Last week, I wrote about the beginning of the journey to trace the steps of pioneers, Pony Express riders and California gold rushers on the portion of Hastings Cutoff through Morgan County.
To get the full experience, it is best to follow the self-guided auto tour brochure put out by the Morgan Historical Society some three years ago.
In the previous article, I outlined where to start the journey (Henefer Park), how to spot the actual trail, what role Morgan played in the “Martin Cove of Utah,” and Donner Party’s footsteps on the path.
Continue with me on the second part of my journey.
Picturing the Kanyon Creek camp sites of the Donner-Reed Party and Mormon Pioneers took a little imagination, as today they are covered by the waters of East Canyon Reservoir. This portion of the trail was rough, requiring travelers to cross the creek 13 times. The Mormon Vanguard group established a coal pit here to serve a blacksmith in repairing wagons. John Taylor operated a saw mill in the area in the 1880s as well.
The plentiful green foliage of the season made locating rock fortifications on private property near the reservoir difficult. However, the photos in the guide aided the imagination. Chances to see fortifications are best when looking from Large Spring Camp toward Mormon Flat, on the two ridges directly in front of the road.
Years ago, Mormon militiamen from Utah County hunkered behind these “breastworks, dams, rock piles and trenches at five strategic locations” in Morgan County, the guide said, in the event that U.S. troops involved in the Utah War fired at them.
Once we had deviated from the paved SR 65, the dirt road led us to a glimpse of the Bauchmann Pony Express Station, which has been restored on private ground 100 yards to the east. A photo of the station in the guide helped verify we were indeed looking at the correct structure.
Although I was looking for an authentic pioneer sign designating 90 miles to Fort Bridger, Smith later informed me of its absence. However, that travelers understood their proximity to the fort showed me that even pioneer mothers dealt with childish rants of, “Are we there yet?” similar to those I was hearing in my own car.
The wait was worth it. Because I had missed clear evidence of the trail earlier in the tour, I welcomed the chance to hike the actual trail designated by the guide as a “pristine trail site.” Locating an easily-visible public access spot in the fence, my children and I walked the short distance to Large Spring Camp while my husband drove ahead to wait for us.
Away from the dirt road, it wasn’t hard to imagine the land as it may have appeared over 160 years ago. Beneath towering mountains, we swatted at the plentiful mosquitoes and walked the flat area. Maybe I was a little too anxious to get away from the mosquitoes to notice some rust marks created by wagon wheels on rocks along the trail here. But Smith assured me they were there, along with some wagon ruts for the truly observant.
According to the guide, “You will enter a beautiful undeveloped country that emulates the condition the pioneers found in this area.”
Our arrival at Mormon Flat was easy to identify, aided by signage. A family group had gathered at picnic tables there, reminiscent of other pioneer groups that likewise had gathered many decades ago. The guide points out an 1852 marriage of Jonathan E. Layne and Lucinda M. Bassett there, as they stood dressed in their everyday clothes around the campfire.
“Although the majority of the points of interest are located on private property, they can be viewed from the road. Please respect private property and do not trespass,” Smith said. “There are several small pull-off areas along the route. Since this is a well traveled road, those following the trail should use caution and watch for traffic.”
We retraced our route back to the Henefer Park, trying to identify landmarks we missed the first time, and arrived home about 9:30 p.m., four hours from when we started. The approaching darkness did not allow for a more leisurely ride, which would have afforded time to thoroughly read the various historical markers.
Our modern-day adventure following the guide, which was funded in part by local businesses as well as a matching grant from Utah State History and the Utah Cultural Heritage Council, gave us more appreciation for our pioneer ancestors.
“The self-guided tour is designed for individuals, families or groups to follow the historic trail and learn about its significance to the development of Utah and the West,” Smith said.
Just as my own journey along the trail would have been impossible without the travel guide, Smith said she could not have compiled it without much in-depth research from others such as the late LaMar Berrett, an expert on the Mormon Trail and a former professor at Brigham Young University.
I plan to return, allowing myself more time to take the 4.3 mile hike on the trail from Mormon Flat to Big Mountain summit. The trail’s beginning is marked by a bridge over the meandering creek at Mormon Flat. According to the guide, this hike alone would take “a couple of hours.”
“On this section of the trail you will see rocks that still have rust marks made by the slipping of wagon wheels more than 160 years ago,” according to the guide.
As William B. Smart wrote in 1957, “You may decide to follow the trail, an exercise guaranteed to invoke a healthy respect for the men [and women] who took wagons and handcarts up these rugged slopes.”