GREAT SALT LAKE STATE PARK — A rare sight has returned to the Great Salt Lake.
For the third winter in a row, mirabilite formations have sprung up from the sand.
The delicate mounds of white crystal form when spring water underground reacts with minerals and then emerges above the surface in freezing cold air.
“It will crystalize and form these mounds and terraces,” said Angelic Anderson, a park ranger at Great Salt Lake State Park.
This year, 15 mirabilite mounds and terraces have formed.
The fact that they are visible is a product of Utah’s drought.
In years with normal precipitation, the area where the formations are located would be covered by water.
Now that the Great Salt Lake is experiencing historically low levels of water, the mirabilite formations can emerge above the sand.
“We have the lake levels low enough to where these can form,” Anderson said. “They have only been documented in the last three years.”
Anyone who visits the Great Salt Lake is able to view the formations.
Park rangers are offering informational tours. All openings for the next scheduled date of Feb. 12 have been filled.
The Great Salt Lake is the only place in North America where the mirabilite formations can be found.
If Utah experiences an active winter and spring with heavy precipitation, causing the water level at the lake to rise, the formations may not be visible next winter.
“If we get a lot of rainwater and the lake level is high enough, we won’t get these kinds of mounds,” Anderson said. “So, it’s still kind of up in the air on what’s going to happen.”