Written By Lynn Blamires, feature writer for My Local Utah
Artists see things in a different way than other people do. I should know I have artistic members in my family. We can view something together and have two completely different ideas about the subject. These ideas are even further apart when an artist and non-artist are involved. An artist designed the Statue of Liberty, and the people of France gave it to the United States. The gift became a symbol of freedom in our country. Other artists have found a canvas in the landscape of Utah. On November 18, 2020, Utah employees discovered a mysterious metal monolith in a rocky canyon in Southern Utah. It was described as “A shiny metal tower sticking out of the rocky canyon floor.” It became known as the “Utah Monolith.” It was determined to have been there for more than four years. Then, it disappeared on November 27 of that same year.
The Tree of Utah
Another artist found a spot for a creation in Utah’s west desert. Anyone who tries to exit the state west on Interstate 80 will be familiar with the “The Tree.” It stands on the north side of the freeway 25 miles east of Wendover, Nevada. The artist, Karl Momen of Sweden, provided the funds for the million-dollar project himself, donated it to Utah, and then returned to Sweden. The Center for Land Use Interpretation states, “He was moved to create the 87-foot-tall tree by the ‘vastness and relative emptiness’ of the Bonneville Salt Flats. The tree ‘brings together space, nature, myth, and technology.’ It was started in 1982 and dedicated in 1986. It uses 225 tons of cement, 2,000 ceramic tiles, and 5 tons of welding rods. It is also covered in minerals and rocks that are found in Utah. These rocks add color to the sculpture and even help it glisten in the sun. The Tree of Utah is also called the Tree of Life. It offers a message of hope in contrast to the harsh area in which it stands. There is no marked exit to get close to the tree. You just have to risk getting off the freeway, trusting the condition of the salt flats at the time. People do it all the time, but here is a tip – if there is a lot of water, don’t do it.
The Spiral Jetty
Located at Rozel Point peninsula on the northeastern shore of Great Salt Lake, the Spiral Jetty is the work of Robert Smithson. Using over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site, Smithson formed a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that winds counterclockwise off the shore into the water. Created in April of 1970, this most famous large-scale earthwork has come to epitomize land art. People come from all over the world to see this spiral work of art. I was in the Golden Spike Monument Visitors Center when a couple came in looking specifically for information on the Spiral Jetty. They had come from New Jersey to see it. This earthwork is affected by seasonal fluctuations in the lake level, which can alternately submerge the work or leave it completely exposed and covered in salt crystals. It is constantly changing from the effects of the circumstances of its setting. Submerged in the Great Salt Lake waters for two decades, it is now exposed and some distance from the briny water that once covered it. You can visit this famous work of art if you can find The Golden Spike National Monument. It is west of the visitors’ center on a dirt road marked with signs you can follow to the site.
The Sun Tunnels
Situated in Utah’s Great Basin Desert, The Sun Tunnels are a creation of artist Nancy Holt. According to the Utah Museum of Fine Art, “They consist of four large concrete cylinders, arranged on the desert floor in a cross pattern, that aligns with the sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices. In addition to this perfect solar framing, each cylinder is pierced with smaller holes representing the stars of four constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn.” There is a set of two pipes for each solstice. “Holt’s design allows for an ever-changing play of light and shadow upon the surfaces of her work. The four concrete tubes act as viewfinders framing precise images which, in Holt’s words, “bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale.” These concrete pipes are 85 feet long, stand 9 feet high, and weigh 22 tons each. The tunnels are located near the Utah/Nevada line about 45 miles north of Wendover.
These three land art features demonstrate the reality of Utah being a canvas that attracts artists worldwide. Except for the Tree of Utah, these sites are very remote. Are they worth visiting? In my opinion, if you add the elements of a grand adventure, yes, they are. I always love going on grand adventures.