Wendover Journal - Paula Poole
July 29, 2004
We’d done our homework about CLUI and the Wendover Residency, but I thought Wendover would be more like Lovelock, Elko or even Mesquite. The afternoon we got here, a few cars of various makes were careening around orange cones at the Wendover Raceway, across the cyclone fence a few feet from the unit’s porch. To the north of Wendover are rocky, treeless mountains that are striated, pocked with caves and riddles with graffiti. To the east is the Great Salt Lake Desert, to the south is the runway of the former Wendover Air Force Base (now a municipal airport) and to the west are the Pequop Mountains, I believe.
The barracks and the Enola Gay Hangar are decrepit and fascinating. We checked out the Exhibit Hall Two, next to the residency unit’s workshop, that had an exhibit by Catherine Harris. The show had photographs of the state line, walking points, suspended in resin and built into a steel, see-saw-like structure. We tried to figure out how to cool the inside of the 100 degree residency unit (a modular portable) and watched a southern thunderstorm at night. The sunset was spectacular, putting the casino neon to shame. We packed for the Remote Location excursion. CLUI’s Remote Location is forty acres on and around Lemay Island, to the north of Wendover, forty or so miles away.
July 30, 2004
After turning off the dirt road, we followed tracks and were grateful for the orange poles. The tracks meandered around washes and a low rise that led to a playa. The playa was smooth compared to the last thirty plus miles of gravel, sand and dust. It felt like driving on butter. Before the tracks circle the southern end of Lemay Island, the only visible human structure is a telemetry station. The other human intervention in the landscape is a solar light on Lemay Island that produces light when it is dark, installed by artist Achim Mohné It is a constant beam, like a fixed beacon. We chose a place to camp off of the playa on the stony ground near outcroppings of rock.
It was early afternoon when we arrived on Lemay Island. Out on the playa, the heat waves caused mirages that made the edges of blue mountain ranges appear as if they were floating. I know of a feature called Floating Island in the area. The brush was a type of sage, I think, with yellow-green leaves. No trees are on the island. Brett found a bicycle and a tent that were left behind. He rode the bike with two flat tires down a craggy slope, legs extended. I just looked up while eating a sandwich and saw that improbable scene. A pink moon rose over the Crater Island Mountains that night.
July, 31, 2004
Baking in the campsite, there was no shade. After Brett went out to do the first part of the three-day trek, I heard on my portable radio that this was the first 100 degree day of the summer. I prepared masonite panels that we purchased at a hardware store and asked an employee to cut for us with a coat of Gesso. The masonite was cut into 8" x 8" squares.
I communicated with Brett throughout his travels via walkie-talkies. After Brett got back, I took a walk on the playa. Lacy, salty mud had dried to form patterns that rose above the flatness in relief and crunched underfoot. In the waning light of the evening, the last blast of sunlight turned the mudlace golden before being usurped by Lemay Island. I found the southeast marker signifying a corner of the Remote Location. It looked like a grave marker to me, albeit a primitive one. It consisted of upright boards in the sand with rocks placed in front of them to spell SE. When I asked Brett about it, I found out that S.E. wasn’t buried there. There was another pink moonrise and Art Bell on the radio discussing nano-technology.
August 1, 2004
Then, I got out in order to scramble around camp, piling metal objects away from the Tracker and tent, and bringing things that I didn’t want to get wet into both forms of habitation. I tried to radio Brett. No answer. I saw storms surge up from the south, hopefully leaving the playa dry and settling over the ranges. The Pilot Range had a dark one that looked most foreboding. I heard thunder from that. Lemay Island blocks off the view of the Pilot if you are on the bottom portion of it. The valley between the Remote Location and Lemay Island is narrow. I saw lightning over the Newfoundland, Crater Island and Silver Island ranges. I sweated in the Tracker, trying to stay out of the wind.
When I heard Brett answer me on the walkie-talkie, I did not feel as panicked. But I had hours of waiting out the wind and spurts of spitting rain in the Tracker, not enough to wet the ground. The radio was a diversion, though each lightning strike caused a resonant strike of static. I was reminded of the terror I felt in the Escalante Desert-the day the super-cell picked up that same tent and tumbled across the sagebrush. We’d been away from the Bergblick site then, past Cedar City as far as we could drive before the storm became ominous there.
August 2, 2004
I also thought the new thunderstorms coming with only light breezes from the southwest would be harmless, as the storm yesterday turned out to be. I didn’t want to reflect on how I’d stared into the rearview mirror into the face of someone trying to keep wild imaginings under control. So, Brett went out on the last day (we thought) of his walking/performance part of the collaboration. I had mostly prepared that squares that I am going to paint on before the trip to Wendover, but there are seventy-two, so I worked on more Gesso layers until the storms snuck up on Lemay Island.
Brett came back early, calling off the last portion of the hike. He was already getting four inches of playa mud on his hiking boots like instant platform boots but that playa mud was wet before the storm. He felt like he pulled a muscle in one of his legs from lifting the heavy muck while walking. He was concerned about getting soaked and struck by lightning. This time, the rain came down in cloudbursts that made sheets over the playa and ranges. We sat in the Tracker while I read excerpts aloud from a guidebook about Nevada. To the east, enormous clouds of dust rose vertically a great distance away. They were giant storms caused by storms above. There was the white of the playa, the cream clouds of dust, contrasted by cyan mountains, then a variety of grays in the clouds above and a line of rain that would touch down to the playa and blend everything with its color, land to sky, sky to land.
The afternoon became clear. The tent had been battered around, almost unmoored. The clear break gave us time to document out on the playa. Then, a more significant storm advanced over the Pilot Range and broke before the sunlight was gone. I was both exhilarated and tired of waiting for peace. A double rainbow appeared. We could see it all. The sky glowed gold, then orange. Actually, the air seemed to glow as we seemed to be inside clouds. There was a blue fading to gray, steel gray clouds and the fiery apricot highlighted by the rainbow. The drops that fell were catching the light and glowing themselves.
Lightning was more visible at night and more frequent. We slept in the Tracker. We had to move supplies into the wet tent to make room. I watched lightning shows to the south but heard no thunder. We saw about twenty sparkling lights at the bases of the clouds. They came across the sky from the east as fast as jets. Maybe they were jets, but I would think maneuvers would be dangerous in this weather. Maybe they were something else…I tried to sleep. I woke up on my side looking east and saw two clouds, one shaped like a letter C and one shaped like a 5. They stayed together perfectly for quite some time.
August 3, 2004
Back to the modern age: the herd of antelope sped across the road in front of us. They gathered at what they considered to be a safe distance and flicked their tails. We were both weary and covered in a film of insect repellant, sunscreen and dust. The playa was blinding. The mountains far away and closer than those were an achingly sweet blue. We had no incidents on the way out except losing the track for a bit and having to turn around. Brett marked the orange poles with GPS coordinates.
We returned to the unit in Wendover. I’ll long for the visions I saw, a panorama unique and stunningly exquisite. A deadly place if you don’t plan ahead. We used probably fifteen gallons of water and half of a case of bottled water on site. Now we had real showers instead of the camp solar shower. We left our camp table out there with the tent and bicycle to add to a new pioneer cache.
Now, we could bask in the mirrored neon of the Peppermill Casino and partake of the buffet. We were drinking gin cocktails at the bar and witnessed, while we tried to play nickel video poker, a woman win 4000 nickels. She was ecstatic, more than I’ve ever seen anyone who’d won $200. But then she turned nasty because the pay-out ticket said $20.00. She was outraged in her drunkenness and demanded to see a number of management personnel. We changed machines because we were tired of the drama and listened to a fairly talented cover band, playing to and audience otherwise occupied. That night, being inside was nice, but we had to keep the window open and mosquito bites had an itch that kept me awake.
August 4, 2004
We tooled around Wendover, checking about photo developing, haircuts, laundry, groceries, etc. It was luxurious to be near a flushing toilet, hot water, electric lights, etc. but somehow so mundane. The Internet wasn’t available there yet. We did laundry at a K.O.A. Kampground (their spelling). Smith’s, the supermarket is on the Nevada side of Wendover. If we wanted to get film developed fast, it wouldn’t be Smith’s because we needed photo CD’s. I needed to get the photographs as a reference for painting. We planned to go to Salt Lake City. My plan was to simulate the playa patterns using the collected soil from the Remote Location on the masonite squares.
The CLUI resident logs were entertaining, useful and overly poetic at times. The information about Wendover was handy. I could make suggestions on where we should try to get various things accomplished. Our plight was that we had only a little cash compared to what we needed and no barbers or stylists would take credit cards. Smith’s would be too slow to develop the photographs and photo CD’s. The Starbucks in the State Line Nugget Casino did not have wireless Internet. We did get our laundry washed and dried and bought provisions, but to proceed, the Salt Lake City trip was necessary. The last time I was there was at 3; 30 am on AMTRAK. I heard the conductor announce "Salt Lake City", but fell asleep in my sleeper car. It’s a city, like Las Vegas, that I’d always heard much mythology about. I had always been curious to see it. It’s is about one hundred and eleven miles from Wendover. I researched art galleries and museums with the Utah guidebook. I wish I would have brought a book I have about Utah roadside geology.
August 5, 2004
We probably spent eight hours at Kinko’s, Target, Honk’s Dollar Store, etc. Floating Island floated when we were on the way to Salt Lake City. I don’t mean it floated to the city just that it was behind heat waves when we zoomed past in on I-80. It was five years since I’d passed through on AMTRAK and seen the lights of the city glowing even at 3:30am as I could barely keep my eyes open. Having been to Mono Lake, I was curious to see another alkali lake - this time a remnant of the ancient inland sea, Lake Bonneville.
Despite reports of bad smells stinging salt and such, I wanted to be on the shore. I could see what I found out was the Wasatch front in the city as well as what I thought was the Bingham Mine. Monsoonal moisture brought a thunderstorm over Antelope Island on the way back to Wendover. I thought about I-80 submerged under water. I thought about the "Tree of Utah" submerged. It seems I haven’t met anyone yet who cares for it. One log writer in the CLUI Wendover residency logs said: "I wish someone from Hill AFB would take it out with a jet." The "Spiral Jetty" and "Sun Tunnels" are local works with more reverence paid towards them.
August 6, 2004
While they were talking to us about our process, Jean Arnold, along with a man named Joe, drove up. They are from Salt Lake City. They went to look at Ted Kane and Matt’s shows in Exhibit Hall One (a former Air Force barrack). Jean is interested in doing a residency there.
We noticed that there was a missing smoke alarm from the unit, so Brett installed one that we had bought yesterday. When we finished the gluing, we poked around the studio. It has a door that opens to a yard in front of the Hangar with no fence. Brett told me you can walk around on the east side of it just don’t get to where the FAA supervisor can see you. The Wendover municipal airport is now south of the Hangar.
We took a walk in the evening and checked the Hangar’s north doors. No one was around and the doors were padlocked. We walked to a sign that reads "Wendover Raceway One Mile". We walked past a house with a series of cars parked in front of it. One had "51" painted on the side and also had "Area" on it, too. The backyard gate was open. We saw three cats appear behind the gate, then a dog in a cage watching us. Next, a huge, blue peacock stepped out from behind the gate like it was a velvet curtain and just blinked. I wondered what would be next. We walked for an hour, exploring. Some people drove by us as our shadows lengthened, arriving to a church happening. There are a few churches on base. The original base chapel has been converted to apartments.
August 7, 2004
The Exhibition Hall One is where we’ll hang our installation. The floor slopes in spots. Dead moths littered in large amounts the floor under the windows. There was broken glass in our part of the hall and accumulated dust. Ted Kane has a photography exhibit of the evaporation ponds at one of the salt companies nearby. Matt had a Nellis Air Force Base show on the display walls (salvaged doors with hinges). He mounted photographs, information and maps. We were supposed to take that show down.
We started cleaning and taking the show down after I came to a stopping point in my production of the paintings. I ran out of wood glue. The paintings surprised me. I’d expected that I would be hand-painting playa patterns, but when I had applied the salt, sand, water and wood glue, the paintings dry and take on their natural form-cracked patterns.
We were beginning a habit of working long into the night. Then, we slept in a curved room in the unit with a mural on the inside wall. The mural depicts the Bonneville Salt Flats, horseback riders with human forms and bighorn sheep heads, a giant scorpion pinching either John C. Fremont or Kit Carson and a Native American in a warrior pose on a horse in strange rock formations. Another mural has plane wreckage on a salt flat and historical information about pioneers, Fremont and Carson in painted letters.
August 8, 2004
Then I was painting in the studio and heard kid yelling, a dog barking, then a woman raising her voice, too. The kid said "It hurt its leg." I walked to the front door to find out the reason for the alarm. The people and the dog were next to the cyclone fence that contains the barracks, standing. The dog did not look injured to me. I returned to the work table. Brett momentarily came over from the unit asking "Did you see that?"
Brett said in an incredulous voice: "I saw the whole thing." Apparently, the dog found a jackrabbit, chased it and started tearing it up. Then, the humans had tried to stop the dog. The kid had noticed the injury on the jackrabbit and pummeled it to death with a stick. Sunday in Wendover.
Lady Luck walked by me at the Red Garter Casino and placed a red garter on my nickel video poker machine. We found a weekend special there for $3.99 steak dinners. The coffee shop was overwhelmed by joyous outbursts from either winners on a streak or folks just happy if any odds went their way. The gin and tonics weren’t weak there.
The studio is cooler in the evening though not as comfortable as the mornings. The musty smell reminded of all the times my dad invited my sister and I to join him in his shop, and we’d get into something and we were sent out. I don’t know what emits that smell, but it must be from oil, metal, dust, rust, and countless hours turning working parts into fossils. The wind bristles in the shingles of the roof. It sounds like rain pelting across the surface, but it is actually splinters straining to hang on. The shop reminds me of Michael McMillan’s "Central Meridian", complete with chirping crickets. Here, you can find the crickets.
August 9, 2004
I started reading John McPhee’s Basin and Range - a book that is on a shelf in the unit. It woke me up to geology again. Geology has always been a dynamic interest of mine because I live on the Pacific Rim. Here, the earth is splitting to form a new sea in Nevada or Utah. The island of California is not such a far-fetched myth.
The Remote Location is a site that is part of the land that Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt purchased. Smithson worked with the idea of non-sites, keeping the area from which he collected rocks unknown. We are making the sites known, even to the extent that you can find them with GPS and they have physical markers placed on them. The paintings I worked on are a microcosm of the macrocosm.
The clay from the playa is till wet in the plastic bags. When I mixed the samples with water, it felt like I was making ceramic slip. The glue mixture leaves sparkling bubbles when it dries. We liked the look of the glistening areas on the paintings because we thought they were salt crystals. Even though the glue adds a synthetic, shiny element it looks as if there is a sparkle to the soil, similar to the salt.