Visiting Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”

It’s been AGES since I’ve written about art, years even. While I have my Bachelor’s in Art History, I unfortunately haven’t been able to use it. I blame the military lifestyle, but I digress. Seeing, experiencing, and writing about art is one of my favorite things to do. To many, this earthwork structure is just a pile of rocks, but to me it’s a new way of connecting art with humanity.

When we moved to Utah, I briefly googled a list of day trips from Salt Lake City. There are HUNDREDS of things to do within a one to two hour’s drive – skiing, hiking, exploring, museums, sights, cities…you name it. When I found out the Spiral Jetty was in Utah, I about crapped my pants. I had studied this piece YEARS ago, beginning in high school AP Art History, and even in college. It’s one of those things that you’ve known about for ages, but life got in the way of making an effort to see it. Admittedly, I had completely forgotten it was in this part of America. When I found out it was a 1.5 hour drive from our location, I decided to make a day trip of it.

Title: Spiral Jetty
Date: 1970
Type: Earthwork Sculpture
Location: Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah
Media: Basalt rock, salt crystals, earth, water
Size: 1,500 feet long, 15 feet wide coil

View from the parking lot

We drove 1.5 hours from Layton, Utah to see this. The last half hour of the drive was on a dirt road. Google Maps worked just fine here, especially to get us to the final destination, but we didn’t have service for most of the time.

Ground level, near the beginning of the loop

It was almost a religious experience to see this. Well, at least for me…my husband not so much. As you stand there, seeing what man has left behind, you are overwhelmed with the vastness of nature. This theme has run rampant in past art works, most notably the Hudson River School painters and their love of American landscape. Overall, man vs. nature has always been something of both admiration and fear.

Smithson was fascinated with the idea of entropy; with the way things break down, especially here in this interaction with the land and salt water. When he contracted workers to help him construct this piece, it was more in the water creating a bridge. In recent years and droughts, the water has receded, leaving only sand. While I saw this in the winter season (February), the water inches closer, almost submerging the sculpture again in the summer.

We walked the loop, noticing the weathered condition of the rocks

Many have been here before us, and left their mark in a respectful way.

Many before us left balancing rocks, a symbol of unionizing with the environment 

The passage of time is evident in Spiral Jetty. Basalt rocks have deteriorated, buried deep in the ground by almost 40 years of waves, seasons, moon cycles. Yet, it has become so embedded in the earth – rather than a disposable canvas, it is permanently a part of the land we walk on.

Here at the end/center of the Spiral Jetty we see more stone balancing

It felt good to be disconnected from our phones. While I still took photos, I was able to purely enjoy this piece for what it was intended.

Selfie on this beautiful day

I wasn’t sure how popular this site was – do people know about Spiral Jetty? Would it be an awkward road trip to the middle of no where? I was surprised to see many cars parked in the lot, and signs along the road letting us know we were headed in the right direction. You may have noticed humans sprinkled in some of my photos. Many brought their dogs too. It was a gorgeous day outside.

View of the salt deposits from the lake, and mountains

I loved interacting with the Jetty. It’s not often you get to do that with famous art, and for good reason too, but that’s the beauty of environmental works. They are altered by the elements around it, but still become at one with the earth. It felt empowering to be connected, and to have the privilege to enjoy it for ourselves. That’s why art is SO important – because it connects humanity.

If you’re in the area, do make an effort to see Spiral Jetty. It’s truly one of a kind.


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