Spiral Jetty At Rozel Point

Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture constructed in 1970 by American sculptor Robert Smithson. This is a view of the Jetty from the dirt road.

Last Tuesday afternoon found Paul and I heading north to visit Spiral Jetty at Rozal Point. It was a warm day for Northern Utah in November. We drove past the Golden Spike Visitors Center and followed the signs to Spiral Jetty. The dirt road was being graded in places as we traveled closer to the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake. Google Maps on my Nexus didn’t know about Spiral Jetty but responded to Rozel Point.

I took several photographs of our visit. Click on the images to enlarge.

In 2008 it was announced that there were plans for exploratory oil drilling approximately five miles from the jetty. The news was met with strong resistance from artists, and the state of Utah received more than 3,000 e-mails about the plan, most opposing the drilling. Shown here are the remains of prior exploration just a few hundred feet from the Spiral.

Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty forms a 1,500-foot-long, 15-foot-wide counterclockwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake which is only visible when the level of the Great Salt Lake falls below an elevation of 4,197.8 feet. Paul stands by the Spiral entrance to give you some perspective on its size.

Spiral Jetty

Due to a drought, the jetty re-emerged in 2004 and was completely exposed for almost a year. The lake level rose again during the spring of 2005 because of a near record-setting snowpack in the mountains and partially submerged the Jetty again. Here are the ruins of a building right by the Jetty. Whether it was built by the pioneers or was used for oil exploration, I know not.


Notice how sand has filled in the spaces between the rocks. The current exposure of the jetty to the elements has led to a controversy over the preservation of the sculpture. There is a proposal to restore the original colors with the addition of more rocks, noting that the Spiral will be submerged again once the drought is over.

I did a 360 degree video at the top of the hill overlooking the Spiral. The issue of preservation has been complicated by ambiguous statements by Smithson, who expressed an admiration for entropy in that he intended his works to mimic earthly attributes in that they remain in a state of arrested disruption and not be kept from destruction.

I shot this on our return. It was a smooth ride once we were a few miles from Spiral Jetty. The wipers quit working so the windshield had to stay dirty.

Spiral Jetty

The Spiral is built entirely of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks, earth, and water. This is the end of the long arm of the Spiral as it makes its first curve.

Spiral Jetty

At the time of its construction in 1970, the water level of the lake was unusually low because of a drought. Within a few years, the water level returned to normal and submerged the Jetty for the next three decades. Seen here is Paul standing on the innermost spiral.

Spiral Jetty

Lake levels have receeded and, as of fall 2010, the Jetty is again walkable and visible. Originally black basalt rock against ruddy water, it is now largely white against pink due to salt encrustation and lower water levels.

Spiral Jetty

The Spiral was financed in part by a $9,000 grant from the Virginia Dwan Gallery of New York. A 20-year lease for the site was granted for $100 annually.

Spiral Jetty

The only other visitors were a couple walking south of the Spiral towards the waterfront.

Spiral Jetty

Paul stands by a relic of some past exploration activity.

Spiral Jetty

To move the rock into the lake, Smithson hired contractor Whitaker Construction's Bob Phillips of nearby Ogden, Utah, who used two dump trucks, a large tractor, and a front end loader to haul the 6,550 tons of rock and earth into the Lake. The Lake edge is currently several hundred feet from the Spiral.

Spiral Jetty

Smithson began work on the jetty in April 1970. Construction took six days. Smithson died in a plane crash in Texas three years after finishing the Jetty.

Spiral Jetty

The sculpture is currently owned by the Dia Art Foundation of New York, acquired as a gift from the Estate of the artist in 1999.

Rickety signature.


  1. For those who want to see it from space…

    Excellent pictures. I may have to go look at it when I come to Utah for Thanksgiving.

  2. You convinced me to make the same trip this weekend. It was a lot of fun. The battery in our camera died, so I will be making a return trip in the spring. I’ll probably make a few modifications to my jeep and make it a test run too.

    • I would have liked to have seen your photographs. I carry a spare battery for my camera especially since lithium batteries cost so much less than a few years ago.

      In the Spring the water level will be higher though I can’t see it raising that much.

  3. How big are the rocks that make up the jetty? On the order of 1-2 feet or 2-3 feet? I estimated this based on your videos using the folks in the video as a scale. Very interested to know. Thank you!

    • As I remember they seem to be about a foot. Looking at photographs you think the jetty is large, and it is. But when you first see it against the expanse of the Great Salt Lake, it looks rather small.

      It was worth going to see and it will likely be underwater again. We were able to go in the afternoon after work as it is not very far.

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