La Sal’s Second Life

La Sal’s Second Life

This photograph, taken from the International Space Station by an astronaut, illustrates the influence of human exploration both on and below the land surface near the La Sal Mountains in eastern Utah.

Since the 1950s, the Lisbon Valley has been a haven for natural resource extraction and ephemeral towns. Several settlements were built and inhabited while mining operations were ongoing, and then swiftly depopulated when the mines shut down. Many of these abandoned settlements, commonly called ghost towns, are associated with mines in and around Utah.

The town of La Sal is often mislabeled as a ghost town due to its association with Old La Sal, a town just out of frame to the northeast. When the residents of Old La Sal moved westward, they took their town name with them and established the settlement in the photo, leaving a ghost town behind. Local historians are careful to note that it was the downfall of the cattle economy, not mining, that caused the abandonment of Old La Sal.

Today, the La Sal mine is a source of uranium and vanadium. The site is similar in geologic character to deposits in the Uravan Mineral Belt of southwestern Colorado. Mining operations at the La Sal complex include both above-ground and below-ground components.

Uranium and vanadium are not the only natural resources extracted from the Lisbon Valley. The Lisbon Anticline is an arched geologic structure that yields oil and gas. On the northeast flank of the anticline, the network of light tan roads and rectangles are likely oil pump pads. Tailing ponds from a nearby open-pit copper mine are also visible in the scene.

Astronaut photograph ISS063-E-40191 was acquired on July 5, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using an 800 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 63 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Alex Stoken, Jacobs, JETS Contract at NASA-JSC.