I’d never heard of the City of Wendover, until I decided to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats, just 9 miles to the East. I expected some tiny place, but instead, I found a Utah city with a population of 1,000+ that focuses on mineral extraction and aviation.
Across the border, in West Wendover, Nevada, with 4x the population, were hotels, casinos, restaurants and a few gas stations. I wouldn’t have even known they were two separate towns except when I briefly crossed the border for gas, my gps greeted me with, “Welcome to Nevada.”
Camping in Wendover
Unsure of the camping situation in this area, I checked out my Harvest Hosts App and found the Historic Wendover Airfield. The day before arrival, I requested a stay and was so surprised by the welcoming response.
According to Landon, I could park anywhere on the perimeter of the museum parking lot, visit the museum up until 5pm, visit the airport office until 6, climb the control tower, walk through the plane used in the movie Con Air, and even take a mobile tour of the historic Air Force base.
I was excited to get there, so I skipped the Bonneville Salt Flats and planned on saving them for sunset for better light. This was almost an 89-mile error, but more on that later.
Wendover Historic Airfield
Clearly, I was already pleasantly surprised by my anticipated campsite before I knew the Wendover Historic Airfield was used to build and to train for deploying the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.
The museum and the airport office both include historic displays and pictures. I liked fiddling with the interactive morse code station, seeing a replica of the Little Boy Atomic Bomb, and admiring pictures and autographs from the 509 Composite Group who dropped the bombs and ended the war with the Japanese.
It’s hard to believe there were once 20,000 personnel based here. More interesting is that there was no bomber-training base in the US when the war broke out, and then suddenly Wendover became the largest bomber base in the world! Despite no longer operating as an Air Force base, Wendover has the only open bomb loading pit left in the world!
A World War II history buff could spend hours inside both the airport office and the museum, a two story green building called the “Brinkman Service Club,” while looking at all the pictures and displays. While I spent some time in both, I also wandered around the now mostly deserted base with Annie which I found quite enjoyable. I found out later there is an afternoon tour of much more than what I saw, so check that out.
Annie didn’t quite like control tower with see through steps. It proved scary for her, so I climbed it at sunset after I settled on visiting the Salt Flats in the morning. But we did walk much of the rest of the base that most people drove.
We passed many abandoned buildings including hangars where they housed the bombers, a hospital, a dining hall and several barracks. With the homeless population the way it is in the USA, it seems like those buildings would be a cost-effective way to house them.
When they were built, however, insulation and bathrooms weren’t included, so I suspect they aren’t considered up to today’s standards for the homeless. Anyway, they could stand some sprucing up and the Wendover Historical Airfield Foundation is raising money to refurbish the buildings. I was happy to donate to the cause in turn for my overnight stay in the parking lot in VANgo.
The base was a strange mix of desertion and operation. While it is no longer part of the Air Force, the airport is now owned by Tooele County, and it is lightly used by private planes, helicopters and charter flights as part of a package deal with the casinos.
In fact, the airport office not only includes historic displays, but also a pilot’s lounge, and a staff breakroom. Airplane gas prices are listed on the right side of the entrance while an historic honor hall is to the left.
Gamble at the Casinos
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Historic Wendover Airfield, but that is not all there is to do in the City. As I previously mentioned, gamblers as well as RVers will be happy to find a few casinos. Gamblers can try their hand at blackjack, while the RVers can rest up in the parking lot for free.
Eat at Salt Flats Cafe
While there are likely some good restaurants at the hotel/casinos, I recommend trying out the authentic Mexican restaurant called, Salt Flats Café. I was hungry early and figured I’d beat the crowd at 5:30pm. Not so! It was packed with mostly Hispanics. This is when you know you’ve hit the jackpot with authenticity.
The whole café was operated by one waiter, one host/cashier, one bus boy and some cooks in the back. It took a while to get seated, but the service was quick considering. The waiter brought chips and hot sauce while I waited for my tacos.
The chips were thick and crispy and clearly made at the café. The hot sauce was liquidy, not chunky salsa, and made your nose run. I can appreciate the authenticity, but it wasn’t my favorite.
That said, the three soft-shelled tacos, served with rice and beans, were superb. I ordered one of each; chicken, carne asada, and pork. The pork was out of this world.
The entire bill came to $7 cash! There was no ticket. The gentleman knew the prices by heart and for large orders added them in his head! I would have never found this place if it weren’t for the Harvest Host campsite at the Historic Wendover Airfield. Another pleasant surprise!
Visit the Bonneville Salt Flats
Of course, the real reason I came to Wendover in the first place was to hike on the Bonneville Salt Flats. I drove in on I-80 westbound from Salt Lake City after a recent trip to Moab. While there is a rest area on both side of the highway to see the salt flats, the salt flats on the westbound side are much better.
To get to the westbound side lawfully from Wendover, you have to drive 49 miles to the east and then come back 40. That was not on my list of things do and part of the reason I didn’t visit the salt flats at sunset. I also didn’t go because the wind picked up dramatically, and it was already hard enough to keep VANgo in the right lane, as I crossed a place so flat that you can see the curvature of the earth! I didn’t feel like trying it during windier conditions in the dark.
The next morning, I stopped off at the Eastbound rest area briefly, and resigned myself to making the long drive as I saw two cops were reported on Google Maps, and didn’t want to risk getting busted using the “authorized personnel” median crossings. But, as I reentered the highway, no one was coming from either direction. I couldn’t resist cutting off 80+ miles, and quickly and safely crossed the way with no cars in sight.
The salt flats on the westbound side with the mountainous background were beautiful. Due to a recent rainstorm, however, the banks were “muddy.” I use muddy in quotes as it was reflective wet salt, but my feet sunk a quarter inch just on the edge and the salt stuck to my shoes and to Annie’s feet. The salty mush turned deeper before the dry section in the middle.
These conditions kept me from walking out on the flats which was a bit of a disappointment, though I suspect Annie was happy to leave after she tried licking the salty puddle of water.
The salt flats run for miles. I scanned the horizon for a dry spot by the banks to no avail. I asked the janitor at the bathrooms if there was any place else I could go. He said, “No. It’s not like dirt after a rainstorm. It takes a while to dry up.”
Race Your Car at the Speedway
Somewhat disheartened, I left and hoped that I could somehow walk on the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway. Though the website says it is open to anyone for free, it also said that it was closed on the weekend.
I was uncertain if the speedway was simply salt flats where people raced their cars or if there were actual stands and an entrance to a speedway on the salt flats. Had I known it was the former, I would have spared myself the guilt of crossing the highway illegally since there was an exit for them both east and west bound.
The speedway was so fun to visit. I wish I knew about this place when I had my BMW Z4. I would have tested it out! I spared VANgo and my e-bike as I didn’t feel like looking for a carwash. I did, however, test out Annie’s speed: 0-18 mph in 3 seconds. Just kidding. I don’t know how long it takes her to get up to 18 mph, but I know she can run that fast, and likely faster when she spots a bunny!
Today, we just did our play routine where she runs circles around me. At home, she bites the grass in the process. She only did that once on the speedway after she got a mouthful of salt! We stayed to the side so others could race their cars. They started off slow and then zoomed off in the distance.
They say the course is so wide open and flat that you can’t hit anything, but somehow a previous hairdresser of mine wrecked at close to 200 mph. Fortunately, he lived to tell about it.
The Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway has been used for motorsports since 1912, but it became popular in the 1930s when Ab Jenkins and Sir Malcolm Campbell competed to set land speed records. There have been many speed records set since. Gary Gabelich drove Blue Flame 622 mph in 1970!
Now a speed week is held every August with courses set. Race teams come from all over to compete. That would be fun to see! Or it would even be fun to visit the speedway on a weekday when it is “open” to watch the many race teams prepare.
For a small town of 1,000 and a metroplex of 5,000, Wendover is blessed with some pretty cool historic events. Not only is it known for the WWII bombers and the salt flats, it is also where the last pole for the transcontinental telephone line was raised in 1914! I’m so glad I visited. Wendover was definitely worth a stop! ETB