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Bonneville Salt Flats

The Bonneville Salt Flats are a 159 square mile (412 km²)[1] salt flat in the Great Salt Lake Desert in northwestern Utah. The depth of the salt has been recorded at 6 feet (1.8 m) in many areas. A remnant of the ancient Lake Bonneville of glacial times, the salt flats are now public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It is the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake.

Each rainfall erases tire marks and flattens the densely-packed salt pan that is inhospitable to plants. The area is extremely flat and aligned nearly perfectly with the shape of Earth.



The salt flats

The salt flats are accessible by Interstate 80, which runs along its southern border, and are located on the eastern border of the casino-resort town of West Wendover, Nevada, which is 115 miles (185 km) west of Salt Lake City, Utah. Visitors can reach the flats on the Bonneville Speedway exit. West-bound I-80 travelers have an additional rest area overlook.


The area was named after Benjamin Bonneville, a US army officer who explored the area. The flats were first recognized for their potential as a speed-testing ground by Bill Rishel, who in 1896 had cycled across the area to win a competition run by the newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. In 1907 Rishel and two local businessmen tested the suitability of the salt for driving on by taking a Pierce Arrow onto the surface of the flats.[2] A railway line across the Bonneville Salt Flats was completed in 1910, marking the first permanent crossing.[3] The use of the salt flats as a speedway began in 1914 with Teddy Tetzlaff's run there which exceeded the land speed record, although the new record was not officially recognised.[4] Rishel continued to promote the area for racing, and in 1927 Ab Jenkins raced against a train over a 125-mile (201 km) stretch between Salt Lake City and Wendover.[2] Jenkins went on to set up a 10-mile (16 km) circular course on the salt which he used to establish 24 hour records in 1932 and 1933. The area became internationally famous in 1935 when Malcolm Campbell set a new land speed record, making him the first to break the 300 mph (480 km/h) mark. For the next 35 years, nearly all land speed records were set at the salt flats.[5]

Racing and speed records

The salt flats are perhaps most famous for their use as the Bonneville Speedway for high-speed race cars which have achieved speeds in excess of 600 miles per hour (1000 km/h). There are now 3 annual meets where vehicles compete for high speeds on the salt flats - SCTA's Speed Week, held in August of each year, USFRA's World of Speed, held in September of each year, and World Finals, held in October of each year. There is an annual meet held only for motorcycles called the BUB Meet which is usually held between Speed Week and World of Speed.

Panoramic view of the Great Salt Lake Desert, as seen from Pilot Peak

Popular culture

The Bonneville Salt Flats as seen from a rest area along Interstate 80

Several movies have been filmed at the salt flats, including portions of Warlock, Independence Day, SLC Punk, Cremaster 2 from Cremaster Cycle, The Brown Bunny, The World's Fastest Indian, Gerry and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. In addition, the Pontiac Bonneville, former flagship sedan of the Pontiac motor division, the Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, and the Bonneville International media company, are named after the salt flats. The salt flats are also the background for a Sylvania headlight commercial.

In 2008, Series 12, Episode 2 of the BBC's Top Gear saw James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond bring a Cadillac CTS-V, Corvette ZR1, and a Dodge Challenger to the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association's World of Speed on the salt flats in order to see if they could beat speed goals they set for themselves. Jeremy managed 176.549 mph in his Corvette ZR1, James touched 163 mph in his Cadillac CTS-V and Richard reached 150.02 mph in his Challenger SRT-8 on the 1 mile course, and also made several runs on the 7 mile course for top speed after the course had closed for the day for regular runs. The creative editing of the segment makes it appear as though they were only driving on the 1 mile course.


  1. ^ Bonneville Salt Flats/Utah Motorsports The University of Utah
  2. ^ a b Hanna, Tim (2005). One Good Run: The Legend of Burt Munro.  
  3. ^ "The Bonneville Salt Flats". Retrieved 21 August 2007.  
  4. ^ Radbruch, Don (2004). Dirt Track Auto Racing, 1919-1941.  
  5. ^ "FIA land speed records". Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile. Retrieved 2009-01-01.  

Further reading

  • Lines, Gregory C. (1979). Hydrology and Surface Morphology of the Bonneville Salt Flats and Pilot Valley Playa, Utah [Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2057]. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office.

Coordinates: 40°49′38″N 113°48′14″W / 40.82732°N 113.80394°W / 40.82732; -113.80394



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