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Spiral Jetty

There are two things I wanted to see in Salt Lake. One was the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, the other the Spiral Jetty at Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah. Often  misattributed to Andy Goldsworthy, the jetty was built by Robert Smithson in 1970 He died just a few years later. All I knew before seeing it was that it was a huge spiral, 1,500 feet long, 15 feet wide made of 6,000 tons of basalt rock on the northern edge of The Great Salt Lake that appeared and disappeared, depending on the level of the lake. Over the years I had seen photographs of the jetty in various stages of revelation. Submerged for 30 years, an internet check informed me that the jetty appears anytime the lake is below 4,195 feet and luckily for me, the lake was now at 4,191 feet so the jetty would be visible.
The road to the jetty was just one exit north of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on 15 AND, Highway 89 N, hence the name of this blog, 89NorthToNirvana. In my travels I continually intersect and am carried by Highway 89 through some of the United State’s most spectacular country, sometimes as here in Salt Lake, being absorbed by super highways like 15, then meandering off to more interesting and scenic paths. I hope to follow it further north, possibly to the Canadian border (where it changes into ???) in the spring.
Turning off 15, one immediately leaves the plethora of familiar shopping and heads into ranching land. At the little town of Corrine I finally spotted a post office and was able to mail my tax check on the day before it was due. Whew! Continuing west there was a GINORMOUS white building of many acres which turned out to be a Wal-mart distribution center with 20 loading docks and lined up fleets of big rigs. When I returned in the afternoon dozens of rigs would be queued up on the highway for unloading. Driving on, tucked into the canyons were more insanely large (dwarfing the Wal-mart building!) windowless buildings, surrounded by barbed wire fences sporting no trespassing signs and security kiosks. Lots of mining and other extraction industries are going on here as well. There is something a bit sinister about the enormity of these operations that are going on pretty much unbeknownst to the general public, unless you happen to work there or for the BLM.
To get to the jetty one takes the Golden Spike Road to the Golden Spike Historical Monument and Visitor Center, the place where “the golden spike” was driven to connect the east and west bound rail lines, (hence: Union Pacific) finally creating a way to ship freight, especially from China, to the east coast without going all the way around Tierra del Fuego by ship. This was, of course, before the Panama Canal. The golden spike was driven at a huge ceremony and later the actual steel spike was driven into the actual rail some distance away. This major historical event now opened the west to settlement, as well as the complete and obscene obliteration of the bison, native people and a goodly portion of native bird species to feed eastern industrial cities and adorn eastern clothing, notably the passenger pigeon, sage grouse and snowy egret among others, animals which were seen in such numbers it was thought they could never be impacted. Trains stopped, idling for hours to wait for the passing of a buffalo herd across the tracks and birds were seen in their millions. In addition, the drive to complete the railroad left us with the Checkerboard, which is a management nightmare still with us today, nearly two centuries after the fact, and about which I have written previously.I stopped at the visitor center to ask if there happened to be a range specialist there, but no. I had wanted to ask about the marked difference between the grazed land to the west and the ungrazed land inside the park service boundary. The ungrazed land was very different, containing little of the sage scrub on the grazed land. Not necessarily better, but different. Clearly grazing was affecting the land in some way but I was unable to speak to anyone about the meaning of the difference.
Back to the jetty. After passing the visitor center the road turns to gravel and deteriorates badly through fenced ranching land with no trespassing signs. It was slow going, my van hates washboard. Finally the Great Salt Lake came into view. It is so odd to see the salt, the wide strip of red algae, a stripe of shimmering water and then mountains. The colors are weird. Passed some ruins and wondered where was the jetty? Finally cresting a small hill she lay in front of me. The road dead-ends there. It’s quite spectacular. It was mid-day, hazy, the light poor, but what a thing! It’s hard to get the scale from photographs. The actual jetty, made from the surrounding black volcanic rock is at least ten feet wide with an even wider space, varying ten to twenty feet between it’s spirals. I climbed up the hill to get some perspective and try to fit it all in the camera lens.
The hillside is littered with the volcanic rocks and there were two ruined foundations made of same. Mortared with concrete, they were more modern than ancient, but hard to date. No wood to be found, but many people have camped here and probably it has all been burned. A few small birds populated the area. Other than that the only sound was the wind.Not having a good camera day, I ditched it and walked down to the jetty across the salt playa. Footprints abound and someone had playfully created several small imitation spirals. As I walked out I began to get a sense of the scale of the thing andthe unfathomable amount of work that was involved in moving the many, many tons of
stone that create it. Pools of algaed salt water filled it here and there and I slid in the slippery salt mud. On the playa were it was a bit drier the wind had whipped the evaporating salt into ridged patterns.I stayed out there for over an hour. Time had slowed down. Whenever I felt I had “seen it” and started back to the van, I would be distracted by some shape or play  of light and found I didn’t really want to leave. I lost all sense of urgency and noticed that all my anxiety about the terrible road and camera problems had evaporated, replaced by a deep, still calm. It was then that I understood the magic of the place. Aside from the sound of the wind in my ears, it was completely and utterly silent. The space was huge and wide, bordered only by small mountains in the far distance. The palette was soft. But most of all it was the salt. Much more salty than the ocean, and without the noise of crashing waves, the negative ions of the salt and silence had brought my nervous system down many notches to a level of calm that I have rarely experienced.
It was then that I understood the magic of the place. Aside from the sound of the wind in my ears, it was completely and utterly silent. The space was huge and wide, bordered only by small mountains in the far distance.
The palette was soft. But most of all it was the salt. Much more salty than the ocean, and without the noise of crashing waves, the negative ions of the salt and silence had brought my nervous system down many notches to a level of calm that I have rarely experienced. The “Himalayan salt rooms” at spas have never felt like this. The salt lamp in my massage room is like spit in the ocean by comparison. I wished that I had brought my camping gear and next time I will spend the night. I just did not want to go back to civilization, but had a dinner date with a good friend from L.A. who had only just moved to SLC.

Even as I re-read the last paragraph the sense of peace and quiet returns to me. My heart calms. This is the benefit of wilderness. Hasta la vista Spiral Jetty. Until I see you again…

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