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US agency's interns follow trail of doomed 1846 Donner Party to highlight history for youth

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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, recreating 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 became stranded in the Sierra Nevada later than expected.

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 told The Associated Press. "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, and 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.

PHOTO: In this Tuesday, July 8, 2014 photo provided by the Bureau of Land Management Utah, from left, Hannah Cowan, Michael Knight, and Jared Lundquist, a group of Bureau of Land Management interns, pause as they hike across the Great Salt Lake Desert, in Utah. They hiked three days across a blistering path of Utah desert this week to recreate part of the 1846 trek by the ill-fated Donner Party. Three BLM interns traveled about one-third of the waterless stretch of the Hastings Cutoff that the pioneers crossed. 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 became stranded in the Sierra Nevada. (AP Photo/Bureau of Land Management Utah, Chad Douglas)
In this Tuesday, July 8, 2014 photo provided by the Bureau of Land Management Utah, from left, Hannah Cowan, Michael Knight, and Jared Lundquist, a group of Bureau of Land Management interns, pause as they hike across the Great Salt Lake Desert, in Utah. They hiked three days across a blistering path of Utah desert this week to recreate part of the 1846 trek by the ill-fated Donner Party. Three BLM interns traveled about one-third of the waterless stretch of the Hastings Cutoff that the pioneers crossed. 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 became stranded in the Sierra Nevada. (AP Photo/Bureau of Land Management Utah, Chad Douglas)

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 (http://bit.ly/U6WncD). "The mountains looked like they were floating."

Michael Knight, another intern, said the trip was mentally taxing because it "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 the group tried to keep the trek as authentic as possible.

"We don't want to be too rough on our interns. But they did hike large sections of the trail and we tried to stick to the time frame that the immigrants actually had as well," Douglas told KSL.

By Wednesday evening, the interns were tired and dirty but glad for the experience.

"The fact that we can get interns out there and have them experience that firsthand I think is really important," Douglas said, "and shows that we can also have fun while we're doing it and get them excited about the great outdoors."


Information from: KSL-TV, http://www.ksl.com/

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