Utah and Nevada – From Waterfalls to Speed Records

When it's my turn to drive, Rufus loves sitting up front to navigate!

We’re in the groove of traveling now; sometimes it takes awhile to get it down to a routine in which everyone is comfortable. Even our dogs are having fun at this point, and they have learned how to figure out when we’re stopping for the night. It seems rather odd that in our Great Adventure we might have a routine, but in a way, we do. Traveling with two dogs is in some ways quite similar to traveling with children – you have to make bathroom stops when they start whining, and sometimes they just want attention. Both of those issues are a lot easier with dogs, and a benefit we’re enjoying greatly is that it keeps us moving and walking and getting some exercise.

We’ve weathered some engine misbehavior (perhaps a tank of bad gas? We’ll never know for sure, but it fixed itself and I like that kind of magic!) and found an RV parts dealer to buy a replacement air conditioner shroud for the roof. When we left South Dakota, we headed west on I-80 through Wyoming. We anticipated that we would need three days to get to Wendover, Nevada, where we had reservations, and so we allowed four. Good thing! We arrived right on schedule even with the detour to the RV place and one short day because of the ornery engine.

Traveling through Wyoming was lovely – plains and prairie meet the mountains, and everything is so much bigger than New Hampshire. I chose to gawk at the scenery for most of the drive rather than read, which is my normal traveling habit. Utah was grand, too, until we reached the Great Salt Lake. From there west, the road is straight and boring; there are even huge yellow caution signs along the roadway warning drivers to stop if they become drowsy. It’s a tough drive from Salt Lake City into Nevada.

Bridal Veil Falls was beautiful, and a pleasant break from driving.

My favorite part of Utah on this drive was Bridal Veil Falls, in the Provo Canyon area. It’s a double waterfall, over 600 feet tall, and where it finally hits the bottom, the water pools and is perfect for wading and splashing about. It was a great stop, and when we saw that the dogs were allowed we went back to the RV and got them. They loved the walk, through shady paths with great sniffing along the way.

Two days at the Bonneville Salt Flats experiencing part of Speed Week brought surprises and a lot of fun. We had no idea what to expect, but living near the Loudon NASCAR track put those images in our heads. Wow, were we ever wrong! It was informal, low-key, friendly, and not like anything I’ve ever seen before. The first surprise for me was the start-ups. These races are time trials, not competitive in a group like NASCAR. So each vehicle just starts as soon as the track boss gives the OK that the whole track is clear. Most of the vehicles don’t have low gears, so they are PUSHED, usually by a regular ole pickup truck until they’re going fast enough to go on their own. There’s kind of a runway, two miles long, to give them time until they hit the first timing device, and then the “race” is on. There are timers at every mile from there to the end; these timers are engineered by the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association — check them out at http://www.scta-bni.org/) and are guaranteed to be precise.

There are three race tracks, one for high speeds, and two for lower speeds. Here is the information about who gets to drive on which track, quoted from http://hotrod.gregwapling.com/land-speed-racing-america/land-speed-racing-bonneville.html:

“Long course system, vehicles over 175 mph, is a 5 mile track (2 miles to get up to speed, then three one mile timed segments). Short Course system, vehicles under 175 mph, is a 3 mile track (2 miles to get up to speed, then one timed mile). All records set at Bonneville are by a qualifying run (over existing record), and the next morning making a return run, these two speeds are averaged for the record. All speeds used in the averaging method must be over the SAME relative mile.”

That's salt all over the front of the car!

When you arrive at the Salt Flats, there are bright orange cones that kind of mark the travel lanes, but mostly you can drive anywhere you want, except on the raceway of course. We watched all three tracks, but the fast one was the most fun. The most amazing thing to us was that ANYONE can race their vehicle. There are numerous categories (such as streamliners, modified pickup trucks, or motorcycles) – see them all at http://www.scta-bni.org/Rulebook/car_classes.htm, and one track veteran told us that if someone brings in a vehicle that doesn’t fit in a category, they’ll make a new category! We saw speedsters that were obviously professional, with sponsor stickers all over, and we also saw rigs that were definitely home made, and that made it a lot of fun because sometimes it was the home made ones that earned top speeds. We saw several vehicles topping the 200 MPH mark, and one that hit 340 on Thursday!

The umbrella makes a big difference in the driver's comfort; it's about 100 degrees out there. The truck behind the racer will push it out onto the track and get it up to speed before the racer can pull ahead and begin its test.

There are viewing places at different locations: the starting lines, the registration/pit area, and places along the tracks themselves. You can’t get too close to the racing vehicles once they get up to speed, for obvious safety reasons, but you can see them well because it’s all flat and open. There are other places to watch along the track course, but to get to some of them you need special passes. It’s very informal, though, and we parked right up against the “caution” tape in a couple of spots along the track; we rode out in the RV, dogs and all, and it was great to turn on the generator and kick back in the coolness while watching the activity right in front of us.  We liked the starting line best because you can stand as close as about twenty feet from the racers. Like I said, it’s very informal!

Many of the participating vehicles are "streamliners" -- low to the ground and obviously designed for high speed.

The sequence of racers is determined by who gets in the line, kind of like at the grocery store, so all the categories are intermingled. My husband said he expected to see each class have a specified time to run, but it’s not that way at all. Thursday was the last “big” day of the event, and at one point we heard the announcer saying that there was no line, no waiting, if anyone wanted to run the track.

Motorcycles don't need to be pushed at the start because they have lower gears. This one was driven by a woman, which I was excited to see!

One more interesting tidbit: the track is actually twenty miles long, giving the vehicles plenty of time to slow down and turn around in order to return to the pits areas. Most vehicles have parachutes on the back, and once they cross the last timing device, they open the parachute to help them slow down. Sometimes, though, vehicles don’t make it to the finish line. Much like Olympic athletes, things go wrong. We heard the announcer comment that one vehicle took out a mile marker/timing device, which resulted in a delay while it was repaired. Another announcement noted that a vehicle dropped debris on the track, so a crew had to go out and make sure they found all of it.

It was definitely not boring, even though there was quite a bit of time between vehicle starts. I like car stuff, and I’m glad I got to see it. I’d even go again if I had a chance, but don’t tell my husband; he’ll be making plans for next year!

We didn’t return to the track on Friday (today), although we could see some activity from the highway as we traveled east, back to Salt Lake City. We arrived at our new campground early this afternoon, and we’re going to “live” here for a week, maybe longer if we decide to, because we can. It’s a new feeling, now that the first two scheduled (and wonderful) plans of our Great Adventure have been completed. We can go anywhere we want to go and stay as long or as little as we please. We felt some relief about that as we pulled in  this afternoon, knowing that now we have the ultimate on-the-road-freedom, so we’re kicking back and slowing down for awhile. Ahh, such luxury!

Life is good.













2 thoughts on “Utah and Nevada – From Waterfalls to Speed Records

  1. you would make a wonderful travel mag. writer!!!! The essence of what happens there is now totally clear to me……and thank you for that.

  2. I took more notes from your blog for my future cross-country trek that you and Doug have inspired. Very interesting blog, this! THe laid back informal part was so different than the East Coast and it all turned out ok, too. Thanks for sharing!

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