Last Friday, I flew to Salt Lake City to meet with my two brothers for what we call a “brother get together.”
My oldest brother is 8 years older, and my older brother is 5 years older. We grew up together—roughly, considering the age differences—in Kansas, but we now spread out across the country. Me—Hillsdale, Michigan; my older brother in Portland, Oregon; and my oldest brother in Kansas City.
So, we flew into SLC on Friday morning and joyously greeted one another. I generally despise flying, but the TSA actually didn’t do anything pornographic to me, and Delta seemed in fine form.
We always pick different parts of the country to get together. This year, my brothers graciously agreed to meet in Utah so that I could see where Russell Kirk spent four years of his life, 1942-1946—at Dugway Proving Ground (with a longish interlude in the swamps of Florida).
“After more miles of this high desert, quite treeless, the buses came to great sand dunes. Perched upon these dunes were a few theater-of-operations barracks. This was Dugway Proving Ground, some ninety miles distant from Salt Lake City.” [Kirk, Sword of Imagination, 57]
When my brothers I arrived in Skull Valley, just north of Dugway (the entrance to Dugway Proving Grounds is where the two valleys—Skull and Dugway—meet), we found nothing living there. Bizarrely, did find the site of a former town. No longer in existence, Iosepa, named after Joseph Smith, was a Mormon Colony of Polynesians.
Why these Polynesians converted to Mormonism is less of a mystery than why they left Polynesia for Skull Valley. Nothing remains now but a playground, a pavilion, and a grave yard—all next to each other.
As Kirk wrote in his autobiography, this area is “surely one of the most desolate and most salubrious spots in all the world. While millions of men were slaughtering one another upon the Ukrainian steppes or in the Papuan jungles, Kirk lay enchanted, like Merlin in the oak, amidst a desert so long dead that it seemed nothing was permitted to die there any longer.” [Kirk, Sword, 58]
Perhaps even stranger, though, was the “welcome center” for Dugway Proving Ground. I jest. Two heavily-armored, heavily-armed men guarded an entrance that didn’t seem to be an entrance. Indeed, these two men seemed to be standing in the middle of the desert, adorned only by a fence, a few warning signs, a guard house, and some concrete.
Wearing nothing but black, they refused to tell us even what agency of the government or branch of the military they worked for.
The two guards also refused to allow us to take photographs of them or the area.
Kirk arrived in the very first few days of this military base in the late summer of 1942, charged with developing chemical and biological weapons.
What goes on in Dugway now?
Whatever it is, my brothers and I were not allowed to see or know. From what little research I’ve done on the web, no public records exist that even give the exact area or size of the base. From Google Maps, the base appears as an enormous, non-descript blob of nothingness.
In nearby Tooele, though, we found one monument to the great Russell Kirk. Sadly, it’s in disrepair.
And, of course, Salt Lake City was bright and clean. Whatever the defects of their theology, the Mormons know how to keep a well-ordered society.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.