Massive Utah Mine Illustrates the Human Geological Epoch

By Rebecca Horne | March 26, 2010 2:09 pm


The Kennecott Garfield Smelter of the Bingham Canyon Mine is located 17 miles west of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. It sits between the south shore of the Great Salt Lake and the Oquirrh Mountains. As the tallest free-standing structure west of the Mississippi River, the Kennecott stack rises 1,215 feet from a 124-foot-diameter base. The Bingham Canyon Mine, owned by global mining giant Rio Tinto, has the distinction of being the biggest man-made excavation on the face of the earth, daily producing 150,000 tons of copper ore and 270,000 tons of “overburden.” Called “The Richest Hole on Earth,” it is nearly a mile deep and about three miles wide at the top, and still expanding.

As photographer Michael Light points out, if you look closely at this photograph, you will see the beach of the prehistoric freshwater Lake Bonneville, behind the top half of the stack, to the left. Shooting from the open side of a helicopter, with nothing between him and the void but a lap belt, Light was in the air for about two hours, shooting some 450 exposures using a large format aerial camera loaded with 5” roll film. “Photographing Bingham Canyon is an act of looking at one geological epoch precisely as it merges into another, the Holocene becoming the Anthropocene,” writes Light.

Garfield Stack, Oquirrh Mountains, and Ancient Beach of Great Salt Lake.

All images are by Michael Light, courtesy Radius Books/Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

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  • Claire C Smith


    It’s good to have Visual Science!

  • Doug Watts

    Any data on the pollution, air & water, from this blight on Earth?

  • Uncle Al

    All of US’ hazardous waste for centuries could be buried in that mile-deep dimple. Government is especially good at transforming yawning holes into heavily subsidized fiascos. Do it! Frist, eminent domain.

  • kan

    How powerful is the human geological epoch! I just imagine how wonderful it might be if I were the photographer, therefore, I can have a panoramic view about it.

  • nate

    yow, is the stack supported with guywires? how does it “stack” up against the tallest buildings?

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  • Timothy James LeCain

    If you’re interested in the creation of the Bingham Pit, my new award-winning environmental history book is all about it: MASS DESTRUCTION: THE MEN AND GIANT MINES THAT WIRED AMERICA AND SCARRED THE PLANET (Rutgers University Press, 2009). There’s more info on my website.


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About Rebecca Horne

Rebecca Horne ( is an artist, multi-platform freelance writer, and award-winning photography director. She launched Visual Science for in March 2010. She also writes about science and photography for The WallStreet Journal. You can reach her at


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