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Lake Effect: "I felt so lucky to be from Utah"

Miah Arnold, along with a man and two children dance along in the pink waves of the Great Salt Lake
Miah Arnold
Miah Arnold
Miah's family "danced through the jetty and out towards the lake, past giant hunks of dried salt and oozy, icy puddles — except it was August in Utah."

I'm Miah Arnold, a writer with a novel called "Sweet Land of Bigamy", which is a comedy about making hard choices.

I didn't go to the Great Salt Lake as a child, but I grew up in Utah. My dad wouldn't take us; he waxed dramatic about sandflies and he said it was stinky, and it was full of dead people and cattle that the pioneers had dropped in to save on the work of burying things. And he said that salt was a preservative, so all I imagined was stepping on corpses.

It really wasn't until I was an adult and married living in Houston that my husband finally said, you drag me to Salt Lake City every year and you've never taken me to see the Spiral Jetty. “What's that?” I asked. It's this giant piece of art in the desert by Robert Smithson called an 'Earthwork' and people from all around the world come to see it, except not any Utahns that I knew.

So that summer, we packed our car and headed out past the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and the Golden Spike Memorial and down this long, bumpy road that felt like a wrong turn. And at the end, there it was! This enormous black basalt Fibonacci spiral at the edge of the lake. More astonishing to my family was a fact that nobody had mentioned to us before, and that was the lake was bright pink. I mean, pink! Like, a blue lake has many colors of blue. This one had shades of pink, like cotton candy and punk rock, and I don't know, cherry blossom.

So we danced through the jetty and out towards the lake, past these giant hunks of dried salt and oozy, icy puddles, except it was August in Utah. And the puddle crust was not ice, but salt, you know, and you could step on it and make it sink slowly and crack and it was so spooky and no other human was around in this landscape weirder than the moon. It was like we’d wandered into the cover of a science fiction novel, except I was just a couple of hours from the city I grew up in. We walked into the lake, warm and thick with salt and splashed around.

I refrained from regaling my kids with tales of century-old corpses, though my dad later did, but they were already hooked. They only complained about the itchy salt that dried on our skin and pulled at the hairs on our legs and arms relentlessly once we got back to the car. A couple years later, I found out that you can go to the Golden Spike and wash off in their hose.

I felt so lucky to be from Utah, the birthplace of this, actually very well named lake, the gemstone of everything. The shining salty, last whisper of Lake Bonneville of the Pleistocene Era. A true wonder of the world.

Each of the many years that we visited since, it's receded. Last summer, there was a big crowd of people admiring the jetty, but there was no lake in sight. I asked the sky where it was kind of squinting to see if it was just lost in the mist and he said, “This is just the jetty. To see the lake you have to go somewhere else.” That's how hidden the lake can become.

Determined to find it, my family headed out into what looked like this wasteland of ooze and cracked earth, and 10 minutes later, we reached the water and shed our things on the shore and spent a long time floating in the frothy pink waves, and it felt like a goodbye.

I kept thinking how we live at this moment in history, where the fight against doomsday scenarios is not just one for the novelists. It's at the edge of everyday that we live and we have this fairy tale lake here. They say it might dry up into a bowl of poison dust if we don't do something to help it. The rules of fairy tales are very clear: you save what you love. We have to fight with our brains and our hearts and our science, and we sacrifice to save it. But we do, we save it.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.
Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!