Sitting on the border of Utah and Nevada, the Bonneville Salt Flats Special Recreation Management Area is an incredibly flat and barren 30,000-acres of brilliant white salt crust in Utah’s Great Basin Desert. Formerly lake Bonneville, this dry lake bed dates back to the Pleistocene era and is one of the largest salt deposits on the western side of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. It’s an area 12-miles long by 5-miles wide, encompassing 46 square miles of desolate alkaline emptiness.
Because Bonneville is so flat and lacking dust (unlike many other Great Basin Playas) it is one of the preferred sites for land speed record attempts, the first of which was set in 1914. It’s also the premier lake bed racing site chosen for Bonneville Speed Week, an annual racing event that takes place over six days and features two tracks: a 10 mile-long straightaway for speed trials as well as an oval for distance. The event is free to attend and sure to deliver thrills as motorcycles, hotrods, and rocket cars regularly set new records every year.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are managed by the BLM and are closed seasonally, depending on the weather. You should never drive onto the salt when there is standing water, and even if it appears to be dry, moisture from summer storms can make the mud underneath the salt extremely hazardous to vehicles. Even 4-wheel-drive rigs may become high-centered very easily.
In addition to the muddy sub-surface, the solar radiation and heat can be especially intense out on the salt. If you visit, make sure to bring protective clothing and sunscreen if you will be venturing out when the sun is still in the sky. Better yet, visit at dusk for more comfortable temperatures. Be aware that there is no camping allowed on the salt flats and all visitors should make sure to adhere to Leave No Trace ethics when enjoying this unique landscape.
Despite the challenges of visiting, this otherworldly desert is a must-see destination, even if you aren’t a fan of motorsports racing. Especially in the evening, as the sun dips low on the horizon and the sky turns a cotton candy pink, you’ll feel like you are on another planet.
Learn more about the Bonneville Salt Flats on the BLM’s website.