Bonneville Info Guide

Motorcar racing has taken place at the salt flats since 1914 as part of the Bonneville Speedway.

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The Bonneville Salt Flats is a densely packed salt pan in Tooele County in northwestern Utah. The area is a remnant of the Pleistocene Lake Bonneville and is the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake. The property is public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is known for land speed records at the “Bonneville Speedway”. Access is free and visitors can drive on the flats.

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Geologist Grove Karl Gilbert named the area after Benjamin Bonneville, a U.S. Army officer who explored the Intermountain West in the 1830s. In 1907 Bill 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. A railway line across the Bonneville Salt Flats was completed in 1910, marking the first permanent crossing.

The first land speed record was set there in 1914 by Teddy Tetzlaff. Entertainment filmed at the salt flats include portions of Knight Rider (1982 television series), Warlock, Independence Day, SLC Punk, Cremaster 2 from Cremaster Cycle, The Brown Bunny, The World’s Fastest Indian, Gerry, The Tree of Life, Top Gear, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Furthermore, the Pontiac Bonneville (former flagship sedan of the Pontiac motor division), the Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, and the Bonneville International media company are all named for the salt flats.

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SALT CRUST THICKNESS

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has undertaken numerous studies of the salt crust thickness within the Bonneville Salt Flats and ultimately concluded in a 2006 study that there was virtually no difference in the salt crust thickness from 1988 to 2003. Specifically, the BLM concluded “despite brine withdrawal for mineral production, neither short nor long-term measurable changes in salt crust thickness could be documented.” Analysis of Recent and Historical Salt-Crust Thickness Measurements and Assessment of their Relationship to the Salt Laydown Project, Bonneville Salt Flats, Toole County, Utah, W.W. White III & Moises Terrazas (2006), at 29. The BLM further concluded that earlier salt crust measurement studies showing salt crust deterioration were seriously flawed. Id. at 28.

Despite this, since 1998, the owners of the Wendover potash facility have worked diligently in conjunction with the BLM to undertake the Salt Laydown Project under which solid salt from ponds located south of highway I-80 is dissolved and pumped on to the Bonneville Salt Flats north of I-80. During the following summer months, heat from the sun evaporates the water and the precipitated salt becomes part of the race track surface. Since the onset of this project, more than 10.7 million tons of salt have been pumped on to the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Salt Laydown Project is now a required element of the facility’s operating plan.

Motorcar racing has taken place at the salt flats since 1914. Racing takes place at part of the Bonneville Salt Flats known as the Bonneville Speedway. There are five major land speed events that take place at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bonneville “Speed Week” takes place mid-August followed by “World of Speed” in September and the “World Finals” take place early October.

These three events welcome cars, trucks, and motorcycles. The “Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials” are for motorcycles only. World records are contested at the Mike Cook ShootOut in September. The Southern California Timing Association and the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association organizes and plans the multi-vehicle events, but all event promoters contribute to prepping and maintaining the salt.

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In 2004, the Stardust spacecraft released its sample-return capsule for a landing in the Bonneville Salt Flats after its flybys of asteroid 5535 Annefrank in 2002 and comet Wild 2 in 2004.

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Motorcar racing has taken place at the salt flats since 1914. Racing takes place at part of the Bonneville Salt Flats known as the Bonneville Speedway. There are five major land speed events that take place at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bonneville “Speed Week” takes place mid-August followed by “World of Speed” in September and the “World Finals” take place early October.


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Michel Piccaya

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As a freelance travel photographer, Michel Piccaya has been on the road worldwide for more than 20 years, exploring the most incredible itineraries. He’s currently based in Brussels however never stays at home for a long time !

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