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The Spiral Jetty, An Environmental Art Piece

The Spiral Jetty, Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Prismatic Spring… the thing that these all have in common is that I didn’t believe they existed until I saw them. Sure, I had seen images of them throughout my life; a picture of the Spiral Jetty in a math text book to go along with the fractals, or Mt. Rushmore in a muppet movie… but they just seemed too odd to be real.

After spending nearly 10 years of my life living only five hours away from the Spiral Jetty, I I finally saw it this summer en route to Wyoming. Yes folks, it’s real. I think what makes it so hard to believe that the Spiral Jetty exists is that there is a small niche group of people who know about it. I had lived so close to it, in Jackson, WY for most of my 20’s, yet nobody talked about it. I heard about it through two of my artsy college friends who visited me during a cross-country road trip.

When I left Jackson to go to art school, everyone there knew about it. It was a major point on the curriculum of most of my art history and visual studies classes, as the art world sees it as one of the more significant works of art in the 20th century. It’s part of a movement of work called Environmental Art, which included The Lightning Field in New Mexico, which took art out of the gallery.

While I was in school, I was desperately curious to know how other artists made art that was about the environment, environmental destruction, and the environmental movement; issues that speak to me. Many teachers told me to study Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, since it was environmental art. I didn’t believe them, that the Spiral Jetty, although made from the environment, as Smithson literally bulldozed large rocks into the shape of the spiral jetty, was about the environment, or environmental activism, since it was merely a group of rocks.

It took me seeing it to believe it. Once I arrived there, I totally got it. I had been expecting the jetty itself to be remarkable. While the jetty is pretty cool, it’s the jaw-dropping views of the mountains and colors of the lake lake that the jetty is situated in that are astonishingly beautiful. The Spiral Jetty is part of the environmental movement because it got people from cities to head out into the wild places of the West and experience them first hand.

Here are some directions to the Jetty. It’s worth a trip! I made a funny little map starting at the Golden Spike Visitor Center.

  • From I-15, take exit 365
  • Drive west on Highway 13 through Corinne for 2.7 miles
  • At the fork in the road, take the left fork for Highway 83 for 17.9 miles
  • At Lampo Junction, turn left. Go 7.8 miles to the Golden Spike Visitor Center
  • At the Golden Spike Visitor Center, drive 5.6 miles west on the main gravel road to a fork. Go left at this fork. There is sign just before the fork directing visitors to make a left to the Spiral Jetty.
  • Drive 1.3 miles and make a right at a fork.
  • Drive 8.2 miles to the end of the road. The Spiral Jetty will be on your left.

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