Outdoor Public Art Retells Utah’s Golden Spike Story

Golden Spike Visiting Logan, Douwe Blumberg, Artist Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Golden Spike Visiting Logan,
Douwe Blumberg, Artist
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Locomotive Advancing within Buffalo Eye Douwe Blumberg, Artist Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer Locomotive Advancing In Buffalo Eye
Douwe Blumberg, Artist
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

 “Distant Thunder,”
Michael Coleman, Artist
at Golden Spike National Monument
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Monument to their Memory, Ilan Averbuch, Artist, Golden Spike State Park at Reeder Ranch, Brigham City, UT, Photo Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer Monument to their Memory
Ilan Averbuch, Artist
Golden Spike State Park at Reeder Ranch, Brigham City, UT
Photo Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Early this spring, a semi-truck with a long flat bed pulled into the USU parking lot next to the cemetery and parked. Lashed down firmly on the flat bed was a giant railroad spike, covered in gold leaf and very impressive to see from a distance. But walking up to it, I could see it was covered in sculptured forms. There was an Indian astride a horse; the shaggy head of a buffalo. But what really caught my attention was the close up of the buffalo eye staring right at me. Reflected in the pupil was a steam engine, coming down the tracks, right at me. I felt the chill of the inevitable crash.

The train brought hunters with guns, hide hunters who killed and took only the hides, shipping them by the bale to industries back east. When there were no more buffalo to be shot, they collected the bones and shipped them to St Louis to be crushed into fertilizer. You could see the crash coming, and knew it would be devastating – to the buffalo and the Indians whose livelihood depended on them.

Walking around to the other side of the spike, I found a very different story. Here were the laborers who had laid down the Transcontinental tracks – the Chinese, the Irish, the Civil War veterans, the Mormon graders- Each standing proudly on the other’s shoulders, all the way to the top. I breathed in the nobility of these men for a difficult job well done.

This giant golden spike’s final home will be standing upright in a 23 acre public park in Brigham City, close enough to the Forest Street exit to be visible from I-15. Until then, we are going to have to wait to see the final two sides of the spike.

But in the meantime, there is another new art piece to go see outside the Golden Spike National Park at Promontory Point.

As I pulled into this parking lot, I was astonished to see a massive chunk of railroad track, rising up from the ground and curving slightly to a vanishing point in the sky.

I was reminded of a conversation I’d has few years ago, when I was collecting train stories, with a man who had once had a summer job hammering spikes on a railroad crew. He was fifteen- half the age and half the size of the other men. But he caught the rhythm.

Tap the spike into place. Swing in the spike maul. One, two, three. Pick up the next spike.

This story helped me understand the restless energy I felt looking at the track sculpture – one more tie, one more rail, one more spike. Repeat. These tracks were going where no tracks had gone before.

Outdoor public art can be storytelling at its very best.

And now a footnote for the engineers listening in: The giant golden spike is actually 43.2319 feet tall. That’s because 43.2319 is the square root of 1869.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah

Credits:

Images Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org & Cook Laboratories https://folklife.si.edu/archives-and-resources/cook-labs-records
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings

Swanson, Kirsten, Heers, Mary, Ride the rails: A storytelling exploration of Utah’s early railroad, Utah Public Radio, May 18, 2022 at 9:12 AM MDT, https://www.upr.org/arts-and-culture/2019-05-10/ride-the-rails-a-storytelling-exploration-of-utahs-early-railroad

Golden Spike Monument by Douwe Blumberg, Golden Spike State Monument, The Golden Spike Foundation (GSF), https://spike150.org/park/

Driving of the Spike Tour, News, Douwe Studios, October 24, 2023, https://www.douwestudios.com/news

Hislop, Craig, Golden Spike monument coming to USU Tuesday, Cache Valley Daily, Apr 26, 2024, https://www.cachevalleydaily.com/news/golden-spike-monument-coming-to-usu-tuesday/article_ee1eb334-0376-11ef-b19c-c725f46266d9.html

Williams, Carter, Utah gets $1.5M donation as it unveils more plans for new golden spike monument, KSL.com, April 11, 2024 at 7:47 p.m. https://www.cachevalleydaily.com/news/golden-spike-monument-coming-to-usu-tuesday/article_ee1eb334-0376-11ef-b19c-c725f46266d9.html

Don’t Confuse these two places. The Golden Spike National State Park is 30 miles West of the “Gateway” Golden Spike State Monument at Reeder Ranch in Brigham City
Golden Spike National Historic Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/gosp/index.htm

S.C.R. 6 Concurrent Resolution Creating the Golden Spike State Monument, Utah State Legislature, Signed March 13, 2024, https://le.utah.gov/~2024/bills/static/SCR006.html

“Distant Thunder” Sculpture at Golden Spike National Historical Park Honors Bison’s Past, https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/golden-spike-national-historical-park-distant-thunder.htm

Southwestern Utah Herps

Southwestern Utah Herps: Gila Monster, Courtesy Pixabay
Gila Monster
Courtesy Pixabay

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Desert Tortoise - Right of Hat Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Desert Tortoise – Right of Hat
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

I’m going to go beyond birds a few hundred million years to their precursors, who thrived long before our feathered mini-dinosaurs evolved. These ancient beings continue to thrive to this day, which lured 14 USU students and I to join them in the Mojave wilds of southwestern Utah.

We camped at the Gunlock State Park, where a Utah DWR herpetologist joined us for several hours, who appeared to know every scaly and slimy critter within a 10-mile radius.
A few highlights came when a Smith’s Black headed snake was discovered beneath a cow paddy, about the size of a large worm. No one thought it possible to find such a tiny, shy being, unless you’re flipping cow poo! Other popular reptiles were the small, delicate banded gecko and the diminutive, invasive Pacific tree frog.

Saturday was spent in Snow Canyon State Park where we were entertained by Cheyenne, a young SUU student naturalist, who kept us riveted with stories on some of the more iconic herp residents. She was emphatic on how to keep the reptiles safe from park visitors and ravens. “If a tortoise is crossing the road, please help it to the other side in the same direction it’s headed. Otherwise, never pick them up for they may release stored water, which could mean their death from dehydration. She also cautioned us on leaving the trail, for the desert tortoise spends much of it’s life in its labyrinth of burros. “Your footstep could cause a collapse, entombing the animal.”

Next, Cheyenne pulled a fully mounted Gila monster from her magical tub. Oohs and ahhs were audible, the penultimate reptile. She enthralled them with its life history, spending up to 95% of its life underground, often in tortoise burrows, emerging during the spring months for mating and feeding. It may eat 1/3 of its weight in one meal, consisting of bird, tortoise, and snake eggs and young, young mammals, carrion, and whoever else smells delicious and small enough to fit in its ravenous maw. Many of the calories are stored in its tail, which nourishes the animal for much of the year. Amazingly, Gila monster venom is used for diabetes and obesity treatment. Asked if she had seen a Gila monster. “No, but it’s at the top of my list!” she said.

Following a Cheyenne led hike, we continued the herp search beyond the park boundary. A tortoise discovery brought considerable excitement and photos, a rare siting! But that was overshadowed a half hour later when a Gila monster decided to present itself to myself. I began shouting “monster” hoping to rein in the dispersed crew. They came scrambling through the creosote bushes in disbelief. We immediately sent a text to Cheyenne with the coordinates, hoping she would see her first Monster in the wild! Never have I witnessed more excitement in my students, a surreal moment. I must check with Cheyenne on her success in finding the monster!

The Gila monster is considered near threatened by the IUCN from habitat loss and pet trade. In Utah it is illegal to handle Gila monsters without a permit.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society and I am Wild About Utah and its herps

https://pixabay.com/photos/gila-lizard-dragon-reptile-monster-5536750/
Sound credit goes to J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin and Anderson, Howe, Wakeman.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/photos/gila-lizard-dragon-reptile-monster-5536750/
Additional images Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe and Wakeman,
Also includes audio Courtesy & © J. Chase & K.W. Baldwin
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah pieces authored by Jack Greene

Smith’s Black-headed Snake Tantilla hobartsmithi, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=tantilla%20hobartsmithi

Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=heloderma%20suspectum

Mojave Desert Tortoise Gopherus agassizii, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=gopherus%20agassizii

Western Banded Gecko – Coleonyx variegatus https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=coleonyx%20variegatus

Don’t keep illegal reptiles – including desert tortoises – or release pet reptiles, fish into wild, St George News, Sept 5, 2021, https://archives.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2021/12/05/prc-dont-keep-illegal-reptiles-or-release-pet-reptiles-fish-including-desert-tortoises-into-wild

A Ranger Moment: SUU student Cheyenne Mitchell speaks at OES, March 20, 2023 – by Jacob Horne, SUU News, Student Media, Southern Utah University https://suunews.net/2023/03/20/a-ranger-moment-suu-student-cheyenne-mitchell-speaks-at-oes/

Ask a herpetologist, Megen Kepas, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/1692-ask-a-herpetologist.html

Smith’s Black-headed Snake Tantilla hobartsmithi, https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/28499-Tantilla-hobartsmithi
Information about the Smith above: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_Muir_Smith

Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/9865/13022716

A Sense of Where You Are

A Sense of Where You Are Courtesy Eric Newell with photo Copyright Michael L (Mick) Nicholls

A Sense of Where You Are Courtesy Eric Newell with photo Copyright Michael L (Mick) Nicholls

Eric Newell, author, Wild About Utah, Director of Experiential Learning and Technology, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, USU

Eric Newell, PhD
author, Wild About Utah
Director of Experiential Learning and Technology, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, USU

I arrived in Logan, Utah for winter quarter in 1994—after history professor Ross Peterson recruited my three sisters and I to Utah State University, despite the fact that our dad was a University of Utah professor and Dean. I was the final piece of Ross’ coup and he flashed a satiating grin when I first visited him on campus.

Before entering Ross’s office, I stopped to stare at a promotional poster for the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, featuring—I later learned—Mike DeBloois, wearing a brim hat, silhouetted against the Grand Teton in Wyoming. The photograph was taken by USU history professor, Mick Nicholls. The caption read, “A sense of where you are.”

This is how I first became acquainted with the concept of “sense of place” and the idea that the wild places I valued, the wild places that were part of who I was, and who I am today, had value on a larger scale.

As a College of Natural Resources (CNR) student, I enrolled in Watershed Science with Jack Schmidt and Wilderness in American with Mark Brunson. Later I took Snow Dynamics with Mike Jenkins and Environmental Education with Barbara Middleton. I was delighted that I could take college courses on rivers, on Wilderness, on the science of avalanches, and on outdoor education. Though I later changed majors, those CNR courses provided connections to places and to knowledge I’ve drawn upon throughout my teaching career.

The next year, I enrolled in English professor Tom Lyon’s course, American Nature Writers.

Tom was a lean man with a long easy stride you could pick out from across the quad on campus. I still have the books we read for his class: American Women Afield, A Sand County Almanac, Refuge, My First Summer in the Sierra, and others. Tom took us to Logan Canyon to witness the endemic McGuire primrose in bloom. We talked in class about the books we read, then we ventured out to the west desert to backpack and write.

“Walden was written with a pen,” Tom emphasized before reading a passage aloud to us:

“O the evening robin, at the end of a New England summer day! If I could ever find the twig he sits upon! I mean he; I mean the twig.”

Tom’s emphasis on “the twig” inspired fellow classmate, Tim Wagner, to make T-shirts inscribed with the phrase.

Tom was a key figure in establishing the Department of English’s literary journal The Petroglyph which showcased nature writing from 1989 until 2001. In the 1990’s Tom’s efforts were crucial in preventing much of Highway 89 in Logan Canyon from becoming four-lanes. Tom’s sense of place was contagious. Several colleagues in that course pursued writing careers.

I transferred to elementary education my second year at USU because I believed the most important life work I could undertake was to connect the next generation of humans to wild places. I didn’t want to grow old in a world with people who had no understanding of, or connection to, the land that sustains us. I didn’t want to grow old in a world without advocates for conservation.

Here is what I know—getting outside to interact with the natural world matters. Spending time outdoors boosts our physical, mental, and spiritual health. We form connections with those we share our wild journeys with and we develop “a sense of where we are.”

I am Eric Newell and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Images: A Sense of Where You Are Courtesy Eric Newell with photo Copyright Michael L (Mick) Nicholls
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver Also includes audio Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe, & Wakeman
Text: Eric Newell, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon

Additional Reading

WildAboutUtah pieces by Eric Newell, https://wildaboututah.org/author/eric-newell/

Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Utah State University, https://www.usu.edu/mountainwest/

Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University, https://cehs.usu.edu/edithbowen/

Dashboard Shows
Peak Need for Dark Skies
and the Mantra to
Dim the Lights for Birds at Night

Milky Way above Chesler Park Canyonlands National Park Courtesy US National Park Service, Emily Ogden, Photographer

Milky Way above Chesler Park
Canyonlands National Park
Courtesy US National Park Service,
Emily Ogden, Photographer
Canyonlands is one of many parks in southern Utah with the International Dark Sky Park designation

 
BirdCast Migration Dashboard https://dashboard.birdcast.info/ Courtesy BirdCast, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Cornell University

BirdCast Migration Dashboard
https://dashboard.birdcast.info/
Courtesy BirdCast, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cornell University

Songbirds migrate at night to avoid predators, air turbulence, and daytime heat. Down here on the ground we are unaware of the miraculous and essential voyagers flying up to 10,000 feet above us, but thanks to dedicated scientists collaborating for years on end we have free access to the data and graphs of these massive population shifts. The BirdCast Dashboard uses weather radar to track bird migrations, providing real time data showing peak migrations at the website dashboard.birdcast.info.

Did you know that World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated in May and October? Those are the peak months for spring and fall migrations, and the magnitudes of those flocks are considerable. Two thirds of songbirds migrate at night.

It’s important to know when migrations are occurring because skyglow from artificial lighting causes bird disorientation and millions of bird fatalities each and every year. The declining bird population is problematic for many reasons, not least of which because some of the most intrepid travelers like the three-inch-long Rufous Hummingbird, which travels 3,900 miles each way from Alaska to Mexico, are keystone species with ecosystem services such as pollination and consumption of pests such as aphids and mosquitoes.

The Bobolink travels 12,500 miles to and from southern South America every year – those imperiled birds breeding at the west end of Logan may travel the equivalent of 4 or 5 times around the circumference of the earth throughout their lifetime. They come to Cache Valley for the habitat, stay to raise their young, and then head back to their distant winter feeding grounds.

A few top-notch steps toward bird-friendly living include the prevention of light trespass and skyglow, especially from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., March – May, and August – October. Close curtains to prevent the indoor light from escaping, and avoid blue light outdoors – choose warm white or amber lights, and shield light bulbs to direct light downward. Motion-activated light bulbs are a great way to safely light the way while cutting down on unnecessary outdoor lighting, especially since there’s no clear scientific evidence that outdoor lighting reduces crime. Excess light, on the other hand, is a crime, and light trespass is an enforceable infraction. Light pollution is harmful to humans and deadly for birds.

Logan Mayor Holly Daines signed a Proclamation to Dim the Lights for Birds at Night because reducing skyglow and light trespass saves energy and birds by reducing the often fatal disorientation caused by artificial light.

Dark Skies are filled with bright stars, so by jingles, what say we all “Dim the lights for birds at night!

I’m Hilary Shughart with the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I am Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Images: Milky Way above Chesler Park, Canyonlands National Park, Courtesy US National Park Service, Emily Ogden, Photographer, https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/gallery-item.htm?id=286169fc-2bab-40e0-bf8b-a13b5170aeb3&gid=2ADECB87-1DD8-B71B-0B09BD0B18C96667
Screenshot: BirdCast Migration Dashboard, Courtesy BirdCast, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://dashboard.birdcast.info/
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart, https://wildaboututah.org/author/hilary-shughart/

Miller, Zach, Dark Sky Parks, Wild About Utah, Nov 2, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/dark-sky-parks/

Leavitt, Shauna, Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks, Wild About Utah, May 6, 2019 & August 3, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/natural-quiet-and-darkness-in-our-national-parks/

Rask, Kajler, Dark Skies, Wild About Utah, Jan 1, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/dark-skies/

Dark Skies, Bird-Friendly Living, Advocacy, Bridgerland Audubon Society, May 2022, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/advocacy/bird-friendly-living/dark-skies/

Dim the Lights for Birds at Night, Bridgerland Audubon Society, May 3, 2022, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/advocacy/bird-friendly-living/dark-skies/

International Dark Skies Association, Utah Chapter, https://utah.darksky.ngo/

Welzbacker, Hannah, Tracking a Night-Time River of Birds, Cool Green Science, The Nature Conservancy, April 13, 2021, https://blog.nature.org/science/2021/04/13/tracking-a-night-time-river-of-birds/?fbclid=IwAR18LKCQUmSlb-hHM1u4FXfVe-GqyWTwiPx91obUQbq2uB9kcPU2djlCnlk

BirdCast Dashboard, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://dashboard.birdcast.info/

Global Bird Collision Mapper, Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada, https://flap.org/
See also https://birdmapper.org/

Lowe, Joe, Do Hummingbirds Migrate?, American Bird Conservancy, September 12, 2019, https://abcbirds.org/blog/do-hummingbirds-migrate/

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=dolichonyx%20oryzivorus

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bobolink

Lighting, Crime and Safety, International Dark-Sky Association, https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/lighting-crime-and-safety/#:~:text=There%20is%20no%20clear%20scientific,cost%20a%20lot%20of%20money

2022 Proclamation “Dim the Lights for Birds at Night”, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/dim-the-lights-for-birds-at-night/

The use of the “by jingles” exclamation is in homage to Warren Dahlin’s moving Moth Radio Hour story “Open My Eyes”, in which he “makes a friend who stays with him in life and in death.” Heard on Utah Public Radio (5/28/22), The Moth, https://themoth.org/stories/open-my-eyes

Owens, Avalon & Cochard, Précillia & Durrant, Joanna & Farnworth, Bridgette & Perkin, Elizabeth & Seymoure, Brett. (2019). Light pollution is a driver of insect declines. Biological Conservation. 241. 108259. 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108259. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108259