The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake

Profile photo of Sarah Arnoff Yeoman
Sarah Arnoff Yeoman
Photographer based in Portland
The iconic Bonneville Salt Flats on the Great Salt Lake's southwestern corner is home to a world-renowned racing track. But competitions have been discontinued due to the salt crust being too thin to support fast-moving vehicles. A typical salt pack for the race track needs to be around 1 to 2 feet, but since flooding can't replenish the crust as often, it now measures just a few inches thick.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake - Four huge concrete tunnels make up the Sun Tunnels, an art installation on the GSL's...
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake - Retention ponds and canals create a rainbow of colors across the lake due to various salinity and...
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
Four huge concrete tunnels make up the Sun Tunnels, an art installation on the GSL's extremely remote western side. Created in 1973 by sculptor Nancy Holt, the tunnels align with the solstice sunrises and sunsets, attracting small parties every June and December.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
Retention ponds and canals create a rainbow of colors across the lake due to various salinity and bacteria levels. Industries from salt harvesting to magnesium refinement to brine shrimp farms occupy the shores of the Great Salt Lake, making use of its unique chemistry and remote location.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake - Visitors watch a re-enactment involving replica trains used in the transcontinental railroad at...
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
Visitors watch a re-enactment involving replica trains used in the transcontinental railroad at Golden Spike National Monument in Promontory, Utah. Proontory was predicted to become the "New Chicago" in 1869 when the railroad was completed there. But the site quickly became a ghost town on the northern edge of the Great Salt Lake when no easy access to potable water could be found, and a new causeway was built diverting railway traffic away from town.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
The Spiral Jetty is arguably the most famous land art installation on the Great Salt Lake. Created in 1970 by artist Robert Smithson, the jetty was meant to disappear and reappear depending on the lake's naturally shifting water levels.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
For 10 years, visitors have been able to walk out onto the Spiral Jetty as the Great Salt Lake's shoreline creeps farther and farther away.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
The salt flats attract locals and tourists from all over the world to play, ride and pose for pictures on its otherworldly surface. The Bramwell family drove nearly three hours from their home in Vineyard, Utah, to spend the day playing on the flats.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
The Fonoti family of Syracuse, Utah, dig for gypsum along the GSL's northeastern shoreline. Selenite crystal and gypsum hunting is popular with crafters and artists who use the semi-transparent pieces for various items.
Brine shrimp turn portions of the Great Salt Lake bright pink. They are the only creatures that can survive the lake's salty environment, and millions of birds feast on them as well as brine flies during migration season. As the lake dries up, so do these crucial food sources. 
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake - Where the intense saltwater of the lake meets the confluence of the Bear River sits a critical...
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake - A bison herd settles in the distance on Antelope Island State Park, Utah. The exposed lake bed...
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake - A historic pioneer cemetery used to be near the far reaches of the Great Salt Lake's...
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
Where the intense saltwater of the lake meets the confluence of the Bear River sits a critical migratory bird refuge that supports nearly 10 million birds, including tundra swans, shorebirds and American white pelicans.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
A bison herd settles in the distance on Antelope Island State Park, Utah. The exposed lake bed between Antelope Island and the nearby cities of Ogden and Salt Lake City poses a risk to human health. The soil is naturally high in arsenic, and without water, dust storms hitting the cities are predicted to increase.
The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
A historic pioneer cemetery used to be near the far reaches of the Great Salt Lake's northwestern shore, but over the years has turned into what feels like endless desert.
This photo essay was shot in May 2022 and published in February 2023 as part of Fifty Grande's Unplugged Issue.
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The Weird, Wonderful--and Dying--Great Salt Lake
Copyright Sarah Arnoff Yeoman 2024
Updated Jul 2023
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