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Four Don't-Miss Utah Attractions, With a Pinch of Salt

Updated on February 1, 2019

Bonneville Salt Flats and Bonneville International Speedway, on I-80, near the Nevada/Utah Border

I know, I know. You're on I-80 and you're making good time and you already stopped for snacks 4 times. But trust me, it's totally worth it to get off the interstate and take a walk on the salt flats, if only for a few minutes. I found it quite humbling to walk out a way and marvel at ALL THAT SALT. They say that if the Donner party hadn't crossed the salt flats and lost so many animals on the trek, they may not have needed to resort to cannibalism to survive.

To the west of the salt flats is the Bonneville Speedway and yes, you can drive out on the flats and yes, it is a BLAST. But a word to the wise: The MOMENT you get back to civilization, go to a car wash and wash all that salt off (and none of it falls off, not even going 80 mph on the interstate). Not a drive-thru car wash, but a car wash with a super sprayer and I would even recommend laying on the ground and making sure you get all the salt off! It WILL mess up the electrical system on your car.

Build salt castles!
Build salt castles! | Source
Where salt meets sky.
Where salt meets sky. | Source
Bonneville International Speedway; many speed records were broken here.
Bonneville International Speedway; many speed records were broken here. | Source

Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, north shore of the Great Salt Lake

So it does take effort to get here and yes, you do really need either a 4-wheel drive vehicle (a sedan will not make the trip) or the will to walk (possible running into rattlesnakes along the way), but this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

My friend doesn't really get out and moving until mid-afternoon, so after visiting the Golden Spike Historical Site around 3 pm, we decided to at least try to get out to the Jetty. At first we took the wrong fork in the road - we went right instead of left, with a flat tire on the way back - but we quickly found the right way and made the slow journey to the Spiral Jetty. It turned out perfectly; we got there as the sun was beginning to set, and the sky was a perfect reflection on the still, salty water. It was such a calm and magical instant, standing there on Smithson's earthwork, isolated from humanity.

Again, it is a tough road and there are rattlesnakes. We saw one. Once we got to the Jetty, we didn't have problems with snakes or bugs (unlike at Antelope Island, which was a buggy nightmare). You can walk along the earthwork without any trouble, but to walk in the water you will need sturdy shoes. Our flip flops were eaten up by the mud in some places; in others, the salt was so hard and sharp it was impossible to walk any further in the inches-deep lake.

On the way to the Spiral Jetty, be sure to stop at the Golden Spike National Historic Site. This is the point where the railroad coming from the west and the railroad coming from the east finally connected and made a continuous track from one end of the country to another. Imagine all those people working out here in the middle of nowhere!

Artist Robert Smithson's earthwork, the Spiral Jetty.
Artist Robert Smithson's earthwork, the Spiral Jetty. | Source
That's not ice; it's salt!
That's not ice; it's salt! | Source
A salt crystal found in the Great Salt Lake.
A salt crystal found in the Great Salt Lake. | Source
Steam Locomotive at the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Steam Locomotive at the Golden Spike National Historic Site. | Source

Kennecott Copper Mine

A testament to what unbridled greed and a total lack of concern for the environment can create. Reality check: This is the largest open-pit mine in the world. IT MAKES ITS OWN WEATHER. It is a marvel. It is humbling. And it is pretty terrifying and horrific. Be sure to watch the "We're Totally Not Ruining The Environment" video in the visitor center that even my ultra-conservative, card-carrying Republican girlfriend had trouble swallowing.

And if it's a hot day and you have an option? Well, even if you don't have an option, leave the dogs at home. They are strictly prohibited outside your car. At all. Even to pee.

Kennecott Copper Mine.
Kennecott Copper Mine. | Source
Kennecott Copper Mine.  And that dump truck isn't small, it's just *really far away.
Kennecott Copper Mine. And that dump truck isn't small, it's just *really far away. | Source

Temple Square, Salt Lake City

I love the Mormons, and I think Utah is beautiful. Temple Square is really something. No, really. And just because you're not Mormon doesn't mean it's a huge waste of time.

If you're not a Mormon, you're probably rolling your eyes. Dumb, right? Nope, this place is great. From the giant Jesus in space (actually a beautiful statue of Jesus Christ, Thorvaldsen’s Christus) to the pagan symbols all over the Temple (sorry, heathens, you can't go in) to the reflective pool on the east side of the Temple, Temple Square is a beautiful, spiritual location, even for non-Mormons.

Brigham Young is buried a few short blocks to the east of Temple Square. Again, worth the short walk to see the final resting place of a man who was so dedicated to his faith he led his followers to a dead sea and created a new language!

Salt Lake City Mormon Temple.
Salt Lake City Mormon Temple. | Source
In Temple Square.
In Temple Square. | Source
Thorvaldsen’s Christus statue.
Thorvaldsen’s Christus statue. | Source
The reflective pool and entrance to the Temple.
The reflective pool and entrance to the Temple. | Source
Brigham Young's grave marker, just east of Temple Square.
Brigham Young's grave marker, just east of Temple Square. | Source

© 2015 Carrie Peterson


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