Friday, July 24, 2009

Stones and Stoners

We sped back to Ogden after the Bees game--in part because I managed to book hotel rooms in Ogden and SLC on days other than the ones that we have game tickets for, and in part because Ogden is closer to today's main attraction, Spiral Jetty.

We've found Spiral Jetty to be a litmus test of our friends. Some light right up at the idea of going there, others have no idea what we're talking about, and others still think it sounds insane to drive dozens of miles into the Utah desert, over unpaved and poorly marked roads, to look at a pile of rocks on the edge of the lake. These groups are not mutually exclusive, and the last one may have a point. (We embarked on a similar odyssey last year, when we went from Midland, Texas, out to Marfa and all the minimalist and maximialist installations there.)

Formally, Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture by Robert Smithson that is managed by the Dia Foundation. It has been rising out of and sinking into the Great Salt Lake since 1970, and it is heavily encrusted now with salt--which is actually pretty tasty. Dia, if you're strapped for cash (and who isn't?), I'm telling you that Smithson's Spiral Salt would be a gift-store bonanza. It is both more and less impressive in reality than it is in photographs, which is how most people know it. It is, after all, just a bunch of rocks in a lake--and the drive to get to it is seriously no joke. We rented a four-wheel drive SUV from the crooks at Enterprise, and even still we jolted along, noting places where others had spun their wheels or punctured their oil pans. One fun and thoughtful account of this journey is in Erin Hogan's book, Spiral Jetta. (Hi, Erin!)

But the scale of the thing can't be denied, and the sheer pointlessness of it is breathtaking--to me it spoke to the essential futility of most of the things we attempt, while at the same time being beautiful and in a sense self-aware. The encrustations and changes it has endured are essential parts of it now, and its very persistence is affecting, funny, and maybe a little sad.

We also climbed high above the lake--which is extremely flat here. It's actually quite hard to tell where exactly the salted shoreline gives way to actual saltwater--it's like walking in frosting. From above, the scale shifted--look for the SUV (which was the size of a small living room) in the foreground here:

As we left the jetty, we put on some Frank Sinatra Christmas tunes and discussed the ways in which we have been behaving like drug dealers: we're two out-of-staters driving a flashy car on a strange itinerary; we swapped that car for an SUV which we drove to an exceedingly remote location; and now we're jamming the surveillance with both White and Blue Christmas.

We went on to skim through the old-timey locomotive replicas at the Golden Spike National Monument and the white-on-white missile and motor casings at the ATK complex nearby. It is true that for such a remote location, there have been a lot of innovations in transportation (if you consider a nuclear missile as a way of getting around). Afterward, we stopped into the Idle Isle restaurant in Brigham City--where, to continue the theme, the waitress thought I was asking not for pie but for pot--before returning to Ogden and heading to the stadium.

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