I’ve met all five Great Lakes, but had yet to see the Great Salt Lake so after a weekend in the High Unitas Mountains in northeast Utah, I skirted around Salt Lake City and approached America’s Dead Sea from the north. My original plan was to drive down Promontory Point, but a park ranger at the Golden Spike National Historic Site (where the Transcontinental Railroad bridged the gap between East and West in 1869) informed me that the road down Promontory Point is private, gated and locked.
“Besides, there’s not much to see down there,” he said. “But isn’t the Great Salt Lake down there?” And he said, “Oh yeah, that. The better place to see the lake is at the Spiral Jetty“. I had no idea what the Spiral Jetty was, but I didn’t ask the ranger any questions about it; I rather like encountering new places without having a picture already in mind. It’s an uncommon experience these days: to go some place you’ve never seen a photo of, or heard a story about. That quickening of surprise, that tickling of the mind, that flashes upon you when you open your eyes to something new in the world. Even after nine years on the road, going new places never ceases to thrill me.
Even though it was too stormy, shallow and stinky to wade in and float, the Great Salt Lake did not disappoint. I had no idea it’s so PINK! Between the pink water and the salty white, foamy shore I felt like we were on the beach on Venus. The dogs were thoroughly confused by the sights and smells. They love to swim, but they wouldn’t go anywhere near the water and they both sampled some foam in their mouths and spit it out in disgust.
A little farther down the road, I found the Spiral Jetty. I had no idea who had built it or why, but it was clearly a monumental work: thousands of tons of rock dropped into a massive counter clockwise spiral leading out into the lake. I had the place to myself for a few hours and I decided to set up camp for the night to catch sunset and sunrise over the lake.
After awhile, a truck with Florida plates pulled up and the driver got out and took a tripod down to the Jetty. His far-off figure appeared animated and excited and I kept catching snippets of his commentary as he spoke into the camera. When he came back up the parking lot, I went over to ask if he knew anything about the spiral and he said, “Well how long do you have? I’m writing a book about this place!”
We ended up hanging out for most of the evening, while Joey told me about his pilgrimage from Miami across the West, seeking obscure “land art” installations in Utah, Nevada and Texas and all about Robert Smithson, the sculptor who created the Spiral Jetty in 1970 before dying in a place crash in 1973 while surveying a site in Texas for another installation.
I often find myself in the right place at the right time and it was just my luck to run into an art historian at the Spiral Jetty! “If you like this place, you should come to the Sun Tunnels this weekend for the Solstice Party,” he said. Sounds like an opportunity to me… stay tuned for a Solstice post!