The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Report on CLUI Regional Facilities

group of researchers indoors in blue light
A roving group of researchers from the Explorers Guild Troop 001, who held an event at the DRS last November, where prototypes of Martian rovers were deployed in nocturnal tests along the trails. Explorers Guild photo

THE CENTER MANAGES A VARIETY of regional facilities, which serve as public contact stations, project support centers, and exhibition sites. Some are open with a specific program for just a few months, others for a few years, and some, it seems, perpetually. 

Desert Research Station 
The Center’s Desert Research Station, located near Barstow, California, was established by the CLUI in 2000, as a base to develop and present programming about the desert hinterlands of Southern California, and the nationally significant land uses that occur there, and also to address what “the desert” means, historically, and in these times. Facilities there include a visitor center and a walking trail, open during programming periods. 

Public activities were limited at the DRS over 2021, due to the pandemic, and the related decrease of in-person group activities. However, things have been going on behind the scenes, including research and development for a program about remote sensing, detection, and evasion—technologies which are endemic in the region. 

Meanwhile, the nearby town of Hinkley continued its dematerialization, due to the ongoing fallout from the decades-old PG&E groundwater contamination matter (known to many from the 2000 film Erin Brockovich). The local high school, shuttered for the past few years, was finally torn down in November. 

A bumper crop of marijuana grow houses has appeared on the outskirts of town, like mushrooms feeding on a dead log, many of which have already gone bust, or been busted, their PVC pole plastic sheet greenhouse ruins blowing over the desert. 

abandoned marijuana grow houses in desert
One of several new marijuana grow houses that have popped up around Hinkley over the past few years, some of which, like this one, have already been abandoned in place. CLUI photo

CLUI Swansea 
The Center’s location on the shores of Owens Lake, in California’s Eastern Sierras, is at the site of the 19th century town of Swansea, which was the home port for the first ship to ply the waters of Owens Lake, before it dried up following the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. 

In addition to preserving the remains of the “ghost town” of Swansea, including a caretaker’s house, CLUI activities there focus on aspects of desiccation and terrestrial transformation that are underway locally, and their potential national and global significance. 

The ruins of the silver and lead smelter at Swansea are mostly lost in the sand, though visitors can explore what remains of the remains, and enjoy a walk through the Swansea Dunes, to the former lake shore. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has constructed a visitor pavilion nearby, a good point of entry to explore the 110 square miles of former lakebed, and the ongoing two-billion-dollar dust mitigation project there. 

The Center’s Owens Lake Land Observatory, closed to the public since mid-March 2020, is being readied to open again for the winter season in 2022. 

California Historical Landmark (#752) monument
The remains of the silver and lead smelter at Swansea became an official California Historical Landmark (#752) in 1961, and a monument was constructed and dedicated at the site later that year. CLUI photo

CLUI Wendover 
The Center has operated an exhibit hall at Wendover, Utah, since 1996, and maintains several other facilities at the old airbase there, on the edge of the salt flats. This regional location is of national significance due to the variety of high impact land uses that have been drawn to the area over the years, attracting things looking for “empty” space. 

While the pandemic slowed activity at CLUI Wendover in 2021, people did pass through, including the Texas Tech Land Arts of the American West program, which made its annual visit in September. The Center’s public displays at Wendover were open from June through November 2021, and will reopen in 2022. 

group of people standing outside CLUI Wendover
In-person visits returned to CLUI Wendover in the summer of 2021. CLUI photo
motorcyclist jumping over a row of old vehicles
The view from the steerable webcam in the observation tower at CLUI Wendover overlooks the Enola Gay Hangar and the flight line of the airbase that was home to the training for that aircraft’s world-changing flight in World War II. Today the camera captures long periods of stasis, punctuated by occasional bursts of unusual activity, such as here, where a motorcyclist jumped over a row of old vehicles, over and over, for hours, filmed from every angle by cameras on the ground, in vehicles, and drones, for a Red Bull promotional program. CLUI photo

Ruminations of a Maintenance Man on an End of Season Trip to Wendover 
November 11, 2021 
After dark departure out of LAX, heading towards SLC. Sitting on the port side, lifting into the sky over the ocean, see lights of dozens of container ships floating off the port of LA/Long Beach at this presumed peak of the supply chain bottleneck. 737 does 180 to the left, lights of the city grid look like a backlit map from a visitor center in the sky. The dark spots are really dark, with no visible topography to explain why. Just holes in the map. Over the edge of the bowl to the north, at the limit of visibility in the distant northwest end of the Antelope Valley, red lights of the wind turbines, thousands of them, a whole landscape pulsing like a heartbeat. Some kind of a regional urgency, seems like, sinister somehow. Too much of too little too late? Harbinger of futuristic automated planet-earth as machinescape? Maybe it’s just the remnants of the Covid doom mood. Plane moves over San Gabriels, and the San Andreas, from Pacific Plate to Continental Plate, and follows familiar forms flown over, and over, over the decades on this aerial mule path: Adelanto; Silver Lakes; Barstow Outlet Center; and now, the new lights of all the pot grow houses in places that used to be dark, beyond the Desert Research Station. Clouds begin, erasing the terrain. 

Arrive at the newly improved SLC airport for the first time. Off plane it’s like opening the door to a wrong version of the city. The airport has jumped from 1980 to 2040 in the year since I was last here. It seems too big for the moment, like it was designed for the aspirational megacity of the distant future. The old airport was radial, like fingers on a hand, and human-scale. Now it’s duo-monolithic—two parallel rectangular terminal buildings separated by a two-way taxiway, connected by long underground people mover corridors. The largest public construction project in state history, they say. 

Despite the walls as windows, airports can be placeless places. Selfcontained, and not fully anywhere yet. Until the end, the way out, and away. The rental car area of this new airport is kind of where it used to be in space, but everything is new. Huge hall with all the companies lined up on one wall like a corporate carnival midway. Nobody there tonight except everyone in the same Thrifty line. 

Out of the big placeless place, head west on I-80, away from the future city, dropping onto the onramp like a gutterball in the direction of Reno. See the new prison built in the flats west of the airport, all lit up in salty mud. Another land machine, similar to an airport, but opposite, really, as it’s all about going nowhere, instead of someplace else. Another kind of terminal building. 

Then along the corridor between the rising high shoreline of the Kennecott slurry slag pile, now more than 200 feet above grade, looks like, and on the other side of the highway the edge of the Great Salt Lake, dissolving into the distance. Saltair is the terminal building for the salt lake void, where the gatekeepers seem to hate the public, which makes sense. A pavilion of repellant attraction. Across is the smelter, with its Empire State high stack dipstick of the pluvial past, behind which—a vertical mile up—is the communication station at the top of the Oquirrhs, all lit up too, like a cherry on top, or like the bridge of an intergalactic geologic cargo ship. It’s like the command center for Spaceship Earth, or at least this part of it, the part of America that is like another planet. This part. An outland of extraction, grinding itself up, filtering, baking, bagging, shipping, with big landscape machines. 

Onward past the dark proving grounds and glowing sky above radioactive waste dumps and chemical incinerators and magnesium plants, onto the final straight flat straightaway across Bonneville. Reminded of the 1970s movie Damnation Alley, about a team driving an armored self-contained post-apocalyptic RV called the Landmaster through a psychedelic swirl of contamination storms, shot on the flats here. The team had left from a missile base in the California desert, and were headed towards a radio signal emanating from somewhere near Albany, New York, indicating there might be some more survivors there. The British space-rock band Hawkwind put out a song about it too, in 1977, and I put it on the car speakers, crossing the flats. The lyrics go something like: 

Ride the post-atomic radioactive trash 
The sky’s on fire from that nuclear flash 
Diving through the burning hoop of doom 
in an eight wheeled anti-radiation tomb 
Thank you Dr. Strangelove for going do-lally 
and leaving me the heritage of Damnation Alley 

Arrive at Wendover at midnight, or not midnight, it’s hard to say. This is the first time I have been here without a watch. The next 36 hours of timeless limbo, a personal test of the theory of relativity, feels like, in the margin of uncertainty between the Mountain and Pacific time. The cell antennas on one side or the other of the state line switching clocks, even in the car, or not, so there is no fixed point in time. Floating in a sea temporally unmoored, albeit in a narrow margin of only an hour, but when you try to adjust to what it might be, it extends for an hour in either direction, rather than contract towards an average of certainty. It kind of doesn’t matter, though, until it’s time to leave, whenever that is. Get a gallon of water, no food, and eventually sleep. I should bring a watch next time. 

November 12, 2021 
Spend the day fixing this and that, cleaning things up, putting things away, emptying the fridge of its lingering condiments, draining the pipes in the studio, disposing of trash, checking on South Base (all good), and so on. Meet with Centracom tech to replace the DSL with their wireless LAN, since the copper on base is rotting out. Now we can bounce the signal through the air from our antenna to theirs, on the hill near the high school. Getting the webcam back up proves to be beyond us so we summon up the voice of the invisible Centracom guru who is able to get into all modems, and sees what all the cameras see, being as he is a fraternal wizard of the Static Internet Protocols and Subnet Masks. 

November 13, 2021 
Drain the unit, put antifreeze in the traps, and get out by noon, but not sure really what time it is, turns out it’s 11, so get to the airport early, but thats OK, time to sit and write this. Airport is a kind of stimulatingly quiet place. Video screens hanging above the chairs at the gate tell us all about the greatness of the new airport, through axonometric diagrams, aerials, sped up construction video with narrow-focused time lapse pans of progress. An explanation of the temporariness of the long walks from the director of the airport, and interviews with the construction workers, designers, and decorators. The art is explained by the artists, and how one piece at the TSA screening area uses the “actual salt from the Great Salt Lake.” The new airport’s vast interior is lined with structures meant to evoke canyons, stratigraphy, mesas, undulations, and arches, and slick rock, and Zion. It’s an inverted, interior landscape architecture, in a cathedral of conveyance and commerce. A grand arrival/departure, here/there pavilion. Maybe this really is a big deal for the city. Waiting at Gate B17, for the return flight to LAX, I almost stop writing here. But then I hear the woman sitting at the other end of the empty row of seats say, in response to an unheard question, “it’s a Micro Mini Goldendoodle”...