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As they drive by the towering cement tree on the way to Nevada, many Utahns wonder why it even exits.

"I don't know why they would put that ugly-looking thing out there. It is a distraction," said Lynette Schmidt, South Jordan, who has seen the huge cement tree a few times.However, the "Tree of Utah" on the Salt Flats does have a purpose. It stands as a symbol of life, country, relationships and the universe in abstract form, according to Jon Reimann of Salt Lake City, a University of Utah art graduate who helped construct the tree with his father, Don.

The tree's designer is Karl Momen of Stockholm, Sweden. The tree represents aspects of his life.

Born in Iran, he is the son of a carpet manufacturer in Mashhad. His real name is Karim, not Karl.

"He had me call him Karl because Americans couldn't pronounce his name right," Don Reimann, a retired local contractor from Style-Crete Inc., said.

He said Momen isn't a big man and is rather quiet. His hobby and first love was art.

After World War II, Momen left Iran for a time to study architecture in Germany. He traveled all over western Europe with exiled Soviet artists who left their country as communists wielded more influence.

He also worked as an architect for the Shah of Iran, designing satellite cities.

After the shah was deposed, Momen settled in Sweden. He became a well-known architect and painter who dabbled in art as a sideline.

In Europe, he designed hospitals and other public buildings.

Sometime in the '80s, he decided to make a road trip around the United States from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. While passing through Utah, Momen envisioned the Salt Flats as the "largest white canvas in the world," Fon Rei-man said.

It was there on the Salt Flats that he visualized his tree in the desert. At a personal cost of over $1 million, he planted the tree.

The roots of the tree are made of 25 concrete and steel pilings. The tree's leaves are colorful spheres.

However, "the tree is not done yet," Don Reimann said.

Before Momen could finish what he considered his gift to the people of Utah, he ran out of money.

"He still owes me half a million dollars," Don Reimann said. "But I'm not a bitter person.

"I don't dislike the tree. If I did it, I might do somethings different, but I don't call it lousy.

"My son says it is not bad art," he said.

Jon Reimann said the tree is a form of surrealism, a type of art in which real objects, ideas or principles are symbolized in an unnatural or abstract way.

When people judge art, they usually do it based on their own experience or cultural background, according to Jon Reimann.

He said sometimes those factors lead to a narrow-minded view unless people are willing to understand the background of the artist.

Jon Reimann recommended when people look at the tree, they keep in mind Momen's Iranian traditions and European art back-ground.

"There are some really nice art things about it. I like it. I think I would do some things different. I know he had to work with a budget," Jon Reimann said. "I wish he would have had enough money to finish it. That would have been cool."

Momen's monument to life is about 20 miles east of Wendover on the north side of I-80.