A place of reflection

The Great Salt Lake is a study of how we can preserve places with more than memories

In 2023, photographer Chris Carlson went to the Great Salt Lake to take photographs for the first time. Something clicked. He returned again and again, visiting the faraway, rarely seen reaches of the lake that has been described as more like a desert than the desert that surrounds it.

By year’s end, Carlson had spent time flying over the mineral evaporation ponds, tracing the line of the Lucin Cutoff, walking across now-exposed lakebed, and chasing the shoreline, tallying up visits during 48 out of 52 weeks.

As the descendant of white settlers who built homes on Antelope Island, he has felt a lifelong connection to the lake. And now he feels a calling to document it, come hell or high water, as the fate of the lake remains uncertain and legislation to protect its future arguably remains nonexistent.

“For me, photographing becomes an extension of my faith, embracing the call to ‘mourn with those that mourn,’” he says.

When looking at images of the Great Salt Lake, the supernatural beauty of Deseret Magazine’s backyard is unmistakable. Each frame is confirmation that something this captivating and kaleidoscopic exists on Earth, and that someone was there to experience it. It’s proof.

It’s also an act of preservation.

The ability to preserve something — not only in the tangible sense of pixels on screens or ink on paper, but also with the intent to create enough attention to spur action — motivates Carlson to keep returning. “It is in our presence and attentiveness that we forge a bond that compels us to protect and preserve these places.”

Evaporation Ponds | Chris Carlson for the Deseret News

“This is the first time I have been compelled to create such a large body of work about one specific subject. This constant ‘nudge’ has gotten me out of bed at 4 a.m. for the last year and a half. And I’m not done.”

Burrowing Owl | Chris Carlson for the Deseret News

“Every season spent with the Great Salt Lake teaches me the value of life’s varied seasons, each with its own unique beauty and purpose.”

Lucin Cutoff | Chris Carlson for the Deseret News

“These scenes evoke profound sorrow. And yet, there’s still a stark beauty.”

Bison | Chris Carlson for the Deseret News

“Come to the Great Salt Lake. Walk the shores. Listen to the stories. See the beauty. Witness the plight.”

This story appears in the May 2024 issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.