Salt surrounds us. It saturates the water and settles on the ground. You can smell it in the air. It has been bulldozed into mountains. Watching it all is the Morton salt girl, painted 100 feet tall on the side of a factory silo.
Sometimes you have to make your own adventures. I needed to travel to northern Nevada and the best way to do so was to travel to Salt Lake City and drive. I decided to give myself an extra day so I could check out some stuff.
This is a story about why you need to do some research if you’re trying to travel cheap. I typed “cheap flights to Salt Lake City” and Frontier Airlines came up with $39 flights from Denver. I went to Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines (my go-to cheap flight provider) and typed in Detroit to Denver. Frontier Airlines won by $10.
So I booked my two flights: Detroit to Denver, Denver to Salt Lake City. If I had booked Detroit to Salt Lake City, it would have been an extra $80 and they made a stop in Denver anyway. We rented a car through Hotwire and were on our way.
Bonneville Salt Flats
“Are those the salt flats?”
For miles we weren’t sure what we were seeing. Flanking the highway is a field of grey-white. People have turned off the highway, leaving deep tracks in the salt, to write messages with rocks. Water pools at the low points, reflecting the sky above.
And yet it seemed . . . wrong. The salt was more grey than white and there was a wall of rocks in the distance, following the highway, jutting up at the horizon and making the salt flats a lot less flat than I would have imagined. And then there was the fact that there were no turn-offs. People risked damage to their cars by careening off the highway onto the soft salt. Shouldn’t there be a scenic overlook or something?
Finally we saw a turn-off. It was for “Metaphor: The Tree of Utah,” an almost 90 foot sculpture just hanging out on the side of the highway. It was surrounded with barbed wire and looked strange with nothing around it except greyish white flat lands. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really like it.
But it gave us a chance to walk the flats a little. The ground was dry. And according to my dad, didn’t taste like salt. He thought it was calcium. So we were even more confused.
I thought maybe the salt flats started after the wall of rocks following the highway so we started walking. And walking. And walking some more. It didn’t look that far when we started but we just couldn’t get any closer to it no matter how far we walked. I felt like I was going insane. I understood people who get lost in the desert. My mind cracked open.
And then we were there. It was probably only a ten minute walk. We walked over the rock wall, which contained some really cool rocks. Every time I go to Utah, I wish I knew more about rocks. Note to self, I guess.
My dad just didn’t understand who would have drudged up all these rocks to form a wall for literally almost 30 miles. It was blowing his mind. We figured it was some kind of flood retaining wall, but still.
When we finally got past the wall we saw . . . more grey-white field. But at least we could see the low mountains. Still, I hoped this wasn’t the Bonneville Salt Flats because they were disappointing.
Turns out, those weren’t the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The Bonneville Salt Flats has a sign, a scenic overlook, bathrooms, a foot washing station, and an informational plaque.
And the Bonneville Salt Flats did not disappoint: it had just rained.
My dad tasted the water, because of course he did, and he almost threw up with how salty it was. There was salt floating on the surface of the water, and great salt patches settled on the bottom. The water could literally hold no more salt.
The foot washing station was closed, which should have been a sign. I decided to go out there anyway. Let me hit you with some science: when water turns to ice, it crystallizes. If something is in the way of the molecules, it can’t crystallize. Salt is an example of what can get in the way of water crystallizing into ice. So water can be below freezing but still not be ice.
My first step into the water was so cold I didn’t even feel the shooting pain because my foot instantly went numb. I put my other foot in and started walking. My feet felt like clubs and I had to walk with my arms for balance. This water was colder than ice.
My dad took pictures of me standing serenely in the salt flats. My back is turned because my face is turning red and I’m yelling at him to take pictures faster but he keeps telling me, “One more, one more.”
Then I feel it. My stomach clenches and raises up. My mouth fills with saliva. I am about to throw up. When you’re body feels it is under attack, it will stop doing things it thinks can wait, like digesting food. My body thought I was dying.
I turned and hoofed it out of there as fast as I could. I felt better instantly when my feet hit land. I looked down and saw them turn from ghost white to lobster red.
Once my feet dried, I spent all day wiping salt off them.
The Great Salt Lake
Honestly, for a place so well-known, you’d think there’d be better signage.
I wasn’t too excited to see the Salt Lake but my mother kept lamenting that she’s never seen it so I had to, for her. Even though she wasn’t there. Mom logic. We saved the Salt Lake for the drive back to the airport and it was getting dark by the time we realized we must have missed it. Mom Guilt prevailed and we turned around. We finally saw a brown sign for the Great Salt Lake and turned off.
It was closed.
We had to park in the parking lot of The Great Saltair, a concert venue that looks like an Indian palace. The Salt Lake lapped the shores in the distance. We started walking as the sun started going down.
The sand was covered in salt and footprints. The highway was close and you could hear the cars rushing past. A factory sat nestled in the mountains directly opposite the lake on the other side of the highway.
On the long walk to the lake, my dad and I argued about if that horrible smell was from the factory or the lake. He was convinced it was the factory but I know it was the lake. It smelled like brine and day old fish. And it seemed to get stronger the closer we got to the lake.
The lake itself was pretty but so are a lot of lakes. My dad tasted the water because he’s an idiot and he said it was less salty than the Bonneville Salt Flats.
For something so famous, I was a little disappointed. We were rushed, though, and I didn’t do any research on the place. I guess I thought I wouldn’t have to. It was the Grand Canyon all over again. Maybe we did it wrong.