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Potash Evaporation Ponds Are A Technicolor Surprise In Utah's Desert

06/01/2015 05:59 pm ET

Is that a tropical beach, or the Utah desert?

If you're driving along State Route 279 near Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah, you may notice some electric-blue bodies of water popping out from the red, rocky landscape. No, it's not a mirage: You've happened upon a strange surprise known as Potash Ponds

These man-made ponds are for collecting potash, a potassium-containing salt used in farm fertilizers. Workers pump the potash from way below the Earth's surface into the ground-level ponds, where sun evaporates the pond water and leaves potash behind. The water is dyed an eye-catching blue so that it'll absorb heat and evaporate more quickly, a process that typically takes about 300 days. 

Some passersby have found it jarring when, seemingly out of nowhere, the mine pools make a surreal stark contrast to the mostly unspoiled landscape. And indeed, the ponds do look bizarrely tropical in their desert setting:

The ponds are closely monitored to make sure they comply with environmental guidelines. Intrepid Potash, the company that operates the ponds, monitors water quality around the ponds four times a year, vice president Gary Kohn told The Huffington Post.

"As long as they’re meeting qualifications... there’s no [negative] environmental impact," said Donna Spangler, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

While walking right up to the ponds is not encouraged, you can glimpse them from State Route 279, also known as the Potash Scenic Byway or Potash Road, as it follows the Colorado River through sandstone cliffs and rocky outcrops. A round-trip scenic drive will take about two hours

You can continue on to Dead Horse Point State Park, popular for camping and biking. Canyonlands National Park is also nearby, with what visitors say are among the most challenging whitewater rapids in the world

And if you happen to travel by plane, you'll be able to see the ponds as a surprising series of stripes on an otherwise arid landscape.

H/T Amusing Planet

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