What is the Lightning Field?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The Lightning Field is an enormous piece of artwork, covering a rectangle one mile (1.6 km) by .62 miles (1 km.) In the remote desert of New Mexico, this work is nearly inaccessible, and can only be visited by those reserving accommodations at the nearby cabin. The Lighting Field is the work of Walter De Maria, an American minimalist sculpture known for his use of natural landscapes.


In form, the Lightning Field is quite simple. Over a large stretch of fairly flat ground, 400 stainless steel poles are set into the ground, each about 20 ft (6 m) high and 220 ft (67 m) away from one another. The poles are quite thin, only two inches (5 cm) in diameter. Visitors have free access to the site, and can walk around and examine the field at their leisure.

Despite the name of the work, the Lightning Field does not truly work to attract lightning, though as metal poles the elements of the piece can draw lightning to them. According to one art critic, if lightning strikes a pole it will char and need to be replaced as soon as possible, so lightning strikes are actually detrimental to the work. However, the official website of the artwork, suggests visiting in midsummer, when thunderstorms are frequent, to have the best possibility of seeing lightning hit the field.

In order to visit the Lightning Field, you must make a reservation to stay at the adjacent cabin, a rustic building that can accommodate up to 6 people. Arriving at the site is somewhat mysterious, with visitors picked up in a nearby town and taken up to the field; you are not allowed to take your own car to see the work. Guests are given rudimentary supper and breakfast makings, and returned to town by noon on the following day. While at the site, guests are on their own schedule, encouraged to study the artwork in varying lighting and climate conditions.

Many visitors to the Lightning Field regard the experience as a profound encounter with art and nature. The enormity of the piece is astonishing to some critics, and many report feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. According to visitors, the poles seem to vanish in certain conditions, such as when the sun is directly overhead. In the evening, the shadow of the poles stretch farther and farther out, waiting for the sun to set.

Visiting the Lightning Field is quite an ordeal, but many report the experience as quite worth it. Guests are charged $250 US Dollars (USD) per night to stay at the cabin, with some student and child discounts available. Because space is so limited, reservations may need to be made months ahead of time. The Lightning Field is not a tourist destination or even a typical piece of art, yet for an unusual artistic experience that may change your perspective on what art can be, there may be no better place.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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