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Stranded in the Salt Flats

7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning we were rearing to get out on the Bonneville Salt Flats to make photographs with the camera obscura. Our frolic in the mud the night before had caused some apprehension but thorough testing of the ground assured us of a securely packed salt flat with only a little water from the rain resting on top. In cinematic form we sped through to the flats with our video camera rolling. The loaded down Ford maxed out at 93mph but driving on the famed salt was an experience non-the less. We made a beeline straight into the immense salty white expanse while I stared off, hypnotized by the road cones and mountain ranges swirling past us.

Sunrise just outside the Bonneville Speedway. Photo by Stephen Takacs.
Sunrise just outside the Bonneville Speedway. Photo by Stephen Takacs.

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Utah: The Road to Salt Lake and the Salt Flats

The road to Salt Lake City caught me off-guard. I knew Mormons had found the salt lake valley after wandering through the desert and decided it was a divine gift, but I was never aware or concerned with the logistics of this gift, nor had anyone ever described it to me with particular enthusiasm.

Stephen.Takacs.CruiseAmerica

 

Cruising through the mountains was awe-inspiring. In the south near Route 70, the rocks are hard and craggy; large double trailer coal mining trucks speed through the hills. As you proceed north, the landscape starts to undergo dramatic transitions. Within 100 miles, you travel from the Moab desert, up into the mountains, and then down towards Lake Utah. The descent is nothing short of magical. At the top of the mountains, the landscape becomes more fertile; shrubs and trees to rise in frequency, changing the world from the dead whites and greys into deep greens, blues, and browns. For a moment, mind you, just a moment, I think I saw what the Mormon’s were speaking of when they thought they had found Eden; sunlight gleaming through majestic peaks brushed by clouds while mighty pines climb steeply upwards. We sped through Salt Lake City with the commuters on the 8-lane, mega-highway-mecca-Blvd. The city at night was impressive. We cruised down 80W towards Bonneville, still tired from Arches, doing our best to stay awake.

The further west we went, the stranger things seemed to become. At one point along the freeway we saw what looked like a giant illuminated cactus, the only structure for 50 miles. Our eyes started playing tricks on us. Apart from our headlights, there was nothing but total darkness and some industrial operations deep in the hills. My eyes locked onto something in the distance, maybe a mountain range, maybe a UFO; I had no idea. It turned out to be the lights from Wendover, the town nearest the flats. We pulled into the Bonneville Speedway around 1:00 A.M. and started exploring.

A bullet riddled sign welcomes visitors to the Bonneville Speedway. Photo by Stephen Takacs.
A bullet riddled sign welcomes visitors to the Bonneville Speedway. Photo by Stephen Takacs.

A sign filled with bullet holes, eerie wind, and a blanket of stars became our playground. I had noticed earlier that day while setting up at Arches National Park that the poles of the Brownie’s frame sounded like giant wind chimes when struck against the ground. I unpacked a few and hit them against the hard packed desert floor. The vibrations I had heard earlier sustained a long ringing enhanced by the wind and silence of the desert. Different lengths of poles created wild overtones, slowly receding in the expansive nothingness. Steve set up a remote sensor on a flash behind the bullet-hole-ridden Bonneville Speedway sign, revealing the negative space created by gun totting yahoos that regular the flats. We spent at least two hours in the cool desert night.

Finding any clear information about camping at the flats had been a bit of a challenge. The BLM website (Bureau of Land Management) make vague statements about camping being permitted on adjacent land. So Steve pulled of on the side of the road to set up camp. There seemed to be a great deal of space to explore and camp on even further off the road, so I egged him on. It turns out a van with front wheel drive does not fare that well in mud. About 40 yards from the road, the van stopped and wheels started to spin. We freed ourselves by emptying some of our photo sandbags to gain traction in the slippery mud. About ten minutes later we were back on the road. Crisis averted we headed onto a deserted desert road to camp.

A tarp behind the van on the shoulder of the road was our campsite and sleep came easy. Having learned our lesson about the mud we were ready for the flats. Tomorrow would be a day of photographic fun in the bizarre desert world. Or so we thought…

Until Next Time,

-Micah

Team Brownie In Motion