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Sun Tunnels self-guide

Nancy Holt is most widely known for her large-scale artwork Sun Tunnels (located in Lucin, UT); however, she has created works in public places all over the world. The artist's interest in light, perspective, time, and space certainly influenced her photographs, films, sculpture, and installation art, but perhaps it is most magnificently illustrated in her Land art. Land art emerged in the 1960s, coinciding with a growing ecology movement in the United States, which asked people to become more aware of the impact they can have on the natural environment. Land art changed the way people thought of art; not only did it take art out of the gallery and museum, but it also took art out of the market. Many Land art sites are located in remote, uninhabited regions. We are lucky that such an influential work of art is within a day's drive from the UMFA.

Sun Tunnels consists of four massive concrete tunnels, each eighteen feet long and nine feet in diameter, laid out in the desert in an open X configuration. On the solstices, the tunnels frame the sun as it passes the horizon at sunrise and sunset. In the top of each tunnel, Holt drilled small holes to form the constellations of Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. These holes, and the tunnels themselves, act as frames or lenses through which the visitor can view the surrounding sky and landscape of the Great Basin Desert.

To create her 1978 film Sun Tunnels, Holt camped for days on end in the barren desert. In Holt's cinematic and photographic documents currently on view at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, we can observe myriad nuances of light and shadow inhabiting the installation over time. But to fully experience this important work of Land art, climb into the tunnels, view the surrounding landscape through the cylindrical frames, and feel the desert air in Utah's Great Basin.

Walk around Sun Tunnels. As you walk, spend some time surveying the tunnels from up close and from a distance. Look through them. Experience the interior of the tunnels and the perforations in them. Listen. Notice the way the change in the time of day, weather, or angle of the sun affect your perception.

Look at the view of the surrounding landscape beyond the tunnels. Then look at the same area of landscape through a tunnel. How does the cylindrical frame change your personal experience of the landscape? Do you notice new things about the landscape when looking at a defined viewpoint?

Sun Tunnels responds to the orientation of the earth and celestial bodies. How does the changing angle of the sun affect your perception? As you explore the tunnels, do you feel a different relationship to the earth and sky?

Sun Tunnels is a site specific work of Land art. The site itself was a very important consideration for the artist. Reflect on your journey to this site. How did traversing a distance of remote, untamed land make you feel? How does this impact the meaning of the work?

Drive time from Salt Lake City is about 4 hours. Click here for downloadable directions.

  • Take I-80 west from Salt Lake City through Wendover (nearest city offering full amenities) to Oasis, Nevada.
  • At Oasis take Nevada Highway 233 through Montello, Nevada (minimal services may be available) back into Utah where the road becomes Utah Highway 30.
  • About 10 miles past the state line is a sign for Lucin, a ghost town with no remaining buildings. There are two gravel roads on the right. Take the first one for five miles to Lucin.
  • 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.

Consider the time of day and the weather. Fill your gas tank before you go and, as with any trip to the desert, be prepared for unpredictable weather or automobile occurrences. Approach possible flash flood areas with caution. Phone reception may be spotty—tell someone where you are going and when to expect your return. 

Bring plenty of water, snacks, layered clothing, a blanket, sunscreen, sensible shoes, and a hat—don't forget your camera and sketchbook, too.

Nancy Holt, creator of Sun Tunnels, welcomed everyone to stop by and experience her earthwork, and to even camp out on her land. "But please," she asked, "leave everything the way you found it."

A trip to Sun Tunnels is an unforgettable adventure, but please remember you are undertaking this journey at your own risk.











LEFT | October 20, 2012, Sun Tunnels viewing with Nancy Holt, organized by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) as part of Nancy Holt: Sightlines, a traveling exhibition organized by the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, on view October 19, 2012–January 20, 2013 at the UMFA. UMFA photo.



artlandish event

Sun Tunnels Community Meet-up
Saturday, September 30, 2017
14 pm | FREE
Join the UMFA for a fun day of art and science at Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels, an iconic work of Land art located in Utah's west desert.

All ages and abilities are invited to explore the landscape, create art, and learn about the environment of the desert.

Downloadable direction and travel tips


land art


Nancy Holt

Robert Smithson

Spiral Jetty partnership

ARTLandish: Land art, Landscape,
and the Environment


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