Road Trip Report: Day 10, July 21

Today was a nice day. My room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Salt Lake City was great, though I didn’t do much more than sleep in it. After checking out, I grabbed brunch and wandered around the Gateway Mall before heading to the Bonneville Salt Flats, about two hours west of Salt Lake City.

It was a scorching 38 degrees Celsius, but at least there’s no humidity in the desert. Still, it was definitely a day to keep the top up on the car, particularly since I have a really bad driver’s tan. That means that my left arm, which tends to get more sun, is darker than my right arm. Also, the tan goes about three inches higher up my left arm (right to the shoulder), due to my shirt sleeve riding up when I hang my arm out the window. Luckily you can only see it when I take my shirt off, and no, I’m not putting up a photo on Facebook.

Now I didn’t intend to play gas-tank chicken again, but I’d like to say that I did it just to thumb my nose at Jeff’s comment on yesterday’s update. In truth, I was pretty comfortable this time when I got to the Empty light and still had about 50km to go, knowing that I really had more like 100km of fuel. And even then I was wrong…when I got to the Salt Flats and filled up, I was only at 10.6 gallons…not even the most I’ve put in the tank on this trip, and nowhere near the 12.7 gallons it holds. I was just trying to get to 11.

Seriously though, I wasn’t actually trying to play chicken this time. I just knew that I could make it to the flats and didn’t pass a gas station for awhile.

But enough about that. Let’s talk about the salt flats. Basically, they’re a huge deposit of salt left behind when the ancient salt lake dried up (leaving the Salt Lake we know today). For most of the year the ground is too wet, so you’d break right through and get stuck in the mud if you tried to walk on them. However, from late July through August, everything dries up enough that you can drive cars on them. And that’s when you get the Bonneville Speedway, home to some of the world’s highest speeds.

Note that the high speeds aren’t about acceleration–they’re about distance. Nothing can grow on the salt flats, so it’s one of the biggest flat surfaces you can find. That makes it perfect for pushing a car to its top speed without running out of road.

They tell you not to go out on the flats right now, lest you get stuck in the mud, but I could tell from the tracks that some people have been out there. Not me, though…I may be willing to test my gas tank, but I wasn’t about to get my Miata stuck in the mud in the middle of a desert. No way.

It’s really cool seeing how the salt water leaves deposits on the hard ground, and to stand at the end of a road that’s almost completely surrounded by salt. But it’s not long before you realize that it’s really, really freakin’ hot in the desert, and it’s time to get back in the car.

Another two hours brought me to the Pacific Time Zone, the state of Nevada, and Elko, a town of approximately 19,000 that’s right between Salt Lake City and Reno. It’s a nice little place, and the Shilo Inn is excellent. Not only was it super cheap ($68), but the room is big and well-designed. The carpet’s a little shabby, but the location is excellent. It’s right next to the town’s movie theatre and a small shopping plaza with a grocery store, as well as a Home Depot and WalMart a little up the way.

Oh, and casinos. Lots of casinos. Yep, you’re in Nevada. Green Bay has the Packers. Colorado has the rocky mountains. And Nevada has gambling.

I got here around 4pm due to the time change, and that was just fine. I thought about going to see a movie tonight, but while I was at the nearby grocery store replenishing my driving snacks, I realized that I just wanted to take it easy. I’m not a gambler, so the casinos aren’t of much use to me. Though maybe I’ll try it out in Reno, just because.

And there you have it: a nice day. A comfortable, low-budget room in a small town that I’d never heard of until two days ago, a decent bed (though now as comfy as yesterday’s), and Inception on the TV (though I missed the first half hour).

Right now, I couldn’t ask for more.