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A Glimpse Through Time: the Story of the Spiral Jetty

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Utah chapter.

Have you been to the Egyptian pyramids or watched the Northern Lights in Iceland? Me neither. Although these are highly ranked bucket list items for many, it may be unrealistic for a college student. I have found a close fix for those seeking awe and an appreciation of art. Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is right here in our back yard and has not been receiving as much attention as it should be getting. Smithson challenges the idea of finding definite meanings and lets the subconscious take control of his works. The idea of the spiral was impromptu in some ways, but the idea had been in the making for many years. 


If this land art seems to model the ideology that was sparked in the 70s along with flower power, that’s because it does. His philosophy, of course, had to do with time traveling and predetermined concepts made my humans. Luckily, we are fortunate enough to be only a couple hours away from this work of art. What a random place to plant a spiral made of rocks and watch it grow to the national attraction it is today, right? Wrong. The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt-water lake in the western United States; this is why the location was chosen. Smithson was attracted to the salt water because of the red hue that is given off when the reflection is right with the sun. The commitment to travel to witness this view is one that requires intention and planning; it is not a matter of pulling over off the freeway. That means there was a plan that consumed Smithson before the delivery of this art piece, right? Wrong again. In his essay about the Spiral Jetty, he wrote that he had “no ideas, no concepts, no systems, no structures, no abstractions” before the making of this land art. He was only certain of one thing: the Salt Lake was the most fitting location. Our own trusty Salt Lake, way over in the Western United States, became home for this world-renowned land art. 


As in many Pink Floyd and Beatles songs, reality and fiction merge. Similarly for Smithson, the ideas of what were right and wrong were erased. Expectations are the bane of full creativity and innovation, so Smithson let the spiral assess itself practically. The 70s came and left (although corduroy and bell bottoms are back), but the spiral has stood its ground and is a steady jetty. Although the formation is constant, the visibility is not. Make sure to check the water level before making the trip. The drought has made it visible more often, but the water level varies. The spiral was created during the time of a drought; so visiting at a time that is similar is ideal. The water level must be below 4,195 feet to see the full effect. 


Whether it’s to lay down a mat and do some sun salutations or walk along the counterclockwise basalt and algae surface, the Spiral Jetty is a great destination to explore. Out of respect for the crazy young hippie that was the mastermind behind this spiral, we should all take some time to visit this time machine known as the Spiral Jetty. 



I am a sophomore at the University of Utah. I enjoy snowy mountains and wearing green shoes.
Her Campus Utah Chapter Contributor