May, 2014 – We were flying high as we left Ely, Nevada, where we had been thrilled by the Nevada Open Road Challenge car races. With car racing on our minds, the only direction we could head from there was north, up to the Bonneville Salt Flats just over the Nevada border in Utah.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are a massive, natural expanse of crusty old table salt that is layered thickly on a valley floor and extends for miles west of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. They have long been used for attempting and setting land speed records.
The road from Ely to the town of Wendover on the edge of the salt flats is a narrow ribbon that winds through vast empty valleys. It soon hypnotized me as we drove.
So I was jolted back to reality when Mark suddenly hit the brakes and pulled over, saying, “We’ve gotta check this out!”
He had spotted a lonely tree by the side of the road that was decorated with all kinds of weird paraphernalia.
As we ran back towards it, cameras in hand, we realized it was a Traveler’s Tree.
People driving by it had stopped to hang all kinds of crazy mementos on it, from baseball caps signed “Cross Country Road Trip 2012” and “Ely to Cali 2013” to work boots to dress shoes hung by their laces to a bright red dress waving in the breeze.
Because this is a very windy spot, there was a huge debris field downwind of the tree filled with more hats and shoes and t-shirts that had once had a place on the tree.
How fun, out in the middle of nowhere!
Back in the truck, not too long after our tree encounter, we began to see immense white flat valleys ahead of us, and we realized we were seeing the Salt Flats.
As we pulled up to the “entrance” of the Bonneville Salt Flat International Speedway (which was a mere sign by snow white plains), we were floored by the strangeness of it all.
It looked like the ground was dusted with snow, but when I pinched a bit in my fingers and tasted it, it was definitely salt.
Each spring these flats are partially submerged under water. They harden up over the summer as the water evaporates, making a new, smooth surface that is perfect for fast cars and other land vehicles.
The big races (Speed Week and World Finals) are in late summer, but lots of people take their cars out onto the salt flats at other times to drive them to their limits.
The wheel wells of the cars we saw returning from the flats were so full of dirt and salt that they looked like they had just been driven on slushy winter roads! We decided not to test our rig’s top end speed!!
Leaving the Bonneville Salt Flats behind us in our rearview mirror, we were surprised when more white landscapes appeared ahead of us — this time in the shape of snow-capped mountains.
We pulled into Elko, Nevada, just as a huge storm approached.
The next morning we were greeted by looming clouds and thick fog drifting between the snowy mountain peaks.
We decided to drive the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway a few miles south of town.
The brooding skies shifted from dark to light and back to dark again as we drove.
On our way, we passed by some small communities that were framed by a stunning backdrop of mystical snowy mountains.
We were alone on the quiet road when we entered the mouth of Lamoille Canyon (it rhymes with “boil”), except for a few songbirds serenading us from the trees and crows flying across the meadows.
Suddenly we were immersed in alpine beauty.
What a gorgeous spot this canyon is, and to think that until we got to Elko we’d never heard of it!
The canyon twisted and turned about us as we drove deeper and deeper into its heart.
A small stream wandered casually down the center, dropping into waterfalls, gurgling over rocks and running, ice cold, right down the valley.
What a dramatic change this was from the red rocks, slot canyons and pink and white desert sands of our hikes in Utah just days before.
This diversity of landscapes is one of the things we love most about the west.
The scenery is so varied, and it changes so much as the altitudes rise and fall across the states.
The road into the canyon had just opened a few days earlier, but it hadn’t been plowed all the way to the end yet.
When we got to the snow, we hopped out of the truck to see how far the snowy part went.
We hadn’t seen or played in snow in a decade, and it was such a wonderful sensation to feel the cold air burning our cheeks as we romped around, breathing in the crisp, clean air.
And what a delight it was to tromp through thick snow and listen to the icy crunching sounds beneath our feet.
There were a few wildflowers blooming here and there, but we were just a tiny bit early.
I was sure these meadows would be bursting with color a week or two after we passed through.
We would have stayed to watch the magic happen, but we were on a mission to get on down the road.
So, after a few days in Elko, we pointed the truck northwest to drive some of the quietest roads we’ve ever seen.
For more information about the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, click here and here
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