ON THE WAY INTO WENDOVER
from the west, the freeway tops a rise and then sweeps down toward the Utah border and the Bonneville Salt Flats below. If you pull over to the side of the road at the crest and park for a few minutes, you can study a view unlike anything else in the world. The Salt Flats extend in a broad white plain, the desert's skin stretched tight, as far as the eye can see — and it curves. The horizon line is a clear arc from side to side, and the two stripes of freeway pavement curve away across the alkali toward the vanishing point. Nowhere else on land can you actually see the curvature of the earth.
Columbus was right!
Almost as amazing as its shape is the earth's texture and color here, spread out in horrid immensity: surely the cruelest desert your eyes will ever see. And where the bleached and crusty sea of alkali meets a shoreline of dead brown hills, is Wendover.
Feast your eyes on that scene for a while. You'll never forget it.
This remarkable settlement was established in the 1920s when Bill Smith built a gas station beside the road here on the Nevada side of the border with Utah. The light bulb he erected on a tall pole was only a tiny speck of light in the black desert night, but for years it served westbound motorists as a welcome beacon as they crossed the Bonneville Salt Flats. Thus Wendover developed as an island of civilization in a sea of isolation.
Wendover boomed during World War II when the Army Air Corps built a bomber training base here. The B-29 crews who dropped the atomic
bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima trained for their missions here. Some of the base has since been converted to civilian use, but most of it has simply been left to warp and tatter in the baking heat and the scouring winds. The roaring engines of the Enola Gay have faded to a distant drone, gone forever from the hot blue sky. A small museum harks back to the time this raggedy relic teemed with fliers and their aircraft.
Now a neon cowboy greets the travelers passing by on Interstate 80 and Wendover is booming again. Not only have the hotels been enlarged and modernized, the Concert Hall that serves as the showroom for the whole city was built and attracts big crowds from the Wasatch Front.