I’m always looking for the next great hiking destination, so when I heard about Green Mountain Falls Skyspace, Colorado’s first public installation by renowned artist James Turrell, I had no hesitation in setting my alarm for 2:30 am on a recent hot summer morning.
Turrell is a National Medal of Arts recipient who is known for his installation pieces that combine artificial and natural light to create experiential art.
There are 85 Skyspace installations around the world, as well as a museum dedicated solely to the work of this American artist in Argentina. But he is perhaps best known for his ongoing project at Roden Crater in Arizona, which has been running since 1979 and could open in 2024.
Green Mountain Falls Skyspace – Turrell’s first public artwork in Colorado – was commissioned by the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation and unveiled in mid-June at an art festival in the town of Green Mountain Falls, located near the base of Pikes Peak.
It is an 18-foot-tall, 676-square-foot building constructed of steel, concrete, and stone quarried in Colorado, as well as local timber destroyed by the pine beetle. It is the first of Turrell’s Skyspaces to be built into the side of a mountain and one of the few with a retractable roof.
“Humanity needs wonder and connection, and skyspaces are an answer to that,” said Green Box Executive Director Scott Levy. “You can only truly understand the impact of this art by visiting it yourself.” Colorado’s Skyspace welcomed visitors from more than 30 states and three countries in its first month.
The first step in visiting this experiential facility is to choose between making a reservation for the closed-top sunrise, sunset, or noon show, or simply coming during the day Thursday through Sunday (times may vary). change seasonally) when there is no show and the roof is open (depending on weather conditions, of course).
After making the 90 minute ride in the middle of the night from Denver to Green Mountain Falls for the sunrise show at Skyspace, I was ready for the short hike with my proper shoes and a headlamp. There are two dirt and gravel roads leading up to Skyspace, and I went for the steepest: the Lower Turrell (Red Butte Recreational Area East) trailhead. It has a small parking lot and is only a third of a mile long, but you gain 200 feet on this short hike.
The website recommends arriving 30-60 minutes before the scheduled show time, but that wasn’t necessary, in my opinion. The hike took less than 15 minutes, even at 8000 feet. The other trail, the Joyland/Pittman Trailhead (Red Butte Recreational West), starts at the Joyland Church parking lot is longer and less steep, it’s only half a mile long. (Note that those who need assistance can make arrangements 48 hours in advance for an ATV ride.)
Arriving early means standing or sitting outside in the dark – and it was chilly at this time of the morning, despite the forecast of a 90 degree day. Visitors must remove their shoes before entering Skyspace, so my recommendation is to wear or bring socks and have a blanket or puffy jacket. During the show, you lie down on the stone floor or on the wooden benches so that these objects can also be used as a cushion for an hour or so you could be there looking up.
Once inside, the small space can accommodate two dozen people per show (we were about fifteen for this sunrise show). Once everyone was settled, the LED lights hidden behind the benches slowly came on and the Skyspace itself was opened.
It’s not just a skylight: the opening in the roof, called the “oculus”, is cut to be almost as thin as paper around the edges to create a unique visual effect when you look through. The show will be different for each person due to the nature of light perception and prevailing conditions.
At first, I expected to see the dark blue square shape above us lighten up and turn the typical sunrise colors of pink, orange and yellow into a perfect frame of the sky, and the lights inside make part of my peripheral vision. Instead, I watched the color in the “frame” turn green, gray, and other hues, which I found so perplexing that I had to step outside and stare at the full sky to reorient myself.
It is important to note that you must arrive on time for the show, but once it has started you can exit and then enter again. When I came out two other women were also there after being unable to stop a fit of laughter and being choked on by others. This is considered a contemplative space and young children under 12 are discouraged from attending the longer shows (although they are welcome during the day outside show times).
After the show was over and the lights turned off, we were allowed to sit in the room and gaze up at the sky for as long as we wanted, but I was looking forward to checking out Green Mountain Falls. Just over 10 miles west of downtown Colorado Springs, the town is essentially a great jumping off point as well as a thriving arts community. Although the 2020 census shows that 646 people call this place home, there are four hotels to choose from for those who want to make it a weekend getaway.
Hikes to Skyspace are short enough to invite one more local hike per day. Try the 1.2 mile Mount Dewey trail that leads to a “spirit platform” on a peak 8,459 feet above sea level. From here you can backtrack or continue with the trails of connection of the Bratton Trail or the Horseshoe Trail.
If you have more time, try the 6.4-mile Catamount Falls Trail (may be longer depending on where you park from the trailhead), which leads to waterfalls and a reservoir. This is an out and back trail.
For more experienced hikers, plan ahead and hike a few miles on the American Discovery Trail east of town or the Ring the Peak Trail west of town.
Or, plan to spend time in Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs or just drive through Garden of the Gods on your way back to Denver.
Quick tips for visiting Skyspace
- Check out the rest of Green Mountain Falls art, including a small Keith Haring Fitness Court next to the local pool and tennis courts.
- Take a short walk to the lookout point at the small town lake, which is the center of town.
- Plan to grab a meal at The Pantry, which is open for breakfast and lunch on the creekside patio (yes, a creek runs through it). Indoor seating is also available.
- The cost is $5 for the sunrise and sunset shows when the oculus (roof) is open and for the noon roof closed shows, but the rest of the time when there is no show, it’s free and no reservations are needed so just stop and look through the opening (weather permitting) with the perfectly framed blue sky.
- Plan to arrive 15-30 minutes before your scheduled screening. For example, when I went, sunrise that day was at 5:37 and the doors opened at 5:05.
- The sunrise and sunset shows last approximately 45 minutes; midday shows last approximately 20 minutes.
- It is requested that no photos or videos “of any kind” be taken during the shows (sorry, Instagrammers!).
- There is a bathroom and a water bottle refill station, but they are locked when the site is closed.
- Keep in mind that the building is nestled into a west-facing hillside, so the sunrise is subtle as the light above changes. During the sunrise show we could hear the local birds waking up which was an added bonus.