I 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.