Road Tripping to ‘Spiral Jetty’ March 2018

14 May 2018

By Dr Amelia Barikin

Robert Smithson’s earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) is located at Rozel Point peninsula on the north-eastern side of Great Salt Lake, Utah, around 2.5 hours drive from Salt Lake City. Constructed from over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site, the coil of the Jetty is 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide, winding counter clockwise out from the shore. Guests are advised to bring boots, food, and water along with weather-appropriate clothing. There are no bathrooms, food, freshwater or fuel at the site (full directions at Dia Art Foundation).


How to get to Spiral Jetty

  1. Hire a car in Salt Lake City. We were off to a good start when the budget rental we’d booked was upgraded to a shiny 4WD Merc, which pretty much drove itself. Handy for jetlagged Australians trying to negotiate four-lane traffic while driving on the wrong side of the road. TBH though you probably don’t need a 4WD, only the last bit is on gravel and the roads are pretty good these days.
  2. Put ‘Corinne’ into the GPS. It’s about 65 miles north of Salt Lake City. There’s a gas station at Corinne, which is good for snacks, water, fuel. From Corinne drive west for 18 miles on UT Route 13 (which becomes Highway 83) and continue until you reach the Golden Spike Road. From there, follow the signs to the Golden Spike Visitor Centre. Call your mum if you need to, because after this, phone reception gets patchy.
  3. From the Visitor Centre, take the gravel road for 5.6 miles. At the fork, turn left (there’s a sign that says ‘Spiral Jetty 10 Miles’, which is very exciting) and drive for another 1.4 miles. At the next fork, take the road to the right.
  4. Continue driving for approximately 9 miles. The road curves north around the Lake to Rozel Point, ending at a parking cul-de-sac.

Spiral Jetty

From here, it’s a very short walk down to the Jetty, or up to this pedestal (above) half way up the hill. Not built by Smithson, this was put up by the Griffin Southern Eagle Scout Project in 2014 and feels redundant: if you’ve got this far, the plaque isn’t going to tell you anything you didn’t already know. For much of its lifespan Smithson’s Jetty has been submerged under water, but since the drought it’s been possible to walk out along its length, or run (carefully, trying not to break an ankle) if you feel the need to replicate Smithson’s famous run to the empty centre in his film of the work (I did both). Out near the horizon, the waters of the lake are pinkish red. The air smells like salt. It tastes like salt, too. Salt crystals crunch underfoot, flaking away from the rocks and massing in fragile sheets across the surface of the sand. The structure is a giant crystal-growing apparatus. At the centre of the spiral, form disintegrates. The coil is de-differentiated into a mass of black basalt rocks, a jagged scape of lithic irregularities puncturing the landscape.

Spiral Jetty

Smithson wrote: ‘The scale of Spiral Jetty tends to fluctuate depending on where the viewer happens to be. Size determines an object, but scale determines art … to be in the scale of the Spiral Jetty is to be out of it. On eye level, the tail leads one into an undifferentiated state of matter. One’s downwards gaze pitches from side to side, picking out random depositions of salt crystals on the inner and outer edges, while the entire mass echoes the irregular horizons … Growth in a crystal advances around a dislocation point, in the manner of a screw. The Spiral Jetty could be considered one layer within the spiraling crystal lattice, magnified trillions of times.’

Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty is often thought of as being in the middle of nowhere, way out in the ‘remote’. Maybe because it was spring break, or maybe because it was a gorgeously sunny afternoon, or maybe because Spiral Jetty is now Utah’s official state art work, but whatever the reason, when we were there the place was packed. The car park was nearly full. There were people toting sun parasols and picnic gear, with kids, and dogs. There was a group flying a kite; others wading with jeans rolled up, shoes off, through the shallow crustacean-filled waters (!!). No drone cameras, surprisingly, although I confess that I did hanker for a helicopter. Full points to the couple in their deck chairs positioned on top of the roof of their van, taking in the view.


Robert Smithson: Time Crystals is at UQ Art Museum from 10 March until 8 July 2018 before travelling to exhibition partner, Monash University Museum of Art. See the UQ Art Museum website for updates on programs and events.

Robert Smithson: Time Crystals is a partnership between The University of Queensland Art Museum and Monash University Museum of Art.

This exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

It has been developed in cooperation with the Holt-Smithson Foundation.