July 15 - Bonneville Salt Flats

Sunday morning, I filled up in Ely and headed north along Nevada Route 93 (through one of many dying small towns pictured below). After driving for 20 miles, I suddenly remembered I'd forgotten to pay for my gas back at Ely! The gas station wasn't a "pay first" — I'd gotten out of the habit of paying for gas after pumping, spending my life living in big cities. Anyway, there was a U-turn and a 40-mile detour back to Ely before I made any further progress that day.

abandoned business in McGill, NV - liquor and toys (7/15 8:48 AM)abandoned business in McGill, NV - New Victory Club (7/15 8:48 AM)

Just before crossing into Utah at Wendover, I passed one of the many enormous off-limits bombing ranges I'd see on my trip. This one was the ~750 sq. mi. Wendover Air Force Range. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 40.4847, -114.1431 

USAF Gunnery Sign: "USAF Bombing and Gunnery Range - Aerial Bombing - Live Ammunition - Keep Out"long barbed wire fence delineating the Wendover Air Force Range (7/15 11:18 AM)

The Bonneville Speedway is at the end of a paved road that goes about 5 miles out onto the salt flats, and just dead-ends — no buildings or other permanent structures other than a sign, and a single line of orange cones heading northeast out into the salt flats. A steady stream of tourists in their rental cars and minivans came and went — speeding off into the white vastness. A tow truck was parked at the edge of the pavement — waiting for what?

The cones extend for about 10 in a straight line miles out into the Bonneville Salt Flats, inviting me to determine the top speed of my vehicle. (My Jeep is computer speed-limited to 114 MPH.) It's a good idea to stay near the cones, as the rest of the salt flats are a bit "slushy".

Bonneville Speedway - sign and orange cones (7/15 11:57 AM)Bonneville Speedway - end of pavement and tow truck (7/15 11:58 AM)Bonneville Speedway - Jeep on salt (7/15 12:32 PM)Bonneville Speedway - salt on Jeep (7/15 12:32 PM)

There are various "islands" that rise up out of the salt flats, including the Silver Island Mountains that parallel the speedway to the northwest, and the tiny Floating Island. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 40.901, -113.651  After exploring some trails in the Silver Island Mountains (and finding some wonderfully colorful rocks), I found a causeway that lead out to Floating Island, and then headed out into the salt flats to the southeast. Where did it go? I couldn't see the end, so I followed this elevated road for 10 miles, past the southwest corner of the giant Hill Air Force Range, until it made a sharp left turn just before interstate 80. It then headed east just beside the highway for another 10 miles, and finally ended at a large metal yellow locked gate! I was forced to retrace my steps — all 20 miles — since the ground surrounding the causeway was very wet and soft. I was maybe 100 yards from the interstate, but I just couldn't drive there.

colorful rocks found in the Silver Island Mountains (7/15 2:02 PM)on the road heading southeast from Floating Island (in the background) (7/15 3:52 PM)looking southeast along the causeway ... to where? (7/15 3:52 PM)sign at the corner of Hill Air Force Range: "Warning Controlled Area. It is unlawful to enter this area without permission of the commander."corner of Hill Air Force Range - this straight barbed wire fence extends for 25 miles to the east (7/15 4:00 PM)corner of Hill Air Force Range & Jeep on causeway & Floating Island - this straight barbed wire fence extends for 15 miles to the north (7/15 4:00 PM)looking at Interstate 80, just south of the causeway (7/15 4:37 PM)causeway ends at a locked gate! (7/15 4:41 PM)

That night, I camped at the end of a trail into a nook on the southern tip of Floating Island. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 40.89719, -113.6465  Climbing up the hill behind my campsite, I watched the sunset, and found a peak that was hollow! The top of the hill was made up of a 30 ft deep cave - excellent hideout potential!

camp - ground was too rocky for tent stakes, so substitutes were used (7/15 6:25 PM)looking south at campsite from hills of Floating Island (7/15 7:44 PM)cave at top of hill (7/15 8:14 PM)inside cave (7/15 8:09 PM)