October 11, 2016

Photo Essay: A Day-Glo Desert Detour

There's something about piles of rocks that make the desert seem a little more inhabitable. You can find small piles of them, often called cairns, along pretty much any desert trail—which is a good thing, since everything looks like a trail in the desert, making it hard to know if you're going the right way.

People who drive everywhere don't know what that's like.

But maybe they do now, because there are some brightly-colored rocks piled up off the I-15 just outside of Vegas that have been drawing accidental tourists out into the middle of the Nevada desert to have a look.

When I first heard about "Seven Magic Mountains," I thought for sure it was some unauthorized desert art project. I loved the idea of someone turning this common symbol of desert hiking into a larger-than-life, open air public art exhibition.

But it actually turns out that it's not only authorized but also endorsed by the State of Nevada, via the Nevada Museum of Art. The land art installation is so official, in fact, that it has its own website and accompanying audio tour.

And its creator isn't some local desert rat, but rather a Swiss-born multimedia artist who lives now in New York City. Artist Ugo Rondinone selected and collected 33 limestone boulders from the local area...

...drilled holes in them...

...and stacked them up into a total of seven different totems...

...each rising 30 to 35 feet off the ground.

And although the artist has called them "mountains," these day-glo towers actually pale in comparison to the McCullough mountain range that looms behind them where they stand, close to the Jean Dry Lake playa and the Sloan Canyon Petroglyphs site.

They've become very popular with visitors who are on their way either into or out of Vegas...

...despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that they disrupt this stretch of desert just as much as the 15 Freeway does.

Personally, I enjoy the drive to and from Vegas because there are still stretches of land where there seems to be a whole lot of nothing. I like feeling alone out there, all by myself. I can ignore the traffic and all those people in all those other cars if I can look out into the vast expanse of the desert.

For me, Seven Magic Mountains was a little too much civilization and tourism and social media and self-portraiture. I wanted to leave that behind when I left the Las Vegas Strip. I'd really rather it not bleed out into the public land that lies beyond.

I know it will, eventually. But why rush it?

Related Posts:
Is It Art, Or Is It the Desert?
Photo Essay: Water Park, Thrice Abandoned (Circa 2009)

Photo Essay: A Pumpkin Smiles Down Upon Horsetown USA

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