Today there was a choice to be made, we could either enjoy a free day sightseeing and shopping in Salt Lake City or we could go on an optional visit to the Great Salt Lake itself and not being terribly keen on shopping (I may have mentioned that before) and being so close to the Lake it seemed a shame not to take this opportunity.
The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt lake in the Western Hemisphere, the thirty third largest lake in the world and the fourth largest terminal lake in the world, which means that the water comes in but none goes out except through the process of evaporation. In an average year the lake covers an area of around four thousand, four hundred square kilometres but the size fluctuates substantially due to its shallowness because it is only about ten metres deep and it can be as much as double or half that size in exceptional years.
It has been called America’s Dead Sea and certainly there are no fish in the Great Salt Lake because of the high salinity but despite this the area is in fact rich with wildlife and provides habitat for millions of native birds, brine shrimp, shorebirds, and waterfowl. The salinity too is highly variable, and depends on the water level but it is certainly much higher than you could expect to find in the world’s oceans to the extent that it is possible for the average person to float on the water without buoyancy aids and for that reason the shops around the shoreline certainly don’t make a fortune from selling lilo beds!
We drove to a large lake side resort called Saltair to the west of the city which had the air of an old fashioned sea side town that was once popular but now a place well past its sell by date where people just don’t go any more. The unpredictable water levels have affected Saltair badly and it has also had the sad misfortune to be burned down twice. When it was first constructed it was intended to be the western equivalent of Coney Island on the east coast and was one of the very first amusement parks in the USA and for a time was the most popular family destination west of New York.
The Saltair that we visited however was much smaller than the original and had been rebuilt in 1981 following the second fire and was constructed out of a salvaged Air Force aircraft hangar. To try and disguise it the owners had added turrets at each corner and the entrance, which gave it the rather unusual look of a middle-east mosque and which only served to give it a strange appearance that was amusing rather than impressive. Soon after opening the waters receded leaving it high and dry and an awful long way from the new shoreline. The car park was strangely empty and inside the building we were practically the only visitors and the exhibits were both lifeless and tired. Outside too it was all rather sad with rows of decaying wooden pilings snaking outward toward the lake, all that remains of a railway trestle and a pier which once led to the earlier Saltair resort.
The Lake itself was a very impressive sight, a massive expanse of flat deep blue water and as it was early morning there was moody mist hanging over the surface that created an eerie atmosphere. From where we were on the south shore the lake stretches for a hundred and twenty kilometres to the north and fifty to the west.
Like Loch Ness in Scotland there are stories of a Great Salt Lake Monster which began in 1877 when workers on the north shore salt flats claimed to see a creature with the body of a crocodile and the head of a horse. They claimed that the monster attacked them one evening and they had to make a quick getaway and hide until morning but sceptics say that this creature was most probably just a buffalo cooling off in the lake. Either that or they had been drinking moonshine whiskey. Needless to say, we didn’t see the creature this morning.
But our next stop was to see a very real living monster! The Kennecott copper mine in Bingham Canyon is an open pit mine extracting a large copper deposit a short distance southwest of Salt Lake City. The mine has been in production since 1906 and has resulted in the creation of a pit over one thousand, two hundred metres deep and four kilometres wide. And before they started mining here this used to be a mountain! It is quite simply the largest open pit copper mine in the world, it is visible from outer space and believe me is one mother of a big hole. It would fit Mount Snowdon quite comfortably and if you dropped Ben Nevis inside there would only be about a hundred metres left sticking out the top! That’s big!
Over its life, Bingham Canyon has proven to be one of the world’s most productive mines and since mining began ore from the mine has yielded more than seventeen million tons of copper, which is more than any other copper mine in the world, twenty three million ounces of gold, and a hundred and ninety million ounces of silver. That has made somebody very, very rich indeed!
Once inside the visitor centre the giant statistics keep coming thick and fast because needless to say the infrastructure required for an operation of this size is enormous. Four hundred and fifty thousand tons of material is removed from the mine every day. Electric shovels can carry nearly a hundred tons of ore in a single scoop and is loaded into a fleet of extra large dump trucks which each carry two hundred and fifty five tonnes at a time.
To put that into some sort of perspective that is about twenty five times more than an average UK council dustcart! From the top of the mine, despite their huge dimensions, they looked like dinky toys on a child’s playroom floor. They cost three million dollars each to build and when they are worn out they are left at the bottom of the hole and covered over with new excavations because it is simply impossible to get them back to the surface.
On the excursion we had been talking to two nice men who were travelling together who when the trip was over and we had returned to the city hospitably invited us to join them that evening for pre-dinner drinks in their room.
Later when we went along to their room they immediately asked us what we would like to drink and assuming quite naturally that the selection of alcohol on offer would be limited we asked them to be specific about what exactly was available. ‘What would you like?’ they asked again, ‘What have you got?’ Richard enquired for a second time, ‘Whatever you like’ they said and running out of patience they took us through to the bathroom and showed as truly stunning selection of drinks laid out on the side, beer, wine, spirits and all of the mixers for almost any combination of drinks that we might have a desire for. We were astounded, we thought it was impressive to carry a litre bottle of gin and a six-pack of Budweiser each, but these guys had enough to keep a busy pub stocked up all Saturday night, goodness only knows how they managed to cart it about all holiday, it must have weighed a ton!
Later there was a second night out in Salt Lake and after a couple of evenings in the big city we went to bed looking forward to tomorrow when we would be getting out into the open country again because we were due to head off towards our next destination, the Canyonlands National Park.
The postcard images were all originally purchased in 1995 on the Coach Trip. The Promotional leaflet images are also all 1995 originals.