Lightning Field

Quemado, NM
United States
Lightning Field

Landscape Information

Situated in a remote location of the semi-arid desert near open pit mines and the small ranching town of Quemado, this permanent land art installation consists of 400 polished metal poles organized in a grid set against the natural backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains. Building upon ideas he developed in Flagstaff, Arizona, artist Walter De Maria, with support from the Dia Foundation, installed Lightning Field in 1977 on slightly undulating topography about eleven miles east of the Continental Divide. The grid, measuring one mile east to west and a little more than a kilometer north to south, is comprised of pointed metal poles spaced 220 feet apart. Though the length of each pole varies, the tip of each is at a consistent height to form a level plane averaging about 20-feet, 7 ½ inches above the ground. Surrounded by an expansive field of prairie grass and wildflowers, the poles are set in concrete footings to survive winds of 110 miles per hour.

De Maria selected the picturesque site because of the frequency of lightning strikes, about 60 per year mostly in July and August. The minimalist sculpture engages with its surrounds and the atmospheric qualities of sunlight: At mid-day, many of the poles are imperceptible but at daybreak and dusk the array becomes visible. Visitation is restricted by appointment and limited to six people at a time, shuttled to the site by the Dia Foundation and required to stay for 24 hours at a rustic homestead cabin adjacent to the installation.