A Golden Spike and the Spiral Jetty

Even though I’ve been regularly visiting Brigham City for three years now, I hadn’t been to Golden Spike National Historic Site in nearly a decade and I had never seen the Spiral Jetty. That all changed last week while visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving.

Cammie grew up in Brigham City so we visit her family there at least three or four times a year. While I’m getting to know the town better, I hadn’t ventured much further than the city limits, aside from regular trips to Logan while staying in Brigham. This time around, our friend Manjola was visiting from Jackson Hole and I thought she might be interested in heading out to Golden Spike, which is located about 30 miles west of Brigham.

I seem to have the bad luck of only visiting Golden Spike National Historic Site during the winter, which is, unfortunately, the time of the year that the old steam locomotives are stored inside. Plus, the golden spike itself is not even on display. So, visually, the historic site doesn’t offer much. Yes, there’s a stark beauty to the surrounding high desert landscape but all you’re going to see is a set of train tracks.

However, there’s still plenty of history to be had. After all, this spot marks a major achievement in transportation in the United States. When two rail lines met there on May 10, 1869, it linked the east and the west. Transcontinental railroad travel was a reality. This change the face of westward migration and settlement in the western United States. The onsite museum, information signage and films all tell the story of this history.

The history at Golden Spike is fascinating but we were all a little a more excited about visiting the Spiral Jetty since none of us had been there. Plus, if you make it to Golden Spike NHS, you’re halfway there. The jetty is located about 16 miles south of the NHS on the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake. While it’s only 16 miles, it’s a gravel road so you’ll only average 30-40 miles per hour, so it takes nearly 30 minutes to get there from Golden Spike but it’s well worth the drive. Just make sure to slow down for approaching vehicles since it’s a narrow road and you don’t want to flip gravel at each other.

As we arrived at the parking lot, we could see the jetty jutting out onto the sand/salt flats around the lake. Depending on water levels, the lake sometimes surrounds the jetty or even submerges it. However, for our visit the shoreline was still a few hundred feet beyond the jetty, making it easy to walk out and around the art installation.

Art installation? Yep, it’s an “earthwork sculpture,” according to a sign above the parking lot. It’s also apparently considered to be the “central work” of sculptor Robert Smithson, who constructed it in April of 1970, three years before his death. It was constructed with mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks and water, forming a 1,300-foot-long and 13-foot-wide coil extending from the elevated land on the north shore of the lake into a counterclockwise spiral.

While the jetty itself is captivating, its setting can be quite interesting as well. Since it’s built on a lakebed, the landscape is a mix of sand and salt, creating natural artwork like the salt designs above.

Manjola, Cammie and I continued past the jetty to the waters edge, where we spent some time just taking in the beautiful surroundings.

The light was pretty spectacular. It was a mostly cloudy day, but the sun shone through in parts, illuminating some areas and creating some spectacular scenes.

While it was difficult too look beyond the panoramic vistas, closer inspection of the details also held rewards, especially in those spots where water, salt and sand all met and were transformed by light.

It was also fun to watch others enjoying the beauty and to see how the landscape literally reflected their presence.

Eventually we made our way back toward the jetty itself, which we continued to explore. It’s difficult to photograph up close because you have to see it from above to fully appreciate the design. But I was able to find a few angles that give the general idea.

Cammie and Manjola then headed for the car while I decided to climb up the hill north of the jetty for a few better shots, including the one at the top of this post and the photo above. I didn’t even have to get that high for these shots. But I did see a few people at the top of the ridge and I’m sure their perspective was pretty spectacular. Now I just need to make it back sometime when the water is around the jetty so I can see the natural and man-made beauty of water and sculpture meet.

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