In 1976, the American artist Nancy Holt completed this large piece of art consisting of four concrete tubes laid out in an open X configuration in Utah’s Great Basin Desert.
The piece is called Sun Tunnels, and its deceptively simple design allows for constant changes in the light and shadow. According to Holt, the artwork is meant to “bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale.”
While at first the four concrete tunnels pierced by holes of varying sizes may seem like minimalist modern art, the work is in fact much more than that: It is an astrological gazing station. Each of the 18-foot long cylinders represents one of four constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. The smaller holes drilled into the sides of the tunnels depict the pattern of stars that make up each constellation.
At the summer and winter solstices, on June 21 and December 21, respectively, the sun can be seen on the horizon centered through the tunnels. Two of the tunnels are aligned to the sunrise, while the other two are aligned to the the sunset. The holes drilled in the sides of the tunnels allow patterns of light inside, so during the day you can see the shape of the referenced constellations.
Know Before You Go
From Salt Lake City, take I-80 west through Wendover to Oasis, Nevada. At Oasis, take Nevada Highway 233 through Montello, Nevada (last gas, water, food, lodgings) back into Utah where the road becomes Utah Highway 30. About 10 miles past the state line is a sign for Lucin. There are two gravel roads on the right. Take the first one for five miles. Cross the railroad tracks and continue on the same road for about two miles. Turn left and proceed about two miles and then right for 3/4 mile to Sun Tunnels. There is a parking area at the end of the road.
A trip out to Sun Tunnels is an unforgettable adventure, but please remember that you are undertaking this journey at your own risk. As with any trip to the desert, be prepared for unpredictable weather or automobile occurrences. Approach possible flash flood areas with caution. Check the weather before you visit, and consider the time of day. Fill up your gas tank before you go. Bring sunscreen, lots of water, snacks, sensible shoes, and a hat. Tell someone where you are going and when to expect your return. Cell reception may be spotty.