The West Desert
|Roy Tea Hastings Road|
Map of Utah. Click
for larger view.
NASA Photo. Click
for larger view.
The Dugway Grid
Notes from Scott Carrier
I see “The West Desert” as a cultural history of the physical terrain more
commonly known as the Great Salt Lake Desert. Here in Salt Lake City
we call it The West Desert because we also have deserts to the south and
north and east. The West Desert is different, culturally, because it’s a
place that no one, or very few people, ever wanted to live in or own property.
Because of this (and some environmental qualities that are discussed in the
story) its become a place to put our poisons. In producing the story I
tried not to take the position that the poisons should be put somewhere
else, or that the poisons should not exist. The poisons do exist and will
exist and the sad fact of the matter is that the west desert is probably the
best place in the country to put them. In 1991, when I made the thing, I
was realizing that the environmental movement was stuck in an “us versus
them”, “good guys versus bad guys” pattern of ignorance. I thought that by
showing this “garage” or “basement” I could make people think about how we
are all implicated and responsible.
For instance, there is a magnesium plant out there which has been
single-handedly responsible for earning Tooele County the highest EPA air
toxicity rating in the country (I forget which years specifically). They
pull water from the Great Salt Lake, which contains magnesium chloride as
one of its salts. Then they separate the magnesium from the chlorine. The
metal goes into bars which are used in alloys that make steel four times
lighter and eight times stronger, like magic. The chlorine, however, goes
into the air – mustard gas. After it goes into the air it eventually drops
back into the lake or onto the desert floor, which is where it came from,
which is a good way to get rid of it, but occasionally, depending on the
wind pattern, it blows south over the small town of Grantsville and I-80.
This sucks, of course, but I still don’t want to close that magnesium plant.
There is magnesium in my golf club, the one I used to hit the ball in the
story. There is magnesium in the engine of my truck, the one I used to
drive around and record the interviews. I like magnesium, and I like that
the plant makes it in such a simple way. I just hope that the people who
work there are doing every thing they can to make it in the safest way
Another example that isn’t mentioned at all in the story is that now some of
the Goshute Indians are trying to get the contract for storing radioactive
waste from the nuclear power plants around the country. I don’t like
radioactive waste. I would rather it not be moved on trains and trucks
through my community, but it has to go somewhere. We don’t use
nuclear-generated electricity in this part of the country, but we have one
of the best places to put the waste. Should we shut down the nuclear power
plants? Maybe. I’m not even convinced of this. Given the choice of
storing radioactive waste deep in the ground or having our troops occupying
Saudi Arabia, I think I would choose the radioactive waste. At least then
we are shitting in our own yard. My hope, again, is that the people who
take care of the stuff will do the best job they can. I would, if I had the
power, require those folks who work out there to also live on the grounds
with their families. I would pay them well, give them lots of vacations,
counseling, anything to keep them happy and very alert.
Conservation? Conservation? It seems to be a myth. The reality is that we
burn everything we can afford and justify it as a God-given right. And
perhaps one of the best ways to actually change this pattern would be to sit
in our own filth until we think of a way not to produce any more of it.
This radio essay was never broadcast nationally, although it’s been
played here locally on KUER several times, and, strangely, still
seems to be current even though I originally produced it in 1991.
It’s a good story, one that I’m proud of, and I’m glad that Transom
is posting it now. I could go on and talk about it, but I think the
work pretty much speaks for itself. One thing I will say is that my
intention was to piss people off, which may be the main reason it
never played on a national program. Listen to it if you want. If
you have any questions or comments I’ll try to respond.
Also, the opening lines are from Mark Twain’s “Roughing It.” He came
through here in 1861 with his brother on the Overland Stage, en route to
Carson City, Nevada.
As for credits–Larry Massett and Art Silverman gave me some very good
advice on how to put the thing together, and the funding came from a CPB
Scott Carrier is a freelance writer and independent radio producer. Some of
his work is posted on <<hearingvoices.com>>.