Friday, March 26, 2010

Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty - Iconic American Art waiting for your visit on the Great Salt Lake

The Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson, on the North Shore of the Great Salt Lake, Photo by Mike Matson

Described as "The most famous work of American art that almost nobody has ever seen in the flesh," (by Michael Kimmelman in his 2003 article for the New York Times) Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty can be found high and dry these days on the northeast shore of the Great Salt Lake.

Utah may not be famous for its thriving art scene, but it is home to an iconic rock sculpture considered to be one of the most important pieces in the American Earth Art movement of the 1960's. The Spiral Jetty is a fascinating piece for its peculiar nature and dubious title of "art". It warrants a visit, if only to get your mind thinking about its reason for being.

Driving out to the sculpture, it's hard not to wonder if reaching the Spiral Jetty is as much a part of the artwork as seeing. The Spiral Jetty sits on a deserted piece of beach below a sagebrush speckled hill of black basalt boulders. The lake stretches out to the horizon where distant mountain ranges break up the flatness like islands in an inland sea. The scale is grand, making the 1,500 foot rock and sand jetty feel surprisingly small in comparison. Other visitors are few, and aside from the chirping birds you'll probably find yourself alone to contemplate the vast openness of the landscape. The closest "civilization" to the Spiral Jetty is the Golden Spike National Historic Site, a small outpost commemorating the connection of the first transcontinental railroad linking the East and West Coast in 1869. The Golden Spike Site marks the middle of nowhere as much as the meeting point of a railway, and the Spiral Jetty is sixteen bumpy miles further down the unmaintained road. Imagine the disbelief of the Ogden contractor Bob Phillips, when Smithson hired him to help build the 6,650 ton basalt rock sculpture on the edge of nowhere.

Smithson designed his sculpture to extend out into the edge of the Great Salt Lake, where the water was red from algae. Nature had different plans though, and the lake water level and algae production have fluctuated over the years. The Spiral Jetty was visible for its first two years of existence, but was then submerged in the lake as the water level rose during heavy snow years. It wasn't until 2002 that the Jetty re-emerged after 30 years beneath the fluctuating water. Since then the sculpture has been intermittently visible at the water's edge. If the level of the lake falls below 4,197 feet the sculpture is above water, if the water's surface rises above, it disappears. Smithson anticipated the lake would fluctuate and was a fan of the natural process of entropy, but you can't help but wonder what he would of thought of the re-emerging sculpture more than 30 years after its creation. We'll never know for sure, because Smithson died 3 years after he finished Spiral Jetty in a plane crash scouting another project in Texas.

For more info: Robert

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Volunteers wanted for Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count in Zion National Park

The National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count in Zion National Park will be held on Saturday, December19th. This is the 38th year Zion has participated in the birding event. The Audubon Society project is an effort to count as many birds as possible in different locations across the country in a 24 hour period.

This years Zion Christmas Bird Count will be focused in an area 15 miles in diameter (177 square miles) within the national park. The official count will be included in a special edition of American Birds Magazine.

Volunteers of all skill levels are encouraged to participate. This is great opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts to contribute to a national bird census that can have a real impact on bird conservation, according to the Audubon Society's website:

"Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action."

It's also a chance to rub shoulders with and learn from experienced and knowledgeable birders.

Last year, volunteers tallied more than 5,000 birds including 85 different species in Zion. 55,000 volunteers participated in the nationwide.

To volunteer or to find out more information about the bird count, contact Claire Crow at 435-772-0212 or

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The BLM has proposed 63 sites in Nine Mile Canyon for the National Register of Historic Places

The Bureau of Land Management has proposed 63 sites in Utah's Nine Mile Canyon for the National Register of Historic Places. Nine Mile Canyon, located on the Tavaputs Plateau in Northeastern Utah is home to as many as 10,000 different rock art drawings. Nicknamed "the longest art gallery in the world," Nine Mile Canyon contains one of the densest concentrations of Fremont culture rock art anywhere in Utah.

Since 2002, deposits of natural gas are being developed on the Tavaputs Plateau. Truck traffic going to and from these natural gas wells is disturbing enough dust in Nine Mile Canyon that preservationists and rock art lovers are concerned the irreplaceable archaeological sites could be damaged. With more development pending, the BLM and conservation groups like the Nine Mile Coalition, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are trying to call attention to the situation.

The rock art, or petroglyphs (drawings pecked or carved into the stone) found in Nine Mile Canyon have been chiseled out of sandstone covered in dark "desert varnish." The figures, formed in the freshly exposed rock, stand out in contrast to the darker, older background rock of the panels. The perpetual dust kicked up by large truck traffic in the canyon threatens to dull the contrast, and visual power of these rock art panels.

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While the National Register of Historic Places wouldn't provide protection for the archaeological sites in Nine Mile Canyon, it would recognize their importance.

For more information about the Fremont Culture and their rock art.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thanksgiving Feast - Dutch Oven Style

Did you know the Dutch Oven is the official cooking pot of the state of Utah? That's right, the Dutch Oven

was designated Utah's official cooking pot in 1997 for its historic use by early Utah settlers.

The Dutch Oven, a popular outdoor cooking tool for both Utah pioneers and modern-day outdoor enthusiasts, can be used to prepare a wide variety of delicious cuisine in settings usually reserved for roasting hot dogs and S'mores.

Dutch Ovens are cast-iron pots with snug fitting lids that are specifically designed for cooking directly in the coals of an open fire. The oven’s lid is equipped with a tall iron lip, allowing coals to be added to the top of the pot, baking the contents of the oven evenly, much like an modern household oven. Dutch Ovens work so well in fact, that many people who've used them in the outdoors have incorporated them into their regular cooking repertoire.

If you’re looking for a fun new dish to add to your Thanksgiving feast this year, why not consider baking one of your courses in a Dutch Oven? You might just end up with a new classic. And you’ll know exactly what to prepare on your next camping trip.

Here’s a couple recipe ideas to stoke your creative cooking fire!

Thanksgiving Roasted Herb Turkey

Cooking a full turkey is always a labor intensive process. Why not make it fun by doing it in a Dutch Oven?
Here's how:

  • 1 turkey
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic pressed
  • 1 cup water

Basting Sauce

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tsp dried mint leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp sweet basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Thaw turkey if frozen. Before preparing the turkey, light a pile of at least 50 charcoal briquettes for the Dutch Oven.

Place thawed turkey in a 15 inch Dutch Oven. Slice onion into large pieces and place them in the turkey cavity with the chopped garlic cloves. Rub the remaining pressed garlic over the outside of the turkey. Pour water in the bottom of the Dutch Oven. Put the lid on the pot and add 15-20 briquettes to the bottom of the pot and 20-25 on top.

Melt butter in a separate pan and add the herbs to create a basting sauce. Frequently baste the turkey with the herb sauce as it cooks.

Add fresh coals about once an hour. Cook the turkey until the center of the turkey's temperature reaches 170 degrees.

Marshmallow Sweet Potato Casserole

What could be a better marriage between outdoor cooking and Thanksgiving than borrowing marshmallows from the campfire classic Smores, and adding them to the traditional Thanksgiving sweet potato dish?

  • About 8 sweet potatoes or yams
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 pound marshmallows

Boil the sweet potatoes in water until they are tender. This can be done in the Dutch Oven first or in a regular stove-top pot, whichever is easier given your cooking conditions. Remove the skins and mash the sweet potatoes. Add butter, milk, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and paprika. Butter the sides and bottom of the Dutch Oven and fill it with the mashed sweet potatoes. Place the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes. Bake the casserole by placing 10-15 coals below the Dutch oven and 5-10 coals on top. Let the dish bake until the marshmallows become golden-brown.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bighorn Sheep Festival in Moab - November 20-21, 2009

Head-butting bighorn rams fighting it out for the rights to mate with the top female sheep in the herd. How often do you get a chance to see exciting wildlife behavior like this in a wilderness setting?

Only once a year at best. Most of the year rams (male) and ewes (females) hardly interact at all, living their lives in separate family groups. But at the Bighorn Sheep Festival in Moab in late November, you'll have an opportunity to see some of the most exciting activity of the year. The breeding season, or "rut," is in full swing and male bighorns are clashing horns in their annual competition to attract the attention of the lovely ladies.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is hosting its annual Bighorn Sheep Festival in Moab this November 20th and November 21st. DWR biologists will keep a watchful eye on the whereabouts of Moab's bighorn sheep leading up to the event, and guide those attending to the most likely spots for a sighting. Biologists will lead the group to likely spots near paved roads in Moab Canyon and along the Colorado River Corridor. Event attendees should bring spotting scopes or binoculars if they can, and the biologists will provide them for those who can't. You're welcome to follow along in your own vehicle or join the group in vehicles provided by the DWR guides.

The guides will meet the public on Saturday morning (Nov 21) at 8am at the Moab information center. Sheep watchers should expect the event to last until early afternoon. While DWR Outreach Manager Brent Stettler can't guarantee a close-up encounter, but he adds, "We almost always see sheep."

For more info about the event visit the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website. Or contact Brent Stettler personally at by phone at 435/613-3707, or by email at

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cut your own Christmas Tree this year in Utah's National Forest

"The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!" - Charles N. Barnard

Maybe so, but that doesn't mean that any old tree will do. For many families going out and picking the perfect Christmas tree is a long standing tradition. And for some, that tradition isn't complete without hiking into the woods, selecting the perfect tree, and cutting it themselves.

In Utah, permits to cut Christmas trees on national forest land are starting to go on sale. District offices in Fishlake and Dixie National Forests are now selling permits, costing about $10. Between now and the end November, permits will go on sale in forests across the state.

All species of trees except Ponderosa pine trees can be cut with a permit. Trees up to eight feet tall may be selected and they should be cut near the ground - about eight inches above the ground. Rules vary in each Ranger District. Here's a link to the specific rules and regulations for cutting trees on the official US Forest Service website. Try to select your tree from a densely forest area, where thining the stand will be a benefit the forest.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Horsethief Campground outside Canyonlands National Park - Campground of the Week

It's too cold to even think about camping in northern Utah right fact it's snowing in as I write this. So if you've got camping on your mind, you've got to be thinking southern Utah, where it'll be considerably warmer. It was actually perfect near Moab this past weekend, where Sonja and I spent a couple days working on landscape photography and squeezed in a little bit of climbing as well.

Saturday morning we woke up early to catch sunrise with our cameras at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. If you're interested in the details on how to photograph the iconic landmark, check out my article here on We arrived late Friday night, so we didn't want to drive all the way into the park, but wanted to be within striking distance Saturday morning for our date with the magic of sunrise. So we stayed at one of my favorite BLM sites in the Moab area, Horsethief Campground. You can also find this description with all the campgrounds in the state of Utah in my guidebook Moon Utah Camping.

Horsethief Campground Scenic rating: 7

This new campground is an excellent alternative to the limited camping options in the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. The campground is a few miles from the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. The large campground sits on a plateau-like landscape with expansive views to the southwest of the 11,000-foot peaks of the Herny Mountains. Well-spaced sites with flat gravel tent pads sit in a pygmy forest of pinyon pine and juniper trees. On the downside, these small trees and the scrubby sagebrush dotting the campground provide little shelter from the sun or wind. In this desert environment that regularly sees temperatures above 100 degrees F, this lack of shade is a real concern. Three gravel loops named after different horse breeds lead to sites with good privacy.

Campsites, facilities: There are 60 sites for tents and large RVs. Picnic tables, barbeque grills, garbage service, and vault toilets are provided. There is no drinking water. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees: Reservations are not accepted. The fee is $12 per site. Open year-round.

Directions: From Moab, drive north on Hwy. 191 for nine miles and turn left onto Rte. 313 following signs to Canyonlands National Park. Continue 12 miles on Rte. 313 and turn right onto a gravel road signed Horsethief Campground. Continue 0.5 mile to Horsethief Campground.

GPS Coordinates: N 38 35.050' W 109 48.854'

Contact: BLM Moab Field Office, 435/259-2100