In 1845, John
C. Fremont and his expedition crossed through the very heart of
the salt flats in an effort to find a shorter overland route to the
Pacific. In the following year, Fremont's route across the flats would
come to be known as the Hastings Cutoff.
The Cutoff, promoted
by Lansford Hastings as a faster and easier route to California, proved
to be just the opposite for the ill-fated Donner-Reed
party of 1846. A factor contributing to the Donner-Reed tragedy
in the Sierra Nevadas was the delay the party experienced on the salt
flats when their wagons became mired in the mud found just below the
thin salt crust. Abandoned wagon parts from the party were present on
the flats well into the 1930s, and the wheel tracks of their wagons
were still visible in 1986 when archaeologists examined several sites
associated with the party.