Lightning Show

May 30, 2008
Outside Magazine
walter de maria's lightning field

MOTHER NATURE’S LASER SHOW: Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field

QUEMADO, NEW MEXICO - Whoever named the two-diner town of Quemado (translation: "Burnt"), in southwestern New Mexico, had a way with words. The place attracts a fair amount of lightning strikes. That's why sculptor Walter De Maria put his installation, the Lightning Field, which combines highbrow art with one of the last great remote landscapes in America, nearby.

Fly into Albuquerque, rent a car, and drive three hours southwest to Quemado. At a small white gallery-like space that could be in SoHo, you'll await a grizzled cowboy who drives precariously fast in his truck and drops you off 45 minutes later at a three-bedroom cabin overlooking the fields. Your provisions: enchiladas, whatever libations you've brought, and orders to wander. The installation consists of a surreal one-mile grid of 400 stainless-steel poles in the lightning-happy high desert. The display is best viewed from the back porch, with a cold Negra Modelo in hand. Book far in advance—you can rent the cabin for only one night ($250 per person with maximum six-person occupancy; What to do with the rest of the weekend? Doesn't really matter, if you're lucky enough to see lightning strike out the back door. But there are plenty of weird attractions around that could exist only in New Mexico—the Very Large Array of radio telescopes, near Socorro, for instance. Spend the next night in the emerging artsy town of Truth or Consequences and soak at the Sierra Grande Lodge (doubles, $130;