Vox Clamantis in Deserto
An excerpt from something I wrote at school this semester
Tooele County, Utah is a place of disarming beauty and rich history. In this anvil of clay and salt flats between the Great Basin and the Great Salt Desert, half-buried clumps of chaparral and sagebrush scatter in broken phalanxes of green, brown and grey. This was the place where, for many years before Utah officially became a State in 1896, horsed convoys of Ute, Goshute, Paiute, and Shoshone eyed the vast landscape for glimpses of wild onion, potato and carrot. A series of gelatin prints developed by wandering, ex-Union Army ethnographers late in the 19th century reveal a vast, icy sky of gunmetal gray. The same skies, now depicted in numerous of websites and tourist brochures, collide with the somber, greying summits of Granite Peak and Skull Mountain encircling the desert plain. Hot summer winds from the South stir up columns of sand and dust that bury everything in its wake. In the cold of winter, underneath a brilliant mantle of stars, pools of condensation freeze, revealing tiny rivulets of ice that glitter in the moonlight. At the foot of the Cedar Mountains, one can even find wreckages of wagons from the ill-fated Donner Party. Higher in the range, in the 1890's, bands of desperate miners combed the treacherous crags for hidden veins of silver. Between the former Pony Express staging area at Simpson Springs and Orr Ranch rests an abandoned stretch of the Lincoln Highway, built in 1913 to connect Lincoln, Nebraska with Sacramento, California.
A bustling metropolis of 30 souls, Clover was the largest settlement in Tooele County during the opening moments of World War II. The Utah meteorologist and folklorist Ronald L. Ives even acknowledged that everyone else in the United States viewed Tooele County as the “center of depopulation.” Not to be excluded from this group was Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who urged President Franklin Roosevelt to consider parts of Tooele County as a potential site for wartime testing. At this time, the Chemical Warfare Service, a branch of the United States Army involved in chemical weapons testing, pressed the War Department for facilities to supplement the crammed and outdated facilities at Edgewood Technical Arsenal in Maryland and Eglin Field on the Florida panhandle. On February 6, 1942, President Roosevelt signed a bill to withdraw 126,720 acres of land from the public domain for use by the Chemical Warfare Service. Named after the myriad wagon tracks - or “dugways” - carved into the open terrain, construction of Dugway Proving Ground began in earnest in March 1942. Unlike the Edgewood Technical Arsenal, whose proximity to major population centers made large-scale testing of biological and chemical weapons undesirable, Dugway Proving Ground was favored for its remoteness and lack of population. More importantly, a 1948 publication by former Chemical Warfare Service officers and scientists identified the true allure of Dugway Proving Ground. Called The Chemical Warfare Service in World War II: A Report of Accomplishments
, the report stated that the cold, hot, and occasionally humid climate permitted laboratory and field-testing under variable combat conditions.
Under the command of Major John R. Burns, Dugway Proving Ground started as a group of portable structures occupied by Army, Navy, and National Research Defense Council personnel. As American involvement increased in Europe and the Pacific, Dugway Proving Ground became the primary facility for the testing of countless toxic agents, flamethrowers, chemical spray systems, and biological warfare weapons. Among the many physicists and chemists at Dugway Proving Ground were a handful of meteorologists who used wind and temperature data to measure the dispersal of phosgene, cyanogen chloride, and hydrogen cyanide bombs “ranging in size from 100 to 4000 pounds”. Ronald L. Ives was one of these meteorologists. Although the exact nature of his involvement in these testing programs is lost to history, he illustrates the dangerous and ominous nature of Dugway Proving Ground, reminiscing about an advertisement in The Sandblast
, the weekly newsletter at the facility:THIS SUMMER
SEND YOUR BOY TO DUGWAY
HEALTHY, INSTRUCTIVE, DIFFERENT
4300 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL
HIKING, MOTOR TRIPS, MANUAL TRAINING
SELECTED CLIENTELE - HAS PRESIDENTIAL APPROVAL
SPECIALLY TRAINED LEADERS, EXCELLENT HOSPITAL
AND MORGUE FACILITIES
Boys at Dugway are asked to do little tasks about the
camp to prepare them for life. Military atmosphere. No
idle moments. Applicants screened by Army
Other camps under the same management at Kiska,
Bizerte, and Guadacanal.