GirlsGoneWest

3,600 miles, 10 days, 5 girls experiencing the monumental earthworks of the American west.

New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas (not pictured).

We covered some ground!!

Oh, hey guys. 


(Zoom for greater effect.)

Oh, hey guys. 

(Zoom for greater effect.)

On wednesday we left our hotel in Overton, NV and took a short drive to Mormon Mesa. Considering how desolate we thought Double Negative would be it was surprisingly close to the town and only an hour or so from Las Vegas.  We took a steep, winding gravel road up the mesa and arrived at a large expanse of rock, cacti, and low shrubs. As with many of the earthworks, we zeroed our odometer at the first cattle guard and watched the miles slowly pass. While Double Negative was only about 4 miles from the edge of the mesa, the roads were the worst we’d been on yet. The first half was on a more traveled road with major washboarding, potholes to avoid, and random rocks. Then at the second cattle guard we turned onto an even rougher road that followed the mesa’s edge. Here the Tahoe bumped around and avoided large rocks while we tried to decide between what was the road and what was a clearing void of bushes.  

When we thought we’d gone the right distance we got out of the car and headed directly east with the help of a compass. Michael Heizer’s Double Negative was nowhere to be seen. We walked each way along the edge of the mesa facing the Virgin River with no luck. The group decided to drive a bit further down the road and try again. There was a problem through, Chantal, who had been driving, couldn’t find the keys. We didn’t panic but this was a pretty bad feeling. Allie ran back to the Tahoe to see if they were around the car, Maia and Karina looked around where we’re standing, Ally started to retrace our steps, and Chantal’s heart sank into her stomach. She was convinced that they were either locked in the car or that the desert had eaten them up forever. After 5-10 minutes of quiet searching Karina’s hand shot up from the edge of the mesa. She found them lying amongst the red rocks, sand, and shrubs somehow. We all relaxed and Chantal had a mild breakdown due to relief. 

Back in our trusty Tahoe with Karina at the wheel, we backtrack to the second cattle guard and try again. This time we took care to stay on the path closest to the mesa’s rim.   We went a bit further than our directions said,  someone yells “there it is!”, and we stop the car. If we’d gone much further we would have driven into the thing! 

It was still morning and the two giant trenches were full of shadow and deeper than expected. We walked around the longer trench and stayed clear of the crumbling edges. Some of us took the ten minute walk to the other “negative” and climbed into it. Karina worried about snakes and Chantal worried about slipping. The walls towered over our heads and we watched the rest of the group crawl into the other trench and each went to the opposite edges of a canyon like space between the mesa’s two walls.  Here we yelled to each other before crawling back up. 

Like with the other earthwork visits, the group got to work after our initial exploration of the space. However, we seemed more confused about how to interact with or respond to Double Negative than the others. It was so big and kind of scary and should we go inside of it or stay above, etc. Allie, Karina, and Chantal shot video while Ally took photographs, and Maia read and sketched. We spent 6 or 7 hours at Double Negative, working on projects, talking about the difference time had made on the piece, and walking around/down the huge hallway like spaces. 

Karina never saw a snake, but we did meet an awesome lizard friend(see next post). We weren’t stranded, keyless on the mesa, but could have been. We were a little bit sunburnt, but happy about the warm, beautiful weather. We ate a pathetic lunch, but laughed about it. We were puzzled by Michael Heizer, but thrilled by him also. We were sad it was our last earthwork of the trip, but excited and proud of all that we’d seen.  

Only when we were driving back along the rim did we see any other people up on the mesa. They were a pack of four wheelers zipping around and kicking up dust. Did they have any idea what Double Negative was or that it was more than a natural formation? Probably not. We blared music and headed back down the side and toward the direction of Arizona and the Grand Canyon.

On tuesday morning we set out for the Sun Tunnels by Nancy Holt. Our route took us by the Great Salt Lake, around beautiful mountains, and through the Bonneville Salt Flats. The flats were vast and crunchy under our feet and totally bizarre. 

We continued following these instructions: 

”-The tunnels are located near the Utah/Nevada line about 45 miles north of Wendover. If you want to see them drive I-80 to the Wendover area and then take Exit 4 for the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway. The road heads north on the edge of the Salt Flats. Follow it for about a half mile, to the point where the main road takes a sharp turn to the right. A road signed as the “TL Bar Ranch Road” forks left at that point.

-Zero your odometer and follow the TL Bar Ranch Road north for 45.5 miles. The road is paved for the first few miles. It then turns into washboardy gravel and then dirt. It is graded and you can usually drive it in a family car. However, during storms it may become muddy and travel may be difficult.

-The road crosses Leppy Pass and then descends into a large valley. It crosses the eastern foothills of Pilot Peak and then passes the TL Bar Ranch. The ranch is a prominent landmark and easy to identify. You will also see a few other ranches but in general the area is very remote. I did not see another vehicle during my entire trip.

-At about 45.5 miles you will see a dirt road that heads right. From that point you can see the tunnels down in the valley, if you look closely. Turn right onto that road and follow it for about 2 miles, then turn right again and follow a spur road to the tunnels.

-The most popular time to visit the tunnels is during a solstice - at that time there may be a small crowd. The area will probably be deserted during other times of the year.

-There are no services or facilities at the tunnels or anywhere along the TL Bar Ranch Road. Top off your gas tank before heading up the road. Carry emergency equipment, food and water. During summer the area gets quite hot. During winter days may be mild but nights are bitterly cold.”

45 miles of this bumpy road was quite an adventure, including the sheep in the previously posted video. You could look in either direction and not see an end to them.

At about 42 miles we started to look for the tunnels in the distance. All of us were confused by the landscape as it didn’t seem to match the many documentation photos we had seen. We rounded a corner that looked down into a large, flat valley. Ally and her superhuman eyesight spotted them first from the top of a hill, then we each took turns finding the work with binoculars. We took one right turn, thinking it was taking us to the work that instead lead to an abandoned truck and multiple boards with nails poking upwards. After realizing we’d taken the wrong road, and that off-roading to the Sun Tunnels probably wasn’t the best idea, we headed back to the main road and continued to search for the right path. We found another “road” that opened up to a large clearing containing four large, concrete pipes. We never understood the right turn onto the “spur road” in the instructions…

The tunnels ended up being the most surprising work for a lot of the group. We left the hotel not expecting to stay at them very long, and ended up wishing for a lot more time. Upon arriving we chose the least windy tunnel and made lunch.  Afterwards performances were done, the pup tent was erected, photos were taken, and whistles were blown, all while the wind blew wildly. 

Sun Tunnels framed the land in an unexpected way that really changed the space for us as viewers. Worries that the forms wouldn’t transform from large pipes disappeared as we interacted with them in various ways. Beautiful, unexpected details also stuck out and made the tunnels more sculptural somehow.  

This work was more accessible and intimate than the Spiral Jetty had been as we could crawl in and out of the tunnels and view them closely. It also required us to take in the entire surrounding landscape, which was endless and beautiful. Our unexpected and strong connection to the Sun Tunnels again enforced the importance of visiting the earthworks instead of viewing them from only photographs and film. You could never understand the expanse of the land, the intensity of the wind or sun, size or light relationships, etc. 

After a strange, short (5 minute tops) appearance from a couple from L.A. we reluctantly packed up the car, said goodbye to Nancy’s Sun Tunnels, and headed back down the 45 mile dirt road (where we saw the sheep again), and headed south towards Overton, NV.


Girls Gone West are not only seeing earthworks, but visiting classic road trip attractions along the way.  On wednesday we accidentally drove across the Hoover Dam after passing through the weird, constantly changing landscape of Lake Mead Recreation Area. 

The next day we went to the Grand Canyon, which needs no description. It was amazing, we all gasped, Karina “stayed low”, and we saw a condor!

We arrived at the Golden Spike Historic Site at 8am after a 2 hour drive from Salt Lake City. We reached the jetty after a surprisingly easy drive down a newly redone gravel road for 16 miles. Everyone started to get giddy with anticipation.

We saw the abandoned oil jetty, but to our initial disappointment the Spiral Jetty was almost entirely underwater with only a few small basalt rocks showing.  We immediately began to climb the rock covered hill on Rozel Point facing the spiral, which soon started to show through the water and looked like a shadow or mirage. The sun was still rising and we saw Spiral Jetty transform with the change in light from our high vantage point.  

The group then got to work. Allie wanted to record her performance before the light changed. We don’t want to give away too much about it, but she was half way submerged in the salty, 50 degree water for at least ten minutes and came out shivering and pink (see post-performance, wrapped up Allie above.) Karina then performed as her alter ego Cory, testing her strength and resistance to the cold. All of us made drawings from different vantage points, took photographs, collected materials, shot video, and enjoyed the absolutely perfect weather. 

The fact that the work was underwater became one of the most interesting aspects of the visit. It made it less accessible, more mysterious, and the experience harder to capture. It also made us understand Smithson’s desire for the work to be ever changing, his choice of location, the importance of time, and the absolute necessity of experiencing the work in person. Each of us waded into the cold, cold water and were surrounded by the surreal pink color that couldn’t be seen from any other vantage point.

The entire landscape surrounding Spiral Jetty is surreal and alien. The horizon line disappears because of the similarities of land and sky, the basalt rocks litter the hills and shoreline, and a layer of salt covers everything in the area, including us by the end of the day. All of us were so happy to be with the jetty and its environment that we were sad to leave, but knew we had another early morning the next day. We packed up the car and explored the oil jetty before heading back to S.L.C. Here sticky tar was seeping out of the earth onto the crusty, white salt covered ground.

The ghost image of Spiral Jetty is definitely one that has stuck in our brains, and all of us hope to get the opportunity to visit the work again and see it in other conditions. The water level didn’t harm our experience in the slightest. In fact, it probably opened our mind to the possibilities of the earthworks and their site specificity.

The Spiral Jetty sign at the Golden Spike Historic Site, 16 miles of gravel road from the work.

Girls Gone West at Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, 1970.

Girls Gone West at Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, 1970.

We visited our last true earthwork today - Michael Heizer’s Double Negative.  It was definitely an adventure on top of the mesa. These are the driving directions we followed and a photo of those from google maps.
"Some walking in rocky, sandy terrain is required, so you should be prepared for exposure to desert temperatures, which can run up to 120 degrees in the summer.BRING EXTRA WATER AND WEAR GOOD WALKING SHOES.
The mostly unpaved road to Double Negative is most easily traveled from Overton. Overton can be reached via I-15 Exit 93 - NV Hwy 169 - towards Logandale/Overton. Overton is approximately 65 miles from the Las Vegas Strip and is approximately 11 miles south-east of I-15 on NV Hwy 169.

NV Hwy 169 is known as Moapa Valley Blvd. in Overton. At the intersection of NV Hwy 169 and Cooper Street, turn north onto Cooper Street. If you are coming from I-15, this is a turn to the left.
Follow Cooper Street up the hill until you hit the Overton Airport (marked on the map above). At the airport, turn right onto Mormon Mesa Road.
Continue on Mormon Mesa Road towards the large mesa ahead of you. This is theMormon Mesa, or Virgin River Mesa. The road is only partially paved; most of the rest of the way it is graded gravel. Follow Mormon Mesa Road to the top of the mesa.
As you come to the top of the mesa (marked “Mesa Edge” on the map), you will pass a cattle guard. Continue east across the mesa for 2.7 miles. Do NOT leave the mesa. If you are descending down the east edge of the Mesa, you have gone too far.
Just before you come across a second cattle guard (marked “Cattle Guard” on the map) at the east edge of the mesa, there will be a less-traveled road that extends along the rim of the mesa. Turn left onto this rim road and follow it north 1.3 miles.
After 1.3 miles on the rim road, park your vehicle. Walk east towards the rim of the mesa until you find the earthwork. You should be within 50 yards of the earthwork.
Part of the beauty of earthworks lies in their natural surroundings. Please do not disturb the desert ecosystem found around Double Negative. The surrounding area is public land belonging to the Bureau of Reclamation or the Bureau of Land Management. Collecting or distrubing plants, fossils, or artifacts on this land is prohibited.”

We visited our last true earthwork today - Michael Heizer’s Double Negative.  It was definitely an adventure on top of the mesa. These are the driving directions we followed and a photo of those from google maps.

"Some walking in rocky, sandy terrain is required, so you should be prepared for exposure to desert temperatures, which can run up to 120 degrees in the summer.BRING EXTRA WATER AND WEAR GOOD WALKING SHOES.

The mostly unpaved road to Double Negative is most easily traveled from Overton. Overton can be reached via I-15 Exit 93 - NV Hwy 169 - towards Logandale/Overton. Overton is approximately 65 miles from the Las Vegas Strip and is approximately 11 miles south-east of I-15 on NV Hwy 169.

NV Hwy 169 is known as Moapa Valley Blvd. in Overton. At the intersection of NV Hwy 169 and Cooper Street, turn north onto Cooper Street. If you are coming from I-15, this is a turn to the left.

Follow Cooper Street up the hill until you hit the Overton Airport (marked on the map above). At the airport, turn right onto Mormon Mesa Road.

Continue on Mormon Mesa Road towards the large mesa ahead of you. This is theMormon Mesa, or Virgin River Mesa. The road is only partially paved; most of the rest of the way it is graded gravel. Follow Mormon Mesa Road to the top of the mesa.

As you come to the top of the mesa (marked “Mesa Edge” on the map), you will pass a cattle guard. Continue east across the mesa for 2.7 miles. Do NOT leave the mesa. If you are descending down the east edge of the Mesa, you have gone too far.

Just before you come across a second cattle guard (marked “Cattle Guard” on the map) at the east edge of the mesa, there will be a less-traveled road that extends along the rim of the mesa. Turn left onto this rim road and follow it north 1.3 miles.

After 1.3 miles on the rim road, park your vehicle. Walk east towards the rim of the mesa until you find the earthwork. You should be within 50 yards of the earthwork.

Part of the beauty of earthworks lies in their natural surroundings. Please do not disturb the desert ecosystem found around Double Negative. The surrounding area is public land belonging to the Bureau of Reclamation or the Bureau of Land Management. Collecting or distrubing plants, fossils, or artifacts on this land is prohibited.”

We had another really long day starting at 5am. Sun Tunnels were wonderful. We were all surprised at how much we connected with the space and the work.

We were also surprised by about a thousand sheep on the gravel road leading to the work. We stopped and let them pass for about 30 minutes before finding a gap and continuing down the road. We joked about seeing them on the way back and this is what we saw….

We promise to do proper updates on Spiral Jetty and Sun Tunnels as soon as we have the time to properly do so! Until then…shhheeeeeeeeeep.