Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Lightning Field

This post is part of a series called the Great New Mexican Adventure, where I detail the things to see and do in New Mexico and determine if they are worth the time, effort, and money. Next up is the Lightning Field.

When you make your reservations for the Lightning Field the first thing you'll notice is the price ($250 per person during July and August, $150 per peson for May, June, and September, $100 per person for students) then you'll notice that the location of the Lightning Field is shrouded in mystery. You are told to drive to the offices in Quemado and from there you will be picked up and brought to the location. The final thing you will notice is that there is a disclaimer that says "A full experience of The Lightning Field does not depend upon the occurrence of lightning..." While reasonable it sounded like the operators were trying to keep visitor hopes down.

Knowing New Mexico weather, I knew that rain wasn't likely and that thunderstorms are more prevalent in late summer (hence my planned visit for Labor Day weekend), but not something to set a clock to. I wasn't too worried about the chance of seeing lightning, but I was hopeful. I was more worried that seeing a bunch of poles in the middle of nowhere turned out to be the most boring experience of my life. I'll get to that in a moment.

The drive to Quemado is about a 2-3 hour drive depending on how fast you go and which way you go. If you start by going east on I-40 you'll be treated to spectacular scenery as you drive through Malpais National Park. If you start by going south on I-25 you'll be treated to a glimpse of the VLA (Very Large Array). I took both routes, going the I-40 route towards Quemado, and then returning via the VLA.

Upon arrival you'll notice that Quemado is a really small town with just a few buildings. You'll also notice that you CAN'T find the Dia office. That's because it is the most run down building in town and has the smallest sign possible. I took the liberty of documenting that for any potential visitors because NO ONE in the Corrales office or the Quemado office bothered to answer the phone with regards to finding the site. So the building below is what the Dia Quemado Lightning Field office looks like.
The next image is the sign telling you that this is the building you want to be at. Yea not too visible...
A man named Robert eventually picks you up from the Quemado office and whisks you away to the cabin that you will be staying in for the night. On this particular adventure it had been raining quite a bit and the roads were very muddy. That made the ride very, very fun (or scary depending on your idea of fun). I have to say this drive was the best part of the trip. Nothing like getting the blood pumping before a relaxing evening on the prairie.

Once you get to the cabin, Robert tells you everything you need to know, how to contact him in case of an emergency, and some safety precautions. Then he drives off never to be seen again, until the next day. From here on out you are free to do as you please. It is just you, the Lightning Field, and in my case 4 other people who you hope won't get on your nerves for the next 24 hours.

The pole grid is literally just a few hundred feet from the cabin, and once you get there you are encouraged to spend as much time in the field as possible. There is a packet inside the cabin with some facts about the construction of the field. Unfortunately I could not find this information on their website (or anywhere else for that matter) but it is rather interesting. It definitely helps you appreciate the scope of the project.

Which brings me to my next point, how is the experience? If you take the Lightning Field at face value it is pretty weak. You are in the middle of nowhere, left alone, with a field of a bunch of metal poles and you aren't likely to actually see lightning strike the field. If you go to the Field with that in mind and never open your mind it will be as exciting as I've made it out to be.

If however you enjoy the outdoors, you spend a lot of time walking around the Field, in the Field, and enjoying everyone you traveled with you might enjoy the experience. I myself did enjoy the experience, but with that said I don't think my life is complete because I've seen it and I don't think I would miss anything if I never heard about it. But let me tell you about my experience (which after this very long intro is really what this is all about)...

Walking around and in the field you definitely get the feeling that there is more effort put into this than meets the eye. It took more than just one person to design the Field and being there really hammers that home. As you touch the poles you realize they are more sturdy than just a piece of metal casually placed in the ground. You look at the tops of the poles and you realize they aren't just regular poles, someone meticulously crafted the tips to be perfect (the fact sheet something about the curve of the tip matching the arc of a 6m circle). You also realize that every tip is perfectly level creating a plane, and that each pole is precisely positioned within a fraction of an inch. Walking around the field you also realize how many poles there are (400) and how long it took to put it all together. Once you consider all that and whatever thoughts about the meaning of life pop into your head, then you begin to appreciate it.

As an idea, I still don't really appreciate it. The Lightning Field in principle still seems silly, I mean it's just poles on a field. But I definitely appreciate the amount of effort that it took to construct such a silly principle. I appreciated the time I spent in nature, I appreciated the time I spent with my girlfriend, and I definitely appreciated the drive out to the Field (and living to tell the tale). So all in all the Lightning Field was a positive experience, plus I got a ton of great pictures.
If you don't like nature, don't enjoy the company of others, and don't like being without your iPhone, then you probably won't like the Lightning Field. If however you do like those things and can appreciate great works of man no matter how pointless they may seem then you will most likely enjoy the Lightning Field. If you do decide to go, definitely convince a group of friends to go as the bonding you will experience will make the entire experience way more enjoyable.

Location: Hidden NE of Quemado
Supported by Dia Art Foundation
Rating: Awesome


disgusted said...

...and did you know that this is not open to visitors...unless you go the mystery route!  And did you know that our tax dollars paid for this 1/2 a million to be exact.   This may be awesome, but it profited the ranch owner and grease a few hands before it became "art"

Anthony Salvagno said...

I did not know that it was funded publicly. If that is the case, then there is a major problem with this display being kept private. But I did know it was not open to the public unless you signed up with Dia. Thanks for your input!

Jon Danforth said...

They make a big stink on their website about photography being prohibited. I take it that nobody stopped you. I wonder if anyone would object to a tripod or two coming out of my bag?

Anthony Salvagno said...

You can take pictures for personal reasons. There are a ton of pictures on flikr of the lightning field so I figured it was ok. This was posted a couple years ago and I haven't been approached about it since. I think the major issue is if you use the pictures for commercial purposes. But if you pack your tripods up in your luggage, they won't even know. You'll be pretty isolated out there.

Chris said...

It was not funded publicly and a little basic research shows this. It was funded by the Dia Art Foundation. Just because it's a non-profit corporation does not mean it was paid for by tax dollars.

My search for information about the photography prohibition is what led me here. I'm fascinated by art like this even if I don't "get it".

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