Our first visit to Las Vegas this summer was a blast. Great city. Great people. Great atmosphere. Great climate. But even we noticed the extreme desert heat. Realizing we needed to get some fresh air and cool off, our hosts recommended Mount Charleston. Also known as Charleston Peak, Mount Charleston, we were told, is a Colorado-like place with cooler temperatures and gorgeous mountain scenery.
What?! In Vegas?!?! This one we had to check out…
So off we went on the 40-minute drive northwest of Sin City. It wasn’t long before we noticed the desert landscape getting greener before our eyes. And up Charleston we drove, deeper into the Spring Mountains. Wow, they weren’t kidding. This place is awesome! It reminded us of our visit to Italy’s mountainous Trentino region years ago. And to think, Mount Charleston is only a short drive from Vegas; a very easy day trip. Plenty of places to park the car and enjoy the scenery, cooler temperatures, and numerous hiking trails that will take you deeper into the wilderness. All in Clark County. On the day we went in late August, it was 100 degrees in Vegas, but only 70 (with a light breeze) on Mt. Charleston.
There’s more to Vegas than visitors think. Mt. Charleston’s definitely a well-kept local secret.
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We waited a long time to see this place in person. The Bonneville Salt Flats is as close to an alien landscape on Planet Earth that you can find. We were drawn to it because it’s so…different. It’s the ultimate escape from reality.
The final fight between humanity and the alien queen in this summer’s Independence Day: Resurgence took place on the Flats, with a little help from CGI magic. We didn’t see any alien queens out here, but we were ready if one decided to show up. The Salt Flats is featured in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials–especially car commercials. Even Don Draper made an appearance in a modified 1970 Chevelle SS in the Mad Men series finale. Countless land speed records were set and broken here over the years.
It was a hot, dry day in July when we took off from the last paved road and waltzed onto what looked like oblivion. Driving on the Flats is an experience that’s second to none. Sure, you could take a few laps on a (paved) racetrack, but how about driving on a field of table salt, as fast as your car can go and in any direction, without the horizon changing? Distance is impossible to gauge out here. Once you drive a few miles inward, you can get out of the car and walk across the crunchy surface to take in the eerily silent, beaming white emptiness. Want to get away from civilization for a while? This will work.
You can drive as fast as you want to within the realms of safety. There’s no official speed limit. That’s why the Salt Flats is so popular for racing specialized cars. Since we visited shortly before the popular Speed Week, we were lucky enough to meet a crew working on a specialized car capable of going 400+ mph. It was in pieces at the time, undergoing final preparation, but it went on to race on the Bonneville International Speedway–a 9-mile stretch on the Flats marked by two blue (painted) lines–a couple of weeks later.
Some Words of Caution
But the fun things in life come with caution. Racing on the Salt Flats–professionally and for fun–comes with serious risk, so be prepared. We write these words of caution not to be condescending, but because we had a few hiccups out there ourselves, from almost driving into an abandoned spool of barbed wire that came out of nowhere–and would have probably shattered the windshield at our speed–to nearly running out of gas. The Bonneville Salt Flats are to be feared and revered.
The Salt Flats occupy a large swath of Northwestern Utah, but the best place to enter this magical land is right at the Utah/Nevada border at Wendover, UT, just across from West Wendover, NV (see map above). That would be Exit 4 on I-80, about a two-hour drive west of Salt Lake City.
Before entering the Salt Flats, please check with the local Bureau of Land Management office to make sure the Flats are drivable. They’re safe to drive on when dry, but it’s illegalto drive on the Salt Flats when wet, since it’s federally protected land. BLM will have up-to-date information for you and speed limit recommendations. They can be contacted here. There will also be signs posted nearby to tell of the current conditions.
When driving on the flats, bring lots of water, cell phone, extra food, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and perhaps most importantly, a full tank of gas. Driving on the salt is like driving on very crisp, crunchy snow, so your car’s gas mileage will be terrible. We could actually see the fuel gauge move down as the speedometer moved up. It could costs hundreds to have your car towed.
Those of us who have spent even one winter in the Northeast know all too well the effects salt has on a car. WE’RE NOT GOING TO LIE: YOU WILL GET SALT ON AND UNDER YOUR CAR. LOTS OF IT. It could cost a lot of money and time to get all the salt off the underside of your car; one car wash is simply not enough. We spent $100 at do-it-yourself car washes over the course of two weeks getting salt out of every crevasse. In the end, it was all worth it to us since it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but we advise you, the reader, to enter the Bonneville Salt Flats at your own risk.
Saloons are the cornerstone of the Old West. You’ve probably never heard of Genoa, NV unless you’re from there. Only an hour south of Reno, Genoa’s claim to fame is Nevada’s oldest saloon: Genoa Bar and Saloon.
We’re not sharing interior pictures because we don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you want to get an authentic “Wild West” feel while kicking back and enjoying a drink, it’s right here for you. And if you’re lucky enough, you might see some wildlife nearby, like we did.
Special thanks to Allen for sending these pictures along for us to share. We enjoy hearing from our readers, and welcome you to send your travel stories through our Share Your Travels page. Your contributions help make UndiscoveredWanderings possible.
We couldn’t have made this one up if we tried. Then again, we haven’t been to Key West, Florida yet. But who would guess that the place is overrun by rogue chickens?! OK, maybe it’s not that bad, but the local wildlife is definitely offbeat and very much apart of life in Key West. These wild birds roam the streets, hang out in trees, and make their daily rounds through alleyways and gardens, usually looking for–and receiving–handouts (personally, we don’t recommend feeding them). Guess the alarm clock industry isn’t much of a thing in Key West; there’s plenty of roosters who are happy to do the job.
And we thought runaway iguanas were bizarre and a “Florida thing”. Apparently they play with the chickens, too. So if you’re planning a trip to the Keys, be prepared to be welcomed by everyone and everything. They’re quite popular with tourists.
Life in Key West, we hear, is pretty relaxing. The local wildlife agrees.
Oregon’s a beautiful state. For those who’ve only been to the coast, we recommend driving through Eastern Oregon. The unrivaled views are amazing. And along the way, you’ll find some interesting curiosities, like this phone booth. We did a double take when we saw this one.
It’s one thing to occasionally find the ever-disappearing payphone these days, but it’s a completely different story to encounter an actual phone booth! Complete with windows, vintage phone sign, and, presumably, a working phone (although it was out of order when we visited). This was too good not to feature on UWanderings. These relics from the past are almost gone; we’re happy that ODOT preserved this one.
The crazy things we find on the road. Seriously.
This gem from the past is located at Boardman Rest Area in North Central Oregon, off of I-84. See map above for details. Happy travels!