(Essay and Photos by Joel Berg)
An area so huge your eyes look out to infinity. The immense space we experienced 30 miles outside of Dugway, Utah was truly remarkable. The picture below is an example of an industrial sublime, a space of land that has been reconfigured for our industry. The industry in this case isn’t well known, but obsessed upon by skeptics. It’s the industry of war, of militarization and protection of the United States. After driving on a bumpy road for a long time we arrived at this unique place. Anxious, my classmate Gulsum and I decided to tag team on our trek through the campground, and towards a small cave we saw driving in. After passing through brush and climbing the big hill we reached a small inlet cave. It was less of a cave and more of a concave – it didn’t go very deep. A rabbit jumped out and scared the crap out of us from this concave and had our adrenaline pumping for the rest of the climb to the top of the big hill. After arriving we were speechless at the beauty before us. There was no noise we could hear, or cloud we couldn’t see. It was peaceful and desolate, serene and spacious – very spacious. We sat away from each other, and looked out into the space for about 20 minutes without talking. Watching this landscape made me personally feel everything and nothing at the same time.
I came to learn that this space is unique. That night after the exploring, building of fires and cooking of food, our class ate a delicious meal and a few students presented the industries that occur in this land. Military industry is unique in that it takes a lot of land and space, and with that comes secrecy, which is the goal. During the cold war, confidentiality was a top priority so as to not convey strategies towards our enemies. One way to do this was to build military facilities out in the middle of nowhere. This space is literally perfect because of how flat the land is. Anyone would be spotted coming close to the military base and could be shot on sight if need be. It was weird knowing that I could get myself shot just by hopping a fence and walking on land.
In a way a military base, as large Dugway, is a good thing because it leaves the land untouched by many. Undisturbed land is preserved land. Ecology was flourishing when we were there. During our hike Gulsum and I saw rabbits, snakes, and a flock of chucker birds. All of the animals came as a surprise to us, for we weren’t expecting to see them. It also proved that within an hour hike the land is diverse, and most-likely healthy.
One could deeply admire the industrial sublime of the Dugway Military installation. Not only was it a quiet and beautiful space, but also somewhat eerie. It was a perfect place for aliens to pick us up, if need be. The middle of nowhere turns from this wild land, into a land of secrecy. I would say, if there was anything to worry about, it may be a bomb spewing hazardous material, or a rabid mutant jackrabbit attacking our camp. Many admire this space for its qualities of secrecy. As we’ve learned, conspiracy theorists flock to this site to spy and gain an understanding of the secrecy, to then publish and tell the public.
The question to ponder when standing and looking out in the distance of this space is, what does this landscape make you feel like. I believe the first answer to that is small. You feel so tiny relative to the space before you. The mountains surrounding the valley are unusually tall and dramatically steep, giving an appearance of a giant bowl. There is so much space between you and the mountains 30-50 miles at the other end. This may sound strange, but it was weird having that much space because it doesn’t happen that often.
Not only was space an issue, but sound was as well. I could clap my hands (which I remember doing) and it would e much quieter than clapping them in my tent or in the car. Talking out loud was quiet also. The sound waves only had the mountain scape behind me to resonate and travel back to my ears, while the other way they traveled towards infinity, dissipating.
The area at first glance looks and feels natural, but you can change this assumption by looking through some binoculars. Doing this, one will notice a fence about 2-3 miles from where I stood (in the picture). After the fence, one will notice some large boxes scattered throughout the flat land. Beyond this, the base lies adjacent to the large mountain in the middle of the valley. From what our brains can process of the far away object we know this is the best information we can get. This industry is unique in that you get a taste of what’s out there, and that in order to truly understand one must submit their life to the government.
The next day, our group packed up and drove back on the road. On a whim, we made a U-turn and headed towards the fence. We get to the fence, and notice the signs strategically placed so a person coming across the fence would get a chance to read – “WARNING RESTRICTED AREA, This INSTALLATION has been declared a RESTRICTED AREA by the COMMANDING OFFICER in accordance with the provisions of the directive Secretary of Defense on August 20th 1954, Pursuant to the provisions of Section 21, Internal Security Act of 1950. UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY IS PROHIBITED. All persons and vehicles entering herein are liable to search. Photography or making notes, drawings, maps or graphic representations of this area or its activities is prohibited unless specifically authorized by the Commander. Any search material found in the possession of unauthorized persons will be confiscated.”
An interesting sign, to say the least. My feelings at this sign were different from the feelings I had at the top of the hill. This is because, I felt some greater risk being at this sign. What if the military caught wind of our presence, what if they were going to drive over and talk to us. What if they interrogate us for being in a space we’re not supposed to be in. The fact that I was taking pictures may have landed me in prison for all I know! This is when the industrial complex military installation becomes something that’s less grand, and scarier. I know, if I hopped this fence I could be in a lot of trouble. If I ran towards the military installation I most likely will be shot. Maybe there are land mines 30 feet away from the sign. It’s weird to think that we could be in a lot of trouble with the government just for walking on land that’s not ours. The space viewed from this hill was sublime, but at the sign it’s deadly.
Regardless, it’s still a beautiful space. As I look at the last picture above, I see the different perspectives the ground gives us. The mountains look bigger and the valley has more shape, which makes the space seem smaller. The desert certainly holds it’s unique beautify in the rocks and scrub. The grandeur from the landscape is held in the mountains.
From this journey I learned that industrial sublime is existent. Before this journey I felt this need to be disgusted by sites like Bingham Mine, the Morton salt flats, and the Dugway Military installation. Now I can understand that the artificial molding of the land can also hold its own beauty and serenity. Different emotions take hold, and different senses are triggered in these spaces compared to more naturally preserved areas. I felt the Dugway Military Base held the highest sense of astonishment for me because the vast space and secrecy. All I have are my eyes to tell me what’s there. Never will I know what actually goes on within the fence.