Purple Travel

[September 12 2016]

A trip to Spiral Jetty, Utah

The end of the tour. Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty had been our only definite destination since the moon-lit night conversation by the pool of the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles that had planted the seed of this spontaneous trip. All of the incursions into the land-scapes of the landlocked states of the great American continent that came up inbetween had been unplanned and unresearched, the road followed where it went, whether it was to dirt, desolation and emptiness or horizons full of mystic monuments. To my foreign eyes, it was all Land Art that I had found through the window I saw it though, a Ford wind-screen that framed it all like a wide-screen film.

By this point, the glossy black truck is already coated in a cosmetic-counter display of coloured powders; black volcanic ash, raw umber beige, mustard yellow, burnt sienna orange and russet red dusts, and now it gains a layer of fine white salt, too. Northern Utah’s Great Salt Lakes are the vestigal memory of vast inner seas, now vaporized into a plateau of permanent snow that never melts, blinding the eye with its glare.

The nearest town to the part of the lakes where Spiral Jetty lies is called Corinne; but it is still an hour drive from there, through wheat-bleached grass lands, hay bales piled up in the white light. Like all of the Land Art’s movement’s key installations, this work doesn’t give itself away easily, and must be tracked down with spirit and intuition. Subtle and secret, there is no sign, you must use your commonsense and follow the clue given in the name ‘Promontory Road’. Its only when you come upon the first actual sign – ‘Spiral Jetty, 10 miles’ that you know you are on the right path. ‘Spiral Jetty, 9 miles’ at the last branch, reassures you that you really have almost made it.

The Spiral is made of pitted black basalt rocks embedded into a the crust of mud; coming upon it in high summer, as we are, this mud is now set solid, dried as hard as concrete. Graffiti written casually by visitors is now as immortal as if carved into a wall in Pompeii. After years of seeing images of the Jetty deep in water and pink algal bloom, its a shock to find it this way, so starkly dry, black and white, so bare. But this is Art out of the gallery, art that evolves with the Land itself; no kind of interior white cube could never stimulate and sustain this kind of visual alchemical transformation.

Next to the head of the circle lies a large, dead, white bird. Naturally taxidermied by the salt, I couldn’t tell how long it had been there. The running waters of the lake, where life can be sustained, are very far away into the distance. We are alone in salty silence until another man drives up and strides determinedly onto the crust, walking out much further then the limits of the jetty. His stick figure melts away into the alabaster plateau. I do not know if this modern Man Who Fell to Earth ever reached the water’s edge. Or if he came back at all. And I’ll never know. We left, blowing up a halo of white dust to drive further east, and north, the past the industrial beast of the Monsanto factory and rock mines in Soda Springs, the land getting ever greener through Idaho, until Wyoming, where the trees stand above the Snake River, thick and strong, with no knowledge of the dead salt soils that lie so close behind them.

Photo Hannah Bhuiya

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