Driving across parts of Eastern Montana you may have seen shallow lakes or ponds in the middle of prairies or fields that have white edges. Late in the summer, in the same place you may see no water but large white areas.
There are many different names for these shallow ponds and lakes that dry up including salt pans, playas and alkali flats. An example of a very large salt flat is the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah. It is spread across 30,000 acres. Parts of it are so hard and flat it is used to drive very fast cars and motorcycles to set speed records.
No plants grow there because the land is so salty.
The Bonneville Salt Flats was created when an ancient lake dried up. The salts left behind come from the water that has evaporated or from minerals in the soil.
In Wyoming, Saleratus Lake’s shallow waters have created large white flats. Pioneers in the 1800s came upon the area while migrating west in wagons. The white at Saleratus Lake is sodium bicarbonate, which is what your mom or dad may know as baking soda.
Some pioneers would gather the white mineral and use it for baking bread. The chemical, when mixed with something acidic like buttermilk, makes dough rise by producing the gas carbon dioxide.
The white you see in Montana around ponds or lakes forms because those waters usually have little or no fresh water entering them, except from melting snow or rain. They are like big mud puddles. Because minerals are concentrated in these seasonal ponds, the water may be harmful to drink for some animals.
— Brett French, firstname.lastname@example.org
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