For those driving west along Interstate 80 towards Nevada, the environment can seem like an endless expanse of bland wilderness and never-ending highway. However, near Utah’s western border lies the Bonneville Salt Flats, a densely packed salt pan covering over 40 square miles.
The barren landscape is best known for the annual land-speed racing events, drawing hundreds drivers together to establish sub-400 mph land-speed records.
Land racing events like Speed Week have drawn competitors together on the flats for over a century. Speed Week occurs every August and attracts over 450 drivers and spectators from around the world.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May — former hosts of BBC’s “Top Gear”— participated in the event in 2008 and believe the space possesses unique potential to allow drivers to reach unprecedented speeds.
In 1960, hot rodder Mickey Thompson achieved a record 406.60 mph.
Dwindling conditions due to nearby mining operations, however, threaten the future of racing in the area, and despite state-protected areas, the salt crust is receding down to just a few inches in some of the areas.
Conservation efforts have proved effective to an extent, with non-profit organizations forming to help spread awareness, such as the racer-founded Save the Salt Coalition.
Despite conservation efforts, like pumping industrial salt leftovers back onto the flats, the future of Bonneville racing is uncertain.
Still, the flats attract seekers of novel and iconic landscapes. Weber State University student Santiago Bernal describes the space as mysterious. “It’s almost like you are on a different planet,” Bernal said.
The desolate environment has been a staple landscape for television commercials and films, notably “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Independence Day.” Filmmaker Casey Neistat totaled a prototype Mercedes while filming a commercial there.
While the landscape is simple, the scenery offers stunning photography. Logan resident Hayden Mast drove three hours out to the flats just to snap the sunrise.
“Seeing the sun peek out over the horizon onto the salt was amazing,” Mast said. “I would encourage anyone to take the day trip to see the flats.”