Spiral Jetty: The Re-Emergence of the Great Salt Lake's Earthwork Art

Looking down on the Spiral Jetty, Rozel Point, Utah
Looking down on the Spiral Jetty, Rozel Point, Utah Louis Arevalo
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At first, arriving to the isolated northeastern shores of the Great Salt Lake feels like a foreign land. Then, after a few breaths, and taking in the silence of Rozel Point Peninsula, it feels peaceful. It’s this contradiction and many others that make visiting the late Robert Smithson’s earthwork art instillation Spiral Jetty so fascinating.

Robert Smithson belonged to a small contingent of artists who, beginning in the 1960’s, brought art out of the confines of studios, galleries, and museums by building works directly into the world’s great landscapes. This movement is known as Land Art, Earth Art, Environmental Art, or Earthworks. Over the course of three weeks in April 1970, Smithson along with a crew of men operating large machinery, moved over 650 tons of basalt boulders, mud, and salt crystals from the surrounding area. The Spiral Jetty is 1500-feet long, 15 feet wide and is one of Smithson’s most recognized pieces, that now attracts people from around the globe.

Only two years after its completion the Spiral Jetty disappeared beneath the lake’s surface for decades. Recent droughts have lead to a sustained re-emergence since 2002. The lake level needs to be below 4195 for best viewing.

The Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture by the late Robert Smithson. 1500 feet long and 15 feet wide it is made of basalt rock and is located on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake on Rozel Point, Utah
The Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture by the late Robert Smithson. 1500 feet long and 15 feet wide it is made of basalt rock and is located on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake on Rozel Point, Utah Louis Arevalo

What Makes It Great

The Spiral Jetty is a 1.5-hour drive from Brigham City, Utah. From the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the pavement ends, you follow improved dirt roads through desert grasslands along the west side of the Promontory Mountains. Rounding Rozel Point the fields disappear into a desolate shoreline littered with dark basalt boulders. A short hike up the hill above the parking area will give you a great view of the Spiral Jetty. You can see how the Jetty leaves the shore at an angle then wraps around itself in a counterclockwise direction.

After coming down from the hillside it’s time to put on your water boots and get inside the art. Depending on the water level this can be a completely dry experience or a wet one, but either way you have to walk the Spiral. Beginning from the shoreline you pick your way to the lakebed. Then slowly make your way to the constricted center of the Spiral. Eventually you reverse the course and return back to the vast surroundings.

Inside the Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake on Rozel Point, Utah
Inside the Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake on Rozel Point, Utah Louis Arevalo

What You’ll Remember

Staring off over the largest saline sea in the western hemisphere at the peak of your hike and realizing that the Spiral Jetty is not always visible. What a cool thing to be able to see. And, even more memorable is stepping around and over the volcanic rock and letting your feet dig into the crystalized salt-mud as you follow the course, which brings you up close and personal to the center of the spiral.

Who’s Going to Love It

Obviously anyone who appreciates art would enjoy visiting the Spiral Jetty, but being able to physically enter into Smithson’s creation, set in an other-worldly place, leaves everyone who visits with an experience that can’t be forgotten.

GPS Coordinates, Parking, Regulations

GPS Coordinates: 41.438223°, -112.666491

From I-15 north take the Corinne exit (exit 365), just west of Brigham City, Utah. Exit and turn right onto Route 13 to Corinne. * LAST GAS station is in Corinne. Past Corinne, the road becomes Highway 83. Continue west for 17.7 miles. Follow signs to Golden Spike National Historic Site (GSNHS) Visitor Center. Turn left onto Golden Spike Road and continue 7.7 miles up the east side of Promontory Pass to Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center. *LAST BATHROOMS are at the Visitor Center. *LAST CELL RECEPTION. From the Visitor Center, drive 5.6 miles west on the main gravel road to a fork in the road. Continue left, heading west. Cross a cattle guard. Call this cattle guard #1. Including this one, you cross four cattle guards before you reach Rozel Point and Spiral Jetty. Drive 1.3 miles south to a second fork in the road. Turn right onto the southwest fork, and proceed 1.7 miles to cattle guard #2. Continue southeast 1.2 miles to cattle guard #3. Continue straight 2.8 miles south-southwest to cattle guard #4 and an iron-pipe gate. Drive south for another 2.7 miles around the east side of Rozel Point, you will see the north arm of Great Salt Lake and an old oil jetty (not Spiral Jetty) left by drilling explorations that ended in the 1980s. The road curves turning north and ends at a cul-de-sac parking lot directly next to Spiral Jetty.

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