I would to visit land art sites in SW US before kicking the bucket
January 5, 2017 7:09 AM   Subscribe

I am a Brit, 55, and land art has long fascinated me. I would like to visit some of the sites I have read/seen so much about, such as The Lightning Field, Sun Tunnels, Double Negative and/or similar. Roden Crater would be a must, if possible. If not is his exhibit still on in a Las Vegas mall? I'd also like to see the Rothko Chapel.

The difficulty is that I'm on medicine to halt the growth of a tumour which gives me maybe 2.5 years to do this. The side effects can be debilitating. Driving is likely out of the question, but I might try and find a companion and sleep in/near a hire car/van.

Can anyone give me a rough figure on costs? If parts are expensive, I can change and if there's stuff in Nevada/Arizona as replacements sites, great.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Transatlantic flights are historically cheap right now. You can get direct flights from the UK to Houston and Vegas. For example, you can fly into Houston and out of Vegas next week for £550 according to Google Flights.

A rental car and gas for a week is going to run you about $200. If you get a more comfortable car to sleep in, make that more like $500. You will absolutely need someone to drive. Your plan is simply not possible with public transport or taxis.

Cheep highway accommodation in the south west is $50-100/night. Food and drink is whatever you make it. You probably can't do less than $20/day. It's of course easy to spend a lot more, especially once you get to Vegas. Let's call it $100/day for accommodation and food on the low end.

All told, you can do this for £1500.

Couple of notes on itinerary: If you drop Houston/the Rothko Chapel from your itinerary and fly to Vegas return then you can save yourself a full day driving across Texas. On the other hand, you'll miss Marfa (and Judd's large scale work at the Chinati Foundation) on the way to NM. Marfa to the Lightning Fields will take you right past White Sands National Monument, which is not artificial land art, but is an incredible place that you absolutely should not miss (arrive about 90 minutes before sunset if possible).
posted by caek at 8:24 AM on January 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

At least in the case of Lightning Field, it's not something you just go out and see on your own. You have to book a reservation through Dia (the arts foundation that administers it), and they'll take you out to a viewing house nearby where you spend the night. That's the only way to see it.

Roden Crater is/has been under construction and is currently closed to the public; who knows when it'll be partially or fully open again. However, there are a number of Turrell Sky Spaces that are much more easily accessible, including one in a suburb of LA that you could conceivably, although probably with difficulty, access via public transit.
posted by LionIndex at 8:28 AM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not a huge fan of modern art, and I don't really 'get it' often, so that's my disclaimer for the Rothko Chapel, which I didn't really like... Reviews say that it can be less inspiring on a cloudy day, which Houston has a fair number of. So I had a hard time seeing the famed Rothko subtleties, and the artworks are not bright and cheerful to begin with.

There is, of course, a ton of stuff to do in Houston, and it has some neat parks and world class museums and other things of interest, but I would not recommend it just for the Rothko, personally. Depending on how you do the trip, Texas will likely roughly double the driving distance. And add a day of pure or mostly driving.

I got about $10/per hundred miles of driving. I tended to stay in parks for 10-30 a night (and sometimes rest stops... not always legal, but free, and nobody hassled me at any of them)

A rough estimate of the trip sees you covering 1,000 (1600 km) to 2,500 miles. 1,400 miles is listed by Google as 22 hours of pure driving. I've done 800 miles in a day before, and that is pretty darn hard. Also note the google time is best case, no stops scenario.

So I'd guesstimate roughly a week in the Southwest, with an extra two-three days if you add Houston. You can, of course, spend a lifetime exploring the Southwest, depending on plans, time and budget.

I'm unsure what the costs of hiring a driver would be. I'm sure you can find someone to do it relatively cheap/just for the experience (I for one would do it, depending on the schedule)

Looks like flights are going to be in the $500 to 1000 ish range, depending on location, time, all that good stuff. Vans are probably also in that range.

So I'd make a rough guess of $3,000, which of course is somewhat less in pounds at the moment. And it can easily climb quite higher, depending on food and lodging.

Do consider the weather. Phoenix, az, gets about 19-20C to 10-11C at night, but this is winter for us. Some places on your route could get snow this time of year. If you do it mid summer, it can easily get over 37C!

I've never been personally, but the Grand Canyon Skybridge might fit in with your eco-art tourism.
posted by Jacen at 9:04 AM on January 5, 2017

I'm slowly becoming a Skyspace groupie, so for California Turrell stuff I would say the one Skyspace at the DeYoung in San Francisco is better (and far more transit-accessible) than the one in Pomona; the only trick is that most of the year you can only see it on Friday nights because that's when the DeYoung sculpture garden is open (for free!) around sunset. The Pomona one is shorter and, when I saw it, was short enough that it ended a bit before actual sunset — though I could imagine the timing was a bit off and it's not always that way. On the other hand, in LA there is the Ganzfeld which is a great experience too (if lacking in collaboration with nature). There's also a fairly new Skyspace at the University of Texas, Austin, which might be a good stop on a south/western desert tour, on your way west from Houston. It looks to me like Akhob is still there in Vegas, too. All of these, as you probably know, are free, modulo the cost of getting there, which others have covered as well as I can.
posted by xueexueg at 9:44 AM on January 5, 2017

Weather is definitely a factor: I've driven the dirt track out to the Spiral Jetty and, given that we're currently under snow here in Utah, I'd say that road is going to be impassable until Easter. Likewise, Double Negative is out in the mountains north of Vegas in the Nevada desert, so if you went in the summer, expect 40C temps. Double Negative is also up a dirt track - as I'm sure many land art pieces are - so I'd say you need to factor in the cost of an SUV (for high ground clearance), which tends to be at the higher end of rental car costs. Also, it is traditional for rental companies to fleece tourists on insurance, so research this in advance - it'll easily double your rental costs if you wait to sort it out at the agency desk.
As LionIndex notes, you have to book The Lightning Field in advance. It also costs between $150 & $250 depending on the time of year you visit. What happens is that you turn up in a little town in NM (Quemado) and you and the folks you are sharing the experience with (I think 8 total max) are driven to a cabin in the field, you spend the night there, and then you're picked up again in the morning. Geoff Dyer has a good essay about it in his book White Sands (the same White Sands mentioned by caek).
Overall, I'd recommend creating a list of places you'd like to see (the CLUI database is a great resource) and then dividing those places up by accessibility. Flying into LA to see Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass at LACMA or Houston to see the Rothko Chapel is a world apart - and all kinds of different expenses - from hauling your a$$ to the middle of nowhere to see an artwork which is in part there *because* it's in the middle of nowhere.
(As an aside, there is a ton of "natural" land art in the Utah/ Arizona area - Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Badlands, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley to name a few - which are all easily accessible by car).
posted by 7 Minutes of Madness at 9:50 AM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

You are future me. I would love to see more large scale land art throughout the course of my life, so much so that I got myself a copy of Phaidon's Land & Environmental Art survey as sort of a checklist. I don't have much insight into pricing in the southwest, beyond suggesting you may want to look into train service between major cities via Amtrak or regional bus lines, which could take the edge off some of the longer trips. There's also Atlas Obscura, which could be a good resource for looking for nearby waypoints - they have a number of places tagged with Land Art and it's pretty easy to judge distances from there.

Some additional suggestions to think about: If you're flying to the U.S. from the UK, why not schedule a few nights in or around NYC? We have the Earth Room right in downtown Manhattan, a great Turrell piece at PS1 in Queens that just reopened and both Dia:Beacon and Storm King sculpture park a relatively short train trip away.

If you do end up near Las Vegas, I'd consider visiting the Hoover Dam, which is quite a site, though again, not exactly the same thing as the art pieces you mention.
posted by lousywiththespirit at 10:54 AM on January 5, 2017

I did the Lightning Field two years ago and the Rothko Chapel this past fall. I'm glad I went to the Rothko Chapel but the experience was nowhere near that of the Lightning Field.

The Chapel is in downtown Houston - you can easily take a cab. You'd need to factor in transportation to Houston, a hotel if you plan to stay the night and then cab fare. It's on the campus of the Menil collection and if you plan to stop there as well note that they are closed on Mon and Tues. It's open to the public and while the "guards" or minders try to be unobtrusive, you will never be alone with the work the way you will be at the Lightning Field.

We did the Lightning Field the same week as the Balloon festival in Albuquerque, in early October. We didn't get the first night we requested but we got the second. So keep in mind that whenever you want to go may not be available to you. They only take reservations for a short window of time and I think we paid $175 a person? Something like that. To get to Quemado you really do need to drive or be driven and it's two hours or so to the tiny little town from Albuquerque. And then of course you'd need to drive back or have someone pick you up the next day so that's some car time to consider. There's a large heater in the main cabin and then where we stayed, in a little side annex, it is heated with a little electric heater at night and it can get chilly out there depending on the season. The cabin fits six people - we had 5. Three were strangers and they were wonderful. Feel free to Memail me with any specific questions and I can try to answer them. It was an unforgettable experience and I would go back in an instant.

Also currently up near Las Vegas is Ugo Rodinone's Seven Magic Mountains. That is on my list for next year.
posted by rdnnyc at 11:07 AM on January 5, 2017

It's stunning and well worth seeing, but the Rothko Chapel is NOT in "downtown Houston." It's centrally located in an area called Montrose, but it's absolutely not in the downtown area.

Houston also has some Turrell stuff worth seeing. We got married in a Quaker church he designed that's really gorgeous at sunrise and sunset; it's called The Live Oak Friends Meeting House, and it's in an area called the Heights.

Rice University has a new installation of his that's open to the public, but I think you still need to make a reservation.

Also, there's a smaller tunnel he did that connects two of the MFAH buildings; if you're here, may as well stroll through that, too.

If you come to Houston, and stay anywhere inside loop 610 (local argot: "inside the Loop") then all of these things are pretty accessible, even by taxi. Houston itself is VERY VERY VERY BIG, though, so be aware that staying far out might limit your ability to reach these things cheaply.

Finally, if you come here, I hope you'll let me buy you a beer.

(PS: as others have noted, you probably don't want to make this a giant driving tour if you're able to fly. Texas is impossibly wide; folks from the other side of the Atlantic are frequently shocked by this.)
posted by uberchet at 12:43 PM on January 5, 2017

If you have a flight that transfers in Houston and can plan your connection to have about 5 hours of layover it is possible to see the Rothko Chapel between flights. That is what I did 7 years ago. Take a cab from the airport to the chapel. Ask the cab to return 1 hour later and take their business card, as it is not possible to hail cabs at the chapel. I think it was an hour long cab ride each way, if I recall correctly.
posted by mortaddams at 12:49 PM on January 5, 2017

I visited the Rothko Chapel and Chinati Foundation/Marfa once, and it is still one of my greatest memories ever. But I don't think it could be done without a car if you are not very rich. Maybe you could find an art student to help you? It would be a great job for a student.
I agree you should fly to New York and see the stuff there, then fly to Houston and drive west from there. The drive from Houston to Marfa was in itself an amazing experience, I imagine going on into Nevada is as great.

BTW, because I was youngish and didn't understand America very well, I ended up with almost no money for the entire trip, I think I managed on 5 dollars a day on average. And people out there were so sweet and helpful in every way. I'm not suggesting you should try this, contrariwise, but just that you can trust that everyone you meet will try to help you the best they can.
posted by mumimor at 2:51 PM on January 5, 2017

Just to be clear: the drive from Houston to Marfa is 600 miles.

Nothing is near Marfa.
posted by uberchet at 3:30 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

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