Sun Tunnels and the Solstice

A Guest Post by Nik Huggins.


As nature lovers and navigators throughout the northern hemisphere celebrate the summer solstice, our minds may drift to the iconic, monumental sites that early cultures around the globe created to mark the longest day.

There are famous sites and less well known ones: Stonehenge, Brodgar, Chichenitza or Chankillo.

Steeped in ancient mystery, the clues to their creation, eroded over millennia, offer us tantalising glimpses of early civilisation’s understanding of time, space and direction.

For ancient humans, these sites were of pivotal importance, not just as markers of time and space, but as powerful cultural totems, around which, many experts theorise, their societies could be arranged and subsequently developed.

In modern times, we no longer need huge stones to tell us that the sun has stopped its journey north. Our understanding of time, location and direction is instantly measurable, in a thousand different ways.

As a consequence, these places may appear less fundamental to our lives than they did for our ancestors, but that hasn’t stopped modern examples of these vast, celestial places being built…  

In 1976, land artist Nancy Holt created the Sun Tunnels in the remote landscape of Utah’s Great Basin Desert. Inspired by the megalithic sites she visited across the world, Holt’s work consisted of four massive concrete tunnels, sections of drainage course used for road construction, set out in an x-shape pattern. The cylinders act as viewing devices to observe the sky and surrounding landscape and are arranged to capture the effects of the solstices – two are aligned with the rising and setting sun during the summer solstice and two line up during the winter solstice.

Twice a year, at dawn and twilight, each tunnel frames the golden orb of the sun, its interior bathed in light. Holes cut into the upper walls of each tunnel, form the constellations of Draco, Perseus, Columba and Capricorn, with the hole diameter differing in relation to the magnitude of the stars to which they correspond.

Holt’s primary goal was to drag ‘the sky down to earth’ and ‘bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale’ in order to make viewers conscious of the natural cycles the modern world has blunted our senses to.

Just like those ancient buildings of the past, Holt’s creation acts as clock, compass and calendar that orients us in the landscape but also connects us to that deeper narrative that’s unfolding all around us in the natural world – offering up those rare sensations that fans of Natural Navigation live for.

How are you seeing in this year’s Solstice? Share your photos on social media and tag #NATURALNAVIGATION of the following accounts for RTs.


You might also enjoy:

The Rollright Stones

How to Find Your Way Using the Sun

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