In my neck of the woods, just south of Salt Lake City, time is marked in two eras: pre-Claw (PC) and post-Claw (also PC).

One day in October 2019, a four-legged, 16-story metal structure, one that very much evokes thoughts of hostile extraterrestrial colonization, appeared alongside Utah’s most prominent freeway, next to the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper.

Something fundamental in who we are as a state shifted that day.

Pre-Claw, we thought we understood our world. The kind of people we were. The things we could expect to see on I-15 (lots of billboards advertising CoolSculpting and lip filler, an In-N-Out at every exit, and the Fear Factory prosthetic body dangling from a building right before the SLC offramp). But then this thing appeared, and suddenly, post-Claw, we knew nothing.

“What is that?!” we shrieked as we drove past. “How did it get here?” we asked each other. “Why?” we said as we scratched our heads.

I set out to find the answers to these questions by coming face to ... um ... tentacle with the thing itself.

What?

The official name for what we civilians have deemed “The Claw” is the Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory. It sits in the center of the aquarium’s outdoor plaza, near the playgrounds, above the Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory Command Center.

But the EECO was born long before it arrived at the aquarium. According to an ABC4 story from 2019, the story of the aquarium claw began, as so many tales in our modern age do, with the pop singer Bono.

The Claw and its two twins were built for U2’s “360°” world tour — a two-year tour with 110 shows between 2009 and 2011.

The three claws were deployed in concert venues around the globe and served as the stage’s focal point, holding the speaker system and video screen.

The Claw at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper on Monday, July 31, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

How?

After the band played its final show of the tour, the claws needed new homes. Loveland Living Planet Aquarium CEO Brent Taylor decided to purchase one for the aquarium’s plaza for an undisclosed amount. (The whereabouts of the other two claws are unknown, but my guess is they made their way back home to an alien planet).

It took a lot of time and effort to transfer the 200-ton structure from Pennsylvania to Utah and assemble its 165 feet. But then, at last, on that fateful October day in 2019, it was finally home. And we were both bedazzled and befuddled.

Why?

This was, and still is, the toughest question to answer.

Understanding why the aquarium paid “a few million” for Bono’s sloppy seconds might be easier, I thought, after I had experienced the EECO Voyager, a new virtual-reality attraction located under The Claw. So I made the five-minute journey to the aquarium with my two young daughters in tow.

First, I paid my respects to our alien overlords by standing directly beneath The Claw, the only way to appreciate its true majesty/terror. Aligning my head with the center-inverted spire always gives me the sense I’ll be beamed up to the mothership, a possibility that feels more likely now than ever, given the news out of Congress.

Then we made our way into the Voyager. The experience begins with guests loading into seats, not dissimilar from the seats Dr. John Hammond has his Jurassic Park guests sit in to watch the “Dino DNA” presentation (we’ve been watching a lot of Spielberg films in our home recently). Though some aspects of Hammond’s theme park don’t function according to plan, that segment of the tour seemed to go off without a hitch. The same cannot be said for the EECO Voyager.

Once seated, we were instructed to place the VR headset over our eyes. The headset, which smelled like someone’s hat after they wore it hiking, had Velcro that failed to fasten. The employees, who were extremely kind and professional, did their best to tie the strap around my skull, but ultimately I had to hold the headset on my face for the 15-minute VR tour.

The tour itself felt like a distant cousin to Disneyland’s “Soaring over California,” with puffs of air shooting our feet and various scents released in a mist. We watched a deep dive into the coral reef led by a cartoon version of The Claw itself, voiced by a child.

I had begun the ride hoping to better understand why The Claw is here. But when I removed my headset, I felt further from that understanding than ever before. I left wondering why the EECO and the EECO Voyager exists.

But you know what? It’s none of my business.

Maybe there is no deeper reason for The Claw other than it fit in the space, it looks kind of octopus-adjacent, and it’s a conversation starter. And maybe that’s good enough. Plus, my kids loved the Voyager and have asked me every day since our visit when we can go back and “do the new ride” again.

Acceptance

I’d be lying if I said I feel the same way about The Claw as I did when it appeared in 2019. Much like Elizabeth Bennet came to fall in love with Mr. Darcy after time and better acquaintance (we also just watched the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries), so too, has my affection for The Claw grown from prejudice to love.

At night, the aquarium is illuminated in various colors and can be seen from miles around. I love the way it greets me as I round the point of the mountain, like a sea monster parent, beckoning me home.

It’s weird. It’s shocking. It’s unmissable. And it’s ours, and it’s who we are.

The Claw at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper on Monday, July 31, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News