Bonneville Revisited
August 25th, 2008

So many people asked if I had plans to attend Speed Week on the salt flats that I finally decided I would have to do so. This in spite of my dermatologist’s warning to stay out of the sun, as my hide has already incurred five hundred times the recommended lifetime exposure to solar radiation.

Somewhere between Knolls and Wendover I changed my mind. Alas, there is no chance of turning back until one arrives at the exit ramp to the Bonneville Raceway. There I discovered a Hooverville consisting of motor homes and trailers, recreation vehicles and pup tents. Still looking for a spot to turn around, I spotted the encampment of Mike and Karen Moore of Oakridge, Oregon.


The Moores had driven down from Oakridge in a 1940 Chevy, in tow a teardrop trailer that is an exact replica of one Mike spotted in a 1947 edition of Mechanix Illustrated. Attached to the homebuilt trailer was an army surplus tent of WW II vintage. On the rear of the trailer was painted a sign: “Bonneville or Bust.”

We had a pleasant chat, and because Karen was kind enough to chase down an empty juice bottle that had been blown from my car when I opened the door, I rewarded her with a complimentary Burt Munro at Bonneville poster.

“That movie inspired us to come to Bonneville,” I was told.

Other pilgrims who were likewise inspired included an estimated 400 New Zealanders, four of whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a KOA campground in Salt Lake the previous Sunday. I was hoping to meet the other 396 Kiwis and perhaps sell as many posters—but alas, that would entail venturing even farther into the salt desert, under a cloudless sky, under a merciless sun.

So I drove around Wendover for awhile, trying hard to remember what it was that had appealed to me to the place forty years earlier. The desolation, I suppose, and the fact Wendover has historically attracted colorful and unusual characters such as the Moores. But much has changed since the Seventies. Half a dozen new casinos have sprung up, along with a brand new concert hall. A giant electric marquee announces the impending appearance of Engelbert Humperdinck at the Peppermill.

Humperdinck is now 72 years of age, and I have to wonder if, like me, whenever he gazes out across the desiccated, sun-baked prehistoric lake bottom, if he wonders, “Am I that easy to forget?”

Assuming that room rates had been jacked up for the duration of the speed trials, I decided to camp out. I followed U.S. 93 A south to Six Mile Hill, far enough from the lights of town that I would be able to watch the stars come out. First, the near planets, then a constellation or two, the Big Dipper, the North Star. Finally, as fun seekers in West Wendover craned their necks upward to admire a giant illuminated image of Engelbert Humperdinck, I beheld the Milky Way in all its splendor. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Come the dawn, I wandered around in search of photogenic artifacts. Six Mile Hill has traditionally be a place where locals go to dump off nonworking household appliances and vehicles. These are then sprayed with graffiti, shot to pieces and set ablaze. Whatever remains gradually becomes integral to the landscape, just as we ourselves will be, in the event no benevolent supernatural heavenly being swoops down at the last minute to rescue us from this temporal sphere.


I found less junk than in previous years, thanks in large part to the Bureau of Land Management, which recently started posting “No Dumping” signs on Six Mile Hill. I suppose it’s a good idea, and I’m sure Karen Moore, who chased down my runaway juice bottle, would agree. For even though she and Mike have worked hard to replicate a road trip of the mid-1950’s, they are appalled to think that tourists in those days thought nothing of casing litter alongside the highway, or relieving themselves on the salt flats.

-Richard Menzies