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Bonneville can be a tough place (2008) (saltflats.com)
49 points by luu 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 29 comments

Oh dear, I can relate. We did Mongol Rally last year, 27'000 km total From Latvia to Mongolia and back. 2 months in an ancient soviet car (Lada 1200 from 1984).

We got proper stuck by a salt lake in Iran. A local tried to pull us out, only to get his car stuck as well. First tractor could get him out, but not us. Ended up getting a bigger tractor which essentially lifted us out.. Took about 4 hours in total.

Here's a pic:


What a great story, and I'm sure you have more! Why did you do the Rally? Do you have a blog that documents your journey?

The Mongol Rally has been the dream of mine for a while. I have a few friends that I'd trust to do it with but they're not in a financial state to pull this off yet.

That's sounds like quite the adventure, what car was what in, a Lada? I don't recognize it at all but looks very Soviet/Russian like.

Any chance you got more to put in an album?

The ca is a Lada 1200 (or VAZ 2101 "Zhiguli" in USSR). It's visually almost identical to the Italian Fiat 124, the Soviets bought the design and modified it to be more suitable for the rougher road conditions and weather.

Here's [1] a mish-mash of my favourite pictures from the rally, roughly in chronological order - from prep all the way to the finish. And here's the map of the route we did [2]. Nearly a year after finish, I still haven't finished writing up the whole trip though.

[1] https://photos.app.goo.gl/9dzr7vR3DPssv2J79

[2] https://www.ivankathetanka.com/map.html

You have written up the colophon, which is the most important part, however: https://www.ivankathetanka.com/#/2019/05/01/web :-) (as we all know, Archimedes never moved the world because he started on the design of the perfect length lever first.)

TIL it isn't always true that "К Жигулям — литые диски!" What was the truck with the jet-like thing on the bed? Did you ever see the mongolian stick/rope thing being used to catch cattle, or just to drive them?

Yes, can't believe _every_ Ленинград lyric! In seriousness, we wanted to go with some reinforced alloys at first (magnesium ones from Kazan), but due to various constraints went with steelies instead. Main reason - they don't shatter. By the end of the rally, we could lift the car, take off a ruined wheel, hammer it back into shape, re-inflate the tire and re-install the wheel in 5 minutes or so. Alloys have a tendency of shattering instead.

Those are awesome pictures and thank you for sharing. That must have been a blast!

I've visited this place once. My girlfriend and I drove out quite a ways - the salt flats are prettier / more reflective, like what you'd see in popular Instagram posts, once you drive for 5 minutes away from the road that everyone parks on.

A storm was approaching from the direction that we came. I was counting the time between the rumbles of thunder and the strikes of lightning. It was about 5-10 seconds, which was close enough for me to rush back into the car after getting a couple of nice pictures.

My girlfriend and I parked our car toward the storm and watched for about 10 minutes. About half a mile back the way we came, we saw lightning strike the middle of the flats. It must have vaporized some of the mud / salt on the ground because there was a clear line of smoke coming up from that part of the ground. I was surprised that it struck a completely flat part, rather than our metal SUV, since we were definitely the tallest things around.

I insisted that we drive back, because despite knowing that we'd be relatively safe in a car, I wasn't looking to experience an electrical fire or, at a minimum, the worst jump-scare of my life. As I drove back to the parking lot, what shocked me the most was seeing people still out taking pictures back near the parking lot from which we came. The lightning strike occurred between our car and the people out taking photos, which means they were easily in striking distance. I was honestly scared I would witness someone get struck - these are salt _flats_ - anyone out taking photos is the tallest thing in the area for several miles.

Why anyone would drive a vehicle on "salt" anything let alone when there's the threat of moisture appearing from the sky is beyond me but maybe I'm just jaded because my state salts the roads.

It's really dry out there most of the time. And the salt flats are flat and hard, which is why they are used for racing.

Land speed racing can only occur when the lake bed is dry, and after a course is prepared piste style. A lot of the year it's soggy and unstable, which is why speed week is in August if conditions are ok. you can stand on the start line but the cars are geared for a slow push start, nothing beats the doppler effect of multi engined streamliners going past mid course, seeing earth curvature and heat mirages. Amazing experience. https://youtu.be/HzwWTYQwvA0 https://youtu.be/qJ_WqSrC-LY

FFR, if you know where the lightning struck the ground, you might get lucky and find a fulgurite there after the storm passes.[0]


> I was surprised that it struck a completely flat part, rather than our metal SUV, since we were definitely the tallest things around.

Given that a lightning bolt is anywhere from about 1-20km long, the ~1.5 - 2m height differential of your vehicle is background noise.

It isn't about the height, it is that spikier conducting things concentrate charges.

Does this mean the people are pretty much safe, too? Can’t imagine many of them are over 2m.

A few years ago a young woman jogging on the beach near Lisbon was struck and killed by lightning.

I wouldn't bet my life against those natural shortest path algorithms ...

I wouldn't bet on it - the lightning might strike the ground directly sometimes, but I imagine that a taller object still has a much higher risk of being struck...

My dad passed away late last year. He was a member of the 200 mph club, and still holds a few records he set in the 70s/80s.

Perhaps my favorite story was of the motorcycle he used to break 200mph on the saltflats. Some called it the high speed ditch witch. It had no fairing, making drag a night insurmountable obstacle. Adding more power just meant it would start digging deeper into the salt, and leave a ditch behind it as it went.

My mom's favorite story was about the time a powerful wind blew over a portapotty, knocking it onto the door, trapping the occupant inside.

For anyone intrested in the Rich History of Bonneville, the story of Burt, the first man to break the 200mph land record on a homemade bike he made in his shed in NZ was made into a movie a while back.

Awesome movie and still speaks to me about the real reason why I thought motorsports was the best thin back then in my Life.


I was on a commercial film shoot a few years ago for a production company from the east coast (New York area, I believe). They wanted to shoot on the salt flats but many had no knowledge of the flats or the challenges associated with them. They had all the proper permits, gear, clearances, and even a handful of local salt flat production veterans. But the shear lack of knowledge about the salt flats lead to four vehicles getting stuck in the salt, more than half of the day lost (it was a two day shoot), and what I was told was a very expensive bill from the towing company (who had to use an old snowcat) and the BLM who manages the land and is responsible for cleaning up the divits. Lesson learned: never take the salt flats for granted.

Many years ago I took a trip with my mother west from our home near Salt Lake City toward California in our crazy 6 wheeled van. I was a fairly new driver, so when we got to the giant concrete tree I decided to drive out to it.

As we were leaving I decided to drive around it a bit where I saw a bunch of other tracks had made circles in the salt. My mother got nervous when she saw what I was doing and started yelling "STOP! STOP!", so I did... Wrong move! While I had been moving, our speed and fresh salt had been holding us up, and when I stopped we immediately sank up to our axles like the motorhome here.

When the wrecker came they didn't want to come off the road at all. They had to leave and come back with a much longer cable. It took a few hours, but we managed to escape and finish our trip with no other major problems :)

There's a youtube channel for an offroad recovery company in Utah, and they recently were called to a nearby salt flat [0]. They almost got stuck themselves.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUSpD_waiEQ

Those are amazing pictures.

What was the outcome? Were all the vehicles able to be pulled out?

>What was the outcome?

Usually this kind of thing turns into lots of work with beer and shovels or someone rents a tracked skid steer (depending on the financial inclination of those involved).

In this case tow company added a 3rd wrecker to the mix since they had to get their own trucks out.

They got an even bigger wrecker (with a third axle, helping to spread the weight). The end of the article said it freed the home, Big Blue, one yellow wrecker, and was then working on the last.

I can confirm. I was there a couple of times over the last month and none of this mess is remaining. It was all white and flat with a fire burn marks from tires and fire pits.

Do people get fined or cited for ripping up the terrain due to negligence or is this a free for all land that you can drive on without much repercussion?

I just recall reading that at Burning Man for example, lighting a fire on the playa gets you a fine for permanently scarring the landscape. So, in this case, a truck leaving a 2 foot gash in the salt -- is that not something that carries a penalty?

Are those trenches and pits permanent? It was my understanding that the flats are from prehistoric lake Bonneville, which would make it seem as if they aren't going to regenerate until the next ice age.

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