The Spiral Jetty: Everything You Need to Know

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In 1970, artist Robert Smithson thought it was a great idea to move 6,000 tons of black basalt and dirt, assemble it in a spiral on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, and call it art. Sounds like a good idea, right? Maybe Mr. Smithson was just bored one day and was struggling to find a way to express himself. Or maybe it was his subtle way to fall in line with architectural trends of the 1970s, which saw a backlash against the brightly-colored 1970s. Whatever his reasons, the final product is nothing short of amazing: The Spiral Jetty.

 

Spiral Jetty

 

The prehistoric-looking coil of the Spiral Jetty extends to about 1,500 feet and has a diameter of about 15 feet. During droughts and low water levels, the Spiral Jetty can be completely visible (as seen above). When we’ve had a great winter (read: tons of snow) or a lot of continuous rainfall, the Spiral Jetty will often play peek-a-boo with visitors.

 

There’s also a bit of controversy surrounding the Spiral Jetty. As you know, 1970 was quite a few decades ago, and the installation has started to show it’s age: rocks have been worn down from constant foot-traffic, sand erosion, salt, and time. Does the art community step in and refurbish the installation, ensuring more Instagram-worthy photos for decades to come? Or do we leave it to succumb to the natural surroundings as a testament to the slow degradation of our planet? There’s really no right answer, so go out and visit the Spiral Jetty while you can!

 

Spiral Jetty selfie

 

Getting to the Spiral Jetty

  1. Set your GPS for “Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center” just outside of Corinne, Utah
  2. Upon reaching the Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center, continue driving West on the dirt road for about 5.5 miles
  3. At the fork, take the left and follow the signs to the Spiral Jetty
  4. The road will wind around cattle guards, private property, and corrals, until finally dead-ending at the Spiral Jetty
  5. NOTE that you will first see an old oil jetty on your left – keep going!

 

Road to the Spiral Jetty

 

Things to Remember

  1. The road to the Spiral Jetty from the Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center is dirt and full of potholes. Make sure your car is in excellent condition. I have made this trip many times in my Honda Civic, but be cautious. Drive slow. The road is barely wide enough for 2 cars, so be prepared for a dust storm when a large pickup passes you by!
  2. From Salt Lake City, the drive will take you about 2.5 hours to get to the Spiral Jetty. Make sure you have a full tank of gas, empty bladders, and plenty of water. I suggest filling up in Corinne and making a pit stop at the Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center restrooms: they’re clean.
  3. You can walk into the Great Salt Lake from the Spiral Jetty, but do so at your own risk! The Great Salt Lake is a dead body of water, meaning it has no rivers feeding into it and no outlet to cycle out stale water. Did you know that Ancient Lake Bonneville spilled over centuries ago, leaving the Great Salt Lake to itself? Water evaporated from the lake, leaving behind a concentration of mineral deposits and salt. Once you get past the shoreline, you won’t notice the smell as much…
  4. To get down to the Spiral Jetty, you will need to boulder over a few rocks: bring appropriate footwear and trekking poles if you’re not too steady on your feet. The Jetty is not ADA accessible, although you can get some pretty stellar pictures from the parking lot.

 

In the spiral

 

Have you ever visited the Spiral Jetty before? What would your opinion be: let it erode away or should the art community revamp the installation?

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47 thoughts on “The Spiral Jetty: Everything You Need to Know

  1. Wow, Robert Smithson went to a lot of work to create the spiral! That’s amazing! It would be neat to see it in person. I hope to visit Utah someday. We hope to drive to Yellowstone in a couple of years. It’s so far from Missouri, but we have started making some plans to head that way.

  2. Hate diving roads with potholes haha, coming from Montreal, this is what we have the more. the spiral Jetty is nuts, we have heard of it and now reading this makes us want to go even more!

  3. I didn’t even know about this! Very cool! I’ve only been to Utah once and spent time in Arches NP. That’s pretty cool, I’ll have to check it out next time!

  4. Fascinating! I traveled to Utah a few years ago to explore the different national parks but I didn’t know about this place sadly. I’ll have to make a note to look out for it and pay it a visit next time I’m back in the area!

  5. I had never heard of this place but it seems amazing. Was making a list of things to do near Salt Lake City and happy I found this. A great hidden gem

  6. I have never been to Utah. Spiral jetty sounds exciting. I was just wondering how did this person even conceive the idea? The execution looks terrific. Thanks for adding your pointers which will surely help other visitors.

  7. I like it! It would be just another beach without it, wouldn’t it? So locals should definitely try and keep it! I’m sure it’s bringing new visitors to the area 😊

  8. It’s certainly a creative way to create a jetty. I wonder why he was inspired to do so. We just have plain old wooden jetties in Trinidad and Tobago.

  9. Well, isn’t this interesting? I have not heard of it but now I so want to see it the next time we get to Utah. I wish I had know the last time we were there. So close! Art comes in all forms and I love exploring it with the kids.

  10. As a little bit of a hippie, I love this. It’s a tough call to make whether to restore it or not. It brings so many people pleasure, yet a lot of art is created with impermanence in mind. At the very least it shows that people like art and we need more of it in our spaces.

  11. This is pretty cool. I feel like they should revamp the installation; anything to bring more tourists I feel would be a good thing. I bet it would be a pretty great shot from the air with a drone.

  12. Thanks for the tips! The amount of times we’ve been driving somewhere ridiculously hot and remote and had to avoid pot holes and stuff… it’s genuinely scary!

  13. I’ve never heard of The Spiral Jetty! What an interesting attraction. I’d probably want to paint the rocks bright colors for the next phase. I’m all about updating art to get people to come back.

  14. It is cool when artists offer something unique like this, although I can imagine how others would complain about artists interfering with nature. This sounds like a great day excursion to do when visiting Salt Lake City. Great tip about the clean bathrooms. My wife surely will thank you for this!

  15. I never knew of Spiral Jetty or such kind of thing existed. Very interesting to know that artist started something like this and that too with 6000 tons of stones. You have given helpful navigation to reach there as on dirt road with potholes many people would return but you have guided till the destination.

  16. I had no idea about this hidden gem until you enlightened us. Bookmarking this page because I have just added it to my bucket-list. Driving from Salt Lake City sounds like the best idea. Cheers!!

  17. I’ve never heard of this place to be honest, but it seems pretty cool! Thanks for letting me know such an interesting gem like this. The tips are useful as well 🙂

  18. Haven’t been there. I’ve never heard about this place before. It seems like a a really hard art work. Interesting. Not sure if I would put this on my list, but if I would, your guide here is pretty helpful.

  19. I’ve been to SLC numerous times and never knew this existed! What a cool place. I’ll definitely check it out next time I’m there (before it weathers away). Thanks for all the tips and detailed directions.

  20. I want to get to SLC sooner than later. I had plans to be there during Labor Day weekend but unfortunately, le boo wasn’t able to go when I could. I didn’t even think about things like the smell, lol.

  21. I’ve never heard of this but it looks really cool! I think it would be nice if the art community could keep it alive because it’s so unique!

  22. Wow, the spiral jetty looks so pretty. I have never heard of this before but now I am all eager to go there. I love all natural settings and it looks like a place for a good hike too. Btw I love your yellow glasses!

    1. Thanks! Sadly, they just broke and I had to toss them! I’m now officially in the market for brightly-colored sunglasses again!

  23. Utah seems to have so many amazing places worth visiting. We are yet to visit the States and we think we need to prep for a long road trip adventure next summer…. and of course, add this to the list 😀

  24. Art can be found everywhere! This is so cool. I’ve never heard of the Spiral Jetty. That smell must have been intense! But it probably went away after a while.

  25. I love seeing random art installations like this. I wonder if it will be like Salvation Mountain near the Salton Sea? After the artist died a 501(c)3 was created to continue his work.

  26. I cant believe I have never heard of this place before now! I would love to take the drone out and see it from 500m up in the air. Your advice about the stale water is important as people will probably want to cool off!!

  27. An interesting piece of art. Not sure if it would appeal to my aesthetic sense but a unique idea surely. Liked the very useful tips you provided as a guide.

  28. I haven’t heard of Spiral Jetty at all! I haven’t got a chance to visit USA yet and haven’t bothered to read much about the place! This place looks very interesting! Thanks for the tips, esp on having a very good condition car!

  29. I haven’t heard anything like Spiral Jetty until I read your post. Quite interesting to know that someone actually made that afford to do something like this. You have written a detailed post this which is quite helpful. Thanks for sharing. I would love to visit someday.

  30. I’ve never heard of the Spiral Jetty before, so I’m really glad you were able to provide its historical context and the current issues its having. I love how the artist is using art as a means for people to get outside. Oftentimes, I find myself inside cold museums to see art around the world! I guess I’ll have to start planning a trip to Utah to see this myself! Thanks for all your tips!

  31. What a pain about all the potholes! They are such a nightmare when driving. I’ve never been to Spiral Jetty or heard much about it until the post. Great to learn about the history of it. I’d love to fly over it and capture some aerial shots, would be a great view from above to get the full effect!

  32. I had never heard about the Spiral Jetty until I read your post…and now you have spiked my interest to visit the place. Good to know that the drive wont be a smooth ride and that the car should be sturdy enough. I would love to use a drone to photograph the place…it would look awesome from up above!

  33. Never heard of it before. I don’t know if I’d call it art, but surely it’s an interesting and very original idea. And it must be nice to visit. How does it remain there? I would have thought that rain for instance would have destroyed it.

    1. I guess art is in the eye of the beholder, no? The rocks are actually heavy boulders that have sunk into the sand over time. When/if there is actual water covering them, it’s stagnant. The Great Salt Lake is a dead body of water, so there’s no real current to cause massive erosion or move the supporting earth.

  34. This reminds me of the stromatolites (the oldest living fossils on earth) I went to see in Western Australia. They are protected by a boardwalk so people cannot trample over them, but you can still walk around and enjoy them. I think the jetty should be left to nature as the artist intended. Looks like a fun day trip!

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