Sun Tunnels in the Utah Desert Scott Carrier
Marking the solstice with concrete desert art.
A Solstice Observance in the Utah Desert
June 21, 2006 from Day To Day
MADELEINE BRAND, host: It may not feel like it yet, but today is the longest day of the year, the Solstice, and the beginning of summer in North America. To celebrate the day, writer Scott Carrier and some friends visited an obscure art installation called the Sun Tunnels. Itís in a remote area of the Utah Desert. Scott also sent us some pictures and you can see them at NPR dot org. Here is Scottís story.
Mr. SCOTT CARRIER (Writer): Nancy Holt, a New York artist built, or rather installed, the sun tunnels on the west side of the Great Salt Lake in 1973, but Iíd never been out there to see them. Neither had my friends Alex Caldiero(ph) and Lisa Miller. So on Monday we decided to drive out and see what theyíre like. Itís a four hour drive from Salt Lake City, west, past the salt flats, and north through the Basin and Range Desert.
Mr. ALEX CALDIERO: Itís a beautiful, beautiful day. Blue, blue, beautiful blue sky. I see mountains over this road. Now and then, these big trucks come and I almost feel a moment of tension, you know, and they vroom, you know, go by like that and then I relax again.
Mr. CARRIER: Alex is a poet and a humanities scholar, and I was glad he wanted to come along, because Iím not much of an expert on conceptual art and I needed him to explain what the sun tunnels were about. I mean, I knew they were set up for the winter and summer solstices, but there had to be more to it than that.
Mr. CALDIERO: Visualizations like this, offer us images of consistency, you know; movement of the spheres of the sun, moving across. Of some sort of, you know, predictability to things. Something you can count on, man. You know you canít count on, on the stock market; you canít count on another place being bombed. You know thereís so many things going on that, that sort of leave us very very distraught and unsafe, with the feeling of insecure, you know, all the time.
Mr. CARRIER: Itís pretty empty and desolate out there. And there were no signs on the road telling us where to go.
Ms. LISA MILLER: What does that sign say?
Mr. CALDIERO: over fifty-two.
Mr. CARRIER: Luckily we had some directions printed off the Internet.
Mr. CALDIERO: Does that say left?
Ms. MILLER: Yeah I believe.
Mr. CARRIER: We just kept going and eventually we found it.
Mr. CALDIERO: There they are.
Mr. CARRIER: There they are.
Ms. MILLER: I think I see them. Right there.
Mr. CARRIER: Itís just four concrete cylinders, each eighteen feet long, nine feet in diameter, arranged in an X pattern on the nearly barren desert floor. Some mountains in the distance, some jack rabbits, a hawk, an owl. We got there just before sunset, and watched the sun go down from inside one of the four cylinders with Ed Walton, who lives nearby and said heís been there on the solstice nine years in a row.
Mr. CALDIERO: So how come you come out here every year?
Mr. ED WALTON: I just think itís a, its one of the most wonderful pieces of art in the world. Itís got a lot of things in it. Science, you know; history; religion. Itís got a little bit of everything, it doesnít really matter who you are, if you happen to come by here itís going to fascinate you.
Mr. CARRIER: How many miles away do you live?
Mr. WALTON: Just right over, you go through that pass there. Itís a very short distance. I really enjoy the solitude. I love it very much. You see what I mean. But itís definitely not for any Ė for everybody. Thereís no Seven Elevens. Thereís no, you know, Dairy Queenís, McDonaldís, thereís no malls, thereís no stores, thereís, you know. So itís just not for everybody.
Mr. CARRIER: We laid there cross wise in the tube for four or five hours. It was really quiet and calm. A lot different than back home in the city where everything seems so messed up.
Mr. CALDIERO: You know I donít think this place is ever going to get dark. There are places where light lodges itself in various localities. On a cloud, on a part of the horizon, or a part of these holes here, inside the tunnel here. You know thereís a luminoscity thatÖ
Ms. MILLER: I feel it.
Mr. CALDIERO: I think we should sleep in here. Yeah, absolutely.
Mr. CARRIER: It was a good night. The most happening sky weíd ever seen. Shooting stars, wandering stars, pulsing stars. Itís an amazing place. You should go there, if you can find it.
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BRAND: Thatís writer Scott Carrier, you can find photos of the sun tunnels at our website, NPR dot org.
BRAND: NPRís DAY TO DAY continues.