The long tow to a NASA Championships event is an opportunity for contemplation, formulating a game plan on how you want to attack the event, with lots of time to discuss it with your crew. The long tow home is the time to bask in the glory of victory, or savor the lessons learned and memories of racing against members of your extended NASA family.

It’s also a good time to squeeze in some tourism, and Salt Lake City, and Utah have some great activities, fascinating sights and some of the country’s most picturesque national parks.

What follows is a smorgasbord of some of those activities and destinations. You will learn from reading this story that there are a lot of other racers who will be in northern Utah in the weeks preceding, during and following the 2024 NASA Championships. If you are going, you would be wise to register now before entry fees increase May 1, and to make your hotel reservations sooner rather than the later. The Salt Flats Racing Association is holding its annual World of Speed event the same weekend as the 2024 NASA Championships, so lodging availability could be tight.

This year’s Championships event is shaping up to be one filled with great competition and some new and interesting festivities at Utah Motorsports Campus. If you have some time to tack onto the beginning or the end of your Championships experience, it could be a trip you’ll remember forever.

Bonneville Salt Flats

Utah Motorsports Campus is in Tooele, Utah, not far from Wendover, Utah. If the city of Wendover doesn’t ring a bell, you might be more familiar with one of the most surreal landscapes in the world that’s located in Wendover: the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Formed when the ancient Lake Bonneville dried up, the Bonneville Salt Flats filled much of the Great Basin west of Salt Lake City. As the body of water shrank below its outlet, the water became salty and as close to perfectly flat as is naturally achievable. Measuring 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, Bonneville Salt Flats is one of earth’s most unique landforms.

Even more familiar to gearheads like us is the land-speed racing that goes on at Bonneville several times a year, and has been taking place almost since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Coincidentally, the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association is holding the World of Speed event at the same time as the 2024 NASA Championships. That comes a month after the Southern California Timing Association’s Speedweek Aug. 3, and the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials Aug. 24-29, so it’s a busy time of year for racing in the region.

Pro tip: Reserve your hotel rooms now.

From Tooele, take Interstate 80 west to the North Bonneville Speedway Road exit and follow it past the 90-degree right hand turn to the Bonneville Salt Flats sign. If the flats are flooded with water, that’s as far as you can go, but if they have drained, which should be the case in September, you can drive out onto the salt flats for an other-worldly experience that has lured speed freaks back year after year.

On your way out to the flats, you can also stop to take in the grandeur of the Great Salt Lake.

Utah Olympic Park

Back in 2002, the winter Olympics took place in Salt Lake City, with some 2,500 athletes representing 77 nations and competing for the coveted medals and getting their face on a box of Wheaties. All of the infrastructure that was put in place at Utah Olympic Park to stage the event is still there and much of it is available to visitors.

There are guided tours, of course, but also attractions like the alpine slide, extreme tubing, zip lines, a discovery course and other pursuits for those who want something more active than a guided tour. At the Olympic Oval, the public can go ice skating on the “fastest ice on earth,” a 400-meter ice oval that is home to more Olympic world records than anywhere else.

Maybe try a little speed skating before or after the NASA Championships.

Aerial Tram at Snowbird

Located in Little Cottonwood Canyon 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, Snowbird Mountain is a world-class ski destination. Odds are pretty good that in September, when NASA racers are in town, the snow pack will be close to nil at lower elevations, but Snowbird has scores of things to see and do in the summer.

The Snowbird Aerial Tram climbs some 2,900 vertical feet along a 1.6-mile-long cable on a 13-minute trip to the summit, Hidden Peak. At the summit, you can take in vistas of the Salt Lake Valley, Twin Peaks and Mount Baldy. As an added bonus, you can now ride on top of the tram in a rooftop balcony, the first such ride of its kind in the United States.

Salt Lake Downtown Discovery Pass

The Salt Lake City Visitors’ Bureau offers a unique program in which you can tailor your visit the kinds of activities in which you are most interested. It’s called the Salt Lake Downtown Discovery Pass.

The way it works is pretty simple and just as clever. You buy the pass that fits your needs and have it delivered to your phone, which you can use to gain access to the attractions and activities you like.

For downtown Salt Lake City, the Discovery pass lets you choose from attractions like the Clark Planetarium or the Gateway Children’s Museum or the architecturally interesting Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center. There’s also the Red Butte Botanical Garden, the Leonardo Museum of Creativity and Innovation and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. You can also select the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and Utah’s Hogle Zoo, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Salt Lake Brewery Pass

Bartenders at T.F. Brewing brewery in Salt Lake County

In the same vein as the Downtown Discovery Pass, the Salt Lake Brewery Pass lets you explore the craft beer scene in downtown Salt Lake City — who knew they had one? — with an app that links you to ride sharing services, light rail and, uh, bicycles and electric scooters if you’re up for that. Most brewery locations are close enough for you to walk, which is probably a better idea than attempting to ride scooters between microbreweries.

There are 15 participating breweries in the program, and three of them offer food along with their selections of beer.

Bryce Canyon National Park

If you don’t mind driving several hours away from Salt Lake City, Utah has some of the nation’s most breathtaking national parks, and, without question, one of them is Bryce Canyon National Park, home to the largest collection of “hoodoo” rock formations in the world.

These hoodoos were formed by differential erosion of freshwater limestones below the rim of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. According to the National Park Service website, these fluted cliffs and spires, windows and arches “formed along a system of fractures in the rock.” As cracks form, they become enlarged by thawing ice and water erosion. A billion years or so of of all that erosion, and you get something spectacular.

Geological processes aside, Bryce Canyon National Park is an astonishing place and worth the four-hour drive to the south from Salt Lake City to see its spectacle.

Arches National Park

One of the most photographed national parks in the country, Arches National Park features more than 2,000 — yes, 2,000! — natural stone arches, hundreds of towering pinnacles, fantastic rock fins and rocks precariously perched atop spires and other formations.

Arches is a red rock wonderland located in Moab, about 3.5 hours southeast of Salt Lake City. Anyone coming from east of Utah for the 2024 NASA Championships can hit Arches National Park on the way in or the way home. Maybe you’ll be able to photograph your newest and biggest trophy on a rock formation.

President Herbert Hoover signed the Presidential Proclamation No. 1875, which established Arches National Monument. President Roosevelt enlarged it in 1938 and President Nixon established it as a national park in 1971. Arches is a national treasure.

One look at this place and you cannot help but think it must have inspired the backdrops for “Road Runner” cartoons.

We’ll see you in Utah.

Images courtesy of Jon Burkholz, JEREMIAH WATT/VISIT UTAH, Austen Diamond Photograhy, Visit Utah, Austen Diamond, NPS, Brett Becker and Jacob W. Frank

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