Utah Adventure, Part 3

On July 28, 2011 · 3 Comments

The latest installment is about salt. It’s hard to talk about northern Utah without eventually turning one’s attention to salt.

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The vast white expanse on the left half of this satellite image is a gigantic salt patch, the Great Salt Lake Desert. The smaller blue area in the upper-right is the salt water of the Great Salt Lake itself. Both are the remnants of ancient Lake Bonneville, much of which drained away in a single massive, cataclysmic flood about 14,000 years ago.

I am presently in an endorheic watershed, a part of the Great Basin. Water drains to no ocean or sea within this bowl. It is trapped without an outlet. Water carries trace minerals down slowly eroding rocky hillsides and then evaporates within the basin, leaving behind salts that collect over millennia.

Bonneville Salt Flats

The wife and kids decided to take a pass on this journey. I left Ogden at 5:30 am in the dark. I was awed as I turned the corner along the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake, and watched the sun rise over Interstate 80, illuminating the ridges in yellows and reds. There are no towns of much significance out here in the 120 miles between Salt Lake City and Wendover. I had the road to myself, in a world of contemplative silence. To me, these are perfect driving conditions.

Brownish desert grasses gave way to streaks of salt and finally to the starkly white and barren Bonneville Salt Flats themselves. A ghostly blanket stretched to the base of mountains on the far horizon, resembling a fresh snowfall if I hadn’t know better. Random vehicle tracks diverged from the highway into the horizon of the flats, no doubt left by people who wished to test how high their speedometers could climb. Some of the most unimaginable automotive speeds anywhere have taken place right here at the Bonneville Speedway on absolutely level terrain, including the Blue Flame which hit a speed of 630.388 mph (1014.513 km/h) in 1970. I remained on the highway, thank you.

I crossed the border into Nevada because I wanted to visit the only place in Nevada that legally recognizes Mountain Time: Wendover. I paid a quick visit to the Wendover Will statue, turned around and headed back home. This also allowed me to record my first trip to one tiny corner of 17,203 square mile Elko County, Nevada. It is larger than several of the smaller states in the eastern U.S., but much less densely populated. That crossing will fill in a nice chunk of geography when I find the time to update my county counting map.

I returned a little after 10:30 am, just as the rest of the household was ready for the remainder of our day’s adventures.

Great Salt Lake

I rested for about a half-hour and we then ventured over to Antelope Island State Park.

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Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, a mountainous backbone jutting from the surface of the shallow lake. A 7 mile (11 km) causeway connected the island to the mainland, a fun drive in itself. Watch out for the seagulls though: they seem perplexed by passing automobiles and we had a number of close calls.

There are many activities on the island including driving tours, hiking, bird watching, taking in the spectacular views, and searching for the antelope for which the island was named (we spotted several). It also includes a large bison herd although it’s a large island and they must have been grazing on the other side when we visited.

The public beaches are another popular feature. Here visitors can conduct personal tests on the buoyancy of excessive salinity. It does seem to hold true. The kids bobbed like corks. You won’t want to swim here if you have an aversion to flies. Notice the part of the video where I walk along the beach as swarms of flies move away from me in waves. They’re harmless but they may be a bit disconcerting to those with bug phobias. The waters are also filled with brine shrimp. My older son caught one and wanted to keep it as a "pet" but I said he couldn’t unless he found a matching trident and crown. Apparently he’s not attuned to sea monkeys as a cultural icon as the joke went completely over his head. I guess you had to grow up in the 1970’s to understand.

Antelope Island Utah Ranch

A road led far down the east side of the island to the Fielding Garr Ranch. This had been a privately-held working ranch from the earliest days of the Utah Territory until 1981 when the state purchased the ranch to convert the entirety of Antelope Island into a public park. The isolation must have been intense even with the major cities of Utah clearly in view just across the salty water.

An Observation

Friends seemed rather amused when we chose Utah as a summertime holiday destination. They could understand winter (skiing) but summer? I think they wrote it off as yet another one of my unusual vacation choices. On the other hand, I’ve noticed a high percentage of European visitors at the many places we’ve stopped during the trip including the Golden Spike site and the Great Salt Lake. I ask the European 12MC audience: is this a cowboy and "Wild West" fascination? Many people in the U.S. seem to take this area for granted, which is unfortunate. They don’t know what they’re missing.

The Utah tourism council should feel free to send me that endorsement check now.

Other Parts of the Utah Adventure

Part 1 – Meridian, Cavern and Beer
Part 2 – Spike, Rocket and Parade
Part 4 – Not So Utah


On July 28, 2011 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Utah Adventure, Part 3”

  1. Jesse says:

    While not necessarily geo-oddities, Interstate 80’s run across that Bonneville Salt Flats does hold a couple interesting distinctions. It’s often claimed to be the longest section of straight highway in the Interstate system, and it also holds the title for the longest distance between exits in the system.

    • It would certainly be a contender on both counts. As I drove it, I was thinking to myself that it reminded me of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge in Louisiana at 24 miles long (which I’ve driven before ) except the water had been replaced by salt. It does go on-and-on in a completely straight, interrupted manner for a very long time.

  2. Robert Dennis says:

    When I drove across the Salt Flats, I measured 39.6 miles of perfectly straight road. Then, after a very slight bend, it was 13.2 miles of straight road. and it is 37 miles without an exit.

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