Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Crossing the Flats

While we could see mountains far ahead, all around us was flat and colorless
Looking more like water than ground, distant rocks apeared to be islands. Were we looking at the far off lake or was it an illusion? I thought of the frontier travelers. I thought of Jedediah Smith returning from California in 1827. What he had heard from the Native Americans could not have prepared him for this land. 
The Donner-Reed Party crossing these flats in 1848 were definitely not prepared. The shortcut, named the Hastings cutoff, had been promoted by Lansford Hastings  but was used very little after the Donner's much publicized troubles.  
For eighty miles they trudged across the hostile land, its surface a crust which trapped wagons and made even walking hard. Water evaporated very quickly, here, during the hot summer. Then, during winter, the surface is often covered with a thin layer of rising ground water. This time of wet followed by rapid evaporation makes a thick crust through which heavy wagons easily break. The group lost most of their cattle and oxen, abandoned much of their stuff and had to carry their children.
The Donner-Reed party lost most of a "season" crossing the salt flats. It was late in the season when they finally reached the Sierra Mountains at Truckee Lake (now renamed Donner Lake). It was there that their troubles became much worse.
These ill-fated pioneers could not have imagined that a hundred years later folks would be speeding across the flats in race cars.
Named for Captain Benjamin L.E.Bonneville by by Joseph Reddeford Walker, whom Bonneville had employed to survey and map the area the Bonneville Flats is so flat that you can see the Earth's curvature.  By 1896 it was recognized as a place for car races. It is now the place to go to beat any land speed record. 
Jeff and I were far from breaking any  record as we fought the strong cross-winds of the flats this day.  With other tourists we laughed at the wind as we stood on the beach, a beach that bordered a sea of dry salt, not water.
We felt relief as we spotted the Town of Windover at the edge of the Flats. We assumed the town's name was descriptive.  
For us that was far from true.

1 comment:

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

It's a depressing area. Unless you know your way around. :) On these backroads, I photograph wild mustangs each spring. And, we've found a rock hounding spot that is ripe for topaz!