Anthony Gerace | Essays

Box Elder

Entropy is a condition that is moving toward a gradual equilibrium.
 —Robert Smithson

Box Elder County resides in the northwestern-most corner of Utah, a piece of land hemmed in by the desert and the Great Salt Lake, a nondescript locale that hides crucial pieces of American history, wildlife, and art. It's one of the most fascinating places in the country, both for it's rugged beauty and for it's incongruous histories. It's these histories and the people that have been shaped by them that appeal to me; it's a wide-open landscape holding less than 0.05 percent of the country’s population, and yet it was the terminus of the first transcontinental railway, a mining hub, and the site of a major artistic intervention. 

I first learned about Box Elder County, Utah, when I became fascinated by the land art of Robert Smithson, specifically Spiral Jetty. It became a running joke in my own mind that one day I'd travel there just to see it, but as I began researching this pilgrimage-of-sorts, I became intrigued by the amount of history, both social and environmental, that resided in the state and the county. The project soon became more about Utah and less about Smithson, and more about trying to capture a social history than about documenting a piece of art.

Box Elder County is a case study in decline; in how a community that has so much history can still have that history rendered null by the encroachment of desert, salt, and heat, and by the disinterest of community. By tracing a path from habitation (Brigham City) to the skeletons of towns that no longer exist (Locomotive Springs), and finally to the scrubland desert and salt flats edging the Great Salt Lake, via three historic sites (the Spiral Jetty, Promontory Summit, and Bear River Bird Refuge), the project seeks to explain how history can fail and become meaningless in the face of nature's absoluteness. 

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