Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

2-Year Project Restoring Salt Flats Covering Expected to Thicken This Year

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

2-Year Project Restoring Salt Flats Covering Expected to Thicken This Year

Article excerpt

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's springtime, and the Bonneville Salt Flats -- where race car drivers have been breaking speed records for generations -- are under water, a shallow pool mirroring the mountains beyond.

But in a few weeks, winter's rainwater will evaporate, leaving a blazing white stretch of salt that curves off into the distance like a shoreline with no ocean.

This year, the salt will probably be a little thicker than last.

About half an inch thicker, in fact -- a total of 1.9 million tons of salt spread across 28,000 acres, according to the federal Bureau of Land Management, which reported the preliminary results of a 2-year-old salt restoration project.

The results are good news for racing enthusiasts worried that the Bonneville Salt Flats are deteriorating, the salt stripped away by mining and erosion.

"It's real exciting," said Rick Vesco, a race driver who helped found Save the Salt, the group that pushed for the salt restoration. "It was getting so that there wasn't going to be any more salt flats."

Save the Salt began in 1989, when the drivers who gather on the flats each

summer noticed the salt was so thin that the sticky mud underneath was slowing down their cars. The seven-mile loop used to be nearly twice as long, and parts of the track had about 18 inches of salt in the 1940s.

Vesco said it's now down below a half-inch in spots.

Actually, that's just the upper salt crust, created from sodium chloride that percolates from the soil into the winter rainwater. The salt is left behind when the water evaporates, then is polished smooth by the desert winds.

Below that is a layer of gypsum up to an inch thick, then 3 to 5 inches of hard, porous salt, then another stratum of gypsum and another of salt. At the base is the mudbed of ancient Lake Bonneville, which covered a third of what is now Utah about 15,000 years ago. …

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