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Spring/Summer 2008, Volume 24.3


read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] _ vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.


What About a Great Salt Lake Center?

In a recent article published in the Utah newspaper, The Deseret News, Joe Bauman asks why a Great Salt Lake Center has never been implemented. The notion of a center focusing on the Great Salt Lake—an inter-agency, multi-university facility to collect and house data, show artifacts, sponsor research and publish papers about Utah’s inland sea—comes from Richard Goldberger, a Salt Lake City resident who has spent decades studying, musing about and photographing the lake’s environs. In the early 1970s, Goldberger was the entrepreneur behind the independent paper, Salt Flat News. Goldberger would like to call it the Donald R. Currey Center for the Study of the Great Salt Lake, honoring the University of Utah geography professor who died in 2004 after decades of work on Lake Bonneville and its remnant, the Great Salt Lake.

At the time of his death, the University of Utah’s geography department noted that Currey’s "geo-excursions" were immensely popular with undergraduate students.

"As the most dedicated researcher (he loathed the term ‘expert’) of Lake Bonneville, some consider Don’s accomplishment in the Bonneville research the greatest in the twentieth century. His 1990 paper is still the most cited work ever from this department," the University’s tribute said.

The Currey Center would be all-encompassing for Great Salt Lake matters. It would be a clearing house for information about the past, present and possible future of the lake. "You have anything from archaeology to the bombing range," Goldberger said. The bombing range is the Utah Test and Training Range, used by the U. S. Air Force, which extends to part of the lake.

Data would include the history, exploration, wildlife, earthquake faults, the salt flats, cartography, invertebrates like brine shrimp, pollution, hydrology, the nature of the lake’s odd oolitic sand, oil resources, art like the Spiral Jetty and the lake’s importance to birds. "This would cover A to Z in the lake," Goldberger said.

A great deal of research has been carried out concerning the lake, but Goldberger contends, "It’s scattered all over the globe," as many institutions have been examining the lake for decades. Nobody has brought it all together, and the center would do that.

Among the reports in the center’s library would be studies that Dugway Proving Ground carried out in the vicinity when that base was founded in the 1940s. It would have "a massive library" to help decision-makers….

But Goldberger said anyone trying to establish such a center would face big hurdles. He related a comment by a University of Utah official when he first suggested the idea: "Richard, can you give me a check for a million dollars?" That concern is echoed in a comment by Samuel Zeveloff, professor and chair of the Zoology Department at Weber State University, who has an interest in the lake’s wildlife: "Sounds like a great idea. Who’s going to pay for it?" Zeveloff says the lake is one of the world’s few terminal lakes and is a tremendously interesting area. "It’s an invaluable flyway for many shorebirds and, of course, it’s facing various threats…."

Genevieve Atwood, a Salt Lake geologist with a long history of involvement in Great Salt Lake matters—she serves on the State Lands Advisory Board and is on the advisory board of Friends of the Great Salt Lake—has a yes-and-no reaction to the proposal. "Those of us who live near the Great Salt Lake say, ‘Let people share our joy in that rather exceptional feature,’" she said. But not everybody loves the lake. Many see it simply as a smelly dead sea.

Atwood recalled previous moves to emphasize the lake, such as the late Gov. Calvin Rampton’s Great Salt Lake Authority, which "cratered (crashed and burned)"; the Great Salt Lake Technical Team that was active in the 1980s; and the proposed Great Salt Lake coordinating group that may be set up in the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. "There are a plethora of these, and one more does no harm," Atwood said. "But it also is the karma of the lake that so far it is not beloved enough" for such a special center.

Source: Joe Bauman, "Would Great Salt Lake Center be a Great Idea?" Deseret Morning News, 3 March 2008;,5143,695258188,00.html


Save the Salt

According to the organization "Save the Salt," during the 1930s and 1940s, the Bonneville Salt Flats were able to support the weight of 10-ton twin-engine streamliners that roared down the 13.5-mile long Race Courses. Hot rods have raced the salt flats since 1949. However, in the early 1960s, racers began to notice changes in the surface of the speedway, which seemed to be getting weaker. The mining industry on the south side of interstate highway 80 seemed to be responsible.

By the 1980s the once healthy 18 plus inches of salt had become so fragile that the Race Courses
had to be moved farther and farther east. Running on the long International Race Course was no longer possible.

"Save the Salt" was organized in 1989 with the goal of returning the salt that was accumulating in settling ponds at the mining facility to the Raceway…. Reilly Chemical Industries was forcing water through canals crisscrossing the flats into their evaporation ponds from which potash was extracted. It was estimated that the process was taking an estimated 850,000 tons of salt from the flats each year.

The Save the Salt Board has members from the Southern California Timing Assn (SCTA), Bonneville Nationals Inc (BNI), and Utah Salt Flats Racers Assn (USFRA) and was able to negotiate a restoration agreement in 1997. Working hand in hand with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Reilly Chemical Co., they began to work together to return salt from the ponds.

The Lay Down Project was to reverse the process by pumping brine water back onto the salt flats at the rate of 1.5 million tons of salt each year for 5 years. The BLM, Reilly Chemical and the racers all embraced the plan and was a giant step forward, with government and industry working together….

At the end of the 5-year pumping plan, the racers were able to get back to running on the old International Course. Though not as long as previously, there was a noticeable difference in the hardness and durability of the racecourses, and on occasion drivers still had as much as an 11 mile course.

Source: "Save the Salt" associates with the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association:


Bluebirds and Lake Bonneville

The Bluebird Supporters Club in Sussex, England, keeps alive the British connection to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Sir Malcolm Campbell set his 276.82 mph record on the beach at Daytona, Florida, in March 1935. Utah racer Ab Jenkins then lured Campbell to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Campbell in his car "Bluebird" set the first Land Speed Record above 300 mph, and from then on the Bonneville Salt Flats were firmly established as the venue for setting records.



Facts about the Great Salt Lake

The United States Geological Society website includes these facts about the lake:


The largest U.S. lake west of the Mississippi River


The 4th largest terminal lake (no outlet) in the world


A remnant of Lake Bonneville, a prehistoric freshwater lake that was 10 times larger than the Great Salt Lake


About 75 miles long, and 28 miles wide, covering 1,700 square miles


A maximum depth of about 35 feet


Typically three to five times saltier than the ocean


Fish free, the largest aquatic critters are brine shrimp and brine flies


One of the largest migratory bird magnets in Western North America



Advocating for the Great Salt Lake

Since 1994, members of the "Friends of the Great Salt Lake" have been helping people understand how to preserve and protect one of Utah’s most unique natural resources and one of the Western Hemisphere’s most important nesting, resting, and staging sites for millions of migratory birds. In addition to information about conferences, such as the biannual Great Salt Lake Issues Forum, the website of the "Friends" includes an extensive, updated bibliography and numerous other links.




Artist Robert Smithson (1938-1973) created Spiral Jetty in April 1970 and later donated the earthwork art to the Dia Center for the Arts in New York. Great Salt Lake’s setting and the contrast between the pink water, white salt crystals, and black basalt boulders evidently inspired Smithson. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Smithson’s coil, which is 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide, is that it is only visible when climate conditions cause the level of Great Salt Lake to drop below an elevation of 4,197.8 feet.

The water’s pink color is due to a red pigment in the salt-tolerant bacteria and algae that survive in the north arm’s extreme 27% salinity. Great Salt Lake was split into two parts by a rock causeway constructed across the lake by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1959. Before the causeway was built, fresh water from the Bear, Weber/Ogden, and Jordan Rivers circulated throughout the entire Great Salt Lake. When the causeway was built, circulation became restricted and salt content of the north arm increased because most of the river water flows into the south arm (Gilbert Bay).

White salt crystals encrust almost any solid object in contact with north-arm water. The black basalt boulders Smithson took from the beach to construct Spiral Jetty are no exception; they are now covered with salt crystals. The basalt boulders are from local volcanic eruptions during the Pliocene, about 5 to 2 million years ago.

Spiral Jetty has surfaced several times since 1970 and is currently visible. Canada-based Pearl Montana Exploration and Production has applied for a permit to conduct off-shore oil exploration in the Great Salt Lake less than five miles from the jetty. Many art lovers are up in arms. Stephanie Smith reported the controversy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


"The sculpture itself is an integral part of the landscape," says Laura Raicovich, deputy director of New York-based Dia Art Foundation, which owns the jetty.

The state of Utah stopped issuing mineral exploration leases on Great Salt Lake two years ago, pending a review of the lake’s general management plan. But the agreement with environmental groups did not invalidate prior leases. In January, Pearl asked the state to approve its plan for exploratory drilling at two sites. The Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining will determine whether or not the plan meets the necessary criteria for the permit.

"We do want to be very careful with this. We understand the interest, " says Jim Springer, a spokesperson for the division. He says that, although the project’s impact on the Jetty will be considered, "that may not be sufficient criteria to deny the permit."

Springer compares the process to getting a driver’s license: the Department of Motor Vehicles is more or less obligated to issue a license to anyone who meets all the requirements and passes the test. "The division is in pretty much the same position," he says....

"The National Trust for Historic Preservation believes that Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake is a significant cultural site from the recent past, merging art, the environment, and the landscape," National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe said in a statement earlier this month. "We are deeply concerned about the potential harm that energy development could bring to the Spiral Jetty."

Source: Stephanie Smith, "Utah Considers Permit To Drill Near Smithson’s Spiral Jetty," Preservation Magazine, Online Only, Feb. 26, 2008;


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