The CLUI Wendover Log
A (b)log for residents at CLUI's Wendover, Utah unit.

Thursday, August 28, 2003  

Last post began August 19, completed on August 28th.

posted by Matthew Coolidge | 10:31 PM

Tuesday, August 19, 2003  

Guests, vistors, travellers.

Dave Meisel, aerial photographer of toxic sites and friend Phillip, drank icewater, looked at pictures
Jean-Paul Bourdier, photographer of bodies in the desert, and Tami and Heidi, had dinner for three nights
Paul and woman from San Rafael, passing through, drank icewater and looked at pictures
Male pair of Bonneville Salt Flat racers from Fresno, checked out the shows before flying back to Fresno
Walt and Kim, photographers, teachers at San Diego State, stopped by for a shower, camping out at the Bonneville Salt Flats
Jessica Hankey and Georgia Hill, Brooklyn roommates passing through, spent the night
Christian Stayner, spent two days, rode bikes with us on the dirt road to Blue Lake and went with us to the Bonneville Raceway Speed Trials
Deborah Stratman and Melinda Fries spent a very fun for us five days working on Deborah's radio tower, making pictures, sharing conversation, making dinner and practicing yoga with us
Juliann and Brant spent one day and one night working on radio tower
Four unmet and unnamed Burning Man attendees, friends of Brant, spent the last hours of one night and early hours of one morning camped in the yard

Steve Badgett, of course, has been working and traveling from his lair at South Base, and so has been an excellent dinner and explorer companion

Not a lack of events, but rather a plethora has kept us silent since August 16th, the last entry.

Our days have settled into a regular rhythm of rising not at dawn as earlier hoped, but indeed practicing yoga (sometimes with friends), then breakfasting and working, C on adobe bricks, wrapping found bullets in hair, making photographs of the state line and drawing plans for a landscape see-saw and K on the novel and research. We have a late lunch around three or four. After lunch we work again or go to post office, library, laundromat, market. Before dinner we have adopted an almost daily bike ride or walk through the brilliant light fading into dusk. If riding, we often bring the compost with us to South Base, about two miles down the dirt roads, where we usually park the bikes, deposit and stir the compost and then walk into the salt flats. If walking, we tend towards the sunset along Airport Road and often circle into town to sit in the park, or walk the strip and feel the pleasure of the contrast of desert and town. We have also ridden bikes up Aria Blvd, past the elementary school and cemetary to Wendover Peak or the smaller cell-tower peak. There the view of the airport at night teases us with the possiblity of a landing plane bringing the night lights out and the full view of the crossed runways. One night we watched a C-130 jet from Hill Air Force Base practice quick dropoffs and takeoffs, looping repeats over the base, disappearing into the angled light of the setting sun, reappearing to make the dropoff and then tearing away from the wheels just having hit the ground to accelerate and liftoff again. Dinner after dark, sleep on the porch.

From Wendover Peak, we could see how the Utah side remained a town, impoverished, partly abandoned, but still a town, with a gridded street pattern, ball fields, church, schools, civic buildings, laid out with reference to both Railroad and Wendover Boulevard corridors, a town that doesn't organize itself on the highway strip. A town with history longer than twenty years and with the gradual accrual of foci that makes a town. The Nevada side seemed flung out along the central strip, a series of developments serving the needs of the casinos. We traced the old route of the highway, US 40 from the Bonneville Salt Flats just north of the railroad, along what is now Frontage Road, connecting with Wendover Boulevard, and on through the pass visible where Highway 80 runs today. We debated where the connections had been built between now 80 and then 40. From this vantage point, Wendover is either the recipient of many lines of travel, or the hub from which them emanate. Highway 80, Alternate Highway 93, the US Air Force road on the stateline, the railroad and the runways all prod into the conjoined twins, Wendover and West Wendover. At the confluence, the gambling industry currently runs a company town, just as the US military ran a company town in the 1940s. Before them, there was sheep herding, ranching and other more nomadic lives that took place here.

When we arrived, we made a tidy calendar with a trip planned each week, day trips on Tuesdays and over nights every other Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. As our work here absorped us, the trips were delayed. We first headed out to go to Salt Lake City and the Spiral Jetty after two weeks in Wendover. Twenty miles down the road, we discovered we had forgotten to bring the pot to boil our dinner in and decided just to run errands in SLC and try to see Spiral Jetty another time. Two weeks later, we once again departed Wendover for Spiral Jetty, having not made any of our other planned outings in the interim. We drove to Salt Lake, dropped off the recycling, stopped at Xpedx to buy paper for C's book project for CLUI and one rather well designed pencil sharpener, drove north on Main to downtown where we stopped at Borge Anderson to drop off film and to buy film next door at Pictureline, where we were given free strawberry popsicles. We then walked to Sam Weller's Books, where none of Robert Smithson's writings were to be had and even the pasty, pierced, intellectual sales clerks hadn't heard of him or his Spiral Jetty. "Is he a Utah artist? because then you might look in our Utah artist section upstairs...."

Browsing got the best of us and we didn't leave until after 6 PM. We raced north on interstate highway 15 and stopped at the Flying J Travel Center in Willard to call C's parents, owners of both an 800 number and a computer with internet access. Only after we were north of Salt Lake City, did we realize that we had remembered to bring the pot to boil pasta, but we had forgotten Matt Coolidge's Around Wendover book with its driving directions to Spiral Jetty. We had both read them, but only recalled a description of dirt roads, cattle guards and private lands once past the Golden Spike Historic Monument. Parents to the rescue, they kindly looked up the DIA Foundation site and found the directions for us. We drove into the setting sun from Brigham City, half in wonder at the beauty of the farmland under the magnificent orange, gold, purple clouds, and half disappointed not to be already set up in camp at Spiral Jetty and photographing, as so many others have. Mark Klett had told C not to try photographing there in the dawn as the sun rises behind the Promontory Mountains, thus cutting off the angled light. We passed the Golden Spike Memorial in the last light of dusk and soon therafter needed headlights to light up the dirt road, cattleguards and helpful white and black signs that lead to Spiral Jetty. We didn't really need directions, or the pot to boil pasta in. We were so exhausted upon arrival, we ate one cheese sandwich (C) and one and half seedless black raspberry jam and almond butter sandwiches (K) in the car in the dark at the oil jetty 0.6 miles from the end of the road and the Spiral Jetty. We walked the final distance with sleeping bags, pads and a backpack of film, camera, sunscreen, toothbrushes, oats, bowls, spoons and K's notebook. Being the dark of the moon, the stars were brilliant, but the Jetty was barely perceptible. We scrambled down the rocks and camped, not knowing if we were one hundred feet from the shore or a quarter of a mile. Lying down at perhaps 10:30, we made a pact to rise at or before dawn in order to photograph the Jetty in whatever magical light might be available, despite Mark Klett's warning. Dawn was never so long awaited. In our excitement, we stayed awake and talked for an hour or so. Minutes after we finally dropped off to sleep, a small scrabbling creature ran across C's hand. C howled, shaking the intruder off. K screamed, unsure of why. We scrambled to the bottom of our sleeping bags, more afraid of the possibilities than of the actual creature. Scorpion, tarantula, lizard with an appetite? (dung beetle or chipmunk most likely) Somehow our equilibrium was rattled. We lay awake, alternately dozing off to be woken by the other's fitful snores, by the rain that fell intermittantly, by the warmth of the night and by vague intimations of trespass. We heard no animals, though we each heard the distant roar of an engine that seemed to be approaching, though never reaching us.

Dawn, when it finally arrived brought us out to the Jetty, where as our night had been unsettled, our morning was glorious. K stayed in the center of the snow white salt spiral, while the sun painted the clouds in shades of orange and blue, the water in the shadows of the moving clouds was deep magenta pink and in the reflection of the sky was pale blue, with the white glowing spiral. Against this technicolor display, the hills were amber grassed and scattered with black basalt rocks. For miles, we were alone. No fish, no fowl, no people, no engines, no boats, no planes, no cars. Not even a sound of water. We walked the spiral back and forth, photographed it from above and from the shore. We returned to the car to get milk for the oats for breakfast and sat, north of the jetty watching the light come over the hill onto the spiral. After breakfast, we walked out onto the nearby salt flats at the edge of the Salt Lake, thinking to photograph the jetty from the west, out on the lake. We hopped salt islands until we came to the end of the flats. The first natural sound we heard was lapping small waves pushd by the wind at this further-out shore. Some hesitation. "Its pink." "When you touch it, it does feel like water." "That's comforting." We decided to swim. We stripped and walked out as far as our feet could take the sharp crystaline salt. This got us to about our knee level. C sat down in the water and then arms underneath extended out into a push up position, and then, miraculously, arms out, floated absolutely without effort only half below the surface of the water. K followed suit and for a few blissful minutes, we weighed nothing at all, in the pink primordial ooze, against the blue sky.

We stood naked drying in the sun on the salt flat when an approaching Ford pickup truck caused us to scramble for our clothes. The next art lovers had arrived and we took ourselves off to the Golden Spike Historical Monument. We decided not to pay the seven dollars each that would grant us access to the Charlie Brown movie about the railroads, the renactment of the steam engines meeting, the bookstore and other sundries, but instead took the one and half mile walking tour of the Big Fill and railroad grade. During our walk we stopped to hide from the sun's heat in a cave where 134 years prior Anna Jenkins, a camp cook for the railroads, married Earl Ewing, a laborer, perhaps powdermonkey or double jacker. They lived in the cave and she gave birth there to Ella Ewing during the final month of the race to finish the transcontinental railroad. In an effort to win ownership of the railroad, Union Pacific and Central Pacific laid 250 miles of parallel track. This cave sat between the UP and CP grades. For some minutes we shared it with a brown and gray cottontail rabbit.

Driving to Brigham City and lunch, we passed the Thiokol Rocket Plant with its SAFETY 1 PRIORITY sign next to the location of long disappeared railworkers labor camps once inhabited by Chinese, Irish, Swedish, former slaves and former Civil War soldiers, mostly without women. Along Route 83 toward Corinne, we noticed peach orchards, alfalfa fields, horses, cattle, onions and the former RR grade and the base of the Wasatch Range. We also passed a WALMART distribution plant.

Brigham City has splendid sycamore trees lining the main street at the north end of town. In Bert's Cafe, since 1930, where we found refuge for lunch at two-thirty, long since our bowls of raw oats and milk at eight, we each had a sandwich, BLT for K and grilled cheese for C, both with avocado. They didn't have sauerkraut and thought the question ludicrous. When she came to see how we were doing, we asked the waitress what engines drive the local economy. Not sure of the question, she had looked perplexed and glanced at the man in the next booth, a sixtyish bearded man with a feed cap and brown and blue plaid shirt. A few minutes earlier, he had sat down, draped his arm over the booth edge and seemed to be waiting to talk to the newcomers. In answer to the economic question, he said, "Thiokol Rockets, they employ a lot, Autoliv, they manufacture airbags, then there's the steel manufacturing and a couple construction firms. There's the Walmart plant. They employ a lot of people, but its not really a job. They keep you at 32 or 39 hours a week, so as not to have to pay benefits." When we mentioned the beautiful trees, he said that the sycamores were very expensive for the town. "Come Fall, they have two trucks out there sweeping up the leaves, and then the bark falls off, and then you get those little brown balls all over the place. Their roots break up the sidewalk. Those trees sure are nice, but they cost us plenty." We didn't get his name, but he'd grown up in Corinne just a few miles to the west, an historic pioneer railroad town. He was happy to talk, but the three men who joined him, one by one, dampened our conversation with their sober looks at our slightly dirty aspect.

As we drove south, through Perry, Willard, and down into Weber County and Ogden, this change from farmland to manufacturing and information technology was clear. Farms were swallowed by housing, the highway featured competitive driving rather like LA, and billboards sprang up advertising services. "Two good reasons for Alpine Plastic Surgery" boasted one with a close-up of a pink bikini amply filled. Another advertised a hospital showing four generations, a seven-year-old girl, a young mother, a grandmother in her fifties and a great grandmother in her seventies. Others contained admonitions "Personally, I love dropouts. My sweatshop is full of them," says a grim-faced official-looking woman. Then there are the advertisements for, a service we had taken to be quite radical in Utah, but turned out to be an automobile seller with lots in St. George, West Valley and Bountiful.

South of Ogden, in Davis County, we stopped at Hill Air Force Base to look at the airplane museum in hopes of more information about Wendover. While we saw many planes, recent models, WWII and Wright Brothers' era, we didn't hear much about Wendover. Startling facts we did learn included that one of the stealth surveillance planes of the Desert Storm era had cost $200,000 per hour to run. It hunkered, black and ominous rather like a manta ray in a hanger of smart bombs, fighter jets and Vietnam era reconnaisance planes. Another hanger held exhibits about a Dayton, Ohio mechanic named Taylor who built the Wright Brothers' first engines with a drill press, a metal lathe and hand tools. Along with such historical items were several exhibits of notable Utah airforce alumni, one who had served by training bombers who participated in the Jimmy Doolittle-led "30 minutes over Tokyo" attack and one who had been a camp cook as part of her WAC service. A model of the Trinity bomb built for a 1980 BBC film, "Oppenheimer" hid in a back corner behind a reconstruction of a downed plane from Vietnam. K disappeared into the fashion section, where he learned a lot about the evolution of the American military pilot's boots, chaps, scarves, jackets, hats, gloves and goggles. The exhibit played on the myth of the irresistable attraction of a man in a uniform, even if he's a mannequin. We had barely an hour, and were reminded at fifteen minute intervals by a stentorian loudspeaker that our vehicles would be locked in and towed if we were not out of the parking lot at four thirty. By four twenty-five, we nervously looked at the B-29 outside, cast a couple of glances at an immense troop transport plane and ran for the parking lot.

Back in Salt Lake City, the billboards exhort joining QUITNET for cigarette smokers, enjoin that 60% of couples who have premarital sex divorce, and advertise "Bar B Que-- It's a pork thing, the other white meat." Our first destination in Salt Lake was to reach Borge B. Anderson Photo before it closed at 5:30, drop off the six rolls of slide film from our Spiral Jetty morning and pick up the three rolls of film we had dropped the day before. We made it on time, but when we sat in the shade on our favorite planting strip out front to determine our next move, fatigue overcame us. The fitful nonsleep at Spiral Jetty, our early morning excitement, the history walk in the sun, the overwhelming military industrial complex, the odd meals and not enough water, all conspired to have us sit and debate until a man came out from the Pictureline store and asked us if we were okay. Was it helpfulness, was it watchfulness, or was it pity? From our sojourn in the cave we were dusty, from our swim in the lake we were salty, from our driving we were sweaty, from our camping we were unshaven and unwashed. After assuring the man from the photo shop that we were okay, we decided that our four objectives for the evening were to leave this piece of lawn between road and sidewalk, to go to a hardware store, to shop for food for the next week and to catch the homemade rootbeer and all you can eat pizza Wednesday night special for $6.00 at Sage's Cafe before we drove home. We had an address for Sage's Cafe, the budget restaurant advertised in Steve Badgett's Lonely Planet Guide to Salt Lake City, but unlike most addresses in SLC, it gave a street name, 473 E. Broadway. C asked a man putting change in a meter at 6PM how we might find Broadway. He said, "It's one block that way. All the East/West streets run North-South, East or West of the Temple. All South streets run East-West, South of the Temple. You know, the Temple is the Center of Everything."

C was running a fever, K was tired and cranky, the hardware store had no masonite, and Sage's Cafe, while still vegetarian and organic, had discontinued its Wednesday night six-dollar pizza special to become an upscale fern bar with three cell-phone-bearing patrons content to eat $13 penang curry, $12 stir fry, or $11 burritoes made with fake cheese. Despite Sage's friendly, earthy, twenty-something waitress, we fled for the Red Iguana which featured brightly painted lime and pomegranate walls, many occupants and tasty Mexican food with $6.50 enchiladas, $10 fajitas, and some Oaxacan specialties for less than $10 per entree.

The Center is the Temple of Everything.

posted by Matthew Coolidge | 5:22 PM

Saturday, August 16, 2003  

Today dawned cool after a leviathan sized windstorm last night. No damage and no real rain, but the wind and the lightening kept us sleeping indoors.

Before the storm we ventured to the KOA laundromat again amid the arriving speed week enthusiasts. Some unlucky souls without reservations were being turned away and told that the nearest place to sleep was Wells. The Bonneville Salt Flats annual speed week provides the biggest weekend of the year for "Wendover USA" (quote from T-shirt spotted by Kevin in Fred's Market.) Smiths Market was full of beautiful, long-legged, Harley Davidson belted women in high heeled boots and rather more homespun escorting males checking out carts full of ice, soda, candy, chips and beer. The cart of the woman behind us, the Smiths Video counter clerk, held one frozen pizza, two boxes of apple pop tarts, one case of Milwaukee's Best and one package of Klondike Bars. She wasn't having a party, she said. "My husband likes a beer when he comes home from work."

While our laundry spun, we walked across the street to the lone library building in a vacant spread of desert. For the first time, we managed to arrive more than 15 minutes prior to closing, so we got to browse and read some. Kevin read a Fodor's American Guide to Utah, written by residents Tom and Gayen Wharton, Revised 5th Edition, 2001 about Mormon history and customs. Quoted was one Richard Burton, the explorer, not actor, who spent a month in Salt Lake City in 1860 for the express purpose of gaining entrance to the Church of the Latter Day Saints in order to benefit from the polygamous custom of the day. After Brigham Young politely refused membership in the Church, he wrote "it appears that polygamy is the rule where population is required,...the other motive for polygamy in Utah is economy. Servants are rare and costly; it is cheaper and more comfortable to marry them."

The day we arrived here (August 1) we had seen an announcement for an 80th birthday party for Glenda Green "Wendover's oldest living native" advertised for the 16th of August. We of course planned in our minds to go. What better opportunity to get to know a place. This afternoon, as the moment neared, the project seemed more daunting. Walking in the door to be the only strangers in a room full of the oldest living native and kin began to sound ridiculous, not to mention perhaps a bit rude. Bolstered by the thought that even if they did stare at us and turn their backs as one, we wouldn't know them, we trod through the door. The hall was built by the military during their occupation, 1940-1945, to show movies and hold dances. During the sixties, it was still a twenty-five cent movie house and hosted the sweetheart ball. It has since suffered the indignity of a dropped ceiling, cutting the proscenium stage area by a third.

So, we walked in and busied ourselves with the pictures on the wall and the photo album, partly so we would know who the major players were. Glenda Green was easy to spot as she sat in the center of a circle of chairs attended by several other women of a certain age. Being observant, we noticed three octogenarians sitting together on a couch. Bet they could tell us stories about Wendover during WWII, we thought. So we sauntered on over, looking as inconspicuous as big city artists can, when surrounded by the old timers of a small desert town, and introduced ourselves. They allowed as they didn't live in Wendover, but in Ibapah, a ranching community 60 miles to the south, originally a Pony Express Station, population 60. They weren't big talkers, but happy to smile at us.

Our next thougt was to just say happy birthday to Glenda and skidaddle.

So we made our way through the chairs, past one sleeping toy poodle named Wosie dreaming contendly with almost no distinquishing features other than hair. A woman with a camera told us Wosie was eighteen. She looked tired. The woman with the camera wanted to take our picture with Glenda. As we walked behind her chair, Glenda remarked loudly to the woman next to her, "I doubt I know them, but they seem to know me!" C explained that we didn't know her, but had just arrived in Wendover two weeks ago and were interested in the place and so had decided to come wish her happy birthday. Our picture duly taken, Glenda said thank you for coming and that she hadn't been out of the house in three months and it was wonderful to see all these people.

At this point we endeavoured to cut for the door, not sure of any further welcome, when Glenda's daughter Pokie, a woman of about 6 feet and 50 years, intercepted us and said "You can't leave, I haven't met you yet." Meeting Pokie turned out to be great fun. She asked who we were and what we were doing here. We said we were staying down at the base at the Center for Land Use Interpretation.
"So you're scientists?"
"Well, more like artists."
"What do you make?"
C pipes up about sculpture and landscape architecture and writing a small book about the stateline and the changes in Wendover.
"Landscape architect? Have I got a project for you." And she proceeds to describe the yard of the house where Wendover's oldest tree, a 78 year old cottonwood, has just fallen over the day before we hove into town. We have visited the yard, of course, and are happy to dicuss its attributes and xeriscaping. At some point it dawns on K, that Pokie is feeling out whether we might want to rent the property.
Water was our next topic and Pokie said "We used to have Pilot water; it was so sweet." Before the development on the Nevada side, water for the Utah town of 500 had been piped from Pilot Spring. Now two additional wells add extra cost to everyone's water bills.

We had a great time talking. During the mid seventies, Pokie had run the beauty and barber shop, delivered, edited, written and laid out the local paper "The Blister", waited tables at the Taco Burger and was a regional stringer for the Salt Lake City and Elko papers. She also plays accordion which she learned at 14 when a transient lady accordion teacher made Wendover her stop for six months. According to Pokie, once you swim in Blue Lake a few hundred times, run as far and fast as you can on the salt flats, play a few rounds of golf on the nine hole salt flat black ball golf course, climb all the nearby peaks and read all the books in town, you starve for good conversation. She found it with an older man who came to Wendover to run the arcade. "I think he may have been in prison once and came here to cut his traces. He was Jewish and we could talk about anything." She also taught herself a variety of instruments left by her grandfather who had been a fiddler, sheepherder and had travelled through Wendover yearly from summer pasture to winter. Pokie is descended from a Wendover prospecter/merchant on the other side.

Other people were arriving, who had far more claim than we on Pokie's time. She introduced us to a school chum named Star. "Now is it Tilbury or what is your last name now?" Star replied that she was now Star Maye and had had three last names. Pokie turned to C and said "Never change your name." Kevin was in the midst of politely inquring of Star how she had come upon three last names. "Married them," she offered. Her mother Bonnie was there with her. Star had never left Wendover, she told us. Her father came to Wendover when he retired from the Army and got a job at the potash plant, then named Kaiser.

We wandered a bit more. Pokie found us again. She had said earlier that the old timers did welcome a new intellectual creative element in among their society. We were happy to ask questions and learn from her about the "cat houses" (brothels) that Glenda had delivered the paper to during the forties, where she had been welcomed and offerred sarsparilla by the women in fancy clothes with fancy music. "Were those on the Nevada side or the Utah side?" asks Kevin.
"Oh, on the other side of course, but no one knows where that line is exactly. Everyone knows there's no sinning in Utah."

Between WWII and 1983 when West Wendover opened casinos, the 500 person population worked in the industries of the potash plant, the railroad, highway patrol weigh station and airport tracking installation. Pokie graduated with 12 others from highschool in 1968. Star was in the first graduating class of the Wendover highschool in 1967. She graduated with 8 others. Before her senior year, she had driven an hour to highschool in Wells, NV. The railroad used to stop in Wendover, both for passengers and freight. The roundhouse and the Beanery formed the railyard buildings. The Beanery still exists. Pokie told us it was fun to go hang out with the men who had worked on the railroad when she was a young kid.

Pokie has a degree in Social Work and has worked in Peru and Sitka, Alaska and now lives in Ogden Utah where she went to graduate school.

There is more to tell, but bed under the moon calls. We looked at three boards of 4th of July pictures from before I-80, when US 40 ran through town. The hills to the North housed a rodeo ground and not the two trailer parks, new cemetary, street of well-to-do homes and one school found there now. "Used to be, we couldn't bury our people here. BLM has all the land. Wendover can't grow. Then they made a proposal to bury toxic waste here. You can't bury your people, but we'll bury toxic waste. Now they have a cemetary. Some people moved their people back from Tooele or Ibapah to be in the cemetary." said Pokie. We hope there will be further conversations with Pokie.

We rode our bikes out to South Base in the sunset after the party and checked in to make sure there was no wind damage. Everything was well in the silent line of salt, sky and straight road.

posted by Matthew Coolidge | 10:50 PM

Friday, August 15, 2003  

A sunny day full of warmth and cloudless skies.

Yesterday we went to Salt Lake City and, along with getting a computer expert opinion, "you just need to wiggle the screen a bit", dropping off the recycling in the West Valley, getting slides developed, and listening to evening music in the park while watching the mostly shorts-clad, mostly pale-skinned, mostly clean-cut, and occasionally sockless brown business shoe wearing denizens with some exceptions for women with lovely black hip hugger dickies with loose dark T-shirts, dyed hair, and easy fraternity, and a dread locked beauty wrapped in scarlet and orange being led by her spirtual teacher through the crowd, in addition, we browsed in Sam Weller's bookstore. Rebecca Solnit's new book, River of Shadows, was out on the shelf. A beautiful piece. I read for a while in the chapter about the Modoc War that Muybridge photographed, the conflict of place and land. People's whose world revolved around place, around the strength and pattern of familiar places with wildness woven in and the conflict with people who were interested in land, the commodity, replaceable and to be used and abandoned as it is worn out. Land is a bit different these days, as we don't have endless horizons, or new frontiers, but land is still space to bomb, space to strip mine, to burn, to bury to dispose of toxic waste. Land is where we draw delineating lines, like statelines and property lines. Places subvert lines. Wild mustangs run in places. Riding my bike in the desert still air in the evening on the flats, speeding over the flat, and feeling like superwoman, walking heat drugged one step at a time into the hills, watching the raven who has taken up the Enola Gay hanger as a locus of his life, sleeping in the moonlight, waking with the sun warming my toes, these are places.

Also during our browsing at Sam Weller's we looked at a Wallace Stegner book on the Mormon travels and therein was reproduced a map showing that the land they came to, in 1847, was Mexico in 1830. The northern boundary of Mexico was concurrent with the northern boundary of Utah today.

These lines are different as time changes.

So here are some notes on place from a conversation with Kerrie, a woman who works at the West Wendover Welcome Center, has two daughters in grade school on the Utah side and has grown up here. Her parents came to Wendover in 1961 so her father could run the Sinclair gas station. Her brother still runs the station today.


The two boys referenced in my last entry died in January 17th this year (my mistake) They were in a car with a total of five boys. Two others died the same day, but are buried in Mexico. The one boy who was wearing his seatbelt survived the accident. It happened on Airport Way at Alternate 93, a route we often walk in the evening to watch the sunset and then either cut up to the park to lie in the warm dark on the grass and listen to the children, or walk back along Airport way to watch the moon rise. Another young woman of seventeen died there this June and is buried near the two boys. The difficulty seems to be that when drinking, the two curves provide an opportunity to overcompensate and turn the car into a ditch.

The Hispanic population here is largely Mexican, but while they used to mostly come from one province, now several provinces are represented. This has led to violence among youth from different areas.

300 people moved from the Utah side to the Nevada side when the opportunity presented itself.

In Utah, you can only rebuild on the same footprint of your house. Zoning forbids larger homes in the lot sizes.

On the Utah side, as streets are developed, it has been discovered that lots were sold that were really largely in street right of ways. (?By the army?)

Growth of Nevada side:

Opened in 1983 for settlement due to landswap agreement in 1981 by one MacDougal with the BLM. He built one casino and three housing developments, (two trailer parks, one rental and one lot ownership, and one apartment building.) He returned to CA from whence he had arrived due to money mismanagement in his family, laid to the door of his wife by popular opinion.

Wendover NV was kept as a unincorporated county area until 1991, when incorporated as a town. As an unincorporated area West Wendover did not have to provide the same amenities as it does today. The park would be one of those.

The first grocery store was built as the anchor store for the now "American Bush" Plaza. That store expanded into the current Smith's site. Smith bought them out in the 1990s.

On the Utah side in the grade school, there are fourteen students in a class, one teacher and one bilingual teacher's aide.
On the Nevada side, the grade school classes have 28 students per class and no teacher's aide.

The Nevada side pays $4,300 per student per year for education.
The Utah side pays $2,800 per student per year for education.

11 of the 40 students in her daughter's class (Utah side) were white, the rest a mix of mostly Hispanic, some Shoshone and some Asian. The Shoshone live here in town.

There are 785 students (K-6) in the Nevada grade school
There are 283 students (K-6) in the Utah grade school

Until about ten years ago, the ratio of students allowed there to be one grade school on the Nevada side and one highschool on the Utah side. Students were educated on a one for one basis by the two states. Children would go to the Nevada school through 6th and swich to the Utah side for 7th through 12th. As the Nevada side grew, the parity became lopsided. The amount that the Utah side was paying wasn't equalling out the amount that the Nevada side was paying, so they decided it would be more cost effective to build a new high school and did in 1998.

Wendover, UT built the new grade school 7 years ago. It cost 4.5 million to build and was financed as part of a Toele County bond issue for two schools for a total of 29 million. They are still 1 million in debt.

School starts on the 25th of August.

posted by Matthew Coolidge | 11:59 AM

Tuesday, August 12, 2003  


I am here with Kevin Cummins until September 12th.

A wind storm has taken over the sky and base keeping me indoors for the moment. The gusts have not reached the speed of the sand storm this past Friday evening that turned the rocket nose cone in the yard, spun the Con Air model plane and tore a window out of the shop, but still a sense of wildness makes this a good morning to start this journal.

And starting is always the difficult part. How to describe the past eleven days so busy and so complete?
For the most part my work has been a collecting of facts, thoughts, images and questions while finishing models and drawings for other projects. Kevin, my partner, has been helping me with research and working on his novel as well as an account of our 14 day drive across the country from Vermont.

some facts:
103 people to 19,000 people -- Wendover was a town of 103 and swelled to close to 20,000 during the war. Now the Wendover, UT side has aprox. 1,200 inhabitants and the West Wendover, NV side has aprox. 6,300. Gamblers about double that population during the week and quadruple it on the weekends. Parking lots that seem gargantuan and empty solar collectors from Monday through Thursday glisten with new SUVs, trucks and sedans on the weekends.
In 1942 FDR outlawed prostitution in the vicinity of military bases. (Question, in how many states and counties other than Elko, Nevada would prostitution have been legal to make this a concern?)
Most of the stories collected in the 509th air force 56th reunion booklet are written by men who were married during the war and were allowed in some way to live with their wife while she worked in the administrative functions of the base.
West Wendover has a composting sewage plant
80% of the Wendover, UT school district speaks Spanish as a first language (from the lunch room coordinator, subbing for the librarian)
In 1960 gambling brought in 4 million dollars in Elko County, when the only casino in West Wendover was the Stateline Casino/gas station/convenience store
The two common trees on the base are invasive non-natives: Russian olive and Salt Cedar or Tamarix. One common grass, the Indian rice grass, is a native.
The scarlet trumpet vine grown by the welder down the way attracts hummingbirds.
It has rained four days out of the eleven we have been here. Today for the first time in the morning. Always accompanied by high winds, thunder and lightening.
In the Wendover Utah side cemetary, lie two boys killed on the same day, January 17th, 2001, who were highschool buddies. Did they die in a car crash?
West Wendover highschool students are not allowed to go to Wendover Utah side school dances. The obverse is not true.

some thoughts:
Political boundaries can be read in the land only insofar as they are built. They tend to be near, but not right on a major geologic/natural/physical boundary.
What people want here is hope.
Scale in the desert. The desert swallows man, his interventions, his buildings, his bombs. And yet, even small changes read in the desert. In Vermont, such change, a car parked, a tree cut down, is quickly swallowed by green, by texture, by small leaves multiplied by many trees. Here, such changes wait, weather and dessicate.
The growth of this place shows the power of lines and of the teeter totter of economics. Pride in place runs second to living standards.
No two states could seem more opposed spiritually, ethically, hsitorically and yet the truth of the land underneath that stateline means that both sides are arid, both sides seek green as a relief, both sides rely on the casino and speedway tourist income, both sides are largely populated by people whose origins are in Mexico, Central and South America. While now thought of as Spanish, their faces show Maya and other roots of people who might have more closely resembled Goshute-Shoshone culture.

At the ice-cream shop, small girls carrying smaller not yet walking brothers, and one particularly waif-like probably five year old with a stick- like frame pushing a baby carriage with a doll in it. She won't leave the baby doll to go in to the ice cream shop, but instead waits outside, rocking the carriage with one foot. A small boy climbs around a table, makes a try at climbing over the ice machine and then out and down the side of the porch through the railing. Hemmed in by his parents at the parking lot picnic table, they try to feed him ice cream. He refuses. As we stand to leave a couple dressed in immaculate white, come up the stairs. We are mid kiss and their small boy, watching us, trips up the stairs. The beautiful couple, quoiffed and clean perhaps for the dance on the base in the officer's club that evening, laugh and tell him to watch out.

White peacocks against the setting sun on the railing of the barracks house across from the officers club.

The full moon rose last night bright orange red against the horizon line, immense, shimmering flattened on the bottom edge until it broke free and as red as the sunset clouds continued high, sliding behind clouds to glow, sunlike through the charcoal grays.

Teenagers cluster at the corner of the Stateline parking lot, after sauntering in groups up the strip. Long legged girls in hip hugger jeans and small tight tops. Boys generally in more western casual, less urban. Two pair off, a matronly girl and a boy with hip hop jeans, and sit on the grass softly talking in the setting sun while the others stand, boys in a line facing girls in a line talking with the swinging impatience of their legs, with the silences and laughter, and in a language mostly spanish, flavored with english.

Painted bodies in the desert against the aching grandeur of land and sky. Framed in the camera they appear monumental. Outside of the lens, they are bitten by small gnats that leave large welts, are thirsty, talk about books and movies and seem small in the vastness.

Riding bikes back from Wendover peak, the view of the salt flats ennobled by the rich colors of sunset into pure white stretched out under startling eggshell blue with orange shot gray clouds above. As we ride past the cemetary, the light dyes the land to the south pale green and enhances the northern slope's browns to scarlet oranges.

Standing outside of the Enola Gay hanger with William McKinley Price Jr. a man born in the late forties whose father had worked with Enrico Ferme on the Manhattan Project. His father died in 1954 as a result of exposure to radiation during his work and at the Trinity explosion. We talk in a wind so strong William's words slip past almost unhearable, as he describes to us his research into the atomic program, into the power of the bombers, into the lives of the men who were stationed here. Late in the day, hot as a convection oven.

Late night dinner for a photographer friend who came unexpected. Six of us around the foldable table outside on the porch. Moonlight, candles, tortilla espanola, olives, red peppers, green salad with lemon dressing, beet and mint salad, guacamole and homemade flour tortillas. Drinking water and tea and talking long into the night over sorbet and ice cream about class structure in America, about beauty and the landscape, about national parks and BLM land, about the crazy ranger man who lectured us on the war on freedom at Mount Rushmore. The candles gutter in the wind. A darkness peopled in vast emptiness.

What do teenagers do here?
Who were the civilians who would have come here as part of the air base? How many stayed? Where did they come from?
What kind of fun did soldiers have on their three day leave visits to Salt Lake City?
How much money does the West Wendover gaming pay in fees to the state, county and city?
What do people here hope for?

posted by Matthew Coolidge | 11:37 AM

Sunday, May 25, 2003  


My time is hereby up.

There are some modest items added to the CLUI Unit inventory:

3 tea towels
1 dishwashing brush
1 pair of scissors

The dirty pots and pans tools come from a European habit that has never died. My stay has been vastly memorable and the clever comfort of the Unit not only luxurious but bathed in a functional cool, courtesy of Simparch. The desert solitude, being that it involves both a remote place and, in my case, personal isolation, inevitably carries its visions into the hallucinations of the imaginary. This blog (more than 12,238 words in all, not counting the cut and paste) has probably been an indulgent mirror, and undoubtedly a hazy mirage from that other remote found here, of that situation. Please do stop by Wendover in the next year and see for yourself what all these words and the -- until then invisible -- work has amounted to.


Are Flagan

CLUI Resident, with thanks, May 1 to May 25, 2003.

posted by Matthew Coolidge | 11:41 AM

Project: Crossing the Line and Coming Full Circle

I have been tracing the thick blue line of I-80 across the country in anticipation of the 2400 miles or so I have to cover in order to retrace my route from there to here and back again. It’s not a bad place to end -- at the start of this long vector of travel -- by summing up some more of the ideas for the project and some, and only some, thoughts on what lines were crossed to get to where I am now with it.

Having already posted what on a second read amounts to somewhat dithering resolve, it’ll suffice to say that this dichotomy of land as being either a gathering, unitary force, to which we both turn and return (nature), and an exclusionary grid of parcels that shuts some out for the benefits of others (culture) is always an interesting one to start with. Of course, land has already had its day, allegedly at least, in the social and economic realm, as the 17th and 18th centuries saw, with the birth of industrial capitalism, the transfer of (the power of) discipline and profit extraction from the land to the laboring body. Michel Foucault has written extensively about this change, from a focus on wealth and commodities, of the land, to the institutions and procedures of a disciplining power seeking to exploit the body. Later, in his Power/Knowledge interviews, it was jumped upon by Edward Soja, the postmodern geographer extraordinaire, that Foucalt attributed, after all, this nexus not so much to a one-directional shift toward culture away from nature, from sovereign land to the dispersed cultural apparatus, but in a particular “geography,” a marked, social space composed of competing forces.

I know this is scattered, and piecemeal, but in my mind there is a thread running through it that starts to knit the project into an orderly nest. Considering in tandem with this the alienation that industrial society has brought and wrought, for the conveyor belt worker as well as the urbanite lost in mass-produced homogeneity, the land as “nature” has emerged in the form of an environmentally friendly counterweight to this remove, this constant distancing, spacing and inclusion/exclusion. Truth be told, the premise of this greenish movement aspires to a sort of sovereign right of this “nature” to prevail, above and beyond, and apart from, the discursive laws and rules that occupy the land. It is quite ironic that this oppositional drive, if not already lost in crimson postcards of Half Dome, has gotten its own fenced and policed playpens of wilderness where people live out this dream of being one (with nature). Nature of the capital type is really a fascist theology, to sum it up with little heed for its more positive effects and certainly with no words minced.

The struggle then becomes one of working this belligerent difference in a way that goes beyond both the divides that obviously alienate and the sovereign principle of a unity that really offers little to overcome it. (Yes, that’s indeed Yellowstone in August.) Many have worked on this type of resolve, as it involves, of course and by some clinical measure, any configuration of the mind and body split and beyond. Hipsters like Burroughs and Gysin did it in The Third Mind (free of mescaline, hopefully, to hold up as theory) and Soja himself went down this trail in the follow-up to Postmodern Geographies, aptly titled Third Space. As sure as 1+1=3, these efforts posit a confluence of the land and its use, or any of the other twins birthed so far, as a “subject” open to a set of relations, yet strangely apart from them. (Critics of Derrida usually and mistakenly put his philosophy in the same camp.) But the question is if one can indeed “subjectify” these relations without, once more, simply dead-ending in a pointed totalitarian cycle that leads nowhere. Yet, by some stroke of luck, I was instead selfishly charged with the task of “objectifying” it, through photography.

Do such bookish thoughts enter my mind while carting a rucksack of equipment around the extended neighborhood, or while burning rubber on the bike in the terrain? They are certainly there somewhere, just behind the persistent bubbles about another trail-mix bar, in turn interrupted by voices of gargling water. It’s fair to say that for the last three weeks, I have mostly been chasing fences with a rather worrying and contradictory sense of joy when encountering one that outlines promises for an image. “Nice fence” is an internal expletive I never thought would see much use after the wall came down. (Some fences were inevitably caught in the golden hour, which prompted the curious proprietor of the E6 lab in SLC to exclaim “nice stuff” over my shoulder while ignoring the rather strange reoccurrence, in the perused sample, of posts and wires. The ubiquitous “nice” power of 6x24 panoramas shot on Fuji Velvia can, I honestly believe, surpass subject matter entirely in certain photography circles.) Sure, the fence line is a very old and rusty subject but my line for its defense would be how it’s done -- in a way that defies description, being, in a cheeky verb, objectified. It is also not without reason that the fence has become such a popular metaphor; we jump it or sit on it, seemingly unable to accept its actual purpose.

Other interests and points of focus have flirted with ideas of the control of flows across landscape lines. (McKenzie Wark: please forgive me for the vector I have sought.) Examples of this are everywhere, notably in the evaporation ponds and ditches, even the causeway between the north/south parts of the Great Salt Lake serves to shore up a difference. Some shots have been fired to burst this scene, but in total far less than the more landlocked images. Partly because the probing viewpoint has tried to speak to the problems of experiencing the land either as wholesomely whole or horribly divided, introducing a little of both, mixing the picturesque and sweeping with the boundaries of ends and means, “landscape” with “documentary” and so on. Strategies could easily be compiled in another few pages of a thesis, but it usually falls mute and always seems superfluous once the process has worked through its options and reached a series of instances already caught quite conclusively on film.

(The broader issue of state-sponsored borders/divides versus a globalized unity could be the subject of an entire book -- and it already is, for several dozen -- and hence only gets a parenthesis here. Think of all the no-border movements, globalization and the birthing of the so-called digital multitudes, seen and heard quite loudly on February 15, 2003 for example. The same problems encountered in how to fashion an undifferentiated, or the compromise of a more justly differentiated, experience, as a progressive social and political experiment, are haunting these movements, projects and events. Meanwhile, Wendover is a telling little microcosm of all this; they even proposed to knock down the invisible wall by moving the state line into a little excursion, from its 300 mile record of going straight, to unite the two halves. Of course, West Wendover, the comparatively affluent Nevada side, was not sold on the idea.)

The end result of some twenty-five rolls of film, thousands of miles of driving, possibly more than a hundred miles of cycling, and quite a few miles walking, will be, in one incarnation, some 10-12 images suited for the Exhibit Hall. If those numbers add up to anything, it should say something about land use.

posted by Matthew Coolidge | 11:36 AM

Friday, May 23, 2003  

The Meow Update

Not that I don't have other concerns (then again, the only emails I have had about the blog have been about the cats), but there are in fact TWO kittens and I have not seen the mother for awhile. The dry Whiskas I put out, however, has all been devoured. Water does not seem to be of the same priority. There's more supermarket fair on the plate now but the kittens don't seem to eat it (they're very young), so the mother is probably around. If you meow authentically, they respond and come out, otherwise they're dead quiet around any sort of movement. I'll leave some food after the weekend and a note for DS and the rest.

posted by Matthew Coolidge | 1:07 PM