Often called the “Tree of Life,” the Metaphor: The Tree of Utah roadside sculpture was created in the early 1980s by European artist Karl Momen, and has baffled locals and passersby in equal measure for decades since its installation.
As the story goes, Swedish artist Karl Momen was visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats when he was struck by a vision of a tree, an odd image to hit among one of the world’s most desolate landscapes. The resulting structure is an almost 90-foot-tall psychedelic spire made mostly of concrete. The trunk of the “tree” is a sharply cubic tower atop of which is a bulbous canopy of multicolored orbs, the net effect looking like something that jumped out of an acid trip as opposed to springing from the salty earth below. At the time of its construction, locals mocked it with the name ‘Momen’s Meatballs”.
At the foot of the piece is a plaque with the words from Ode to Joy by Friedrich Schiller, although the direct connection between the work and words is a bit of a mystery. Also located on the ground surrounding the fenced off base of the statue are spherical fragments of cement that look like the thick fallen leaves from the otherworldly tree.
The artist returned to his native Sweden after completing the work, but as late as 2011 Momen is still working to get a visitors center erected near the fading piece of psychedelica.
Know Before You Go
North side of I-80 mile marker 26 on the north side, 25 miles east of Wendover, NV; 95 miles west of Salt Lake City. The monument is meant to be viewed by passing traffic rather than stopped at, as evidenced by the chain link fence around the site, the lack of a paved turnoff or anywhere to park, and highway signs reading "emergency stopping only" just before you pass the monument.