by Paige Wirren
Yes, they’re wacky in that whodathunkit kind of way, and wacky by increasingly modern, homogenized standards of zoning laws, building code requirements, restrictive covenants and utilitarian laws, but the Utah sights noted here are bona fide, idiosyncratic expressions of the unconventional, extraordinary places of interest worthy of visiting and experiencing for yourself. All are local, open-to-the-public, permanent places, constructed in relation to a landscape by people with a dedicated, artistic vision.
Gilgal Sculpture Garden
It’s a backyard full of idiosyncratically carved boulders! Meet the man who, at 57, began sculpting expressions of his faith in stone. A larger-than-life stone self portrait of Thomas Childs, the garden’s creator, stands, resolute and pensive, at the center of this Salt Lake City park property. In what was once his backyard, Childs sculpted monuments using native Utah rock, lasting representations of truths that resonated with Childs’ spiritual beliefs. The sculptures are built to different dimensional scale which adds a wonderland component to the obvious religious deference inherent in his works. The rock articulations, such as the Sphinx that Childs designed using church founder Joseph Smith’s features for the face, appear both serious and whimsical.
Is a giant sculpture made out of rocks and earth. Seeing this landscape art feature is dependent on the Great Salt Lake’s water level. Currently exposed, you may experience the jetty if you choose to make the 16 dirt-mile drive beyond the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Box Elder County. Good weather, tires, shoes and a good half a day are all you need to visit this prodigious object d’art that artist Robert Smithson completed in 1970. The sight of the jetty provides a contemplative, visual, organizational focal point as the eye scans shoreline and horizon and naturally fixates on the spiral’s distinct curvilinear contrast. And certainly just being on the lake’s remote north shore satisfies the need for solitude.
They’re massive, 18-ft. concrete culverts! At the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats! What’s unique about artist Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels is that they turn an otherwise, ordinary spectacular desert sunset into an authentic, aesthetic sunset happening. You can visit the remotely situated, monolithic tunnels any time of the year however they are designed and positioned to capture the sun’s rise and descent during biannual solstice events. Be advised, however, even if you really want to see the solstice sunset framed by this unique installation, you cannot control the possible cloud cover.
The Tree of Utah
It’s a colossal concrete trunk! With colorful striped balls atop it! Anyone who has driven I-80 between Salt Lake City and Wendover has no doubt noticed Karl Momen’s Tree of Utah, an
87-foot curiosity built right next to the interstate. There’s no formal rest stop at the sculpture, but, if you want to take in its bigness, you can slow down and approach the tree on a gravel driveway perpendicular to the road.
Hole N’ The Rock
A restaurant and a house? Blasted out of sandstone?!? What began as a Moab area homesteader’s pragmatic need for alternative sleeping quarters transformed over time into Albert and Gladys Christensen’s mid-20th Century notorious diner, club and home. The massive sandstone rock itself is a quarter of a mile high and a mile around at the base into which the Christensen’s dynamited their unconventional humble abode. Open daily for tours, the property also boasts a zoo, general store and trading post, attractions added by current owners Erik and Wyndee Hansen.
Especially worth the 12 mile drive south of Moab is the zoo where you can feed Kramer the camel, the star of Hansen’s menagerie.
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