People in the Arts

Basin and Range National Monument: From prehistory to the distant future

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This undated photo provided by Triple Aught Foundation shows part of an artwork by Michael Heizer called “City” near Garden Valley, Nev. Mammoth bones, the prehistoric rock carvings and more than a million acres of wilderness will be protected as part of three new national monuments that President Barack Obama is creating in California, Nevada and Texas and announced Friday, July 10, 2015.
Photo: Tom Vinetz/Triple Aught Foundation / AP

The crowd inside Atomic Liquors is raising glasses to a monumental moment, discussing prehistory and life 300 years from now while sipping the Joseph James Basin and Range brew crafted for the occasion. Earlier in the day President Obama had used the Antiquities Act to protect more than 700,000 acres of public land 110 miles north of Las Vegas, a move these artists, advocates and conservationists had been pushing for in a grassroots effort that picked up speed in January with the arrival of a Conservation Lands Foundation field organizer.

The national designation for Basin and Range protects its expansive wilderness and prehistoric art and artifacts, and helps keep pristine the vistas surrounding “City,” Michael Heizer’s enormous minimalist land art that draws from ancient and contemporary monuments and industrial technology. The piece, more than a mile long, is designed to last millennia and speak to future generations, perhaps in a way that prehistoric monuments speak to us now.

A brief timeline of Basin and Range:

11,000 B.C. The glacial age begins to wind down and Paleo-Indian people inhabit the area, leaving behind physical evidence of their existence.

1972 Heizer, a noted land artist responsible for works in Nevada dry lake beds and “Double Negative” near Overton, begins his monumental project on private land in Lincoln County.

2004 The Department of Energy announces plans for a rail line to transport high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, cutting through Garden Valley, where Heizer has been working on “City” for more than 30 years.

2014 Senator Harry Reid’s Garden Valley Withdrawal Act, which would preserve the land by restricting mining and energy projects, fails to pass. Heizer says “City” is near completion.

2015 The campaign to preserve Basin and Range succeeds thanks to a concerted effort involving elected officials, business leaders, archeological groups, outdoor enthusiasts, art advocates and conservation organizations. Celebrants muse about tourists in the distant future strolling the multiple structures of Heizer's "City," discussing its origins and contemplating the peoples that once were.

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