Hastings Cutoff (Pilot Peak to Elko Valley)

The Hastings Cutoff is described in a Trails West guidebook which may be available for purchase in the CTIC gift shop or you can purchase it directly from Trails West on their website. They have an online photo tour along the Hastings Cutoff. Many of their photos and descriptions are also included here and are identified as being from Trails West.


There is a map accompanying each pair of markers. The location of the Utah markers were difficult to determine. There are two OCTA road guide descriptions which were used as a locating guide.


https://scienceviews.com/historical/hastingstext.html

and

https://scienceviews.com/historical/redlumsprings.html


Marker HU-24


BETTER CAMPING / MUNSEE SPRING

"...we hitched up and drove on three miles to a better camping ground where we had good feed and plenty of water." - Edwin M. Primes, August 22, 1850


Primes' August diary entries are reprinted on the Scienceviews.com website. His full diary is unavailable electronically but is held in the collection of The Society of California Pioneers.



Marker HU-25


HALLS SPRING

"We started early this morning and passed a number of good springs, took dinner at one of them." - James John, September 14, 1841


James John was part of the Bidwell/Bartleson party. His diary is part of the collection of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. No electronic access is available

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APPROACH TO BIDWELL PASS

"... about ten miles [from Donner Spring] we struck a wagon-trail, which evidently had been made several years [before]. ... Following this old trail some two or three miles, we [turned to] the right and crossed some low and totally barren hills." - Edwin Bryant, August 5, 1946


Edwin's diary can be viewed and downloaded from the Library of Congress. You may also be interested in the Edwin Bryant diary tour of our outdoor plaza.


This site also has the following interpretive sign.

CALIFORNIA LAY TO THE WEST


Stretching between the Wasatch Mountains of Utah and the Sierra Nevada of California is a vast region with no natural water outlet. The Great Basin has a series of north and south oriented mountain ranges and semi-arid valleys that posed major navigation challenges for covered wagon travelers in the 1840s and early 1850s. Within the Great Basin there just happened to be an east-west river corridor that became one of the most significant roads for pioneers, gold seekers, and commercial freight haulers to use on their way to and from California. The Humboldt River, originating in the northeast corner of Nevada, flows west and then suddenly terminates in an area called the Humboldt Sink some 50 miles east of Reno.


In 1841, the Bartleson-Bidwell wagon party, with only vague directions from fur trappers, turned west along the north shore of the Great Salt Lake toward Pilot Peak, the towering high mountain seen to the north. Making their way south along these benches they discovered a low pass, seen directly ahead, that afforded them a direct route to the headwaters of the Humboldt.


Soon after the 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California and the 1849 opening of the Salt Lake Cutoff Trail to City of Rocks, tens of thousands of pioneers and gold seekers were following the Humboldt River toward California.

Captain John C. Fremont's 1845 topographical expedition rounded Timpie Point along the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake and continued west through the Salt Desert. This route became the "Hastings Cutoff" in 1846. It turned out to be a much more difficult route for covered wagons to navigate and was abandoned by the early 1850s.

The John Bartleson-John Bidwell route followed the Oregon Trail from Fort Bridger, northwest along the Bear River, then continued following the Bear until they reached the Great Salt Lake. After floundering along the north shore of the lake for several days, they finally turned west toward Pilot Peak where they found a small pass that lead them to the headwaters of the Humboldt River.


"All the country beyond was to us a veritable terra incognita, and we only knew that California lay to the west. Captain Fitzpatrick was not much better informed, but he had heard that parties had penetrated the country to the southwest and west of Salt Lake to trap for beaver ..." - John Bidwell, Pioneer of 1841

Marker HN-1


BIDWELL PASS

"In the evening we left the salt plain, turned our course to the west, crossed the mountain through a gap and could find no water" - James John, September 14, 1841

Historical Marker and Interpretive Kiosk at the Pilot Peak exit of I-80.

PILOT PEAK


The high, symmetrically shaped mountain seen rising to the north is Pilot Peak, named by John C. Fremont on his expedition in 1845. These emigrants had traveled one day and night across the Great Salt Lake Desert to find their first water here.


In the period 1845-1850, the peak was a famous landmark and symbol of hope and relief to the Reed-Donner party and all other wagon train pioneers who traveled the 70-odd miles of deadly, thirst-and-heat-ridden steps across the Great Salt Lake Desert. This desert represented the worst section of the infamous Hastings Cutoff of the California Emigrant Trail.


STATE HISTORIC MARKER NO. 46

STATE HISTORIC PRESERVATION OFFICE

NORTHEASTERN NEVADA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Where Did the Lake Go?


Imagine Lake Bonneville some 10,000 years ago as a vast lake larger than the present Great Salt Lake. Its eastern boundary would be the Wasatch Mountains at Salt Lake City and its western boundary the Toano and Goshute Mountains to your left.


The last major glacial period in North America began about 23, 000 years ago. During that time the water level of Lake Bonneville rose because of colder temperatures and a wetter climate. This freshwater lake was over 1,000 feet deep and covered 51,530 square miles - an area the size of Arkansas. If you were standing in this spot 15,000 years ago, you would be more than 500 feet underwater! Pilot Peak, the pyramid shaped mountain in front of you, was merely a small island surrounded by a freshwater lake teeming with fish.


About 14,500 years ago, water rushing through a break in a natural dam along Lake Bonneville's northern shore dropped the lake level over 300 feet in just a few months! These raging floodwaters deepened the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. A warmer and drier climate over the next 5,000 years slowly caused the lake to shrink even further. Look carefully at the surrounding hills, especially toward Wendover. You can still see the beach terraces left at the different high water marks as the lake receded. The Great Salt Lake is all that remains of this once vast lake.

Can Anything Survive Here?


Summer temperatures in this high desert can exceed 100 degrees; winter temperatures may fall below zero. Rain and snowfall total a mere six to eight inches per year. Only drought tolerant plants such as Indian ricegrass, shadscale, and greasewood can grow in the valley around you. The jackrabbit and pronghorn antelope are just two of the many animals that have adapted to living in this harsh environment.


This area wasn't always a desert. Limber pine trees covered the Leppy Hills to the east from 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. As the climate became drier, pinyon pine and juniper trees replaced the limber pines at the lower elevations. Pinyon pines are relative newcomers to the surrounding mountains. They didn't arrive until about 7,000 years ago. Today, limber pine and subalpine fir grow only at the higher, cooler and wetter elevations on Pilot Peak and nearby mountain ranges. Animals you might encounter in these forested areas include bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk and mountain lion.


In the fall thousands of raptors (birds of prey) migrate south along this valley. The Great Salt Lake Desert's lack of food, water and lifting air currents form a migration barrier for these birds. Food, water and roosting sites are easy to find in the Toano and Goshute Ranges. Air rising over these mountains to the west provides the lift these birds need to soar. Conserving energy by soaring as much as possible during their long journeys is a key to their survival.

Tough Traveling in the Desert


The Bidwell-Bartleson wagon train was the first emigrant party to see Pilot Peak in 1841. Four years later, Captain John C. Fremont also saw this distinctive landmark, but from the Cedar Range in Utah - some 75 miles away. He wanted to establish a trail from the Great Salt Lake to the existing California Trail along the Humboldt River. Fremont sent Kit Carson, a member of his expedition, ahead towards this peak to scout for a safe passage across the salt flats. Carson's smoke signals from the mountain assured Fremont of a safe route and that the area contained food for the livestock and water for all. To recognize the importance of this mountain in crossing the desert, Fremont named it "Pilot Peak."


In 1846 the Reed-Donner Party crossed this valley, following the Hastings Cutoff to the main California Trail. Crossing the salt flats just east of here was extremely difficult. Stock animals perished, wagons broke down, and the emigrants barely reached the life-saving springs at the base of Pilot Peak. This "short-cut" slowed their progress and helped to set the stage for the disaster that lay 400 miles ahead of them in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


As travelers today along Interstate 80, you're following the same route as these early explorers and emigrants. On a good day, they worked hard to cover 10 to 15 miles through this harsh landscape. In the comfort of your air conditioned vehicle, you can cover in 10 minutes the distance it took these earlier travelers all day to cover!

Captain John C. Fremont. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Marker HN-2


PILOT CREEK VALLEY

"We traveled over one of the most uninhabitable parts of God's creation, ...but I suppose if it were not for these there would be no pretty places" - John Wood, August 10, 1850


John Wood's diary was published as a serial in the 1927 Madera Daily Tribune and can be viewed in the California Digital Newspaper Collection. It was also published in book form in 1852 and can be viewed on the Internet Archive.

Marker HN-3


TOANO RANGE

"We yoked and again proceeded slowly down through the gorge. ...we actually found near the road a spring hole perhaps 12 feet deep" - Heinrich Lienhard, August 25, 1846


The quote above comes from the book From St. Louis to Sutter's Fort, a memoir of Lienhard's, and no electronic access is available for this book. However, it may be found in some research libraries (including that of the CTIC) and rare book dealers. A portion of his memoir is reprinted in the 1951 (vol. 19) Utah Historical Quarterly. Heinrich's other memoir, A Pioneer at Sutter's Fort, 1846-1850, can be accessed from the Library of Congress.

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Marker HN-5


BIG SPRINGS

"Came to water and grass at the foot of a large mountain. Here we encamped. ... we left the waggons here ... for we cannot get them through to California." - James John, September 15-16, 1841

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Marker HN-10


MOUND SPRING & SPRUCE MTN

"The spring issued from the top of a considerable mound that would shake to its centre from the steps of one man yet scores were on it at once" - Madison B. Moorman, August 7, 1850


Madison's diary can be viewed on Hathitrust.

Marker HN-11


CLOVER VALLEY

"When we were on the summit [of Spruce Mountain Ridge] a wide valley lay before us and at the farther side, ... I saw a lake to the right [Snow Water Lake]" - Hugh Skinner, July 28, 1850

Marker HN-12


WARM / MILL SPRINGS

"We got to a good camp ground... a butifull creek comin right from the mountain... and springs all round in evry direction and catle are giten fat on the grass" - Sarah Davis, September 5, 1850


Sarah's diary is held by, viewed, and downloaded from Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It is also reprinted in the Covered Wagon Women Volume 2 book (her diary is not available in this preview) and may be for sale in the CTIC gift shop.

Marker HN-13


WARM SPRINGS TO RUBY VALLEY

"Traveled south three miles (from Warm Springs), then inclined to the right, keeping close to the bluffs (of East Humboldt Range)" - John Udell, July 30, 1850


John Udell's 1850 diary is not available electronically but can be found in research libraries and rare book dealers. He also wrote a diary in 1859, which can be read on Hathitrust.


Marker HN-14


PASS TO RUBY VALLEY

"We have passed over another mountain (East Humboldt Range)... occasionally covered with scrubby cedar. The road not bad" - Finley McDiarmid, August 17, 1850


The letters of Finley McDiarmid are not available electronically. They are held in the collection of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. That collection contains 12 letters written on McDiarmid's overland journey from Wisconsin to California, May-October 1850 and while in the goldfields. It also includes a 105-page letter written as a journal to his wife while traveling to California.

Marker HN-15


RUBY VALLEY

"Traveled 17 m. S.S.W. over a high ridge of land (East Humboldt Range) and diagonal across a valley to the foot of a very high range of mountains" - James Mathers, August 29, 1846


Mathers' diary is not available electronically. It was published in Overland in 1846: Diaries and Letters of the California-Oregon Trail, Volume I, edited by Dale Morgan.

Marker HN-16


SULPHUR HOT SPRINGS

"We came to a group of boiling springs. ...there can not be less than twenty... They attract the attention of every passer-by" - Madison Berryman Moorman, August 9, 1850


Moorman's diary can be viewed on Hathitrust.



Marker HN-17


THOMPSON CREEK

"Numerous small streams running into the valley from the mountains gives the valleys a delightful aspect, one that is cheering to the traveller" - Henry S. Bloom, August 9, 1850


Henry Bloom's papers are held in the collection of the Sacramento Public Library. No electronic access is available. Bloom's diary was published as a series in the Illinois Kankakee Daily Republican, May 27 to July 3, 1931.

Marker HN-18


OVERLAND CREEK

"Drove twenty five miles down the valley crossing stream after stream as they came rushing from the snow capped mountains" - Edwin M. Primes, September 2 1850


Primes' August diary entries are reprinted on the Scienceviews.com website. His full diary is unavailable electronically but is held in the collection of The Society of California Pioneers.


Marker HN-19 / PT-9A


HARRISON PASS CREEK

"We were informed... there was a road which packers could travel across the mountain (Harrison Pass)... and that teams had to travel down to (Overland Pass)... in order to take a wagon across the mountain" - John Wood, August 15, 1850


John Wood's diary was published as a serial in the 1927 Madera Daily Tribune and can be viewed in the California Digital Newspaper Collection. It was also published in book form in 1852 and can be viewed on the Internet Archive.


Marker HN-19 is on the same post as Marker PT-9A (Pack Trail).

Marker HN-20


CAVE CREEK

"This day... encamped at a large spring breaking out from the large rock Stream la(r)ge enough to turn one pr (pair of mill) stone" - James Frazier Reed, September 19, 1846


This statement comes directly from James Reed's journal. The portion of his journal which covers the Hastings Cutoff is published and discussed in the 1951 (Volume 19) edition of the Utah Historical Quarterly.


This marker is on the grounds of the headquarters for Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Pick up a brochure about the refuge at the headquarters, and also consider taking the short trail just south of this marker along Cave Creek to the emerging spring at the base of the hills.

Marker HN-21


ENTERING OVERLAND PASS

"Continued our course along the base of the mountains... when we left the valley by turning to our right through a gap in the mountains" - Costmor H. Clark, August 6, 1850


Clark's diary was reprinted and available for download in the August 1986 edition (Vol. 8, No. 4) of Rangelands, the journal of the Society for Range Management.

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OVERLAND PASS

"The pass is an excellent one – no rocks – not very steep and the road very firm. Right on the summit is a spring of only tolerable water" – Madison B. Moorman, August 10, 1850

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LEAVING OVERLAND PASS

"The road wound first to the northwest and finally wholly to the north, and going steadily down into the (Huntigton) valley" - Heinrich Lienhard, September 5, 1846


The quote above comes from the book From St. Louis to Sutter's Fort, a memoir of Lienhard's, and no electronic access is available for this book. However, it may be found in some research libraries (including that of the CTIC) and rare book dealers. A portion of his memoir is reprinted in the 1951 (vol. 19) Utah Historical Quarterly. Heinrich's other memoir, A Pioneer at Sutter's Fort, 1846-1850, can be accessed from the Library of Congress.


Marker 13 of the Central Overland Trail (CON-13) is found on the back side of this T-marker.

Marker HN-24


HUNTINGTON VALLEY

"After crossing the mountain the road turned to the north precisely in an opposite direction from the course traveled for the last three days" - William Edmundson, August 30, 1850


Edmundson's journal was published in The Annals of Iowa, Volume 8, No. 7 (1908) and is available for download.

Marker HN-25


HUNTINGTON CREEK

"Passed over the mountain (via Overland Pass) and encamped in the valley by a small creek (Huntington Creek)" - James Mathers, September 2, 1846


Mathers' diary is not available electronically. It was published in Overland in 1846: Diaries and Letters of the California-Oregon Trail, Volume I, edited by Dale Morgan.

Marker HN-26


HUNTINGTON CREEK FORD

"We traveled in a butiful valey all day The grass is like a perfect meadow ...we have still a vary dusty road it all most sufocates us" - Sarah Davis, September 11, 1850


Sarah's original diary is part of the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Yale University. It is also reprinted in the Covered Wagon Women Volume 2 book (her diary is not available in this preview) and may be for sale in the CTIC gift shop.

Marker HN-27


HUNTINGTON CREEK

"We passed through the finest meadows of grass I ever saw, of several hundred acres and overtook a company who had preceded us, and camped together" - Hugh Skinner, July 31, 1850


Skinner's diary is not available electronically. Photocopies of the typewritten diary are available at some research libraries including the Kansas City Public Library.

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HUNTINGTON / SMITH CREEK

"We have passed over a large stream coming in from the mountains upon the right of us [Smith Creek]. The road follows down this stream." - Finley McDiarmid, August 24, 1850


McDiarmid's letters to his wife during his journey are not available online. They are held in the collections of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkely.

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HUNTINGTON CREEK

"We started on toward our Canaan, with sorrowing hearts, for now the awful and fearful truth flashes across our minds, that our provisions are nearly gone." - John Wood, August 18, 1850


John Wood's diary can be viewed on the Internet Archive.



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RED BLUFF ON SOUTH FORK

"Encamped at the foot of a red earth hill Good grass and water wood plenty in the vallies such as sage greace wood & cedar" - James Frazier Reed, September 24, 1946


Reed's journal can be viewed in the Utah Historical Quarterly, volume 19 (1951).

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ENTERING SOUTH FORK CANYON

"We entered the deep gorge through which the river cut its way, and our road led. The mass of rock rose in several places nearly perpendicular." - Henirich Lienhard, September 7, 1846.

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SOUTH FORK CANYON

"The Kanyon... is so narrow that in many places we had to travel along the bed of the creek... there being no room on either side for a road" - William Edmundson, September 2, 1850.


Edmundson's journal was published in The Annals of Iowa, Volume 8, No. 7 (1908) and is available for download.

Marker HN-33


LEAVING SOUTH FORK CANYON

"Came through one of the wildest, roughest canyons I have ever seen." - Henry S. Bloom, August 14, 1850


A portion of Bloom's diary can be downloaded from the OCTA Journals website.

Marker HN-34


HASTINGS CUTOFF JOINS CALIFORNIA TRAIL

"Here the road from Fort Hall [Calif. Trail] joined that by way of Hastings Cutoff (which might much better be called Hastings Longtripp)." - Henirich Lienhard, September 8, 1846