The Spiral Jetty

Sign to Spiral JettyI don’t have a Bucket List of places around the world that I need to see before I shrug off this mortal coil, but – deep in the recesses of my mind – I do keep a list of sorts.  It’s a fairly short list of works of art that mean something to me for one reason or another.  Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to cross off the majority of the items on this mental list, but one has refused to budge.  It is, in fact, geographically the closest piece to me, yet it has remained frustratingly elusive.  Until recently, that is.

Strung out along the edge of Rozel Point on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the earthwork Spiral Jetty was created by Robert Smithson over a few week period in April 1970.  It’s a delicate tendril of basalt rock and salt crystals that curls 1,500 feet out into the sometimes pink, sometimes red waters.  Come when the level of the lake is high (as we did) and the spiral nearly disappears.  At other times, one can walk onto the lake to the very end of the spiral and turn back to look at the shore and the scrubby brown hills rising away from it.

There is some work, planning and dedication involved in visiting the Jetty, although recent improvements to the gravel road out to the site have made going there relatively easy.  But it is in the middle of nowhere; Smithson chose his site perfectly.  The isolation and remoteness of the Jetty make it the ideal place for contemplation, reflection, connecting with the natural world or just a pleasant afternoon hike.  Lake and sky blend together at the horizon, the wind is constant, waves of yellow-green algae sweep along the jumbled surface of the Jetty and salt crystals sparkle among the black rocks as pelicans fly their steady, patient beat high above.  Smithson’s creation doesn’t impose on or overwhelm the surroundings.  Though obviously man-made, it feels like a natural extension of the shore (unlike the decaying relic of a true jetty not far from the Spiral Jetty).  Spending time with the Jetty is not unlike the feeling one gets from a long and satisfying yoga session.

All we have, it seems to me, is the beauty of art and nature and life and the love which that beauty inspires.
― Edward Abbey, The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West

Now, after extolling the virtues of this mystical place, I’m going to do my best Edward Abbey imitation by both encouraging you to go see this treasure – and imploring you to stay away.  Although it is made of rocks, the Spiral is touchingly fragile.  Too many feet will quickly destroy what has endured for the past forty-two years.  Not too long ago, Spiral-seekers needed 4-wheel drive, sturdy hiking boots (the last few miles had to be walked) and a true love of art and nature in order to pay homage to Smithson’s masterpiece.  Now anyone in a low-slung sedan can cruise to the edge of the Jetty, lean out of the car window to snap a photo, and speed off again, leaving a plume of light brown desert dust behind him.  If you come, come with respect, tread lightly and leave in awe of what nature can inspire in man.

The Road In

The road in.


A lucky tribe of horses.


Water meets sky.

Rock Cairn

A rock cairn at an old, abandoned jetty not far from the Spiral Jetty.

Salt-splashed Rocks

Salt spray on rocks.

Old Pier

This is not the Spiral Jetty.


Black-winged pelicans.

Salt on Rocks

Salt, looking like snow.

Spiral Start

Where the Jetty begins.

Spiral Jetty From Above

The Spiral Jetty, from above and under water.

22 thoughts on “The Spiral Jetty

  1. goodstorysarah

    The Spiral Jetty is so awesome! I’ve been there twice! The first time I was there the water was so low that you could walk across the salt that looked like packed snow to the middle and the second time it was above water and then slowly disappeared. I’m going there again this summer. I even wrote a research paper on the Jetty for a Museum class for my Art History minor. I’m a little obsessed.

  2. tearoomdelights

    What a wonderful looking place. Your photos are beautiful, it looks warm and breezy and very relaxing. I feel as if I’ve been there, and I haven’t even left a footprint. 🙂

  3. veganmonologue

    I’m glad you included the caveat about keeping it safe and not letting a thousand SUVs and careless tourists get their jollies by stomping around in it. It’s amazing how so many people cannot just look and treat lightly. Instead, they have to be “in” it. We have beautiful Springs in this part of Florida that are havens for manatees and wildlife, but they’ve been turned into swimming-pool like structures. I don’t like it.

  4. Gabby @ the veggie nook

    This is so gorgeous! I’m so glad you got to cross this one off your list. I’m sure the wait made it that much better 🙂

    I’m so with you on respecting the places you visit and ensuring you do it in a sustainable manner. Too often ecosystems and natural treasures are ruined by human contact. We should go in gently and leave it as if we were never there.

    Great photos! Thanks for sharing them.

  5. Kristy

    Annie, you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I never really pondered the reason for Salt Lake City’s name (can you guess that I’ve never been to Utah), and was actually astonished to see all of that salt sitting by the lake! You learn something new everyday.

    The spiral jetty looks so awe-inspiring. I’m so happy that you were able to go see it! 🙂

  6. Rachel in Veganland

    WOW! It’s always been on of my dreams to go here! I love Smithson’s work, especially this piece!!! This is a beautiful and reflective post-thank you for sharing your experience here!!!

  7. vegancharlie

    This looks so peaceful. I cant believe that was all salt! hehe talk about blood pressure rising 😛 I love the pictures you take they always look so beautiful. I always like the way you word things makes me want to go there and help protect the place from random tramplings lol

  8. veggiewhatnow

    Spiral Jetty has always been one of my favorite pieces. I’ve never been there, and I just loved what you had to say about the experience. Thank you for the gift of getting me to see it in a new light.

  9. morgancreations

    Beautiful shots. I’ve not been there in ages. We have the stinky Salton Sea here near us in the desert and on a good day, it looks just like your photos above. Unfortunately, it will take years for them to even consider cleaning it up. It is truly a bird sanctuary and my husband loves to go out and watch all the huge pelicans dive for the Tilapia fish.
    I think I’d rather go see your Jetty!

  10. Bridget

    Beautiful pics of a really beautiful isolated spot. I love places like this. No tour guides needed, no shop etc. Just you and the space.

  11. Somer

    Beautiful Photography Annie!

    Would you believe I have been to the Great Salt Lake a number of times, but never to the spiral Jetty?!?

    Would you also believe my dad was friends with Edward Abbey and was at his funeral where they illegally buried him under a Saguaro Cactus? I may have a first edition copy of the Monkey Wrench Gang for you if you are interested 😉

  12. Somer

    p.s. did you see spiders? It’s one of the reasons I don’t go the the GSL often. Terrifying! Millions of them last time I went.

  13. Richgail Enriquez

    My favorite is the “water meets the sky” photo. Very haunting and surreal. What a mystical place indeed.


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