"Utah" by Kaia Balcos

In a word, the Great Salt Lake is unique. On our continent, there’s nothing else like it– a liquid desert all its own. The closest thing approximating the lake is the Dead Sea, which is a saltier body of water (though not always by much), and even this body of water has some big differences. For one, the deepest point in the Dead Sea is something like 1200 feet while the Great Salt Lake is more like 35. That’s a big difference. Its overall size varies greatly from year to year, season to season, sometimes rising to the point of flood, other times receding to such a level that all of the lake’s islands become peninsulas. Its variability has much to do with its shallowness. Imagine a very slightly depressed plain covered in water — raising the water level even one foot leads to a very large extension of the shoreline. In other words, the Great Salt Lake is big, shallow, and really, really salty.

Only two things live in the lake: brine shrimp and the larvae of brine flies. When they die, their bodies get washed onto the shore, and their rotting sodium-soaked remains make the lake smell very particular. Sometimes the winds shift and bring the smell into the city, signaling an approaching storm to all those in the know. The odor has been described to me as smelling like dirty diapers, rotten meat, stink bombs, ammonia, rotten eggs, raw sewage, shit and the lake. But really it’s dead brine shrimp.

Someday, I would like to spend at least one night on Freemont Island. It’s like Antelope Island except you can’t drive there and there’s never an available buffalo burger no matter what the season. I’d have to take a boat. Some guy named Kit Carson carved a cross into the side of a rock around the 1830’s or something, and I’d like to go look at it for some vague reason. I don’t think a single tree grows on the isolated desert island jutting out of the desert inland sea. The wind whipping across the barren landscape would howl with hostility, masking the silence of inescapable solitude. It is a land made for poets and photographers. It is a land not made for people.

The ski resorts in the area around the lake claim by state motto to have "the greatest snow on earth." This is due in part by the Great Salt Lake. Because of its salinity, the lake never freezes and doesn’t add moisture to the clouds. When they hit the Wasatch Mountains, the clouds dump weight to climb the steep ridges, and the snow that falls is characteristically dry and powdery. This is the so-called lake effect. There’s probably another effect that you get when you’re alone on the lake long enough–like island sickness and Texas rage. Sal rabidus? I feel the lake coursing through my veins. Each heart beat pumping madness into an already saturated soul– building pressure to a dial popping level. The salt burns my eyes, and the lake burns my spirit. I am scorched, scarfed beyond recognition. I have been touched by the great liquid desert. Her fingers have worked their way into my brain, wrapping around my basal ganglia, tugging, always tugging at my sensory pathways. "Go crazy? Don’t mind if I do!" Sal Rabidus..Lake Effect.

Nobody really goes to the Great Salt Lake. It’s not a tourist attraction. You can’t fish it. It isn’t popular for boating. Most locals know it as that smelly lake over there. Chemical companies use it for dumping into and polluting next to, as very few people live on its shores. Saltair is gone, and so are the only two beaches anyone ever really went to. Other than Antelope, the islands are seldom visited. It’s a big body of water that you can’t drink in the middle of the desert. People must have hated the mysterious lake back in the day of the pioneers. It is a place still rarely explored next to a city just large enough to host the Winter Olympics. The Mormons chose it based on the fact that no one, not even the tribes in the area, wanted the place. Who would want to live alongside an unusable lake?

Maybe that’s what I like so much about it. A chance to experience and appreciate a place that very few people ever stop to even think about. I’ve noticed it, and I feel special for having done so. Well, maybe more like I like the special relationship I have with the lake, a symbol of how I feel, this bizarre need for something to focus on. Something like that. Mostly, I just think it’s cool.

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