Bonneville Salt Flats and The Great Salt Lake | Day Drunk: Bonneville Salt Flats and The Great Salt Lake

March 23, 2013

Bonneville Salt Flats and The Great Salt Lake

 photo DSC04145_zps033e90d3.jpg

(View from the Great Saltair.)

One of my most favorite places on the planet (so far) is the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Great Salt Lake, west of Salt Lake City, Utah. It is two of my favorite location features in one: flat and salty! The salt flats and the Great Salt Lake behave like a lot of places on my Bucket List, because after finally visiting it, it became a place I had to visit again and again and as many times as possible. So far, I have been there twice.

Great Salt Lake crossing
("An eastbound Union Pacific freight begins the long trek across Great Salt Lake at Lakeside, Utah. A wood trestle used to carry the line straight across directly in front of the train, but was later replaced with the fill that now zig-zags to the north. Promontory Peninsula and the Wasatch Mountains dominate the background, with Ogden located between them.")
Credit: Mike Danneman
The Bonneville Salt Flats are famous for a number of things. Firstly, it is the site of ancient Lake Bonneville that covered much of the Great Basin area. The ancient lake and the subsequent flood that emptied it are responsible for the remarkably unique geology. Secondly, it is widely known as the venue for setting land-speed records, as the land is so flat and expansive, it is the only place on earth where you can see the curvature of the earth.

(Map showing Pleistocene lakes in northwestern United States.)

 photo DSC04008_zps1f8c058b.jpg
(Bonneville International Speedway Entrance... covered in water!)

Thirdly, it is one of the most amazing places in the country to see the sunrise! The first time I was able to visit was in 2011 with my roadtrip girl troop. At this point, I wasn’t privy to the “Bend in the Road”, where there is permissible camping as well as access to the flats with your car. We silly girls camped the night at a KOA in Wendover, Nevada (not my favorite place in the world), woke up super early and drove to an eastbound rest area and then hiked across I-80 with camp chairs and pillows to await the rising sun. We were not disappointed!

 photo DSC02092_zps46b44ec8.jpg  photo DSC02102_zps48852963.jpg

The second time I was able to visit the Salt Flats was this summer’s end. After AGP flew from Reno, Nevada, I was bound for South Dakota, and right past the Salt Flats to boot! I was surprised to find a thin layer of water stretching as far as I could see over the salt and that it was otherwise muddy, and not being brave enough to camp on the mud by myself, I chose to spend the night in Wendover (again), but this time at a hotel. I rose early and this time hit up the Bend in the Road for a spectacular experience.

 photo DSC04030_zpsd4e2f0ad.jpg  photo DSC04052_zps85540ec3.jpg  photo DSC04086_zpse98e2fe2.jpg 

Amazing!!!! The Great Salt Lake gets its high salinity as an endoheric lake, meaning that it has no outlets for water except for evaporation. Its extra saltiness makes it uninhabitable for all but brine shrimp and brine flies, which in my experience means water wriggling with sea monkeys and buzzing with flies. It probably isn’t for those whom insects cause a faint heart. I, on the other hand, would happily swim cheek-to-cheek with sea monkeys any day (and the second time I was there, there were way less creatures around).

  photo DSC04154_zps100385b6.jpg 

 I have accessed the shore of the Great Salt Lake from the exit off of I-80 that takes you to the Great Saltair music venue. From there, I take the muddy hike to the water’s edge, then the great salty plunge! Just kidding, as the lake is approximately 33 feet at its very deepest, it takes quite a lot of wading through sea monkeys and breathing brine flies before you can get even knee deep. And as a matter of fact, I don’t recommend actually plunging or you will get a burning face full of salt!

 photo DSC04146_zps164fa17f.jpg
(The Great Saltair)

However, you are rewarded for your efforts by a pleasant float. That’s right, the water, being saltier than seawater, affords an experience unique to our world’s saltiest lakes—you can almost sit cross legged right on the water’s surface! At the very least, you will have an effortless floating experience, far from the noise of I-80 and those possibly waiting for you at the water’s muddy edge: just you and the (hopefully) blue skies, and occasionally sharing space with happy hoards of sea birds gobbling up brine flies. And, as you begin the hike back to your car, the most amazing phenomenon will start to occur on your skin. As the water on you starts to dry and evaporate, a thin and beautiful layer of salt will start to crystallize on you, coating your arm hair and leaving you glistening with nature’s delicious glitter. This is one of the few times when I can agree with the philosophy, the hairier the better!

 photo DSC04141_zps501e771b.jpg
(Evaporated salt crystals!)

 photo DSC04170_zps3e9dc92c.jpg

The Great Saltair has complementary outdoor showers you can use to shed some of your salty glitter, although the last time I was there, the showers were off for the sake of the nearby sprinklers. It was really no matter, as I quickly improvised with the sprinklers. Next time I am in the area of the Great Salt Lake, I would love to take some time to explore more areas of the lake’s coast, and perhaps drive my car deep into the salt flats until I disappear over the curve of the earth. If you have the time, take a break with this 3D panorama of the Salt Flats at night brought to you by Utah 3D. I want to be there like crazy!!!

 photo 3dpan_zps6da52a75.png

Antelope Island is a State Park that has hiking trails, and I would love to explore some oolitic sands (pearl-ish grains of calcium carbonate precipitated around a nucleus) and maybe search for lake monsters. I have also never seen the Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson’s land art installment (1970), made of local basalt rocks (now covered with salt evaporate) and located in an area where the water looks red. The Spiral Jetty is only visible when the water level drops to an appropriate level. However, check out this beautiful picture I came across online… so salty and pink!

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty Detail, 1970 

Is there anybody out there that has any suggestions or love of the Great Salt Lake and/or Bonneville Salt Flats to share?

No comments:

Post a Comment