September 21, 2008

Directions to Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty: From Brigham City Airport to Rozel Point

From Blogger Pictures
Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty

I thought this would be a good opportunity to post some pictures from my trip out to Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty. It's been in the news lately, mainly because some oil drilling has been proposed in the area. At the time, NewsGrist posted some insightful comments and links. At some future point I'll post my pictures taken from the air, but in the meantime, I post the leg of my journey from the Brigham City Airport out to the Spiral Jetty.

If you follow this, make sure you stop in Ogden and top off your gas tank. Check the spare, as you'll be driving on unpaved roads. Bring water, snacks, hiking shoes, and appropriate clothing for the time of year.  If you get lost, don't blame me!

From Leap Into the Void

On the previous day I chartered this 1952 Piper Cub out to the Jetty. Click on the link above if you're interested in flying over the Jetty. It cost a little over a hundred bucks, back when airplane fuel cost about a third of what it does now. He was able to leave the window open so I could take pictures, and the plane can stay airborne as slow as 65 mph airspeed. 

From Salt Lake City take Interstate Highway 15 north, past Ogden (about a half an hour north) to Brigham City. Exit at State Highway 13 west to Promitory/Corinne (which is a right after you loop off the freeway at Exit 365). Corinne is about 4 blocks long. At the other side, take the left fork (straight) on Promitory Road. You'll now be on Highway 83. 

After about six miles you'll start smelling sulphur. There's a hot spring on the left side of the road, with four improvised shacks where you can have a dip. If you get there in the off hours, the shacks can be cruisy

After another  11 miles you'll come to Lampo Junction, which is the turn off to the Jetty and Golden Spike. 

But first, a little detour.

From Leap Into the Void

Thiokol Rocket Display

Continue north on 83 for a couple more miles. On your right will be the Thiokol rocket factory. This is where they make the solid propellant boosters used for the Space Shuttle. These are the rockets that failed in the Challenger accident. There are labels on the outdoor display, and you can take a self-guided tour for free. When your done, drive the 2 miles back to Lampo Junction (W 7200 N) and you'll now make a right (go west). There should be signs pointing out the way to the Golden Spike Monument.

Continue on the road for 2 miles. You'll come to a fork. Go to the right (not straight).

From Leap Into the Void
The Big Fill Trail Loop Near Golden Spike

After another mile you'll come to the Big Fill Loop Trail. If you have time, you can park here and hike up to the old rail line. Because the two companies that were laying track got free land grants for every mile of track they laid, when they finally came to Promitory, they kept laying track past each other, with parallel lines running for 250 miles. You can hike up a short way and see the ruins of the double rail lines.
From Leap Into the Void

After another 3 miles, you'll come to 2200 W Road. Turn left.  About a mile south on the road, you'll see the Golden Spike National Historic Site. Pull into the parking lot. Enjoy your last flush toilet experience for a while. If the visitor's center is open, go inside, and they'll have free directions out to the Spiral Jetty. If the Center's closed, they should have some in a holder outside the entrance. Inside are some historical displays, and if you time it right, they have replica steam engines that they roll out on the tracks. 

From this point, you have about 15 miles to go. Ready? 

From Leap Into the Void
Spiral Jetty Direction Sign Next to a Class D Gravel Road
There's some lovely directional signs posted along the way (see photo above). I've also posted to Google maps my route (check the satellite view so you can see the terrain) from Brigham City to the Jetty, along with directions and pictures. From the parking lot, check your odometer or set the trip-o-meter to zero. 

Drive southwest 5.6 miles on the gravel road. You'll come to a fork. Go to the left. You'll cross over a cattle guard (pipes across the road like in the picture below). This is the first of four cattle guards.

Check your odometer. Drive 1.3 miles south from here. You'll come to a fork in the road. Go right. At the fork you'll see a corral off to your left. 

Check your odometer. Drive 1.7 miles to the next cattle guard.
From Leap Into the Void
Cattle Guard
This is cattle guard number 2. You're counting, right? There's a fence and no gate.

Check your odometer. Drive 1.2 miles to cattle guard # 3.

At cattle guard #3 you'll see a fence and a gate. 

Check your odometer. Drive a half mile (0.5 mi.) to a fence with no cattle guard and no gate.

Check your odometer. Continue to drive straight in a southwest direction for another 2.3 miles. You'll now be at cattle guard #4.  

You'll see the cattle guard, an iron-pipe gate, and a fence. On the fence to the right of the gate is a "No Trespassing" sign that also says Rafter S Ranch. Click here for Joy Garnett's picture of the sign from 2002.

You're now leaving the county-maintained gravel road. Take this last bit a little slower.

Check your odometer. Drive 2.3 miles. The road will curve to your right, around Rozel Point. You should see the old oil exploration jetty (not Smithson's).  You should come to a flat pad where the junk pictured below used to be. This is a good place to park. From here the Jetty is a half-mile hike.

From Leap Into the Void
Debris Near the Spiral Jetty
The old 30's-era Ford truck buried up to its axle was probably there when Smithson scouted out the site for the Jetty. The abandoned oil jetty was in use through the 80's, so it was still in operation when Smithson was building his earthwork. 

Incidentally, this decayed jetty is not the launch point for the proposed drilling. The staging area would be at Little Valley Harbor, about 50 miles away. You can read here about the geology of the area. The basalt rocks that pepper the hillside around Rozel Point--the rocks Smithson used to build the Jetty--are volcanic and quite porous. Before man ever arrived here, tar seeped through the fissures in the rock, pooling on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. When Smithson arrived, oil extraction was taking place, and industrial debris littered the shore. 

From Leap Into the Void
Looking Out from the Trailer to the Oil Drilling Jetty

A little history is in order here. In 1869 the transcontinental railway was completed. In 1903 the railway was rerouted at Lucin, UT (near Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels) with a trestle bridge over the Great Salt Lake directly to Ogden, cutting miles and mountains from the trip. The wood piles of the bridge quickly deteriorated in the salt water. In the 1950's the wood trestle sections were replaced by a rock and earth causeway. This structure essentially divided the lake into two ecosystems. Most of the water that fills the lake drains into the southern part. With more water evaporating from the water's surface than was being replenished, the northern part became more and more saline. 

By the time Smithson arrived in the 70's the north part of the lake had turned red from the brine shrimp and red algae that were the only things that could survive in the super saline waters north of the causeway. It was this industrial wasteland of mineral salt, brine shrimp cyst, and hydrocarbon extraction that Smithson chose to build his Jetty. 

From Leap Into the Void
The Last Half Mile to the Jetty: Basalt Rocks, Dried Brush
Unless you have a high ground clearance vehicle with 4-wheel drive, park. Walk down a few hundred feet to the fork where you'll see the sign to the Jetty (seen through the window two pictures up). Take the upper trail to the right. At this point the road becomes a 2-track trail with rocks and brush in the middle and on both sides. Follow the trail for about a half mile and you'll see Smithson's Jetty off to your left. 
From Leap Into the Void
End of the Road: The Spiral Jetty
The water level of the lake can fluctuate, and over the years the Jetty has spent more time under water than exposed. This has probably helped add to its mythic status. Generally, the lake fills in the spring and drops through the summer and fall. The surface of Smithson's Jetty is at 4,198 feet. If the water of the lake is at 4,198, you can walk on it if you bring galoshes or rubber boots. The surface will be uneven and slippery. Expect to fall on your face several times if you attempt to walk on it. 

From Blogger Pictures
Looking Back at Rozel Point From the Jetty
Before you go, click here to find out real time water levels. Click on the second link for current and historical water levels at Box Elder (near Saline). Next click on "realtime elevations" to find the present water level. Scroll down to the graph. When I typed this in September 2008, water levels were near 4193.5. That means the water level is 4 1/2 feet below the top of the Jetty, and the shore of the lake is out past the jetty, putting Smithson's earthwork completely out of the water, like in my picture above.

From Blogger Pictures
Desiccated Seagull Head and Neck Preserved in Salt

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