The Salt Lake Flats of Utah offer one of the most simplistic and beautiful landscapes created by natural mineral deposits in the U.S., just west of Salt Lake City. Driving west along I-80 out of Salt Lake City, Utah you'll experience some of the flattest and dullest landscape that you have ever cared to suffer on a long distance road trip. Short chubby shrubs that sit low alongside the highway sparsely dot the landscape that stretches far out into the horizon of sand. This was the scenic malaise that I encountered only once before when driving through long stretches of Kansas and parts of the upper Midwest of the United States.
I pushed along because I knew, or at least had been informed by good sources that my destination, which was the Salt Lake Flats was a place of great beauty. I was told that if I would only be here once in my life, which was highly possible, that I needed to experience this natural wonder.
One of the only saving graces of the drive was the amazing lighting and unique colors that could be seen in sky and clouds. It added a theatrical sort of dark pallor to the surrounding landscape, gloomily highlighting a stark contrast of the beauty above and the blandness below.
What awaited me alongside the highway of route 80 is something I still talk about today. My arrival coincided with that of an incoming storm front over a mountain range to the west. While the skies had been clear and blue upon first arrival they took on a more stunning and foreboding grey as they passed over the peaks.
To look out over these flats, that seemed to stretch into eternity, and realize that only a few short hundred years ago the Great Salt Lake covered almost two thirds of the state of Utah and rose some 1000 feet deep in many locations astounded me. This pals in comparison too its paltry size today where it is around 75 miles at the widest point, 50 miles long and averages only 14 feet deep.
In some areas the layer of crust that consists of gypsum, halite, potassium and magnesium can be up to 5 feet thick! Formed from the long slow process of evaporation as the minerals percolate up from a shallow underground aquifer, they give off stunning colors as the light reflects off the surface of the water.
These natural wonders are worth the visit if you are in the Salt Lake City area or heading along I-80 on a road trip. The United States Bureau of Land Management oversees the Bonneville Salt Flats, which are and hour and a half west of Salt Lake City Utah. This is perhaps your best way to experience the area since camping is allowed and many large land speed racing events are held each year. Just watch the heat and bring plenty of hot water as it can get fairly brutal under the direct summer sun at this altitude.