After visiting Sun Tunnels (see previous post), Fred and I headed east in northern Utah for a stop at Spiral Jetty, the iconic land art created by Nancy Holt’s husband, Robert Smithson. We’d been there before, and were hoping we might see differences in the piece after six years.
In 2010, the dirt road was deeply rutted and advertised as only being passable in an all-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive vehicle. There were very few people at the site, and all seemed to experience it in hushed whispers. Walking on the rough, rocky jetty required concentration and was similar to walking a labyrinth. There was no sound—the air was still and time stood still. It was a transformative experience I’ll never forget.
There were differences at the site this year, but not as we expected. (I thought the water level might be higher.) The dirt road was no longer deeply rutted and challenging to pass. It had been nicely groomed and was now a fairly easy drive for passenger vehicles. This seemed too easy for a site that British artist Tacita Dean searched for and was unable to locate in the ’90s when the land art was submerged.
When we arrived at the location, our car was one of many. A woman approached us and requested that we not park where we had planned because people in her party were on the hill overlooking the site trying to capture the perfect photo. We parked elsewhere.
We hiked part way up the hill, not recalling the groomed trail that now exists, and found a monument with a descriptive plaque for the site. An Eagle Scout had made this his project in 2014. I was impressed that a young man would want to take care of an art site and make it more accessible.
But then I didn’t like it. There were so many people! There were families yelling at each other across the jetty, and children were screaming and playing. My cherished memories of our first trip to the site were being assaulted by the cacophony. If one car load of people left, another arrived shortly thereafter.
What was once a site accessed only by souls on a mission, had become a tourist destination on this Sunday afternoon. I’m glad that more people are seeing the art. I’m sad that more people are seeing the art.
I didn’t walk on the jetty as I had on our first trip. The reflective emotions I experienced on that initial visit would have been stripped away by the noise and activity. Instead, I walked south, past all the miniature Spiral Jetty replicas people had made, to a place of solitude.