Sunday, July 23, 2006


This past weekend I visited the sage-brushy landscape of south-central Wyoming to pull a handcart down a dirt road for fifteen miles while wearing pioneer clothing. Several months ago, the bishop of my ward at BYU told us of a miraculous story in which his home ward was given several hundred passes by the US Bureau of Land Management to trek across the wasteland wilderness. I didn’t know this, and it’s a little surprising to think about, but the BLM has severely restricted the number of people they will allow to cross the plains in Wyoming as a reenactment of the pioneer migration of the 1850s. Anyone who has seen the land there would wonder why anyone besides the Mormons would even care about it. Without trying hard to think of its unique beauty, it appears very undesirable. Despite all this, my bishop was able to secure enough passes for anyone in my ward who wanted to go.

Due to a recent back injury (or I should say a recent re-injury of an old back injury), plus an attitude of simple not wanting, I was less than excited that I had signed up to go on this trip several months prior to our leaving. I had semi-backed out just about a week before departure, but after visiting my ward the Sunday before we were to leave, I became excited about going. We were to leave on Wednesday afternoon and meet the rest of the group in Atlantic City, WY

(named because it is one of the first cities on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide) an abandoned ghost town in which, somehow, people still live. There, we met Bishop and some others, then were driven down several unmarked, dirt roads at high speeds until we reached our camp site. We were to then sleep, then hike, then sleep, then hike again.

Our first hike was to Martin’s Cove, where the starving, fatigued pioneers sought shelter from the wind and cold. It’s about a two mile walk into the cove, but with all the little children in our group, and the frequent water breaks, it took nearly half the day for us to make it. It’s very reverent there and a good place for reflection on what our lives are like compared to the way the pioneers’ lives were.

The next day took us on a fifteen mile walk over the rocky ridge the pioneers crossed before camping for the night at Rock Creek Hollow. This, I soon found out, was also part of the Oregon Trail. When I was little, I used the think I could walk and walk and walk and walk and not get tired. It turns out this isn’t the truth. We kept a surprising pace—near mall walking—which caused great strain to my knees and ankles. My back was ok though (whew!). Exhausted by the walk, we rested next to the sewage suction port of a nearby outhouse (“If I drove by and saw a group of people in this situation, I would honestly rather die”, I commented to the others), then set up camp again and relaxed.

Please no one get the idea that this was an authentic trek. We ate very well—largely thanks to the refrigerated trailer the ward rented. It’s about the size of a U-Haul trailer, but the whole thing is refrigerated. When you walk in, it’s like walking into a huge fridge.

I think these trek reenactments are a good idea. I know they don’t give anyone a completely authentic experience of what the pioneers suffered (and thank goodness), but they do help us to appreciate what we have and what we need to do. I remember hearing a comment from the bishop, in response to all the comments that the pioneers’ lives were so difficult and that none of us could possibly endure everything that they did. He said, paraphrasing an apostle I think, that their lives were set by just a few major decisions. Once they had decided to go west and they were on the trail, what else were they going to do? They couldn’t turn around, they couldn’t rebel without dying; their course for much of the rest of their life was set from that one decision. In contrast, our lives are filled with hundreds of decisions everyday—ones where we could easily get off track if we are not careful. For me in my current situation, this learning-to-make-choices-and-stick-to-them is the most important lesson to be learned from the pioneer experience.


bridgerw said...

You must have had such a good time!

Lulu Dubois said...

i really enjoyed your sincerity. truly. (not that you are an overly sarcastic person - heavens no.)