Mirabilite Mounds and The Great Salt Lake

Mirabilite Mounds in the Great Salt Lake Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Mirabilite Mounds
in the Great Salt Lake
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Back in October 2019, the ranger at the Great Salt Lake State Park began to notice a white mound forming on the sand flats behind the visitor center. The white mounds turned out to be hydrated sodium sulfate – known as mirabilite- which was being carried to the surface by the upwelling of a fresh water spring. Since the 1940’s geologists have known that in this area, 30 inches below the surface, there was a 3 – 6 foot thick shelf of mirabilite. They knew about the fresh water springs What was new was cold air. Since this stretch of sand was no longer underwater, the mirabilite carried to the surface stayed there as crystals, piling up on each other, puddling and spreading out. One mound rose to the height of 3 feet.

Mirabilite Springs in the shadow of the Kennecott Smelter stack Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Phorographer
Mirabilite Springs in the shadow of the Kennecott Smelter stack
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Phorographer
When the mounds started to form again this winter, I jumped at the chance to to go and take a look. I must admit at first I was a little underwhelmed at the size, perhaps because the Kennecott Smelter Stack nearby dominates the view, rising to 1,215 feet – roughly the same height as the Empire State Building. But the park ranger got my attention when she told us that mirabilite mounds have only been seen in four places in the entire world – the Canadian Arctic, Antarctica, Central Spain, – and Utah. Just seeing them turns out to be a rare winter treat. When the air warms to 50 degrees, the mirabilite will crumble into a fine white powder and disappear.

Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970) Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970)
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
My mind flashed back to a trip I’d made to the other end of the lake ten years ago. I’d just graduated from the docent training class at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, and a friend and I wanted to celebrate by having High Tea at the center of the Spiral Jetty, a 1,500 foot, long, 15 foot wide coil of black basalt rock – a stunning example of land art jutting out from the northern shore. We’d been warned that it might be underwater, but when we arrived we were delighted to find we could easily walk to the very center of the spiral as the lake water gently lapped at the edges of our shoes. We clinked our tea cups, and toasted the greatness of the lake.

Suddenly I wanted to see the jetty again, so I hopped in my car and drove to the remote site. I saw the Spiral Jetty was now high and dry. Drifting sand had already started to bury parts of it. The water’s edge was now over 300 yards away. I thought of the millions of migratory birds that would be arriving in the spring to rest and feast on the tiny treasures of the lake, the brine shrimp. I hoped a smaller lake would still be enough for all of them.

The recent words of the director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, Lynn de Freitas, rang in my head: “The Great Salt Lake is a gift that keeps on giving. Just add water.”

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text & Voice: Mary Heers, Generous Contributor, Utah Public Radio
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading

Mirabilite Spring Mounds Near Great Salt Lake Marina, Utah Geological Survey (UGS), Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://geology.utah.gov/popular/general-geology/great-salt-lake/mirabilite-spring-mounds/

Mirabilite, Mindat.org, Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, https://www.mindat.org/min-2725.html

Tabin, Sara, Rare salt formations return to Great Salt Lake’s shores; take a tour while they last, The Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 13, 2021, https://www.sltrib.com/news/2021/01/14/rare-salt-formations/

USGS 412613112400801 The Great Salt Lake at Spiral Jetty, Site Map for the Nation, U.S. Geological Survey(USGS), U.S. Department of the Interior, https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/nwismap/?site_no=412613112400801&agency_cd=USGS

Case, William, GEOSIGHTS: PINK WATER, WHITE SALT CRYSTALS, BLACK BOULDERS, AND THE RETURN OF SPIRAL JETTY!, Survey Notes, v. 35 no. 1, Utah Geological Survey (UGS), Utah Department of Natural Resources, January 2003, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/geosights/spiral-jetty/

Board & Staff, Friends of the Great Salt Lake, https://www.fogsl.org/about/board-staff

Embarking on an Ecological Transition through Permaculture Design

Ecological Transition through Permaculture Design: Before and After Permaculture Rain Garden USU Moab Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain McCann, Photographer
Before and After
Permaculture Rain Garden
USU Moab
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain McCann, Photographer
Before installing our permaculture gardens at Utah State University, Moab, the only birds I observed from my office window were Eurasian Collared Doves and crows. The space is small. It used to consist of concrete and a mono-planted row of juniper bushes. Seven years ago, over 40 members of the Moab community helped us dream up a new vision for the space. We took out a few parking spaces that allowed my building’s roof rainwater runoff to run-in to our garden and into a rock-lined swale and a series of basins. In an area that receives an average of under 10 inches of rainfall per year, our USU Moab permaculture gardens now harvest an estimated 125,000 gallons of rainwater either directly into the garden soil, or into a series of rain tanks for later use.

Alongside planting the rain through water harvesting earthworks, we installed an ecological design with a fruit and shade producing overstory, and an understory of shrubs, plants, and grasses. The understory performs one or more of four functions: pollinator attractors, nitrogen fixers, nutrient accumulators (which pull nutrients deeper in soil layers towards the surface, becoming available through a chop and drop technique), and soil stabilizers. Now, broad-tailed hummingbirds, spotted towhees, rock wrens and more can be seen and heard as the garden bounty ripens each year. These birds bring color, song, and delight as they contribute to pest control, devouring aphids, grasshoppers and pesky plant eating beetle grubs.

What we have learned through our small urban campus is that with permaculture design, any landscape can undergo a complete ecological transition – even a landscape that is only a few feet wide and was previously partially covered in concrete.

If you are interested in applying permaculture design to your landscape, start by observing your site as it currently is. See how water flows in a rain event. Walk around during the hottest days of the year and feel where the hot and cool zones are. How does the sun move across the site during summer solstice. During winter solstice. What views do you want to take in and block? What species engage in your landscape and what ones are missing? These are the types of questions you can ask yourself. Then, as you begin to think about design ideas, here are some general tips:

    • Ask elders in your community about extreme weather events and other helpful historical information
    • Think about what your landscape is currently doing for you, and what you would like it to do. Then, develop your goals for the site. This will help you determine what is and is not currently working
    • In the desert, as a general rule, place your paths high and dry, plants low and wet (or at least wetter)
    • Discover what plants might work well together in what is called a guild. For example, if you have a nitrogen dependent shrub, plant nitrogen-fixing plants around it.
    • Harvest as much rainwater as possible through active systems like rain tanks, and passive systems like earthworks that slow, spread, and sink rainwater
    • Plant your high-maintenance plants in your most-frequented areas – alongside the pathway between your house and chicken coop, for example.
    • Birds and humans appreciate diversity in heights, species, and food-producing plants
    • Start small
    • See failures as opportunities for learning

    For Utah State University Extension Sustainability and the Department of Environment and Society, this is Roslynn Brain McCann and I’m wild about Utah!

    Credits:
    Images: Courtesy and copyright Roslynn G.H. Brain McCann, Photographer
    Audio: Courtesy and copyright Kevin Colver
    Text:     Roslynn G.H. Brain McCann, Utah State University Extension Sustainability
    Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster
    Additional Reading:

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Rainwater Harvesting, Wild About Utah, October 19, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/rainwater-harvesting/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Permaculture, Wild About Utah, May 23, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/permaculture/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Three-Leaf Sumac (Rhus trilobata), Wild About Utah, November 23, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/three-leaf-sumac-rhus-trilobata/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Dandelion, Friend or Foe?, Wild About Utah, April 4, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/dandelion-friend-foe/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Edible Weeds: Lambs Quarters and Purslane, Wild About Utah, March 27, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/edible-weeds-lambs-quarters-and-purslane/

    Brain McCann, Roslynn G.H., Yellow-bellied Marmot, Wild About Utah, September 21, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/yellow-bellied-marmot/

    Karst Topography

    Karst Topography: Entrance to a Karst Cave Courtesy & © Josh Boling
    Entrance to a Karst Cave
    Courtesy & © Josh Boling
    Rivers run beneath these hills, carving winding caverns through ancient stone, plumbing a subterranean watershed—a second topography, ever changing. What little we’ve seen must lead further in, places mythology might only describe.

    Karst topography’ refers to landscapes cleaved apart by the leaching of water through a soluble bedrock layer comprised of carbonate-rich rocks like the limestone and dolomite found throughout Utah’s mountains or the evaporate-type gypsum and rock salt layers found in Utah’s redrock country. Over time, this erosion by surface and groundwater creates pinnacles, rippling fissures, gaping sinkholes, or springs on the surface—deep caverns, plummeting vertical shafts, and winding tunnels through which entire rivers can flow below.

    We floated one such river once, in complete darkness, guided only by a subtle current and the voice of our local guide. He said he was of Mayan descent, so we listened closely when he relayed stories of Chaac, the Mayan god of rain responsible for the generous flow of water through the caverns we explored. Indeed, it is within these same caverns that he dwells, we were told. Further north, in Mexico and the desert southwest, it’s Tlaloc, the goggle-eyed Aztecan deity that controls the rain. He, too, is supposed to reside within the body of the earth.

    Karst Cave Courtesy & © Josh Boling
    Karst Cave
    Courtesy & © Josh Boling
    There’s no mythology I’m aware of for my little corner of the globe. So, scientists and explorers alike descend into the karstic caves of northern Utah to see what they might learn. “Utah is unique,” one such explorer told me, “with some of the most difficult caves that exist in the world, then some of the most spectacular, and some of the most benign.” Intrigued, I set out to see what I could find in my own back yard. Ribs of bleached limestone called karrens spread across a plateau like a washboard road, sinkholes that occupy the better part of an entire meadow, blind valleys sunken into a void in the bedrock, innumerable unnamed springs, and a small, non-descript cavity in the crust—the thing I had really been looking for this whole time.

    Main Drain is Utah’s deepest and the nation’s 11th-deepest cave. It’s also wildly difficult and dangerous to navigate, yet absolutely critical to explore for the sake of furthering scientific understanding. I talked to Larry Spangler of the US Geological Survey in Salt Lake City about the significance of karst landscapes like Main Drain. “The caves that are developed in these terrains,” Spangler says, “are…valuable sources of information in regard to changes in climate and landscape evolution over time.” The chemistries of these caves are unique to their environment, and analysis of mineral deposits within the caves can provide insights into how average surface temperatures have changed over time and how wet or dry the landscape above was in any given period. Karst caves can reveal climate data for specific locales that may help us predict how a warming planet might affect our local ecosystems.

    The water that flows through Main Drain and other cave systems like it in the form of snowmelt and subterranean streams carves its way vertically and horizontally through layers of bedrock hundreds of millions of years old—providing researchers a literal inside look at the formation of mountains. And as a map of these subterranean watersheds begins to come together, we gain a better understanding of the hydrology of an area and its effects on water quality.

    When I spoke to Spangler, he wanted to make it very clear just how sensitive these karst landscapes are to surface activities, for the health of ecosystems and the integrity of watersheds, of course, but also for the health of human communities. The US Geological Survey estimates that as much as a quarter of the world’s population depends on karst landscapes for their water supply. The city of Logan, where my family and I live, sources its water from one of the larger karst springs in the area. The people are drinking straight from the mountain.

    Rivers run beneath these hills, and through us as well.

    I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!
     
    Credits:
    Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
    Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
    Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
    Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling

    Sources & Additional Reading

    Author’s note: Caves and other karst features are inherently dangerous. You should never enter a cave or other karst feature without the appropriate training, gear, and an experienced person(s) to accompany you.

    Shurtz, David K & Shurtz, Ryan K, The Discovery, Exploration of, and Sufferings withing Utah’s Main Drain Cave, Utah Grottos, April 2005 http://www.jonjasper.com/TonyGrove/MainDrainCave-NSSApril2005.pdf

    Haydock, Adam, Cave Dive Operations in Main Drain Cave, Utah, https://www.even-further.com/dive-expedition-in-main-drain-utah

    Caving Main Drain Cave, Logan Canyon, Utah, Outdoor Activities, The Dye Clan, August 31, 2013, https://dyeclan.com/outdooractivities/caving/?id=334

    Main Drain Cave, Utah Caving, February 14, 2014, https://utahcaving.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/main-drain-cave/

    Karst Topography Paper Model (Learning Activity, Grade Level: 9-12), National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/caves/karst-topography-model.htm
    Karst Topography Paper Model Background
    Soto, Limaris R.(modified by), After: Alpha, Tau Rho, Galloway, John P, and Tinsley III, John C., Karst (U.S. Geological Survey Open-file Report 97-536-A), Topography Paper Model, U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/caves/upload/Karst-Topography-Model-_Written-Section_508c.pdf (formerly: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/caves/upload/Final-Karst-Topography-Model-_Written-Section_5-14-2014.pdf)

    Weary, David J. and Doctor, Daniel H., Karst in the United States: A Digital Map Compilation and Database, Open-File Report 2014–1156, U.S. Geological Survey(USGS), https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2014/1156/pdf/of2014-1156.pdf

    Lawrence, Lawrence E., Delineation of Recharge Areas for Karst Springs in Logan Canyon, Bear River Range, Northern Utah, U.S. Geological Survey/The Pennsylvania State University, https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.543.5904&rep=rep1&type=pdf

    Francis, George Gregory, Stratigraphy and Environmental Analysis of the Swan Peak Formation and Eureka Quartzite, Northern Utah, (1972). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 1684 https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2683&context=etd

    Morgan, Susan K., Geologic Tours of Northern Utah, Miscellaneous Publications, 92-1, Utah Geological Survey, Adivision of Utah Department of Natural Resources, (1992), https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-92-1.pdf

    Connecting Caves, Karst Landscapes and Climate Around the World, Circle of Blue, January 18, 2010, https://www.circleofblue.org/2010/world/connecting-caves-karst-landscapes-and-climate-around-the-world/

    Bahr, Kirsten, “Structural and Lithological Influences on the Tony Grove Alpine Karst System, Bear River Range, North Central Utah” (2016). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 5015. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6053&context=etd

    The Eastern Shore of Bear Lake

    Eastern Shore of Bear Lake Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
    Eastern Shore of Bear Lake
    Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
    The Eastern shore of Bear Lake is a quiet place

    Far from the hubbub and close to what is good for us

    Seldom visited by those who want

    And home to all that one needs

    As autumn takes its dive towards winter and leaves begin to turn

    Be like the Eastern shore of Bear Lake

    Be Peaceful

    Be Deep

    Be…

    I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah
     
    Credits:

    Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
    Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly
    Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
    Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

    Additional Reading

    Leavitt, Shauna, Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, Wild About Utah, August 28, 2017, Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-lake-sculpin-cottus-extensus/

    Bingham, Lyle, Kervin, Linda(voice), Bonneville Cisco, Wild About Utah, February 11, 2009, Bonneville Cisco, https://wildaboututah.org/bonneville-cisco/

    Bear Lake Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bear Lake Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, https://bearlake.org/

    Are Bear Lake’s Ciscos a Joy or Curse?, Angler Guide, http://www.anglerguide.com/articles/112.html

    Fishing: Bear Lake history & facts, http://wildlife.utah.gov/fishing/bearlake.html

    Endemic Species of Bear Lake, Pugstones Fishing Guides, http://www.fishingbearlake.com/bearlake.html

    Prosopium gemmifer, Bonneville cisco, FishBase, http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=2683

    Bonneville cisco, Prosopium gemmifer, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=prosgemm

    Utah Sensitive Species List, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/ViewReports/sslist.htm

    Bonneville Cisco (Prosopium bemmiferum) from Bear Lake, Utah-Idaho, All Enthusiast, Inc., http://www.aslo.org/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/553/sort/1/cat/all/page/1

    Winter Fishing Comes Naturally at Bear Lake, Utah Outdoors, http://www.utahoutdoors.com/pages/bear_lake_winter.htm