7 facts you may not know about the Spiral Jetty in Box Elder County

Thursday , March 30, 2017 - 5:00 AM

JANAE FRANCIS, Standard-Examiner Staff

BOX ELDER COUNTY — The Spiral Jetty, a large work of art off the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake, was named as an official state work of art over the weekend.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill on March 25 that so designates the icon.

The Standard-Examiner asked some local art enthusiasts for some fun facts about the work, which was created by artist Robert Smithson in 1970. As a result, we uncovered seven facts many readers might not know about the mostly underwater sculpture.

RELATED: Utah's Spiral Jetty to become state work of art

• Colors around the sculpture come from microbes. “Shoutout to the microbes!,” said Bonnie Baxter, professor of biology and director of the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College. “Smithson selected the site in part because of the microbiology. The unusual pink water is the result of the pigmented microbes that live in the north arm’s salty water. This reddish color, against the white salt crystals and black basalt add to the aesthetic of the artwork.”

Contrary to a common assumption, Baxter said, the pink color is not due to brine shrimp.

• The Spiral Jetty is the result of the artist’s childhood dreams. ”As a young child, Smithson was fascinated with archaeology, natural history and science fiction, all of which informed his practice,” said Kelly Kivland, associate curator of the Dia Art Foundation.

• The journey to Spiral Jetty is part of the experience. “The surrounding landscape, including abandoned oil excavation, Golden Spike National Historic Monument, and other signs of human presence on Earth, can be read as part of the earthwork,” said Whitney Tassie, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

• American white pelicans from nearby Gunnison Island fly directly over Spiral Jetty on their way to forage for fish in the Bear River Bird Refuge. “The pelicans trade access to fishing grounds and fresh water for remote places to nest and raise their young without human or predator disturbance,” said Jaimi Butler, coordinator of the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College. “Watch for large groups of them flying directly overhead during the summer months on their aerial highway to the Bear River Refuge.”

• The Spiral Jetty can be used as a point of reference for Great Salt Lake’s fluctuating water levels. “When the water surface elevation is 4,197 above sea level, the rocks of the jetty and its spirals peak from the water,” Butler said. “When the water levels increase, the jetty goes underwater as it did in the mid 1980s and ’90s. Now a trip to Spiral Jetty gives you good look at the dry, exposed lakebed.”

Salt foam sometimes forms near the Spiral Jetty. “With a stiff wind, foam is created on the shorelines, which will persist for days after a storm,” Butler said. “Run through it, do foamy high fives and have fun playing in it.”

• The Spiral Jetty’s design transformed during its creation. “Smithson originally made it as one swirl with an island in the middle,” Butler said. “He did not like it and changed it to what you see today.”

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