Date of visit: Saturday November 5th, 2016
Attractions/Places of Interest:
The Bonneville Salt Flats are about 12 miles long and 5 miles wide and are part of the Great Basin region of the United States. They are the remainder of the ancient Lake Bonneville which at one point covered 66% of Utah! Their formation began at the end of the last Ice Age during which water began to recede from this area, partially because it was at the highest elevation making it the first to disappear. When the fresh water evaporated, dissolved minerals such as gypsum (used to make wallboard) and halite (table salt, which makes up about 90% of the flats) remained – making the Bonneville Salt Flats one of the largest salt deposits in the world. Today the flats are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and are labeled as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and Special Recreation Management Area.
During warmer months the flats tend to be very dry and crusty whereas in colder months water does not evaporate so quickly and the Salt Flats are often flooded several inches deep. During our visit in November there was about 1-2 inches of water resting on top of the salt crust.
The area is infamous for testing extremely high speed vehicles since the surface provides great grip and there is no shortage of distance for vehicles to travel. Salt refineries also use the salt for industrial purposes, unfortunately diminishing the size of the salt flats.
Generally the Bonneville Salt Flats are free and open to the public most of the year unless special events are taking place such as land speed racing or film productions. What is great is you can literally take a turn off of highway 80 at nearly any point and simply walk onto the flats. You cannot really go wrong with wherever you choose to stop, but a highly recommended viewpoint is along highway 80 about 10 miles east of Wendover, Utah. You will also want to visit the iconic Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway.
The Bonneville Salt flats are wide and grand, but your focal range of choice will depend on how you want to approach photographing it. I chose to stick to the mid range 24-70 zoom for a good variety of both wide and semi-tight shots. I can see a super wide angle lens such as the Tamron 15-30 working very well here if you get creative with low angles to fill up the majority of the foreground with the ground in front of you and shoot at a high aperture to give you enough of a depth of field to get the mountain range bordering the salt flats in focus as well. Otherwise I believe a super wide angle will make the mountains look too small and unimpressive, but feel free to experiment. Ground shots will typically work better during summer months, as the salt crust will have much more texture when it is completely dry, unlike during my visit in November.
On the other hand a telephoto like the 70-200 does a great job compressing the background and making those mountains stand out more whether you’re shooting a landscape or a portrait.
I feel I was able to get both types of shots as just described with my 24-70 and don’t regret keeping the rest of my gear in the car to not risk anything unfortunate happening on the wet and salty flats.
Primary gear used:
- Nikon D600
- Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
- Sirui T-1205X
- Induro BHD2 ballhead
- Polarizing Filter
- Lowepro Photo Hatchback
Click here to view a complete list of gear I recommend.
Overall, I highly recommend adding the Bonneville Salt Flats to your bucket list, whether you are a photographer or not. The views are stunning and it is such a unique experience. It was also great not having to hike far to see something so amazing!