and the Bonneville Salt Flat
by John C. Evanoff
North of Ely on Highway Alternate
93 lies one of the most dangerous, unique and awesome places on
the entire Earth. To get started, you might want to take a detour
first to the Gosute Indian Reservation just across the Utah boarder
just below Haystack Peak which stands more than 12,100 feet above
the valley floor. If you are a birder and especially one who likes
to watch migrations of hawks, eagles and falcons, this is the place
you should go. Gold Hill and the surrounding mountains are a testament
to the massive movement of granite upwards out of the Great Basin.
For this reason, a host of birds make these hillsides and mountain
ranges a stop on their way south during fall migration. Take some
time and hike or ride your mountain bike into these surrounding
areas and you will be forever grateful to me for giving you this
information. I’ve seen dozens of raptors catching lift in
the air currents at one time along certain western and eastern cliffs
of the Antelope Range and around Dutch Mountain to the north of
Gold Hill. Haystack Peak is a grand climb and well worth the effort
if you have a couple days.
North on 93, past White Horse Pass,
you begin to descend into a vast flat wasteland. There are roads
that go off to the right into this area but instead, wait until
you get to a small sign that says Blue Lakes about ten miles south
of Wendover. The road ventures off into the salt marsh and you suddenly
come upon some pools of steam. These lakes are deep, almost 100
feet in places and full of bass, crappie and sun fish. If you are
an angler and you like to catch and release a lot of bass, this
is the place. Also, if you are a scuba diver, take the time to search
the depths of the biggest lake. It is used during the winter months
as a testing area for deep water certification by Salt Lake City
scuba instructors. The water is extremely clear and you’ll
be in actual contact with the fish along the steep shores.
Wendover is a fast growing little
town of casinos and hotels. Its very life exists because of gaming
and its position on the boarder between Nevada and Salt Lake City
and the rest of the many towns in Utah along the Wasatch Front.
This makes it a busy weekend resort. What few people know about
Wendover is its unique history in world events. World War II brought
thousands of pilots and servicemen to the army air force field near
the town to train for bombing and strafing runs in the Pacific war
theatre. One of the most important trained groups was the crew of
the B-29 SuperFortress Bomber named “Enola Gay,” the
plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The plane’s
crew was put together and training began at this field before it
left for Rota and Marcus Islands to train using heavy bombing ordinance
for a month and then eventually drop the Little Boy Atomic Bomb
device on Japan.
The museum at the Utah side of Wendover
has much more about the air field, but it’s also distinctive
in its enlightening picture of very fast and somewhat eccentric
individuals. Just a few miles west of town, the Bonneville Salt
Flat, one of Mother Nature’s most renowned areas, occupies
your line of sight for many miles in every eastern direction. You
can actually see the curve of the earth all the way to floating
mountain in the distance and in the summer, thousands of people
line its salty shores to watch hundreds of race drivers hit unbelievable
speeds in pursuit of breaking records in many categories of vehicles.
For a time, Bonneville was the fastest place on Earth with drivers
moving across the flats in rocket cars exceeding 500 miles per hour.
That distinction now belongs to the Black Rock Desert north of Reno,
but still today, the salt flat is recognized as the fastest place
on earth for certain other vehicles including motorcycles, piston
driven autos and an array of other means of transportation.
My wife, Sharon and I used to take
daily bicycle rides for ten miles or more on the paved section from
town to the salt flat. The road and area was used as a scene in
the sci-fi flick Independence Day. F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10
Thunderbolt flights are a constant exciting reminder of the area’s
importance as a training center for pilots from Hill Air Force Base
in Ogden, Utah. Low level targeting shots are going on all the time
in this area of the desert, so don’t be surprised when one
of these extremely efficient fighting machines suddenly comes up
This barren salt flat was also a
trail for many moving west in wagons in the early 1800’s.
Hundreds of 49’ers and thousands of animals lost their lives
attempting to cross this great plain of desolation, their only guide
in some cases a mountain in the distance named Pilot Peak just to
the north of Wendover. The top of Pilot Peak, at 10,716 feet can
be seen all the way across the Great Salt Lake expanse and Kit Carson,
the most notable guide and frontiersman of the period, climbed to
the top to light a fire so that Charles Fremont could move his troop
of men across the flats to the only clean running water for miles
located at Peavine Creek.
The climb up Pilot Peak is extremely
tough and you will need at least a day to get to the top and down
in one piece. There are rocks as big as houses and loose shale in
certain sections that make this ascent a hazardous climb and only
for the more experienced and adventuresome backpacker. From the
top, you can see the Silver Range to the southwest, the Thousand
Springs area to the Northwest, the Grouse Creek Mountains to the
North East and all the way to Tooele and the Dugway Military Proving
Grounds to the South East. Many of the cliffs around the area are
slanted into the sky at eerie positions and a camera is a must on
There are few places anywhere in
the world that has darker nights than here. Except for some unusual
lights and secret activities around Dugway, this area is an astronomer’s
delight. So, if you have a big telescope with computer go-to capability
which includes the ability to take you to thousands of objects in
the sky with a click of a remote, you will be happily rewarded with
clear seeing and great astroflicks. And if you don’t have
a fancy scope, take out your binoculars and a chaise lounge or inflatable
air mattress and look up at the dazzling blanket of stars and planets.
You will be amazed at what you haven’t seen at night. Astronomy
has always been a passion of mine and I’m still amazed at
the sight of the heavens under clear dark skies.
Make no mistakes when entering into
this country. Don’t go without plenty of food, water and a
reliable vehicle. Some of these roads are mere scratches in the
dirt and need to be taken seriously. It’s important to have
some method of communication with the outside world if possible
and a good first aid kit. Also, some of this area is a major training
and testing area for the military and government. To cross into
a fenced area with signs that inform you of no trespassing is a
federal crime punishable with fines and immediate prison time.
Next month, we will venture northwest
to Montello and further north to Jackpot into the Jarbidge Wilderness.
I tell you now, if we can save this wonderful area for our children’s
children and those beyond, we will be doing a great service for
all mankind, for this is truly awesome territory. The visit will
begin with some of these natural wonders in the next month.