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BEAUTIFUL: Utah's Sun Tunnels shine during summer solstice

Utah's Sun Tunnels, art by Nancy Holt, photographed on summer solstice by Viri Despain. (Photo: Viri Despain){p}{/p}
Utah's Sun Tunnels, art by Nancy Holt, photographed on summer solstice by Viri Despain. (Photo: Viri Despain)

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When artist Nancy Holt built Utah's Sun Tunnels in 1976, she put them in a remote valley in the Utah desert and she built them with two days of the year in mind.

During the summer and winter solstice, the tunnels are arranged to place the sun in the dead center of the hulking concrete tubes as it sets on the horizon. The summer solstice just passed and Viri Despain was there to capture the moments and then share them with KUTV. Not only did her photos fulfill the artist's intended result, but they were also spectacular images of the Utah sunset.

Holt died in 2014. She is an artist known for her large works and her use of light, but it is probably the Sun Tunnels that are her greatest claim to fame. She is often associated with land art that can't be bought or sold that is often placed in remote areas. Remote is definitely true of the tunnels, that are also massive, are 9-feet high and 18-feet long. According to, they weigh 22 tons. They are located west of the world-famous Bonneville Salt Flats and north of Wendover, Nevada. Visitors are advised to gas up for the trip that requires a drive into Nevada before returning to Utah.

The travel instructions are as follows:

"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 become 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 historic 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.

"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."

There are no services anywhere along the TL Bar Ranch Road, so fill your gas tank and let someone know where you are going and when you will get back and bring plenty of water and sunscreen and perhaps food too, in case your ride lets you down.

Even if you visit the tunnels while the sun is high, Holt also built in star features, patterned after the constellations of Capricorn, Columbia, Draco and Perseus. During the day sunlight drills through holes in the pipes to create constellation inside the tunnels that offer some shade in the heat. The size of the holes mimics the intensity of the stars they represent.

The Sun Tunnels are art and its owners ask for every visitor's help in the remote location:

Please leave Sun Tunnels and the natural environment exactly as you found it. Visitors must “leave no trace” at the site. Carry out any waste with you. Do not tamper with the artwork, make fire pits, or trample vegetation.

The art now belongs to the Dia Art Foundation. It is part of its permanent sites that also includes Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake, declared an official state work of art. It also owns the Lightning Field in the desert of New Mexico where 400 polished stainless steel polls mark a grid one mile by one kilometer.

Of the field. it's website states:

"The Lightning Field is recognized internationally as one of the late-twentieth century's most significant works of art and exemplifies Dia's commitment to the support of art projects whose nature and scale exceed the limits normally available within the traditional museum or gallery."

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NOTE: Mike Stucki also contributed summer solstice photos after this story was originally posted. They are now included.

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