Photograph Exhibition

The Hastings Trail* from Grantsville, Utah to Donner Spring, Utah

Photographs by Roy D. Tea

This exhibition illuminates many significant places along the Hastings Cutoff in the critical desert segment between what is now called Grantsville and Donner Spring, Utah, near the border with Nevada. The motivation for taking the cutoff or short-cut was its supposed time-savings in reaching California. In the event, this portion of the Hastings Trail was treacherous and proved costly to many who passed this way.

Approximate Route of The Hastings Trail From Grantsville to Donner Spring.
From maps prepared by Roy D. Tea. 

Though presented here in exhibition format, the pictures actually accompany a home page by Roy D. Tea on the Hastings Trail which is accessed from Roy Tea Hastings Trail Home Page.  

All but two of the photographs were made by Roy and are a small part of his extensive collection taken over several decades of frequent visits to these remote areas. A quick check of the pictures' dates reveals his interest in the old emigrant trails goes back a long way. Several of the photographs in the collection were made in 1961! Changes to the road over recent decades make documentary evidence of its previous condition, as many of the photographs here provide, especially valuable to historians and preservationists.

The terrain over this portion of the Hastings Cutoff is mostly level with only the pass through the Cedar Mountains and topping the Grayback Hills presenting difficult grades for the draft animals. But the 60 mile stretch across the wastes of the Great Salt Lake Desert through sand dunes and mud flats was another matter. The mud flats, playas from the old bottoms of the Great Salt Lake and ancient Lake Bonneville, both in the trails era as today, can be firm and easy pulling in one place, soft and extremely taxing in another and here and there, impossible quagmires. The flats look deceptively solid, but water is often only a few inches below the surface. Should a vehicle, whether a wagon drawn by oxen or a modern four-wheel-drive, break through the thin dry crust in these wet areas, the deeper its wheels go the softer the muck and in moments the conveyance can be settled to its hubs in the sticky mire. Both 150 years ago and today this common occurrence is a serious emergency with property and even life at stake. That wagons stuck in this unique mud could not be salvaged and had to be abandoned where they lay is no mystery to the modern visitor to the area. An almost always harrowing corridor for the pioneers, to this day, no one may safely venture here without adequate equipment and preparation and few people do.

The synergistic problems of no water, no feed and treacherous terrain impoverished many who made the passage and were forced to leave wagons and property on the desert. Some lost animals to exhaustion, thirst and sometimes to the difficulties of driving loose cattle through the night on a forced march to distant water. Of the many tribulations experienced by the Donner Party, their losses here were especially devastating, greatly contributing to their peril on the journey ahead. Though the numbers of people who crossed this portion of the Hastings Trail is often under-appreciated, it seems certain that more than one thousand people and several hundred wagons took the road in the five years from 1846 to 1850, most of these travelers driven by the urgencies of the California gold rush. After that time the dangerous route fell into almost complete disuse.

* N.B. This portion of the Hastings Cutoff is variously referred to as the Hastings Trail, Hastings Road, Donner Trail, Donner Road, Donner-Reed Trail or Road, etc. Although all these terms are acceptable, Mr. Tea prefers Hastings Cutoff or Hastings Trail for this segment of the way.

All maps in this exhibition derived from Microsoft Encarta 97 World Atlas © 1993-1996 Microsoft Corporation.

Caution: These 30 photographs comprise a virtual tour of the trail only. They do not constitute a trail guide and should not be used for that purpose. Travel in this desert is dangerous and can still be life-threatening.

1. Made 1995 Near Grantsville, Utah.  Looking SE towards Hastings or Twenty Wells.  Photograph: Copyright © 1995 Roy D. Tea.

This is a view of the Hastings Trail looking southeast toward Grantsville, Utah, about 45 miles west of Salt Lake City. Grantsville was known in the trails era before Mormon settlement as Twenty Wells or Hastings Wells. This portion of the trail was located by OCTA members in 1995. On the right are the Stansbury Mountains, crossed by the Bryant-Russell pack train led by Hudspeth and on the trail a little ahead of the Donner Party in 1846. Travelers on the Hastings spent as much time as they could here to "recruit" their cattle on the plentiful grass and water available as they prepared for the desert ahead. Preparations often took one, two or even more days.

4. Made 1971, Looking NW at Skull Valley, UT. Photograph: Copyright © 1971 Roy D. Tea.

This photograph was taken above Skull Valley several miles south of the previous one. Having proceeded south into Skull Valley far enough to skirt the wetlands, the Hastings Trail is seen here angling sharply back to the northwest as it leaves the area of Hope Wells. Hastings Pass through the Cedar Mountains is the low area in about the center of the skyline to the right of the trail's line. A tiny flow from Redlum Spring in the foothills of the Cedars was the only water known to emigrants between here and Donner Spring nearly 80 miles beyond.

Beneath the airplane is about the place where Eliza P. Donner Houghton of the Donner Party describes her mother piecing together a note left by Hastings that appeared to have been shredded by birds: "2 days--2 nights--hard driving--cross--desert--reach water." (See Roy Tea's article on the Hastings Trail from Grantsville to Donner Spring in our Members' Pages section).

7.  Made 11/29/72, Hastings Pass - Cedar Mountains,
Skull Valley, UT. 
Photograph: Copyright © 1972 Roy D. Tea.

View looking northeast. The diagonal ridge in the upper center of the photograph is the summit of Hastings Pass in the Cedar Mountains. The trail comes up a hogback ridge out of the picture to the right. It then follows the ridge north a short distance where it descends a dugway (1). Wagons could easily tip over when sidleing - traversing a steep hill. A dugway is a cut on the side of the hill to decrease the wagons' tilt. Dugways cut as deep ditches could catch the uphill wheels and eliminate sideways slippage. This dugway drops down from the ridge to a mining road (2) which was made subsequent to the trails era and the trail continues off the photograph to the left..

10. Made 9/23/87 Great Salt Desert, Utah. Approaching
the Dunes on the East Side.  
Photograph: Copyright © 1987 Roy D. Tea.

The east side of the Great Salt Lake Desert is marked by sand dunes as well as stretches of flats. Softer ground to the north in this area prevented the emigrants from taking a direct route toward Pilot Peak, at the foot of which, they knew they would find water.

Here the trail approaches an area of dunes after passing through a small depression. To climb up on the dunes, the trail curves to the right but then straightens and proceeds nearly due west again. A 6" aluminum pipe can be seen near the center of the photograph which has just been placed to mark the trail by Dan Miller Jr. and Roy Tea.


13. Made 10/61, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. The Big Bend. Photograph: Copyright © 1961 Roy D. Tea.

View looking west. Donner-Reed Trail at the "Big Bend." The trail runs from lower right to left center, then curves at the blue arrow to the right behind the trackmaster. The arrow points in the approximate direction the trail takes at this point which is northwest. Floating Island is the closer dark mountain just to the right of the Trackmaster. The mountain behind Floating Island and above the Trackmaster is Silver Island. Pilot Peak is the faint mountain on the distant skyline just left of the vehicle.






16. Made 10/61, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Marking the Road. Photograph: Copyright © 1961 Roy D. Tea.

View looking west. Hastings/Donner-Reed Trail runs from left center to upper right, between the two men. The trail is lighter in color because it has been compacted some by the wagons and animals, allowing a little more white salt to fill the slight depressions. Floating Island is at the right and at greater distance, stretching across the right two-thirds of the skyline, is Silver Island.

Phil Marstella stands by a 2" X 2" stake he and professor Derle Thorpe of Utah State University (in the red cap) have just placed to mark the trail. The tracks were made by the Trackmaster.

19. Made 1986, Great Salt Desert, Utah. Main Archaeology Site. Photograph: Copyright © 1986 Roy D. Tea.

Prior to portions of the trail being flooded by the Great Salt Lake pumping project of the late 1980s archeological investigations were undertaken by the Utah State Historical Society to explore the remains of wagons and other artifacts left on the desert. The study was called the Silver Island Expedition. One of several, this is the major study site. Results were published in: Bruce R. Hawkins and David B. Madsen, Excavation of the Donner-Reed Wagons: Historic Archeology along the Hastings Cutoff, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990.

22. Made 11/5/86, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Sharp, 140 Year-Old Wagon Ruts. Photograph: Copyright © 1986 Roy D. Tea.

Archeological excavation of another wagon mound by the Silver Island Expedition. Notice wheel tracks in the mud below the surface and subtle indications of wheel tracks on the surface. It is presumed that in this area the wagon wheels cut through the crust into the softer material below, making hard pulling for the draft animals and leaving deep ruts that filled in over time with the distinct, light-colored gypsum sand the desert winds blow across this flat.

25. Made 11/5/86, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Ox Bone? Photograph: Copyright © 1986 Roy D. Tea.

This photo was taken about a mile east of Floating Island, somewhat off the Hastings Trail, and may be ox bones. Osteologists are invited to comment: Roy D. Tea.




28. Made 1995, Silver Island, Great Salt Desert, Utah. Donner-Reed Pass. Photograph: Copyright © 1995 Roy D. Tea.

The trail kept to the flats and rounded a rocky point before ascending a low saddle between Silver Island and Crater Island. Although separate toward the end of the Lake Bonneville era, these two islands today are one continuous landform. This is the OCTA Carsonite marker on the saddle, now called Donner-Reed Pass. The view is southeast toward the mud flats of the salt desert.

In 1929, Charles Kelly interviewed an eighty-year-old rancher named Eugene Munsee who 50 years before had homesteaded the land around a spring 2 miles south of Donner Spring. Among other interesting facts, Mr.Munsee told Kelly that water could be found on Silver Island in two places including a cave not far from the trail. In extensive investigations of the island searching for road-building material in the 1960s, Roy Tea did not discover any large water sources but did find a cave on the west side of the island and south of the trail where a few drops of water dripped from its ceiling.

2. Made 1995 at Timpie Point, Skull Valley, UT. The Trail Toward Timpie Point, Tooele Valley, UT. Northwest of Grantsville, Utah. Photograph: Copyright © 1995 Roy D. Tea.

View generally northwest toward Dolomite Point. This picture was made a little farther along than the previous one and looking in the opposite direction. The Hastings Trail worked its way along the valley floor on its way to rounding Timpie Point, a few miles beyond here. Timpie Point is the northernmost extent of the Stansbury Mountains and the place where the road enters Skull Valley. The foothills in this view are the east flank of the Stansburys. Wetlands to the right of this location kept the trail tucked up against the foothills from here until it entered Skull Valley.

5.  Made 11/22/95,  Looking NW at Cedar Mountains,
Skull Valley, UT. 
 Photograph: Copyright © 1995 Roy D. Tea.

Al Mulder standing on edge of the Hastings Trail leading to a hogback ridge in Hastings Canyon. At the far end of the swale, Oscar Olson is standing on the trail where it curves to the left to ascend the hogback. Vern Gorzitze is at the rear of the red 4X4. It was necessary for the pioneers to take the hogback ridge to Hastings Pass instead of staying in the canyon bottom because the end of the canyon is too steep for wagons. This swale was revealed after a summer fire cleared the ground of vegetation.



8. Made 11/22/95, Swale, West Side of Cedar Mountains, UT.  Photograph: Copyright © 1995 Roy D. Tea.

Looking east. In this view, taken on the west side of the Cedar Mountains after a summer fire has burned away the sparse desert vegetation, a shallow swale of the old trail can be seen. Oscar Olson is in the foreground and Vern Gorziztze, 1998 president of Utah Crossroads is in the distance.

Carsonite (a manufacturer's trade name) markers are made from a durable, reinforced plastic material that is flexible, resists weather and may even survive the irresponsible target practice of unscrupulous shooters. Trail identification and marking is a major goal of the Oregon-California Trails Association and Utah Crossroads members, especially Al Mulder, have carefully placed nearly 200 Carsonite markers exactly along the California and Mormon Trail routes in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. This Carsonite marker is just a few steps from the Fjeldsted grave.


11. Made: 9/36 Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Approaching The Big Bend - Historical Photograph, 1936.  Photograph: Copyright © 1936-50, Dr. Walter M. Stookey.  This photograph is from  Fatal Decision, The Tragic Story of the Donner Party , Dr. Walter M. Stookey, Salt Lake City: 1950. Dr. Stookey, a Grantsville, Utah physician had an avid interest in the Donner Party and the Hastings Trail across the salt desert. In his book he captions the picture, which appears on page 103, as follows:   "Photograph of wagon tracks of Donner Party across Salt Flats made September 1846. Photo taken September 1936 by Dr. Walter M. Stookey."   The view is northwest toward Floating and Silver Islands. Floating Island is the dark object at the top of the plain in the center of the picture. Here the trail proceeds west before reaching the "Big Bend" where it turns northwest toward Silver Island Point. This view shows the remarkable preservation of surface indications of the tracks.

11. Made: 9/36 Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Approaching
The Big Bend - Historical Photograph, 1936.
 Photograph: Copyright © 1936-50, Dr. Walter M. Stookey.

This photograph is from Fatal Decision, The Tragic Story of the Donner Party, Dr. Walter M. Stookey, Salt Lake City: 1950. Dr. Stookey, a Grantsville, Utah physician had an avid interest in the Donner Party and the Hastings Trail across the salt desert. In his book he captions the picture, which appears on page 103, as follows:

"Photograph of wagon tracks of Donner Party across Salt Flats made September 1846. Photo taken September 1936 by Dr. Walter M. Stookey."

The view is northwest toward Floating and Silver Islands. Floating Island is the dark object at the top of the plain in the center of the picture. Here the trail proceeds west before reaching the "Big Bend" where it turns northwest toward Silver Island Point. This view shows the remarkable preservation of surface indications of the tracks.

14. Made: 9/23/87 Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. The Big Bend. Photograph: Copyright © 1961 Roy D. Tea.

Dan Miller Jr. setting a 6" aluminum pipe to mark the Hastings Trail at the Big Bend. Silver Island Range in background. Compare to previous photographs in the exhibition made at this place.

17. Made 11/5/86, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. The Stake Still Stands 25 Years Later. Photograph: Copyright © 1986 Roy D. Tea.

View looking northwest. Here, 25 years later,  is the stake placed in October 1961 to mark the trail. The trail is the lighter tracks in the center of the picture. Recent all-terrain-vehicle tracks are on the left. Floating Island is left of the white dot at the top of the flat and on the left.

20. Made 1986 Great Salt Desert, Utah. Another View of the
Main Archaeology Site.
 Photograph: Copyright © 1986 Roy D. Tea.

Here is another view from a different angle of this largest of the archaeological digs. The Hastings Trail here runs from top to bottom of the photograph.

23. Made 4/30/1971, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. East of Silver Island. Photograph: Copyright © 1971 Roy D. Tea. 

Roy Tea stands astride the Hastings Trail which is clearly visible as it strikes out across the flat to pass the north end of Floating Island, the dark mountain on the left. To the right and at greater distance is Silver Island, named for mineral exploration there in the 19th century not for its color, which is ruddy.

26. The Professor's Map - Great Salt Desert, UT. Photograph: Copyright © 1997 Roy D. Tea.

This map was created under the supervision of Professor Derle Thorpe of the Utah State University engineering faculty who recorded the distances and bearings during what was termed the Mirage Expedition in 1962. Other members of the party were  Professors David Miller and Web of the University of Utah. These three followed the trail from the Knolls flight strip, just west of the Grayback Hills to Donner Spring. Note the Big Bend.

29. Made 5/1/71, Great Salt Desert, UT. Near Donner Spring. Photograph: Copyright © 1971 Roy D. Tea.

Looking west. Here, from left to right are Bruce Bloomfield, Quinton Adair and Dan Miller, friends of Roy Tea who are interested in the trail. This mud flat is the last of the salt desert as emigrants descended from crossing Silver Island at Donner-Reed Pass and made the final push to Donner Spring. This photograph was made a couple of miles west of the pass and about seven miles from the water. Pilot Peak, 10,700 feet high and beacon for nearly 100 miles of travel, dominates the view. Donner Spring is a little beyond the far margin of the flat where trees can just be seen left of center.

Registrations are open! Book your exciting trip on the trails! 

Discover more about the convention and the many activities that will be available for you and your party at our Convention page.  We look forward to your arrival! 

 3.  Made May 1979,  Looking SW Timpie Point, Skull Valley, UT.  Photograph: Copyright © 1979 Roy D. Tea.

Looking south. Timpie Point, the northernmost extent of the Stansbury Range is at bottom center. Big Springs is at bottom right below the arrow and just right of the dirt road with the sweeping curve. The Hastings Trail is marked by blue arrows. The straight line to its left is the Lincoln Highway. The trail crosses the straight line on the right which is the county road to Dugway Proving Grounds. Timpie Point is where Jedediah Smith came in 1827 after crossing Nevada from California. As it rounds the point, the trail is found hugging the mountain and there are several sections of nice ruts (arrow at left). OCTA Carsonite markers stand in several places where the trail can be positively located here.

6. Made 1995, Hastings Pass Cedar Mountains, Skull Valley, UT. Photograph: Copyright © 1995 Roy D. Tea.

This is the view southeast from Hastings Pass in the Cedar Mountains which furnish the western margin of Skull Valley. Across the valley is the Stansbury Range with Deseret Peak on the right. The trail is along a hogback ridge and can be seen in the lower center of the photograph.

Lansford W. Hastings first traveled the road that bears his name in the summer of 1846 and was eastbound. There is some controversy about whether he crossed the Cedar Mountains on that trip at this place or a few miles south. Stansbury, in the area in 1849, thought it was the latter.




9. Made 10/83, Entering the Desert W of Grayback Hills, UT. Great Salt Desert, Utah. Photograph: Copyright © 1983 Roy D. Tea.

This is the point where the emigrants descended from the last of the hills, the Graybacks, and entered onto the great desert plain of mud flats and dunes that lay before them for more than 60 miles. The straight roads to the lower right are modern as are the twin tracks of a jeep road stretching away to the northwest. The Hastings Trail is the fainter line parallel to the jeep track and to its right.


12. Made 1971, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. The Big Bend
from the Air. 
Photograph: Copyright © 1971 Roy D. Tea.

Here, 12± miles southeast of Floating Island, the trail takes a sharp turn to the right, or northwest, before bearing left again toward Pilot Peak. The mountain does not appear in this photograph, it lies south of the camera's view, but faintly seen on the distant skyline is the northern extent of the Pilot Peak range. Firmer ground to the north made it possible for the pioneers to correct their line of travel here. Numerous small shortcuts across this "Big Bend" are visible on close observation. The bend is very prominent on commercial aerial photographs made for survey and documentation purposes before parts of the trail were flooded in 1987-89. The flooding occurred as huge pumps moved 1.5 million gallons of water per minute around the clock from the Great Salt Lake onto the area generally north of here to alleviate flooding around the lake's shoreline from several years' unusually heavy precipitation.

15. Made 10/61, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Pristine Trail. Photograph: Copyright © 1961 Roy D. Tea.

This 1961 photograph of the Hastings Trail was made approximately five miles southeast of the wagon excavations of the late 1980s. This is the very center of the Great Salt Lake Desert. At the time, the trail was essentially pristine and undisturbed. Although a tiny handful of trail enthusiasts had made this part of the crossing in the twentieth century, things have changed since this picture was made more than 35 years ago. In particular, all-terrain vehicles have now made possible access to this part of the desert and although still risky, small but significant numbers of visitors follow parts of the old emigrant roads here today.

This area was flooded in 1987-89 as described earlier and when the pumping was stopped and the water receded, several inches of salt covered the trail. Pumping ended nearly ten years ago. Little by little, rain and snow are dissolving the new layer of salt and to the delight of many the trail is reappearing in this area.

18. Made 1929, Great Salt Desert, Utah. Abandoned Wagon
Historical Photograph.
Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved - Photograph: Charles Kelly.

This picture of the remains of an abandoned wagon was made by Charles Kelly, early trail enthusiast and self-taught historian and researcher. The black object on the right is the hub from an unusually large wagon wheel and Kelly took this to be James Reed's oversized wagon. The picture appears as Figure 11 on page xxvi of the 1996 edition of Kelly's 1930 book (Salt Desert Trails, Peter H. DeLafosse ed. Salt Lake City: 1996).


21. Made 11/5/86, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Wagon Mound
Archaeological Excavation. 
Photograph: Copyright © 1986 Roy D. Tea.

Archaeological excavation of a wagon mound by Silver Island Expedition. The semi-circular segments of rust (1 & 2) are all that remain of a wagon wheel. The wagon had been burned - note the black charcoal at lower center (3).  



24. Made 11/5/86, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Hastings Road NE of Floating Island. Photograph: Copyright © 1971 Roy D. Tea. 

View looking generally northwest. The Hastings/Donner-Reed Trail is seen at the center of the photograph heading for the Silver Island Mountains. On this portion of the salt mud flat the trail is easily distinguished from the fresh tracks of the modern vehicles and can be identified by the lighter-colored traces across the plain. At the extreme right is Silver Island Point where the wagons went around this mountain barrier. Floating Island is the dark object at the top of the plain on the far left.

27. Made Summer, 1963, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Donner-Reed Pass, Silver Island - Crater Island, UT. Photograph: Copyright © 1963 Roy D. Tea.

View northwest. The blue line approximates the trail which runs from bottom to top. Having proceeded mostly northwest across the flat the trail turns a little to the west at Silver Island Point, lower right. The arrow marks Donner-Reed Pass where the trail crosses the narrow neck of land connecting Silver Island, left, and Crater Island, right. Beyond the pass the trail crosses the final eight miles of flat bearing slightly north of due west before reaching Donner Spring, at the foot of Pilot Peak, out of the picture on the left.

30. Made 1994, Donner Spring, Utah. Aerial View of the
Saving Waters.
 Photograph: Copyright © 1995 Roy D. Tea.

Donner Spring, its sweet waters providing literal salvation to people and animals coming off the desert 150 years ago is seen here after Utah Crossroads members built a protective fence around it. A kiosk was added with interpretive panels to explain to modern visitors the history of this critical water source. A graded dirt road runs nearby and carries the occasional traveler on what is now a scenic but still remote back-country byway.

The enclosure and kiosk were dedicated in conjunction with the OCTA national convention in Salt Lake City, held in August, 1994. More than 300 people attended the emotional ceremony including Marta Lienhard Vincent, an accomplished musician and descendant of 1846 Hastings' Cutoff pioneer Heinrich Lienhard. It had been nearly 150 years since so many people gathered here. At this place of refuge from the salt desert's ravages for her ancestor and so many others, Marta's Highland bagpipes sang Amazing Grace.