison at any given time, the Henry Mountains herd are direct descendants of the Yellowstone Park bison, and one of two American bison herds maintained by the state of Utah. Their habitat encompasses the mostly public lands on and very near the Henry Mountains, generally ranging from Blue Bench on the north to Eggnog on the south, and Coyote Bench on the east to Notom Road on the west.

Buffalo - Bison - Utah

A large buffalo bull can weigh over 2,500 pounds.

While the terms buffalo and bison are often used interchangeably, it’s bison that are native to North America. The Henry Mountains bison have shaggy coats that shed during summer, stocky legs, and shorter horns. Their habitat is typically open grasslands or desert lowlands, and they often graze on gently sloped mountains and hillsides (with two major grazing areas). Although bison aren’t typically high altitude animals, the Henry Mountains herd can be found grazing up at all elevations, ranging from 4,800 feet to the 11,500-foot peak at Mt. Ellen.

Buffalo have short legs and despite their weight can still hurdle a six foot fence.

At one time, there were as many as 50 million bison roaming in North America, but they were hunted to near extinction by the end of the 1800s, with the exception of the Yellowstone Park herd. Bison were gradually reintroduced in 1941, with 18 bison set free into Robbers Roost. The following year, five more were added to the herd, and then they moved themselves to grasslands near the Henry Mountains and eventually into the mountain range itself. In the mid-1960s, the population had grown to include about 80 bison. The prairie grasslands, alpine meadows, and even desert scrub have proved to be ideal environments for the bison to thrive, and they have stayed there ever since.

Baby Buffalo - Bison

A mother buffalo and her calf, just after the calf was born.

The Henry Mountains bison are genetically pure, with no evidence of cross-breeding with cattle, unlike other bison herds. In fact, this herd is particularly healthy, with a high natural survival rate and very few natural predators. The biggest issue to date has been competition with local livestock for grazing, so limited hunting is permitted by special license in order to control the population. It is the only hunt-able free roaming heard in the U.S. Although the mountain is capable of supporting up to 400 bison, the state tries to keep the population around 325. Recent population control efforts also include transplanting excess bison to the Book Cliffs, about 100 miles north of the Henry Mountains.

Roamers by nature, the Henry Mountain bison often cover distances of 20 miles a day. You might spy these elusive creatures along the road or kicking up dust in the distance. And if you do, consider yourself lucky. They typically hang out at higher elevations in the spring and summer, then migrate to the lower, western side of the mountain range in fall and winter. The bison tend to graze at dusk and dawn, and rest during the day. They usually breed in summertime, and give birth in the late spring to early summer and that’s usually the best time to spot them. Some of the best areas to look for the bison are Swap Mesa in the winter, Cave Flat/Airplane Springs in the early spring, and Star Flat/Burned Ridge in the early summer. Keep in mind that these animals are truly wild, weighing as much as a ton and capable of running 35 miles per hour, so view them from a safe distance.

Hanksville and Caineville make a great base for exploring the Henry Mountains.  Hanksville is located at the intersection of Highway 24 and Highway 95. The west access to the Henry Mountains is best if you are coming from Capitol Reef National Park.  For more information about the Henry Mountains bison herd, contact the Hanksville BLM office.  Read more about the Henry Mountains here.

Utah’s Unique Henry Mountains

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

The Henry Mountains are a remote mountain range on the Colorado Plateau encompassing about two million acres of rugged backcountry and running about 30 miles from north to south. Elevation ranges from 3,700 feet at the north shore of Lake Powell to a peak elevation of 11,522 feet at Mt. Ellen.  Hanksville to the north is the nearest significant community to be used as an exploration base.

Henry Mountains

A view of the northern section of the Henry Mountains from Scenic Byway 12

A mecca for outdoor recreation, the Henry Mountain range is an ideal destination for hiking, camping, off-roading, photography, hunting and wildlife viewing.  The range is home to one of only four pure bison herds–and the only huntable herd of free-roaming bison–on public lands in North America.  A limited number of hunting permits are issued each year.  In the warmer seasons, the herd of about 500 generally can be found above 10,000 feet in the alpine grasslands along South Summit Ridge of Mt. Ellen.  The mountain range is also home to mule deer, antelope and mountain lions, as well as jackrabbits and other small mammals, game birds, snakes (including rattlesnakes) and rodents. McMillan Springs, Lonesome Beaver and The Horn are excellent sites for wildlife viewing.

Looking to the north from the top of Mt. Ellen on the Henry Mountains.

For sweeping views of southern Utah, try the 4-mile round-trip trail from Bull Creek Pass to the summit of Mt. Ellen.  The trail from Dandelion Flat to Lonesome Beaver is another four-mile hike along a ridge of Mt. Ellen.  Shorter hikes and nature trails can be found near Starr Springs campground and Hog Springs picnic area, both managed by the BLM.  Be sure to inquire about backcountry permits at the BLM offices in Hanksville when planning overnight back-country trips through the Little Rockies, South Caineville Mesa, the Dirty Devil River canyons and Horseshoe Canyon.

Utah Buffalo

Freely roaming buffalo.


This extremely isolated mountain range
is managed by the BLM but they patrol infrequently. When exploring these dry, rugged and remote lands be prepared with food, water and a well-maintained vehicle that is able to navigate the dirt and gravel backcountry roads. While not regularly maintained, they lead to amazing sights well worth the trip such as the desert vistas from Bull Creek, Stanton and Pennellen passes, and views of the Dirty Devil River from Burr Point and Angel Point. Geologic highlights include views of the near-vertical Pink Cliffs of the Grand Staircase, Horseshoe Basin, Little Egypt and of course the Waterpocket Fold on the west side of the mountains.  The Horn offers varying levels of technical climbing.

The Henry Mountain range is divided into two groups by Highway 276.  The northern section peaks at 11,522 feet at Mt. Ellen, with Mt. Pennell a close second at 11,371 feet. The highest peak in the southern group, known as the Little Rockies, is Mt. Ellsworth at 8,235 feet.  The Henry Mountains’ geology is similar to the La Sal and Abajo mountain ranges, characterized by intrusive igneous rock that is said to be 23 to 31 million years old, and embedded in sedimentary rock from the Permian and Cretaceous periods.  More info. – found here.