"Sun Tunnels," Nancy Holt, 1973.
"Sun Tunnels," Nancy Holt, 1973. (Photo: Retis/Flickr)

From the massive pyramids of Giza to the neolithic Stonehenge, humans have always held a deep fascination with the faithful movements of celestial bodies. Today, centuries after these ancient monoliths were first erected, people still gather to observe the symbolic passages of time and space at these sites. And, like the many humans before us, we continue to make our own modern-day celestial art and architecture.

One of the best examples of a contemporary piece of art inspired by natural forces of the universe is Nancy Holt's famous "Sun Tunnels."

Installed in 1973 atop an otherwise nondescript patch of the Great Basin Desert in northwestern Utah, this large-scale land art masterpiece consists of four, 18-foot-long concrete cylinders that are arranged to line up with the sunrises and sunsets of both the summer and winter solstices.

When the timing is just right, it looks a little something like this:


What's especially fascinating about "Sun Tunnels" is that it is many things in one — a timepiece, a compass and even a "camera" of sorts.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts, which is located a day's drive away from the site, explains that the enormous concrete tubes function as rudimentary viewfinders that frame the scene on the other end in such a way that, as Holt once said, "bring[s] the vast space of the desert back to human scale."

Take a tour and learn more about the site with art critic Waldemar Januszczak in the video below:

Much like Stonehenge and other ancient celestial gathering spots around the world, the Sun Tunnels attract a sizable crowd twice a year for the summer and winter solstices. Below, check out a gorgeous time-lapse of what the atmosphere is like during one of these events:


Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.