Speed and Salt the Perfect Combination

The Bonneville Salt Flats are a 30,000 acre expanse of hard, white, salt crusted earth. The formation of this unique feature began at the end of the last Ice Age. The flats were formed through the evaporation of the Pleistocene-era Lake Bonneville.

Lake Bonneville covered almost ‘s of Utah. Where the salt flats were formed the water was almost 1,000 feet deep. The minerals that now form the hard layer are gypsum, halite, potassium, and magnesium.

It would seem logical that the salt flats got their name from Lake Bonneville, but that is not the case. There were many fur trappers that worked in the west. They often partnered with a boss who took care of selling the hides. In a way to gain favor with their boss or partner trappers often named locations in their honor. This is the case with the salt flats. In 1833, Joseph R Walker, mapped the area and named the flats after Captain Benjamin L. E. Bonneville.  It is not likely that the captain ever saw the landmark that bears his name.

The salt flats has a place in history for those early travellers to California. Lansford Hasting promoted crossing the salt flats as a quicker route to reach California. It became known as  Hastings Cutoff. The Donner-Reed party of 1864 took that route with catastrophic results. It probably did not encourage others to use the same cut off.

The next major events to hit the salt flats came in the way of racing events. Because of it’s hard flat surface, it is an excellent place to  test the limits of a vehicle and driver. Although the first few attempts at racing were not met with much enthusiasm.

In the 1930’s Ab Jenkins took his Studebaker out to the flats. He named the car the “Mormon Meteor” and began setting endurance speed records. Mr. Jenkins was a big promoter of bringing land speed racing to the Bonneville Salt Flats. How successful was he? Many records have been set. To this day Speed Week is a featured event on the flats.

Some of you may have seen the flats and not even realized it. When poor Johnny Depp found himself in a pirate ship at the end of the world. He had arrived at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Another great film featuring, Anthony Hopkins, tells the story of a racer coming from New Zealand to race his motorbike on the famous Bonneville Salt Flats.

Something odd happens as people drive by. They often feel it necessary to leave a mark on the flats. It could be a picture outlined by bottles. It might be a Christmas tree set out in the salt. For a few years there was a couch. Eventually the BLM employees remove all the extras, but it is interesting to see what turns up.