Bonneville Salt Flats

Bonneville Salt Flats

Bonneville Salt Flats, desert area in Tooele co., NW Utah, c.14 mi (22.5 km) long and 7 mi (11.2 km) wide. The smooth salt surface of the Flats is ideal for auto racing, and several world land speed records have been set there. The Flats are part of Great Salt Lake Desert, NW Utah, the former bed of Lake Bonneville, whose area once covered c.19,500 sq mi (50,500 sq km). The lake expanded during the late Cenozoic era, then shrank rapidly at the end of the Pleistocene epoch. Six terraces indicate different lake levels. Great Salt Lake, Lake Sevier, and Utah Lake are remnants of Lake Bonneville, which was named for U.S. explorer Benjamin de Bonneville.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are a 159 square mile (412 km²) salt flat 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, allowing visitors to see the curvature of the planet by producing an optical illusion that makes many of the mountains within the vicinity appear to be floating in the air since their bases are on the other side of the curve and thus out of sight.


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.


First recognized for its potential as a speed-testing ground in 1896 by W. D. Rishel while scouting for a location for a bicycle race course. In 1930's the area became internationally famous when Malcolm Campbell set numerous speed records, not to mention the naming of the legendary Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. On 5th September 2008, 49-year-old motorcyclist Cliff Gullett of Montana was killed in an accident during a time trial at the location after losing control of his bike at 385 kilometers (239 miles) per hour.

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.

Popular culture

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 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 headlights commercial.


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.

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