When traveling west on Interstate Highway 80 from Salt Lake City, the road first skirts by the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake. The views of the Great Salt Lake are mesmerizing and it is easy to be consumed with thoughts of where all the salt water came from in the ancient past. Passing over the mountains at the west end of the Great Salt Lake offers some panoramic views of this vast body of salt water. When looking west from the mountain pass, the rolling green hills end where the seemingly endless salt flats begin. This entire region of northwestern Utah is laden with salt lake beds from dried up ancient oceans and this barren flat landscape is like nowhere else on earth!
The Bonneville Salt Flats is the largest of the dried up ancient lakes west of the Great Salt Lake. The ancient body of water that created this vast salt bed was called Lake Bonneville and it can be difficult to imagine just how big this lake must have been long ago. Basically, the mountains that dot the flat landscape in this region would have looked like islands and the ancient lake was large enough to have tidal shifts.
In modern times, the Bonneville Salt Flats is a Bureau Of Land Management Multi Use Area. Salt mining takes place all over this region and this is the source of nearly all commercial salt produced in America. The salt beds are so deep and vast, that even after nearly a century of salt mining, the level of salt in this region has only dropped by a minute fraction of a percentage point.
The BLM Multi Use Designation protects environmentally sensitive areas in the Bonneville Salt Flats where unique ecosystems exist. Yes, life actually does exist in this barren wasteland! The adaptation of the local flora and fauna is a study in itself that makes for an interesting read. One of the best places to view the salt flats environment while driving along I-80 is at the BLM Bonneville Salt Flats Rest Area. This roadside attraction offers facilities and picnic areas. The concrete barriers offer shade during the hot summer months and relief from the high winds during the winter storm season.
The Bonneville Salt Flats multi use designation also includes recreation. Access to the recreational areas is free of charge. People are welcome to drive on the salt flats in the recreation area and this is also where the Bonneville Speedway is located. The access road to the Bonneville Salt Flats Recreation Area is fairly easy to spot from the highway as one approaches the Nevada Border near Wendover. Just keep an eye out for the Salt Flats Café and you are there!
As can be seen in the photos, the Bonneville Salt Flats looks like a lake during the winter season. The snow from winter storms melts because of the salt surface, no matter how cold the temperatures are. Winter is one of the best times of year to view the Bonneville Salt Flats, because this area returns to its natural state. Driving a car on the Bonneville Salt Flats during the wet winter season is not recommended, because the wet salt is like deep slush. As can be imagined, any vehicle that drives through the salt slush will quickly turn into a rust bucket, so it is best to stay on the dry pavement during the winter months.
When the Bonneville Salt Flats are wet during the winter season, the landscape does look surreal. In fact this place does not really look like it belongs on planet earth at all. During this time of year, the Bonneville Salt Flats is a photographers paradise, because it is easy to capture reflections of the mountains in the calm flat salt water in the foreground.
The Bonneville Salt Flats Recreation Area is world famous for land speed records at the standing mile straightaway racetrack. Land speed record attempts started at the Bonneville Speedway back in 1938 when going over 100 miles per hour was nearly the impossible dream. Race vehicles have come a long way since then and a recent Bonneville land speed record set in 2012 was over 700 miles per hour! The racing takes place during the World Of Speed event in the heat of summer when the Bonneville Salt Flats are dry as a bone.
The World Of Speed is the main event at Bonneville each year, yet there is no guarantee that the event will take place, especially if foul weather enters the picture. Racing was canceled a few times in recent decades because the salt speedway was too wet. When it rains in the desert, it does pour cats and dogs. A torrential rain storm can quickly turn the dry salt flats into a bowl of salt slush that can take weeks to dry out. Rain can turn a costly schedule for a land speed record attempt into a bankruptcy situation, because funding for the specialized high speed vehicles depends on media exposure for sponsors.
The casino resort town of West Wendover, Nevada is only a few minutes away from the Bonneville Salt Flats Recreation Area. This city offers all amenities and it is a fun place to stay when visiting the vast salt flats. West Wendover caters to the World Of Speed event and this is the place to meet and greet the drivers of the fastest vehicles on earth! For these reasons, West Wendover is the best choice for a basecamp to adventure when exploring the vast salt flats.
The Bonneville Salt Flats definitely belongs on the lifetime bucket list of travel destinations! This unique ancient salt bed environment is surreal and peaceful during the winter, yet it can be as harsh as hell during the long hot summer. This is also a great place to legally see just how fast your own personal car will go. There literally is no other place like Bonneville anywhere else on earth!
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