Gazing across the flats around Wendover, it is easy to imagine a landscape of purity and agelessness, perhaps what a world would look like without any humans at all. Parts of the area can even look like an alien planet, from the red and turquoise water of the Great Salt Lake, to the treeless hillsides marked with the shorelines of even greater ancient inland seas. One sees a world governed by geomorphological forces, by erosion, and evaporation.
However, this view is incomplete. To see the full beauty of this landscape, one has to understand the integral role that humans have had in creating and transforming it. In the Great Salt Lake Desert the scale of the engineer's interaction with the comparatively inert material of the earth suggests a relationship that is geologic in time and space. It is clear that man too has become a major geomorphological agent.
Chemical industries pump brine into massive evaporation ponds, using an elaborate system of canals to channel the water, and levees to contain it. The valuable compounds removed from the evaporite come from the surrounding landscape, from minerals which melted from the mountains and collected in the deep packed powder of the flats over millions of years, within this basin without drainage to the ocean.
The military has used over three million acres in the region for bombing and training activities, and more than a thousand square miles of land outside of military reserves has undocumented and unexploded bombs buried in its soil. Rocket engines, explosives, and propellants are manufactured at two large industrial sites in the region, and explosions from the disposal and testing of munitions shake and crater the landscape.
Large-scale extractive industries in the region create new topographies of pits and tailings mounds, causing changes in the landscape that are clearly recorded by the contour lines of successive editions of USGS topographical maps.
Hazardous waste disposal facilities have followed the political path of least resistance to this area, where the toxic and radioactive detritus from far away cities lies entombed in shallow troughs, closing parts of the landscape off from access to humans for thousands of years.
The composition and water level of a vast inland sea is controlled by dikes, canals, and causeways, and a battery of pumps stand ready, should highways and real estate be threatened, to drain the sea into the surrounding desert.
These anthropic landscapes, landscapes formed by man, do not exist in opposition to the beauty of the area, they exist as components of it. We see in the landscape a reflection of truth. And the beauty of the Great Salt Lake Desert region is only enhanced by a more complete knowledge of its constituents.