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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Drive to the Jetty

Seeing Spiral Jetty first-hand requires a commitment. That's part of the deal. You agree to give the work a half day (if you live in Salt Lake City) or significantly more (if you live elsewhere), and it agrees to return to you whatever it is you're seeking when you decide to make the trip to see it.

Journeying to the site is as much a part of the experience as actually seeing the work, and historically it has been difficult both to travel to the site and to find the piece. These resistance points, though, have disappeared in recent years. With the drought in the west leading to falling water levels in the Great Salt Lake, the work emerged from submersion a couple years ago, allowing visitors to see it for the first time in decades. And as more and more visitors made the trip out to the work, the Utah Department of Natural Resources decided to provide signage to help drivers locate the piece.

The most prevalent directions to the site lead you to believe that you'll need to count cattle guards and miles in order to find Spiral Jetty. That's not the case anymore. Simply make your way to the visitor's center for the Golden Spike National Historic Site. The visitor's center is located 25 well-signed miles west of exit 368 on I-15, which is 65 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Once you arrive at the visitor's center, the real journey begins. At the parking lot for the building, the paved road ends and the signage for Spiral Jetty begins.

Once you pass the parking lot, you leave behind the RVs and families of tourists and enter working ranch land. The vistas are stunning. The roads run straight and long, the sky feels gigantic, and your eye starts to accustom itself to focusing on the infinite. You feel small.

There is not much moving in the arid, sun-beaten landscape, and there is no shade. Every so often a water tank pops up near the road, but I did not see any cattle on the 16 mile drive from the visitor's center to Spiral Jetty. On the way back, though, I had to stop the car as a herd of wild horses crossed the road, trotting single-file off toward the horizon.

Occasionally the road will fork, one branch going on to Spiral Jetty, the other going to who knows where. All these places are now signed. Missing a turn could make for a very long day of driving (there's no one out there to ask for directions) under a merciless sun.

You know you're getting close to the end of the road when you finally reach the shore of the Great Salt Lake and see the remnants of an old, unsuccessful oil drilling operation.

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Next: Industrial Wasteland

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