2020 will be a year we will never forget. When COVID arrived, our lives came to a screeching halt and it will have an impact on us forever. I went from traveling every week to shelter-in-place for 6 months. Except for a backpacking trip to Yosemite at the end of June, I was stuck at home. When one of my friends told me she was driving her daughter to college at The University of Utah in August, I jumped at the opportunity to join her. And we decided to turn it into a mini vacation. After some research I planned a couple of days of  Great Salt Lake adventures.

Driving from California through Nevada to Utah

The drive from the Bay area to Salt Lake City is a good 10 hours. A long straight stretch on Interstate 80. I-80 is one of the original routes of the Interstate Highway System and runs from downtown San Francisco all the way across the United States to Teaneck, New Jersey, in the New York City Metropolitan Area. We decide to power through it and drive it in one day. So early Wednesday, car fully packed with anything a college student might need, we hit the road. We cross the Benicia bridge and as soon as we get close to Vacaville, the air becomes thick and smoky. This is caused by one of the many fires that are raging  everywhere in California.
The Great Salt Lake nature
Sky at 9am in the morning due to the fires
We pass Lake Tahoe and cross into Nevada. For hours we drive through the vast desolate desert until we reach the border between Nevada and Utah and shortly after Salt Lake City.

Wild bison on Antelope Island

On Thursday afternoon, after having unloaded the car and said goodbye to the college student, we go on our first Great Salt Lake Adventure: exploring Antelope Island. Antelope Island is a protected State Park in the southern part of the Great Salt Lake. We drive north to the causeway that brings us to the island. As soon as we enter the causeway, it feels like we have entered another world. We are driving through a sea of salt, that stretches on both sides as far as we can see. It’s a surreal experience and we stop the car and get out to look at it. When we enter the island, one of the first things we see is a bison, at least we think it is a bison, but then we question ourselves, maybe it was just a rock, a very big rock.
Buffalo Point
Our first stop is Buffalo Point at the northwestern part of the island. Due to its slight elevation you have great views over the lake and White Rock Bay. The colors are spectacular: green and flowers  blending in with the salt and water. We decide to skip the hike at Buffalo Point and head to the trailhead at Dooly Knob Trail. We drive past where we thought we had seen the bison and he (or she) is still there and it’s not a big rock but a real big animal. When we continue our drive we see several herd in the grassy area close to the water. We stop to watch these magnificent animals.
Dooly Knob Trail

We park at the trailhead and put on our hiking boots. There are only two other cars, probably because it is Thursday afternoon and 98 degrees outside. It’s a short hike, only about 1.2 mile one way to the top, but an elevation gain of 700 feet. We soon realize that the combination of heat and elevation gain on such a short distance is a killer. However, we are determined, so one foot in front of the other, and plenty of stops for water, we reach the base of Dooly Knob. There we decide that we don’t need to climb the last part. The views from here are really spectacular and worth the hike up. The descend back to the car is a lot easier and we are glad we did this late in the afternoon and not in the middle of the day.

The Wonder of the Salt Flats

Early Saturday morning, we leave Salt Lake City on our way to our next Great Salt Lake adventure. Ever since I had seen the stunning pictures of the salt flats on the border between Nevada and Utah, it has been on my bucket list. The drive takes us less than 2 hours and when we get closer to the border, we see cars parked on the site of the road and people walking and driving on the salt. There is a little town called Wendover on the Nevada site. It is a miniature Reno: just a hand full of hotels and casino. It clearly caters to residents of Utah just across the border, who like to gamble, something that is not legal in Utah.

Welcome to the Bonneville Speedway

Instead of parking on the side of the road, I have planned for us to park at the Bonneville Speedway parking. We follow the directions and the road dead-ends at a sign that says “Bonneville Salt Flats”. We have arrived and get out of the car to look out over the sea of salt. Several cars are driving onto the salt. Debating whether to start riding the bikes that we brought from here or drive further onto the salt flats. We see a group of cars parked in the distance and decide to drive over and check it out.

The Professional Photographers of Idaho

When we reach the cluster of cars we realize it is some kind of photoshoot. We unload our bikes and are ready to explore the salt flats, when a man from the group walks towards us. Over his shoulder he tells his friends “Wait and see, I am going to ask these bikers if I can take their picture.” He introduces himself as Bob and explains that they are the Professional Photographers of Idaho. They come to the salt flats every year for a photo shoot session. It all looks a bit surreal: professional models in high heels, walking on a sea of salt. Bob asks us to follow him to where he has his set up. We feel a bit underdressed compared to the models, but why not?! Bob takes our picture, we exchange emails so he can email them to us and we say goodbye to our photographers.

Biking the salt flats

There are no roads, no trails, just a vast empty sea of salt. It is a very special experience. At some point there are no cars, no other people, just the two of us on our bikes. We bike for a good forty minutes. My friend is still not convinced it is really salt, so she has to taste it. It is salt, very salty salt: as we learn later, 10 times as salty as salt from seawater. We take more pictures before we ride back. We don’t see the photoshoot group anymore and for a moment we wonder if we went the wrong way. But then we see our car, sitting all alone in the middle of the salt flats. It is like we imagined the photoshoot, but an hour later, I receive an email from Bob with a picture to proof we didn’t dream the whole thing.

A wonderful mini vacation

Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake were a fantastic break from COVID isolation. While biking and hiking in Utah, the world felt a little normal again for a couple of days. I guess this is the new reality we have to get used to for now. I have realized that I appreciate the little things more and cherish the trips I can still go on.

All photo credit Mariel van Tatenhove and Bob Rider

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