Exploring the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats in the Airstream
After last year’s Airstream adventure through the national parks of Arches, Bryce, and Zion, Utah rose to take its place amongst my favorite places ever visited. Seeing more of the state yesterday only buttressed the position. Utah is the only state I know of to have so many landscapes where you can legitimately say, “It looks like we’re on another planet.”
Highway 80 takes you right along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. John Muir called it “one of the great views on the American Continent.” It is the largest natural lake in the US that is not part of the Great Lakes. Because the lake is so shallow, variable rainfalls result in great changes in its coverage. According to Wikipedia, in 1963 it reached its lowest recorded level at 950 square miles, but in 1988 the surface area was at the historic high of 3,300 square miles.
Great Salt Lake is too saline to support fish or most water critters, but some algae live in the lake. Brine shrimp and brine flies can tolerate the high salt content and feed on the algae. Biologists have estimated the brine fly population to be over one hundred billion. I feel like we saw at least that many. They don’t bite, and are very fun to watch fly as you walk through them—they move like a single organism.
We saw hundreds of dead birds (eared grebes) in the sands at low-tide. Rachelle researched as we walked and discovered the birds die from an avian form of botulism or cholera. That, the salty air, and we presume the algae, made for a interesting smell.
The kids had a ball as they ran through the lake’s shallow pools, disturbing the flies in great swarms and getting terribly muddy.
We continued west. I was cruising on 80 at 80, chasing the sunset over a floating bridge, with endless, flat water on either side of the highway. Some time passed before I noticed the water wasn’t moving, wasn’t reflecting the sun, and that it wasn’t water at all.
Welcome to the Bonneville Salt Flats.
You’ve seen it in movies, commercials, and stills, but they are all equally incapable of conveying just how expansive this area is. The white, featureless, deck plays tricks with sense of distance. The kids had the youthful idea of sprinting to the mountains on the other side of the flats. As they got smaller on the pristine, surreal horizon, Rachelle had a nervous, motherly instinct to retrieve them. “I feel like some monster is going to come up from the salt and get them.” After a 15-minute walk out, only halfway as far as they’d ventured, the mountains didn’t look one bit closer.
I didn’t have to do the normal trick of photographing at strange angles to crop out other gawkers—there were so few people at each location, we were effectively alone with God’s creation.
Looking forward to what He has for us next!