From the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene (and beyond)
01.23.2010, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Google Map of the Bingham Copper Pit nested into the Oquirrh Mountains with the Daybreak development directly to the East (right)

The Oquirrh Mountains reside at the south shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.  This range of mountains is just one of many that exist in the vast Basin and Range Province’s seemingly endless procession of north south trending basins, and ranges.  During the Pleistocene, when Lake Bonneville held dominion over 20,000+ miles across what are now three states, its waters lapped at the shores of these mountains, carving benches into their sides that remain visible today. The Oquirrh Mountains, with Lake Bonneville’s impact clearly discernible (documented in the late 1800’s. by the artist H. H. Nichols), grace the header of this website.

A lot has changed for the Oquirrh mountains since the Pleistocene.  Most of this change has unfolded in the last 160 years.  The range has been logged, mined for gold, silver, lead and most dramatically, for copper. It is upon this range that Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation set up shop back in 1906. Since then, the Corporation has been steadily, and methodically, morphing sections of the Oquirrhs into negative inversions of their former selves. This act of tunneling is a descent into deep geologic time, uprooting rock over 550 million years old (or an eighth of the Earth’s history).

Oquirrhs inverted: The Bingham Canyon Open Pit Copper Mine in 2009 (a designated National Historic Landmark since 1966)

As of late, the story has gotten even weirder for the Oquirrhs. Artist Lucy Raven’s documents this latest chapter of transformation in her piece Daybreak (appearing in Issue 7 of the online publication Triple Canopy). In Daybreak, Raven takes a close look at the area from the ground level and discovers a landscape once submerged by Lake Bonneville has taken on yet another life:

“Daybreak, a twenty-thousand-home development. When it’s completed, Daybreak will be the largest planned community in Utah, and one of the largest in the nation. It will extend twenty miles from South Jordan to the Great Salt Lake, stretching over forty-two hundred acres of “surplus mining land”—formerly mining tailings and settling ponds—bought throughout the 1900s by Kennecott Land’s much older sister company, Kennecott Copper.”

Perhaps strangest of all is the way in which water has once again returned to the feet of the remaining Oquirrhs:

“We’ve put more thinking into the design of this lake than any I’ve seen.”
Russell Sanford, vice president of land development, Kennecott Land

“Oquirrh Lake is the centerpiece of Daybreak’s commitment to leisure time. The sixty-acre manmade body of water is framed by a perimeter of lush natural grasses and lined with a multimillion-dollar synthetic sheeting system that seals it from the contaminated soil below. As the ground beneath Oquirrh Lake is still a brownfield, swimming is not permitted, but there are ducks to feed, and there is catch-and-release fishing (the lake is regularly restocked with tens of thousands of local species). The lake is currently in the first of three phases of construction, and its acreage will eventually be tripled.” – Lucy Raven, from Daybreak

The shores of present day Lake Oquirrh, image from Lucy Raven's Daybreak

Though Daybreak and the Bingham Copper Pit are immense on a human scale, another perspective appears with a few thousand feet of elevation.

From the Salt Flats to the Wasatch, with the Bingham Copper sandwiched between

With our angle of sight adjusted, traces of the Pleistocene become more visible, perhaps even dominate.  The Eastern extent of Lake Bonneville meets the lush Wasatch Mountains. Interventions from the Anthropocene such as the Bingham Copper Pit, the Daybreak development and Oquirrh Lake sink into near oblivion. They become dwarfed by the extent of the ancient Bonneville’s expansive, dessicated body (encompassing the Bonneville Salt Flats, the copper pit, Salt Lake City, Daybreak), bordered on the east by its living remnants: The Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake to the south. From here, we see geologic epochs existing alongside one another in a state of transitional co-existence.

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