Bonneville Salt Flats

Bonneville Salt Flats
salt flat
Aerial view of the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2015; the race track is located in the upper left
Country United States
State Utah
District Tooele
Municipality Tooele County
Part of Great Salt Lake Desert
Borders on Interstate 80 in Utah (south)
West Wendover, Nevada (west)
Parts Bonneville Racetrack
Location (USGS coordinates) [1]

 - elevation 4,219 ft (1,286 m) [1]
 - coordinates 40°47′59″N 113°48′00″W / 40.79972°N 113.80000°W / 40.79972; -113.80000Coordinates: 40°47′59″N 113°48′00″W / 40.79972°N 113.80000°W / 40.79972; -113.80000
Area 40 sq mi (104 km2) [2]
Biome Northern Basin and Range (ecoregion)
Public use •Federal lands: restrictions
•Private lands: some
grant permission
Easiest access State Route 447
Timezone Mountain (UTC-7)
 - summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6)
GNIS ID 1425872 [1]

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.


Bonneville Salt Flats during the winter has about 1 inch of water on it
Bonneville Salt Flats during the summer

Geologist Grove Karl Gilbert named the area after Benjamin Bonneville, a U.S. Army officer who explored the Intermountain West in the 1830s.[3][4] 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.[5]

A railway line across the Bonneville Salt Flats was completed in 1910, marking the first permanent crossing.[3] The first land speed record was set there in 1914 by Teddy Tetzlaff.[6]

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.

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.” [7] The BLM further concluded that earlier salt crust measurement studies showing salt crust deterioration were seriously flawed.[7]

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.

Land speed events

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. "Speed Week" events in August were canceled for the second year in a row in 2015, due to poor conditions of the salt in certain parts of the flats. The salt flats had been swamped by heavy rains earlier in the year, which usually happens, but the rains also triggered mudslides from surrounding mountains and onto a section of the flats used for the land-speed racing courses.[8]


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.[9]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Query Form For The United States And Its Territories". U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Retrieved 2010-05-13.
  2. Lines, Gregory C (1979). Hydrology and surface morphology of the Bonneville Salt Flats and Pilot Valley Playa, Utah. Retrieved 2010-05-28.
  3. 1 2 "The Bonneville Salt Flats". Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
  4. Joseph Tingley; et al. (2009). A Geologic and Natural History Tour Through Nevada and Arizona Along U.S. Highway 93 with GPS Coordinates. NV Bureau of Mines & Geology. p. 135.
  5. Hanna, Tim (2005). One Good Run: The Legend of Burt Munro.
  6. Radbruch, Don (2004). Dirt Track Auto Racing, 1919–1941.
  7. 1 2 White, W. W., III.; Terrazas, Moises (2006). "Analysis of Recent and Historical Salt-Crust Thickness Measurements and Assessment of their Relationship to the Salt Laydown Project, Bonneville Salt Flats, Tooele County, Utah": 29.
  8. "Bonneville Speed Week Canceled For Second Year In A Row". Yahoo Autos.
  9. "NASA's Comet Tale Draws to a Successful Close in Utah Desert".
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