Gary is a friend of mine here in Auburn, his bike pictured here at a car show in SLC, UT
Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats are an iconic setting for car commercials and feature films. Land speed records have been made and broken on its lunarlike surface for more than a century. Now the sprawling salt pan, about 185 kilometers west of Salt Lake City, is in trouble.
This year its normally rock-hard crust looked like gray, gritty soup. Without a firm track, organizers were forced to cancel Bonneville Speed Week, a major racing tournament, for the second consecutive year. The unwelcome decision put the 115-square-kilometer salt flats’ vulnerability in sharp relief. A large potash mine, just across Interstate 80 and south of the raceway, has drawn brine away from the aquifer under the salt flat for decades. Extreme storms, like last winter’s heavier-than-usual rains, have swept in from the surrounding watershed and dissolved the hard, salty surface into a muddy slush. The 20-kilometer-long racetrack has crumbled to 12 kilometers and the central basin, where salt is thickest, has degraded from a depth of 1.5 meters to 30 centimeters. The alarming signs have convinced the government, the mining company and the racing community to take action. “We’re measuring [the surface] in inches now,” says Stuart Gosswein, a spokesman for Save The Salt, a coalition of racing companies and fans.