The Bonneville Salt Flats is a densely packed salt pan and remnant of Lake Bonneville that reminds me a lot of the vast salt expanses Ruth & I have seen in Australia’s Outback. This salt pan is about a 2 hour drive west of Salt Lake City, UT. Ruth and I have been there several times since we are in the habit of stopping to stretch there when in the area. This time we spent more time and money in the area than ever before and learned a bit more due to our family’s interest in the subject. I wish someone would erect a museum solely devoted to the vehicles that have raced here, but that has not happened yet. I suspect that, despite high interest in this area among racing fans, that those who might build a museum assume that this place is far enough away from a city to be economically feasible as we enter an era in which the internal combustion engine is being questioned and perhaps discontinued.
Is there a direct connection between the Great Salt Lake and The Bonneville Salt Flats? Only in that the Great Salt Lake is what remains of Lake Bonneville, a great ice age expanse that was a small saline lake 30,000 years ago. As I’ve said before, the Great Salt Lake is great because it’s fed by 3 rivers and has no outlet. Both the lake and the salt pan border Interstate 80 at roughly 4,200 feet above sea level. The salt pan is close to the Nevada town of Wendover, but the Wendover Airfield Museum does not reportedly focus attention on The Salt Flats and the racing that has occurred there. It is said to be more of a World War II experience because this was a military base back then.
Driving on the salt is permitted but not when we were there at the end of November, 2021. There are seasonal closures and one was in affect when we were there. Visitors are told not venture beyond the existing road, but many do. Experts recommend visiting between July and October, and we were there in late November just after the major racing months had occurred. You can still walk on the salt expanse but it was water-covered when we were there. The salt crust is said to be 5 feet thick in places but the Bureau of Land Management that is in charge of it had signs warning cars not to drive on the salt. However, this is a free attraction and many curiosity seekers ignore the signs. I will say that we saw more going west than we did going east, and the businesses in the area all have souvenirs. I saw little evidence that those who were around that day were following any rules, like the warning to follow in the tracks left by other vehicles.
I love the names of racing vehicles and their teams. Two of my favorites are Gear Grinders and 3-D Racing. I am also aware that packed sand is perfect for speed-racing. I am very aware that that all kinds of speed-shattering races have occurred here. The entry to the racing venues are just outside Wendover, which is the best place to stay in the area. The land speed records set are well documented on the internet. The best racing spot is 12 miles long, 5 miles wide, and 46 square miles in extent. The Spirit of America achieved a speed in excess of 400 mph in 1963, and passed 600 mph 2 years later. The Blue Flame achieved 622+ mph in 1970, and the Buckeye Bullet, a racing electric vehicle, made it to almost 315 mph in 2004. This venue has been known for speed since 1907 when a Pierce Arrow entered it. The railroad arrived 3 years later, and the first land speed record was set 4 years later.
This all has occurred close to the Great Salt Lake near Nevada where a salt crust is a big factor in racing. This salt was stable between 1988 and 2003 but has been less thick since then. Late summer and early fall seem to be the top times for racing events if you want to visit the Salt Flats and see fast vehicles, a situation which appear to be increasingly important to travelers.