I just visited Utah for the first time on a collectively-organized art retreat. N invited us to share work, get feedback, talk shop, explore new landscapes and art experiences, re-connect with distant colleagues, and generally re-set. I feel blessed to have come along for the journey with such worthy shipmates and epic landscapes.
Utah’s natural landscape is an unending source of wonder and discovery. Dolomite-like mountains, luminous calcite caverns, pristine waters, dense starry skies, fat moons, salt flats—it was all stunningly beautiful, with nice people and fascinating historical sites. Here are a few highlights.
Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty
Completed 1970, 1,500′ long coil
We made an art pilgrimage. After a period of submersion, Smithson’s famous work of Land Art has partially resurfaced, and we waded out on it. It sits on a surreally pinkish part of the Great Salt Lake, with a few cartoon blots of raw oil. It’s huge, very impressive, and literally immersive. In imagining Smithson tackling this monumental work, he cuts an even larger than life historical figure.
Golden Spike National Historic Site
Transcontinental rails joined in 1869, creating rail lines 742 to 1,032 miles long
Spiral Jetty is just past the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the Transcontinental Railroad was finished. Since Salt Lake City is synonymous with Mormons, it was eye-opening to situate the histories of other Americans, such as the Chinese and Irish immigrants who built the railroads, here too. (We also learned that we were a few hours away from the Topaz War Relocation Center, the huge internment camp that processed 11,000 Japanese Americans in WWII.)
Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels
Completed 1976, each tunnel 9′ diameter x 18′ length
Like a rare earth magnet, Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels drew us clear across the state to a remote swath of BLM land near the Nevada border. It is a really powerful, iconic work by one of the few women Land Artists. Four concrete tunnels are arranged as two intersecting lines that frame the sun on the summer and winter solstices. Each tunnel bears holes corresponding to constellations. It’s an elegant intervention in the landscape, with varied viewing and sensate experiences—even for a day visitor (imagine visiting the site at night, or on the solstices, or under snow). At the Jetty, I looked at the lake, but mostly at the jetty. At Sun Tunnels, I looked at the concrete tubes, but also considered how it framed the landscape, and how the landscape framed it. I noticed mountain ridges near and far. It made me see gaps between ridges, where salt flats lay beyond view, and horizons were too distant to see through the atmosphere. The clarity of the sky and sunlight seemed to come into focus with the tunnels. I think Sun Tunnels is worth the trek. The detour’s not small, and this recommendation not insubstantial, when you consider the four anxious hours we were stranded without cell phone service after the shale-specked roads shredded two of our tires.
Bonneville Salt Flats
The remains from 17,000 year old Lake Bonneville; ~12 miles long and 5 miles wide
Just over the ridge from the Sun Tunnels was this landscape marvel and heart-fluttering mecca for motor sports enthusiasts. The crunchy, crystalized earth stretched into the distance, making for a surreal aural space as well.
Center of Land Use Interpretation
Founded in 1994, with field offices in six states
Nearby, the strange historical and industrial sites around Wendover, Utah, are nicely presented by the CLUI’s Orientation Building. To get there, you follow specious directions to an seemingly abandoned military base, and then punch a code into a door. There is a 3-D map of one of the largest mines in the world, an archive of notable military sites that are terrifying (the Enola Gay hangar, replica German houses for munitions tests) and odd (a cavern that servicemen outfitted with a jukebox), and notes on unimaginable environmental degradation (moving tons of earth for a few pounds of ore). You can access much of this archive online at CLUI’s Land Use Database, but I felt very grateful and honored to visit this site guarded only by a sense of commons.
Antelope Island State Park
Initial park creation in 1969; 15 miles long by 7 miles wide
This testament to the importance of preservation sits in the Great Salt Lake, and is home to 500 bison and numerous antelope, coyotes, jackrabbits, and birds. It was a peek into a past wildlife-filled America that will never exist again. I could not really comprehend the bison that ambled on to the road near us. It was so massive, and so unlike any other animal I’d ever laid eyes on.
Timpanagos Cave National Monument
65 million year old caves, ‘discovered’ 1887, National Park in 1933.
Like Antelope Island, this site in the Uinta National Forest filled me with gratitude for the visionaries who preserved such wonders for future generations. Three large caverns stoked my geology interest with their ethereal, translucent calcite formations. The area, shot through with craggy Dolomite-like peaks, evinces the drama of the Continental Drift, with oceanic matter in this high-altitude, land-locked state.