Backstory and Context
Nearly one year to the day before the Latter-day Saints entered this canyon, the final geographic obstacle between Big Mountain and the Salt Lake Valley, members of the Reed-Donner wagon train heading to California blazed its length and carved its first rough road. After hacking their way through nearly a dozen miles of choking river willows and scrub oaks that infested the bottoms of this narrow canyon, the group chose to go up and around the final constriction near the valley's mouth instead of through it. The choice to make this exhaustingly brutal climb over rock and sage all but spent their draft animals' final reserves of strength and likely contributed to the historic tragedy that befell the travelers three months and 600 miles to the west.
On 22 July 1847, an advance team from the Latter-day Saint vanguard company chose not to climb Donner Hill, but to stick to the valley floor, fighting not gravity, solid rock, and exhaustion, but merely brush, boulders, and adrenalin. The team hacked its way through the riverine jungle in less than four hours and stepped, merely winded, out onto the bench overlooking the basin of the Great Salt Lake. After more than a year on the westering trail, the Latter-day Saints had arrived.