10 Facts You Didn't Know About the Bonneville Salt Flats
Updated: Oct 29, 2022
You've seen the pictures.
Maybe you've even traveled to the alien landscape in the wilderness of Utah.
But the Bonneville Salt Flats are more than meets the eye. Home to the fastest speedway on earth, unique natural photo backdrops, and the Dusk to Dawn Relay + Ultra, this destination is as fascinating as it is breathtaking.
Read on to learn more!
1. The Bonneville Salt Flats is not the world's only Salt Flats
The Bonneville Salt Flats, maintained by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is a one-of-a-kind treasure found in the west desert of Utah..........OR IS IT??
There are actually dozens of salt flats around the globe, all varying in size and beauty. You can find salt flats in Death Valley CA, Bolivia, Iran, Argentina, Tunisia, Chile, Namibia and elsewhere throughout the world. These salt flats (also called "salt pans") are created in arid, desert regions where water evaporates leaving minerals on the ground surface (learn more on Wikipedia, the most reliable source on the internet! 😂)
The Bonneville Salt Flats just happen to be quite accessible (2 hours from Salt Lake City International Airport) and public, so they make a great day trip if you're in the area. Check out some awesome photos from the Dusk to Dawn Relay that will make you want to add visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats to your bucket list.
2. The Potash Canals are beautiful, but not good for recreation
Check out how beautiful and ideal this "blue canal" on the salt flats looks:
I know the contrasting crystal blue water next to the barren white salt looks like a paddle boarders dream come true - but the BLM and local law enforcement has warned against the urge to plunge right in.
The potash canals run through the Bonneville Salt Flats and continue on for miles. While the salt flats are maintained as public land, the potash canals are actually leased by a company called Intrepid Potash, where they use them to carry/mine potash (potash = minerals such as salt that are dissolved in water).
So just beware that you might be found "trespassing" if you decide to go for a dip in this otherworldly spectacle.
3. You can access a Live Webcam of the Salt Flats
Click here to see a live webcam of the Bonneville Salt Flats, maintained by the BLM. This is especially helpful if you're planning a trip to the flats and want to know if it's covered in water before you go (see point 7 of this post). We're not 100% sure why there's a post with a cone on top visible on the webcam...our best guess is it aids in measuring the depth of water when it covers the salt flats.
Be aware that the link stops sending updates at sunset, at least from our experience... I guess the camera doesn't yet have a night vision option. If you want to see how incredible the Milky Way looks in person over the expanse of white salt, come be a part of the Dusk to Dawn Relay + Ultra! A webcam really can't capture the beauty and wonder of the Bonneville Salt Flats at night.
4. Dusk to Dawn Relay + Ultra isn't the only running event held there!
The Bonneville Salt Flats is probably most famous for being the Fastest Speedway On Earth --- where jet-propelled cars, motorcycles, and the world's fastest wheel-driven cars race for new land speed records. But if you're into running, we have good news for you!
Although the Dusk to Dawn Relay + Ultra is the only foot race held solely on the Bonneville Salt Flats, it isn't the only running event. Check out the Salt Flats Endurance Runs, where you can run the 100 mile, 50 mile, or 50K event. The first 13 miles of the race is directly on salt, after which the trail winds up through the mountains.
It's a beautifully unique location, so if you're a runner, don't only sign up for Dusk to Dawn, but also the Salt Flats Endurance Run!
5. It's big, but not the biggest
The Bonneville Salt Flats is HUGE, covering 30,000+ acres, or an area that measures 12 by 5 miles. It certainly breaks up the monotonous drive across the Utah desert on I-80, especially if you take advantage of the awesome rest stop.
But did you know that it's not the world's largest salt flats? Not even close, actually. The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is a whopping 2,500,000+ acres --- that's more than 83 times bigger than the Bonneville Salt Flats!!! The ginormous salt flats is the remnant of an ancient lake that has since dried up. The vastness and flatness of the Salar de Uyuni make it ideal for calibrating satellites, and 70% of the world's supply of lithium lies just under the surface.
So, if visiting Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni wasn't on your bucket list before, we hope it is now. It's certainly on ours after writing this!
6. It's Windy...Very Windy
This fact comes from 2 sources:
(1) Personal experience, and
(2) Road signs along I-80
The Bonneville Salt Flats are extremely exposed - miles and miles of flat, open desert. Which means no refuge from strong wind gusts. In fact, as you drive on I-80, you will see road signs that warn of extreme wind gusts. So be careful! We've especially experienced strong gusts pick up during the night. If you're planning a trip to the Salt Flats, make sure you come prepared for all weather conditions (heat, wind, water, and cold - depending on the time of year. You can check out in-depth current weather conditions for the Bonneville Salt Flats (including wind speed, direction, and gusts) by visiting this link.
If you join us for the Dusk to Dawn Relay Race this September, make sure to bring stakes for your canopies and be prepared for some wind gusts, as the race is all night. Also, grab yourself a Waterlily Turbine to keep your devices charged. If you haven't checked them out you definitely should! (We have absolutely no affiliation with the Waterlily brand, we're just fans 🤩)
7. At certain times of the year, it's covered in water
Starting in late fall and continuing throughout spring, the Bonneville Salt Flats can become completely covered with water. Even a light rainfall or snow can cover almost the entire area since it's so flat. Check out this time-lapse video taken in January 2019 when the Salt Flats were covered (yes, it was cold):
So make sure you check out the weather conditions at the Salt Flats before you visit - you may want to see it completely covered in water! Otherwise, we'd suggest going during summer (late June to September) to have the chance of a dry flats. It IS a desert, after all.
Here are some photos of the Salt Flats under water:
8. You've probably seen a movie filmed at the Salt Flats
Do you remember seeing Will Smith drag an unconscious alien across the desert in his parachute when you last watched Independence Day? Clearly shot on the Bonneville Salt Flats!
Photo: Andrea David Bilder for @filmtourismus
Or when Captain Jack Sparrow was lugging a giant ship across the white, barren salt? Another moment of pride for the Bonneville Salt Flats in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
Other movies and TV shows include Need For Speed, The World's Fastest Indian, and The Amazing Race, among a list of other lesser known titles to have appeared on the silver (or home) screen.
9. The ground is like cement
Underneath that thin crust of salt is a hard-packed, dense clay that is incredibly hard. The video below is of us pounding a hole into the Salt Flats to light the course for the all-night Dusk to Dawn Relay + Ultra, and illustrates my point quite clearly:
10. It's the world's fastest speedway
The Bonneville Salt Flats have been made famous due to the number of car racing events held there annually. Cars, motorcycles, and jet-propelled cars all come in groups to see who's the fastest. In fact, the world's fastest wheel-driven car - the "Turbinator II" - holds the land-speed record from driving on the Salt Flats. Can you guess how fast it was going??
Very fast.....................503 MPH!!!
Watch the video of the "Turbinator II" speed across the Bonneville Salt Flats at earth shattering speeds. To be very clear, cars have gone faster than the Turbinator II on the Salt Flats (using jet propulsion), but the Turbinator II is the fastest wheel-driven vehicle to date.
We don't expect you to set any world records at the Dusk to Dawn Relay + Ultra, but we dare you to set a new course record! If you think you have what it takes to be the world's fastest Dusk to Dawn race team, check out the results and sign up today!