High-Art Experience

Jul 12, 2005
Outside Magazine
Lightning Field

Lighten Up: The New Mexico Lightning Field

Four hundred stainless-steel poles, each about 20 feet tall, spread over a mile-by-kilometer expanse of high desert wouldn't seem to have the makings of a fun-filled getaway. Yet art aficionados come from all over the world to experience The Lightning Field, a land-art installation completed by Walter De Maria in 1977. The sculptor scoured the Southwest looking for the perfect spot to erect this influential contribution to contemporary art. Decide for yourself during an overnight stay at the secluded log cabin that looks out on De Maria's labor of love.

Lest The Lightning Field become some roadside amusement for the traveling hoi polloi, visitors are required to follow a precise routine—and to make reservations well in advance. Your art adventure begins in Quemado, a wind-scoured west-central town. Here, you and up to five companions (the cabin has three bedrooms) are picked up midafternoon by the caretaker, who drives you 40 minutes to the cabin—dropping you off with enchiladas, breakfast food, and snacks. You're on your own until he retrieves you the next morning.

While the cabin is comfortable, with hot showers and Wild West furnishings, there are no games, books, or TV; you're here to experience "the work." And it doesn't look like much at first. But then you walk the vast field—looking, feeling, sensing. If you're lucky, thunderheads sweep in, lightning flashes, and the poles glow pink, orange, and blue. Love it or hate it, you'll never take in art like this, and that alone is worth the trip.

BONUS: After all that art appreciation, treat yourself to dessert in Pie Town, east of Quemado on Highway 60. The Daily Pie Cafe (505-772-2700) serves 25 varieties. Or stop to ponder some other big objects at the Very Large Array, 27 giant radio dish antennae clustered west of Socorro.

DETAILS: Visit The Lightning Field (www.lightningfield.org), maintained by the Dia Art Foundation, from May to October for $110–$135 per person, with meals.

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