The Secret Behind the Salt Flats Tree

It’s true, the drive on the Salt Flats is easily the most boring stretch of road I’ve ever encountered. If you’re like me, the only thing I look forward to is that huge ol’ statue of a tree to break up the monotony. But what the heck is it? I’ve spent my whole life wondering this, and I’ve finally learned the secret behind it. 

On Nov. 22, Swedish artist Karl Momen was the guest speaker for Art Insights. Born in 1934 in Iran, this painter and sculptor has work exhibited all over the world, from Berlin to Tokyo. 

In the United States, he’s best known for his work creating the 87-foot-tall sculpture located on the Salt Flats. This sculpture, “Metaphor: The Tree of Utah,” features several orbs at the top of the tree, which represent planets in our solar system. 

Supposedly a “tribute to the god above the universe,” the green coloring found on several of the spheres was actually created from a mineral found in southern Utah. The half-moon shells at the bottom are pieces of the mold that created the orbs themselves.

The inspiration for the sculpture came when Momen was driving through the Salt Flats himself.

“It is the most boring drive. I said to myself, someone must do something,” Momen said. 

Momen is aware that a lot of people aren’t the biggest fans of this work. However, it has caught the eye of millions of travelers driving Interstate 80. In the near future, a visitor’s center will be placed around the tree. 

In his thick accent, Momen voiced this opinion: “For today, I’m not going to do what people want. I’m going to do what I want. [Creating] rewards myself before I even think about money. Because no one ordered me to do it.” 

For Momen, coming to speak to students was out of the ordinary. He doesn’t usually talk about himself or talk about his works, but said he was grateful for the opportunity to do so. 

The artist originally went to school for architecture after his father voiced his concern, saying that “making art is something you cannot [guarantee] for the rest of your life.”

After pursuing his dreams, the artist became well-known and wildly successful. Despite this, during the Q&A portion of the night, Momen told the art students in the audience to be grateful that they are going to school.

“When I see students of today, I’m really jealous because they are really free-minded. Be glad you are a student.” 

For more information Momen and to check out his other works, click here.


Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos by: