SALT LAKE CITY — A group of U.S. Bureau of Land Management interns trekked three days this week across a blistering stretch of Utah desert, re-creating part of the 1846 path of the ill-fated Donner Party.
The path across Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert en route to California delayed the Donner Party, leading to starvation, deaths and cannibalism when they got to the Sierra Nevada later than expected and became stranded.
While the trip was rough for the modern group, they were safe — accompanied by bureau staff and trail guides and taking breaks for water and food.
“The idea behind this was to essentially expose a younger generation to national historic trails,” bureau spokesman Chad Douglas said. “You really can’t get any closer to reliving history then we did.”
As part of that effort to reach younger people, the group was posting messages to Twitter throughout the Monday-to-Wednesday trek. “High spirits as they summit #Hastings Pass in the Cedar Mtns. Little do they know … the worst has yet to come,” one tweet read.
The group also filmed the trip. That footage will be compiled into a YouTube video later this year, Douglas said.
The group covered about 35 miles of the 90-mile trail the Donner Party crossed, Douglas said.
“The entire 90 miles isn’t feasible without putting ourselves in the same peril as others that traversed the area,” he said.
The group hiked at night sometimes, with daytime temperatures reaching nearly 100 degrees.
“You could see the heat waves all over the ground, mirages off in the distance,” intern Hannah Cowan told KSL-TV. “The mountains looked like they were floating.”
Michael Knight, another intern, said the trip was mentally taxing because it was “just straight, flat and monotonous.”
The group followed trail markers to stay on the path, and while they took steps to stay safe, Douglas said they tried to keep the trek as authentic as possible.