The Spiral Jetty was built by Robert Smithson in 1970 as part of a late 60s sculptural movement known as “Land Art.” Build out of six thousand tons of mud, salt crystals, basalt, and dirt. The jetty is 1500 feet long and 15 feet wide as it winds counterclockwise from the northeastern shore into the Great Salt Lake at Rozel Point peninsula.
Covered by water for 30 years after its completion, the spiral jetty was hidden in the Great Salt Lake. The jetty was build during a drought and as the water level returned to normal, the jetty got submerged for three decades and reemerged during a drought in 2004. Unfortunately, the creator of the spiral jetty died three years after completion in a plane crash. The artwork was donated to Dia Art Foundation in 1999 by Nancy Holt, Smithson’s wife, and the Estate of Robert Smithson.
If the water level of the lake is higher than 4,197 feet above sea level, the jetty will disappear. The water level of the lake is constantly changing from year to year and even within the year. It’s normal for the lake to rise and fall by about 2-3 feet within a single year. In some areas, a 1-foot increase of the water level can mean a change of the shoreline of up to 1 mile.
Depending on the year and the time of the year, the jetty might be submerged or visible. During my visit the jetty was visible and the water level was low enough to just stop right before it would reach the spiral jetty.
How to get there:
From the Golden Spike National Historic Site follow the road south-west and about 1.4 miles after the Golden Spike Visitor Center you will see a sign pointing you in the right direction to get to the Spiral Jetty. Just after the Visitor Center, the road turns into an unpaved dirt road but manageable with any vehicle. From there on stay on the “main” road and you will get to the spiral jetty. Please be aware that most of the land on either side of the road is private property. Don’t trespass but you don’t have to worry as you are allowed to drive all the way to the spiral jetty if you stay on the main road. Be also aware that Google Maps won’t navigate you the right way. Just follow the road and remember where you turned as there are no signs how to get back. This can be especially tricky if you stayed for sunset at the spiral jetty.
The road will bring you to a small parking area just above the spiral jetty. There is a historical marker with information about the jetty a few steps north of the parking area. There are no services at the spiral jetty. No bathrooms, visitor center, fresh water or anything else. Please take all your trash back with you. The closest bathroom and drinking water is at the Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center, which you passed on your way to the jetty. This is another great spot you should stop at on your trip and it tells the story about the completion of the first transcontinental railroad line.
Nearby of the spiral jetty is an old and abandoned oil jetty. There are only a few pieces left over from the oil exploration which was done here in the 1980s. The wellheads have now been capped but there is still some crude oil leaking out of the ground. As you walk up the linear jetty you can already smell it. Once you venture off the jetty towards the wooden structures be careful where you step. As there is still oil and tar there and it can be covered by sand, making it impossible for you to see. Once you stepped in there, it’s no fun as it is very sticky stuff and will stick to your shoes for a long time and you will take the smell home with you as well.