Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels (1973–76)
Great Basin Desert, Utah
Collection Dia Art Foundation. with support from Holt/Smithson Foundation
© Holt/Smithson Foundation and Dia Art Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Nancy Holt, an artist exploring the human perception of time and space, earth and sky, built the Sun Tunnels as a unique art project completed in 1976. The four tunnels are concrete tubes laid out in an X shape, each drilled with holes to pattern the constellations of Draco, Perseus, Columbia, and Capricorn. They are massive - nine feet high by 18 feet long. They sit in a remote valley in the Great Basin Desert, west of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Holt has said her tunnels bring the sky down to earth, with the dazzling effect of light bouncing through the tubes. Two of the tunnels align with the setting and rising sun during the summer solstice and two line up during the winter solstice.
Sun Tunnel Facts
Are 22 ton concrete pipes
Sit on 40 acres of land Holt purchased for the project
Were a collaboration between engineers, astronomers, pipe manufacturers, drillers, truck drivers, and others
Provide a little shelter from the sweltering desert sun
Act as a personal Exploratorium when inside
Make a fascinating art and astronomy exhibit
Are only accessible by driving into a very remote area
If you are looking for the feeling of getting away from it all, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more remote spot. You can visit for a day or camp out to get both the sunset and sunrise experience. If you visit during a solstice you will probably find several groups at the tunnels. At other times of the year you will probably be all alone.
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 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 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.
The Great Basin desert is uniquely beautiful in this area. You'll see rolling hills and distant mountains, with cattle grazing in open rangeland.
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