Utah’s Hidden Treasures: The Secrets of the Great Salt Lake

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Photo by Hannah Blankman

View of Antelope Island surrounded by pink water

Hannah Blankman and Ella Milakovic

Everyone knows the Great Salt Lake. It’s the central feature of our state and the namesake of our capital city. You can even see it’s vibrant blue water from space. But what you don’t see is the dazzling pink water hidden just beyond the Spiral Jetty!

We love to explore the hidden treasures of our state and there are a lot of them. This week we investigated the mysterious and elusive Spiral Jetty. It looks like a crop circle. Did aliens place those rocks? Could it have been a miraculous spiritual site for indigenous people? Actually, it was a very intentional expression of art created by Robert Smithson in April 1970. It’s a sculpture and a little known treasure in our state.

The most mysterious feature of the Jetty isn’t the artwork, though, it is the phenomenon of the pink waves lapping up the shoreline nearby. As summer fades into fall we see a lot of colorful changes happening in nature, but none of them quite as spectacular as seeing a lake that usually reflects the blue sky, turning fuchsia instead.

As we rounded the bend on the gravel road leading to the Spiral Jetty, everyone in the car was watching the water to see if the rumors were true. Just as the skeptics were feeling like we had driven for hours only to be disappointed, we saw it. A shift from blue to purple to pink. Driving toward the parking area, the extraordinary marvel of nature became more visible.

Between the road and the bizarre waters of the lake stretched a wide expanse of salty terrain that looks like a sunny beach, but it is really a sharp and unforgiving landscape of hard salt crystals you don’t want to walk on without good shoes. Before we could get to the bright pink water, we had to traverse the Spiral Jetty.

The Spiral Jetty is a tribute to science and a reconnection with the natural world. The unfathomable expanses of space are mirrored in this gigantic sculpture made with natural materials.

“Just the thought of a giant spiral made of rocks from years and years ago, covered in pink water from our own Salt Lake was so curious I had to see it,” said Vanessa Erickson, a Utah native who joined us on our adventure. She wasn’t disappointed in the cool factor of this landmark.

We had the opportunity to see the entire artwork because the water level of the lake had retreated over a football field distance across the salty terrain.

The Spiral Jetty is regarded as Smithson’s most important work. It is built out of mud, salt crystals, and basalt rocks reaching almost 450 meters. That’s almost five football fields for those who want to measure distance by something familiar to all Miners.

When you venture into the wilds of the northeast corner of the Great Salt Lake to see this amazing artwork, remember to not move or remove any of the stones.

Just beyond the famous Spiral Jetty is a section of the water that turns pink with the changing of the seasons from summer to fall. This phenomenon triggers the imagination, like the black beaches of Hawaii or the pink sands of the Bahamas, visitors are captivated by the beauty created from natural elements. In the case of the pink water of the Salt Lake, it’s not rocks or lava that bring the color but millions upon millions of tiny bacteria and microbes working together to create a vibrant pink hue across the water.

I highly recommend experiencing this corner of the lake with friends who will exclaim with wonder at it. Sharing beauty and posing for pictures is always more fun with others. Even during this time of isolation and quarantine, there are new and exciting things to see in our own backyard. You don’t even have to cross state lines or pay a dime. It’s free. Grab some friends, water, and snacks, to embark on a unique adventure without ever leaving state lines. Stay safe and enjoy this beautiful state we live in.