Clerks at the Bureau of Exploration had long heard tales of a great wonder awaiting them across the Rocky Mountains. Travelers spoke of a vast plane which when filled with snowmelt created a horizon-spanning mirror to the sky.
Reports indicated that this mirror could only reliably be seen in the winter when snow is expected- a precarious time for travel. There were risks, yet the Bureau knew there was simply no other option: we would have to undertake a treacherous winter voyage!
And a treacherous winter voyage it was. To reach our destination we needed to cross the mountains, and we soon found that the mountains were in the midst of blizzards.
Yet after trundling slowly through snowstorms, navigating highway closures in the hinterlands, and me getting the car stuck in the snow for several hours (note: windshield scrapers double as shovels and fir tree branches create excellent traction for wheels), we emerged from the snow at our destination: the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Suddenly it seemed as if we were on another world.
Donning our rain boots, we waded out onto the immense surface before us.
At one point, we split up to wander the surface on our own. Spying a mountain in the distance, I decided to walk in that direction for a long time, soon losing sight of my companions.
It felt something like walking atop an infinite plane from a mathematics class. There’s nothing for the mind to cling to other than distant mountains and their reflections, so far away they might as well be mirages. If one yells into the sky, there is no chance another human can hear it- total isolation. Distances are impossible to tell and even the passage of time is difficult to grasp.
There were odd things on the way to the mountain: fields of bullets scattered in the mud, as well as many areas with bubbles rising out of tiny holes (a possible indication of life in even so harsh an environment?). The distance to the foot of the mountain was greater than expected- by the time I got there, dusk was well on its way and the storms had caught up with us. I followed my footsteps back to our car, feeling something like an astronaut fleeing to a spaceship to get off some distant world.
It is a place of vast perspectives and surreal frames of reference. A strange and wondrous place to be!
Greetings from the Bureau of Exploration. This is the fourth section of a field report by the Mining Infrastructure and Geological Survey Corps on places of interest in the San Juan Mountains.
My fellow operative and I parked our car in a large open space, an area where records state a mining town once stood. The town is no more, but rising over the valley are stacked concrete foundations, the skeleton of what the town was built around: the Eureka Mill.
The way the structure climbs up the mountain makes me think of an immense staircase. Scaling the first few ‘steps’ of the staircase, we were surrounded by the shattered concrete floors and scattered wooden remains of the mill. One can see what it once looked like from pictures such as this.
We scrambled up the side for the first seven steps. By the eighth, we found a convenient window blasted through the concrete to hop through into the structure proper.
The rubble-strewn floor had the remains of railway tracks that once ran on the roof. To our right was an overlook of the valley, and to our left we saw strange cylindrical tanks towering overhead. We continued our ascent.
I think that these tanks once held ore before it was processed further down the mountain. They seemed out of place in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, being made of great concrete slabs and steadfast rebar rather than decaying wood. To me, Eureka felt less like a mill and more like a sci-fi bunker or strange industrial plant.
The last two steps, eleven and twelve, had more columns. Cascading down the rubble were metal wires that looked like big heaps of snakes, wrapping themselves around the surrounding rock and pillars.
We stood at the top of the ruins for a while under the noonday sun, overlooking the valley and the structure below us.