The tragedy of
the Donner-Reed Party inhibited extensive use of the Hastings
Cutoff as an overland migration trail. The salt flats did, however,
yield scientific information to the expeditions of Captain Howard
Stansbury in 1849 and of Captain J.H. Simpson in 1859, both with
the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers.
Fifty years after
the Donner-Reed party slogged their way across the flats, the area's
first use as raceway was conceived by publisher William Randolph Hearst
in a publicity stunt. Hearst hired William Rishel of Cheyenne, Wyoming,
to attempt a crossing on bicycle. Rishel completed the journey, crossing
the salt flats in 22 hours.