While growing up in the excessive heat of Arizona, I often heard about the wonder of summers in Utah Valley. A cool river to tube in, hikes along rivers, and a waterpark at the base of a mountain made Utah Valley sound like a haven during the warm months of the year. Now that I live here myself I have learned about another summer wonder found in Utah Valley: fireflies, also known as lightning bugs. While most commonly found in the Southeast region of the United States, there are opportunities to see fireflies in Utah Valley in spots that have moisture, tall grasses, and dark skies.
No local place in rural Utah is more reliable to see the magical glow than the Thompson Family Farm located in Spanish Fork. Firefly sightings have been documented there as early as 1832 when the Thompson family purchased the land.
As the current owner of the farm, Diane Garcia grows hay and works year-round managing cattle and horses. When the days get warmer, Diane spends a moment each night listening for the sounds of crickets chirping. When their songs begin, Diane knows it won’t be long till her fields begin glowing with the lights of fireflies.
Her family and friends have always enjoyed coming to the farm to see the amazing show of lights. In 2018, Diane wanted to make it possible for anyone to come experience seeing the fireflies on her land.
Organized within a facebook page about the farm, Diane has a list for those wanting to see the fireflies. Working from that list, Diane invites around 30 individuals each night to her property during the few weeks, usually in June, that the fireflies are active.
I was able to participate this year to see the fireflies. The night began with a fireside lesson on fireflies, the farm they live on, as well as some history on Spanish Fork. Once the sun had fully set, Diane led the group of visitors to the best area to see the fireflies. Immediately, the glows of female and male fireflies communicating with each other could be seen around the farm. Kids ran through the fields trying to catch some with their hands while others sat on benches taking in the otherworldly sight. It is magical when the fireflies light up the dark night.
Diane keeps the group smaller both to protect the area that the fireflies live in and to keep the experience peaceful. Since Diane doesn't charge for the experience, the list of those wanting a chance to visit the farm has swelled, with a waitlist several years long. However, those who do volunteer work at the farm are given priority. Diane posts volunteering opportunities throughout the year, and anyone who helps is promised the chance to see the fireflies in the upcoming season.
Recently, she has focused many of her volunteer projects on creating barriers between her property and the lights associated with development in her area. For firefly species, one of the biggest dangers to their survival is competing light. When the sun goes down, they light up to find a partner for their mating season. Interfering lights like a car’s headlights, porch lights on a nearby house, or even lights in a baseball field miles away can confuse the fireflies enough that their fragile life cycle is interrupted.
To try and keep the skies around her field dark during the few weeks that the fireflies are active, Diane has spent countless hours contacting builders, HOAs, and city planners. Diane’s hope is that the fireflies can continue to survive on her fields. From the size of the waitlist to come onto her farm, it is obvious she is not alone with that hope.
Firefly Tours usually run from June each year through early July. This is a great free activity to do in Utah Valley. If you are interested in attending a tour, sign up for the waitlist and keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities that make it possible for you to bypass the line.
For more fun things to do in Utah County, check out outdoor summer adventures in Utah Valley.
For other articles by Hayley, make sure to read Discover Utah Valley's Night Skies This Summer or Unique Stay: Payson Lakes and the Payson Lakes Guard Station.