In 1970, artist Robert Smithson set out to construct a sculpture composed entirely of natural materials. After scouting various locations across the United States, Smithson chose the shores of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The Great Salt Lake is a steadily receding remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville. Smithson was struck by the Great Salt Lake’s isolated desert location. Smithson was also captivated by the Great Salt Lake’s partial crimson color—which is caused by a certain type of bacteria that flourishes when the salt content of the water is especially high. Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is one of Utah’s most cherished and recognizable landmarks. Visitors from across the state of Utah and beyond make regular pilgrimages to the site of Smithson’s enduring creation.
Mud, Salt Crystals, and Basalt
Robert Smithson constructed the 1,500-foot-long Spiral Jetty by contracting a construction crew from nearby Ogden to haul 6,650 tons of rock and earth to a remote stretch of the Great Salt Lake known as Rozel Point. Smithson’s earthwork sculpture is composed entirely of mud, salt crystals, and black basalt rock. The Spiral Jetty is a rugged black coil that gracefully extends into the Great Salt Lake. Onlookers can stand directly on top of Smithson’s sculpture and walk the length of it like a spiral-shaped maze. Visitors often climb the surrounding hills for a slightly elevated view of the Spiral Jetty. Depending on the Great Salt Lake’s water level, the Spiral Jetty can be completely underwater or bone dry. In 2017, lawmakers labeled the Spiral Jetty Utah’s official state work of land art.
Visiting the Spiral Jetty
The Spiral Jetty is in Corinne, Utah. It takes approximately 2 hours to drive to the Spiral Jetty from Salt Lake City. To reach the Spiral Jetty visitors must travel at a slow speed on a series of bumpy dirt roads. Pronghorn antelope, rabbits, and wild horses roam near desolate Rozel Point. It is not uncommon to be the only person or group within many miles of the Spiral Jetty. Visitors are attracted to the Great Salt Lake’s stark desert beauty. The Spiral Jetty appears like a partially excavated fossil of a colossal sea creature that bubbled up from the depths of Lake Bonneville. Salt deposits cause the ground surrounding the Spiral Jetty to sparkle in the sun. Abandoned oil rigs bob in the distance. Blobs of salt foam carried by red waves wash ashore. The only sound is the whistling of the wind, the lapping of salty water, and a few insects buzzing in the distance.
The Spiral Jetty is a landmark like no other. Visitors spend hours viewing the Spiral Jetty from different vantage points. Due to variations in the Great Salt Lake’s water level, the Spiral Jetty never appears the same twice. The Spiral Jetty can be sprinkled with snow, illuminated by bright sunlight, or bathed in soft moonlight. Robert Smithson’s remote earthwork sculpture leaves a lasting impression on every visitor.