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