If you’re a Utah local, it’s easy to think of the Northwest third or so of Utah as “THE SALT FLATS” and then to never think of them again. It becomes a lack of space that exists within spitting distance of the breathtaking mountain ranges usually associated with the Wasatch Front. The uniformity and sheer lack of anything leave the whole place completely without visual landmarks. If you want to see something truly surreal, look through images of the place. Swatch after swatch of easy gradient shifts, the sky reflected back at itself, and salt crystals so delicate that they stack like snow. Besides the brine shrimp of the Great Salt Lake, the only species flourishing are weird land artists and weird art tourists. We’ve seen a lot of it at Avant8, but it’s still hard to describe the installation art of the Bonneville Salt Flats. But if you’re looking for somewhere to be nowhere for a little while, we highly recommend it.
These little stone sentinels are usually more popular in wooded areas, a concept of stacking rocks by trailsides for visiting hikers. But on the Salt Flats, you’ve probably seen little villages of the white, steeple-like stacks along the side of the road. Homage to the god(s) of the desert? Animal instinct to fight the “snow blindness” of an empty horizon? A raging against the dying of the light? Up to the interpreter.
The Tree of Utah
You can know the story of the tree and still not understand the story of the tree. It’s the halfway point to Wendover, the closest gambling refuge to Utah, and its construction involves a vision. It is 87 feet tall. The sculptor (?), artist (?), visionary (?) was a Swede, born in Iran who left the tree to the State of Utah. He designed it to bring, “space, nature, myth, and technology together.” The partial spheres at the base of the tree represent the tree’s growth cycle. The orbs near the top that approximate branches are covered with rocks and minerals native to Utah.
The Spiral Jetty is an art installation on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. A series of stones are arranged into a super-human-sized spiral on what is sometimes the edge of the water. The Jetty leads out and curls around with a neatness and uniformity that rejects the randomness of the surroundings and inevitably draws a few visitors every weekend it isn’t frigid. The whole scene is reminiscent of crop circles but inverted in positive and negative space. If you go, be sure to walk the jetty in its spiral shape. Cutting across it is just not as fun.
This middle of nowhere is about 40 miles West of Wendover along the border to Wyoming. There are four equidistant, x-arranged sections of concrete pipes tall enough for a short person to do loop de loops inside, as evidenced by the palimpsest left by skateboard tires. Drilled through the several inches thick concrete are periodic holes the relief the size of a can of Coke. During the day, they let in shafts of light that pierce the relative darkness the tunnels generate. At night, on astrologically significant dates, the holes align with the positions of certain constellations. On the Summer and Winter Solstices, the sun aligns with two of the four tunnels at sunrise and sunset (alternating each solstice, suggesting that the very heavens swing around this one spot.) On that day, land art hippies and astrology nerds gather to light bonfires and drink coffee and shiver in the cold morning for this magical (?), ridiculous (?) event.
Who Should Go to the Salt Flats?
Admittedly, this place is not Disneyland. This is a trip for photographers or yogis or anyone content to sit and watch for a while. Though the drives around the Flats can be long, it is a great destination for any kids that have been feeling cramped up. Small towns and cafes can be entertaining pit stops for children who have never played video games. Dogs will thrive on all the free space to roam without consequence and fascinating smells. We suggest that owners have a plan for keeping pooches out of the water or washing them off after (truly do not recommend).
Prepare Yourself, Adventurer
At Avant8, we highly recommend that adventurers go highly prepared into the Salt Flats. Cell reception is not reliable everywhere. Take fully charged phones and way more water than you need. Make sure someone at home knows where you are going and will follow up on when you’ll be back.
Steve Taylor, resident designer extraordinaire learned this the hard way. He said of the experience:
The Salt Flats in Utah, why wouldn’t you want to go? You see the most beautiful photos and sunsets that you want that experience too. Our family adventure started out wonderfully, a nice drive, nice weather, a nice picnic lunch, but all good things must come to an end. As we were driving across the Salt Flats our front tires suddenly sunk, they broke through the salt crust, and into the slimiest, thickest mud! When we found some wood scraps, we thought we found our saving grace, but they were no luck- our tires were too covered to grip the wood. After asking for help, one family said no- one great family said yes, we were STILL STUCK! No tow trucks, no shovels, no getting out. We dug and dug and dug in that thick mud, we were covered! After being stuck out in this beautiful place for 4 hours, our family came to save us! Yes, the Salt Flats are beautiful, but one visit may be enough for the Taylor family.
Fair enough, Taylors. Take 200 experience points, a mud hoard, and inspiration to use on your future endeavors.
Take care travelers!