The ride to Wendover
It’s my first trip to the Bonneille Salt Flats for SpeedWeek. I’ve got five pages to fill for Race Engine Technology about the bouillabaisse of power plants that convene every August at this shrine to speed. There are a sufficient number of records to be broken in any number (because I don’t have a clue how many there are!) of categories that this is a must-attend for racers and lovers of speed.
The original plan was to drive three-quarter distance the first night, which would have been Wednesday and then show up Thursday for the start of tech. Good way to figure out what interests me, right? Then the better part of valor said, no, start Thursday. Not wanting to make the trip in one ride – not that young anymore and night vision isn’t a strong suit – I made a reservation in Ely, intending to start out nine-ish from LA. That became eight-ish and off we went.
It’s me and Leah the hearing dog riding shotgun, two camera bags, a 35-bottle case of Costco 16.9-oz water, three bottles of wine, a cooler with three of those water bottles frozen, some cheese and dog treats, my customary track bag, the 22-inch suitcase and a bag filled with snacks. We’re in a lovely white sedan (perfect for keeping things cooler on the hot sand) and no, I’m not going to tell what it is.
Sprint car racer Damion Gardner has been emailing with info about the weather patterns in Wendover and says everything’s pushed back a day. Perfect for us. We check SCTA’s website before getting in the car right after deep rush hour and off we go. We stop in Victorville to refuel and take a short walk then at the Primm outlets for another walk and relief. We are getting back in the car when an email comes through from our roommate for the weekend, saying that oops, he booked for Saturday not Friday.
Sleeping in the car isn’t horrible when you’re this short. Done it before with Leah, and it looked like we’d do it again. As we’re riding through Vegas, Pete Aardema – he of the hybrid Model A engines – calls to say he’s not starting out from San Diego until he’s sure something’s going to happen cause he’s got two cars to tow – and that’s expensive. I start to get a little apprehensive… maybe that rain might be a problem?
So off we go following George Callaway’s directions. He’s the Mayor of El Mirage and knows this drive like the back of his hand – this is his 61st year. We get off the I-15 at US93, stop at the Love’s to refuel again because it’s a long way to Ely. At the fuel station we meet up with land speed motorcycle racer Valerie Thompson and make plans to get together to talk about her engine once we’re all there.
As George instructed we stopped again in Ash Springs for another trip to the restroom and some ice cream. In the heat of the day, that sure felt good. Valerie goes by us and I wonder how long it’ll take to pass her. We turned off on 318 for the shortcut to Ely that shaves almost 50 miles from the trip and goes through some country I wish I could look at on the boring I-5 between LA and the Bay Area. As a segue, if those farmers that are so pissed off at the government for not allowing them to use water would inform us what they’re trying to grow, the ride would be a hell of a lot more entertaining and educational. Okay, got that one off my chest.
When 318 ended we turned right onto US6 and drove through a mountain road that would have been so much fun in my 2002 Mini Cooper. Sorry – still glad to have left it at home for this trip, as so many of the roads are poor and the Mini is stiff. Turned left on Great Basin Road and arrived at our Bristlecone Motel for the night. They put us in an end unit and I deftly back the car in right next to the motel door. So easy to disgorge and replenish.
Walked about 3/4-mile up the hill to the Subway for a veggie flatizza and wondered why I was getting out of breath when I realized we’re about 6700 above sea level. Okay, settle in for Leah’s and my dinner and get on the web to discover – nothing’s happening on the salt until Sunday and that’s setup and tech only, with racing on Monday. My roommate is still coming on Saturday (instead of Friday and sleeping in their car) so that works and I can talk to people on Saturday and Sunday, watch and shoot some racing on Monday and head back to fulfill my August 26 deadline (while working the Sonoma Raceway IndyCar race) before leaving for the NHRA US Nationals on the 27th.
Going on Friday to Wendover is a crap shoot. Everything has been sold out for months, prices are in the $200/night and five-night minimum range and I really don’t want to take the chance that I might have to sleep in the car. I decide to stay a second night in Ely and, gasp, take a day off and go exploring this copper mining town.
We get up and do a walking tour after breakfast, stopping to photograph the topography, a few things that catch my eye. Leah gasps as she hears the ducks in a pond near city center, we find a lovely shop with things I’d buy if I had money to buy things, an Art Center, the Nevada Hotel and Casino and a couple of Aussies also on their way to the salt. We chat for a bit and then head farther down the road, looking at all the murals on the buildings, the history of the copper mines and the railroad aspect of town.
We walk back past every barking dog on Ely’s main street and back up the hill to the Bristlecone, where we take a break. When I open the door, there are ominous clouds and I realize it’s time to photograph the car if I want it shot relatively clean. So off we go in search of a photo location and Cave Lake, which we’d heard about from Ron at the hotel. The car gets shot and it’s off to the lake and the scenery is fabulous, the light amazing (no rain yet) and I stop and use the D600/50mm 1.4 out the window and door.
Leah tenses up as the storm approaches and we head back. We go back into town to take in the Railroad Museum and then head for the Art Center (open 1-4) and enjoy the exhibit as it begins to pour. I gather Leah and we get back in the car, which is parked right outside. We decide to take the locals at face value (it’ll be over soon) and look for the air museum at the airport but don’t make it that far. Just coming down too hard and Leah is not liking this.
Stopping here and there to snap, then go to the local store looking for an umbrella. None in the grocery store or the variety store. One clerk tells me heck, it never rains here. Wrong, I say – just look out the window! After the rain stops we take a nice walk up the street and discover a guy with an Airstream he’s restoring. It’s really nice and unoriginal in some very important ways – it’s habitable.
We talk, he invites us to dinner, I demure (not everyone wants a vegetarian they’ve never met before), but I meet his wife and mother-in-law, talk cameras for a bit and we’re on our way back to the motel. I pick up menus and decide between the Mexican and Oriental. The Mexican eatery is so full that my to-go order would never get filled as I like it so it’s off to the Oriental place where I get pot stickers. And for the first time in my life I get them fried (this wasn’t what I expected but guess that’s the way they do it at Twin Woks). And they are authentically oriental owners – not sure about the folks at the Mexican place.
So that’s where we stand. Off to Wendover in the morning and to work.
Words and photos by Anne Proffit