We didn’t have much in the way of plans for our full day in SLC; in fact, it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that I recalled the salt flats as a point of interest. Alex was definitely up for the trip, even though it was two hours outside of town. We piled into her Rondo and set a course due easy on Interstate 80. After breakfast, of course, which consisted of a croissant sandwich, donut, and coffee from Dunkin Donuts, a pleasure we don’t have yet in Tulsa.
The road out of town went past the airport, past the Great Salt Lake (more on that later), and then to an expanse of salty flatness that’s hard to describe. People that say western Kansas is flat need to spend a few minutes driving I-80 towards the Nevada border. It’s FLAT. They even have signage warning drowsy drivers to pull over rather than risk lives. On top of that, the flatness is so pronounced there are also ‘High Wind Area’ warnings and Alex spoke several times of her vehicle getting waylaid by strong winds. But just because the drive was flat does not mean it was uneventful.
At one point, DeeDee noticed there were messages in the salty soil just off the highway; it was evidently a thing to arrange rocks by the roadside to spell out messages, names, and symbols. Of course, we decided to hop out and do the same. Much to my delight, the fence separating the highway from the railroad was gone; this allowed me the pleasure of taking some pictures from the rail line itself. Afterwards, I collected some rocks and started placing my name on the ground. Alex found it funny that, even when using rocks, my handwriting was the same. I hadn’t noticed. DeeDee also gathered some rocks and placed her initials on the roadside. It was pretty cool! We piled back into the car and continued west.
We approached a rest area outside of Wendover and stopped. This was the main touristy spot for folks to stop, pointing out the significance of the salt flats and the Bonneville Raceway, where the world land speed record was set. I walked out onto the flats proper, which was quite different than the name-writing area, and marveled at the white expanse in front of me. The thick salt stuck to my shoes and filled my nose; the sun shone as brightly as it does after a snowfall. Even though we were still close to the highway, it was serene. I noticed a man nearby in full garb, some kind of priest. All around me shone the brilliance of the flats. But there was one more place to visit before heading back east.
I’d read about a small access road a little further up the highway, one that went a little further into the flats. We found it and drove out to the end of the line, next to a marker for the Bonneville Raceway and an older gentleman with an easel. I complimented him on his artwork and he asked where I was from. When I said, ‘Tulsa’ he was awestruck. “You have one of the greatest museums in the country there.” I guessed Philbrook, but he corrected me: Gilcrease Museum was on this man’s list of must-see places in the US. We talked for a few minutes about the nature of art and he shared some of the work he’d painted that day. I took his information and told him I’d be in touch. Afterwards, I wandered the asphalt terminus and marveled anew at the flats; there was an area of standing water that looked absolutely gorgeous. The mountains reflected with brilliance and it could’ve been hundreds of feet deep if I hadn’t known better. It was an amazing moment.
We drove back to Salt Lake City, stopping once because I saw an old husk of a bus in the desert that I HAD to see through my camera lens. As we got closer to the city, DeeDee asked if we could stop at the Great Salt Lake, as she has a penchant for putting her toes in water at all opportunities. Of course, that was no problem! We found an access road to the lake and stopped.
This did not go well.
The “Great” Salt Lake turned out to be a putrid, desolate landscape swarming with bugs and littered with bird carcasses. The smell was nearly overpowering as we trudged through the crunchy soil towards the lakeside, which had receded to the point where it took a five minute walk to reach it. Once we arrived, though, the condition of the water was too dire for even DeeDee to brave the muck. It was just awful. We walked back to the car, a trio of pungent and defeated travelers, cursing the signs that encouraged anyone to visit the lake for any reason. When we got back to the car, we felt the best way to get past this blighted, desolate “lake” would be to have a delicious late lunch at In-n-Out. It didn’t disappoint.
Our day ended with time downtown and wandering around the Temple grounds. I gotta hand it to the Mormons: they keep their city clean and organized. The Temple is an amazing area with beautiful flowers and other peaceful surroundings. I couldn’t count the couples getting wedding photos done as the sun started to set. The evening wound down and we settled back at Alex’s place, packing and getting ready for Wednesday. I can’t believe it’s only been four days!