Following in the Footsteps of the Mormon Exodus


Friday, 1 February: Left at 7:11 PM, drove until 11:10 PM. We drove 222 miles from home to Morgantown, WV. Nothing to report, other than some snow and high wind at the Eastern Continental Divide (where the Appalachian Trail runs). We stopped at a ski chalet/West Virginia Visitor's Center - probably paid for by Sen. Byrd's earmarks and pork levied upon the other states. The lights in the parking lot lit the sky up like a Nuremberg rally. I used the men's room, figuring that we helped pay for it.

Saturday, 2 February: Left at 8:26 AM, arrived at 7:48 PM. We drove 712 miles from Morgantown, WV to Hannibal, MO; an uneventful drive. We watched DVDs of Dark Shadows on my laptop. Hannibal, MO is, of course, the boyhood home of Mark Twain and the inspiration behind the St. Petersburg, Missouri in “Tom Sawyer.” I have always wanted to see Twain’s boyhood home, the famous Tom Sawyer fence, the jail, Becky Thatcher's home, etc. "There ain't nothing so interesting as a place a book has described" - Tom Sawyer. The tours were closed Sun morn but we looked at the outsides of the buildings. Took photos, of course. There’s a nice little historic district downtown. It looked like Main St., Disneyland, which isn’t surprising since Walt Disney designed it after Marcelline, MO - his home town. I was surprised at how close Twain’s home was to the Mississippi – about two blocks. We stayed overnight at the Hotel Clemens, a dump. Beercans in the parking lot – that sort of thing. Our host looked and acted like a coarse descendant of a river worker in one of Twain's books. Hannibal, in general, is a dump. But Twain's genius utterly transforms the place, of course, in the world of his books.

Sunday, 3 February: Left at 9:40 AM, arrived at 3 PM. Hannibal, MO to Iowa City, IA by way of Nauvoo, IL - 178 miles. We left Hannibal and drove up to see the church's historical district in Nauvoo (1 hour 1/2 drive) - very nice. We Mormons do that visitor’s center kind of thing better than anyone with the possible exception of Disney. Got Nauvoo bricks, nail rings and cookies. The temple is awesome. The bluff it's on overlooks the mighty Mississippi. I wish we had the time to make a day of it, but we didn’t. I was feeling nervous about reports of snow. We wanted to get further, but it started snowing and we were only able to reach Iowa City, IA to stop and get a hotel. 8" of snow unexpectedly fell, closing I-80. Cars and trucks sliding off the road all over the place (I counted thirty off the road and in accidents on the drive down I-80 the next morning.) What an absolute mess. Got off an off ramp called "Mormon Trail Road" (!) which, as it turned out, was the path of the Saints leaving Nauvoo. I now have a much, much greater respect for what they endured - geez. What a bleak landscape, esp. this time of year. I can only imagine slogging across the frozen Mississippi…

Monday, 4 February: Left at 8:42 AM, arrived at 7:32 PM. Iowa City is very nice – a college town. I was very impressed. We got on I-80 west (again, the Mormon exodus route) from Iowa City, IA to Sidney, Nebraska, 650 miles. Sidney is the little hometown of my friend Greg; I made sure to get a photo and take home a newspaper. Had lunch at a Subway at Council Bluffs, IA (a Mormon camp). The road conditions ahead to Cheyenne were reportedly full of icy patches and Cari started feeling unwell, so we stopped in Sidney and went to the Wal-Mart for NyQuil. The Wal-Mart was staffed by English-speaking whites. Wow. Not used to that! Sidney is nice. Very friendly people on the hotel staff.

Tuesday, 5 February : Left at 8:20 AM, arrived at 5:10 PM. A 540 mile drive to Salt Lake City finished our trek. The weather was sunny and clear, but there was lots of snow blowing across I-80 in Wyoming, in the bleak mountain passes. From what little I saw, I liked Cheyenne and disliked Rawlins. It was an eight-hour trip from Sidney to Salt Lake City. Our total mileage from Springfield, Virginia to Salt Lake City was 2,318 miles. Not planning to do that again any time soon – especially during the winter!

I can see why Hondas are popular. The one we drove to Utah, a 1997 Accord with 155,000 miles on it, drove great. Nearly 28 mpg going 75-80 mph.

We have gone over the Mormon Exodus route from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City; I now have a far greater sense of amazement at the whole thing. Driving it in a modern car was arduous. I can only imagine was dragging a handcart was like... in winter... No surprise they buried their dead all along the route. Only their great religious faith and resolve could have gotten them through it. Their faith reinforces my own.


Tom and Huck statue, Cardiff Hill, Hannibal, MO - An excellent statue. If I ever become a working photographer and come out with one of those coffee table books with my photos, I think it'll contain my photos of statues. They look good and are always well-posed and frozen still for the camera.

Close-up of Huck statue, Cardiff Hill, Hannibal, MO - He looks a lot like my son's friend Sean Lacey!

The Mighty Mississippi - You are looking at the Illinois shore across from Hannibal, MO, about two blocks from where Mark Twain lived as a boy. There is an island across the river from Hannibal that served as Jackson Island in Tom Sawyer, where Tom played pirate. It's towards the right in this photo. Back in those carefree days Twain used to raft from Hannibal to the island to play. Can you imagine parents letting their kids do that nowadays?

Mark Twain house - In Hannibal, MO. Of course there's a fence next to it, not the original. Every summer the Chamber of Commerce has a white washing the fence contest where local boys are encouraged to dress like Tom Sawyer.

Hannibal Main Street - That is, the historical Main Street district. The modern one is tawdry. These brick buildings were built after Twain's boyhood but are still quaint. About a block away from the Mighty Mississippi, which Abe Lincoln called "the Father of Waters."

Cardiff Hill, Hannibal, MO - As mentioned in Tom Sawyer. You can see the Tom and Huck statue at the base. About two blocks from where Twain lived.

Nauvoo Temple Sunstone, Nauvoo, Illinois - The only other one from the original temple besides the one on display in the Smithsonian in D.C.

Sunstone detail - This one has a sort of Elvis Presley thing going on with the lips. The one in D.C. has pursed lips. Odd.

Joseph and Hyrum Smith statue - A statue at the Nauvoo Temple. And yes, it was really as cold as this photo appears. My fingers were numbing up fast.

Nauvoo Temple - An impressively large building. On a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, about an hour and a half's drive north from Hannibal.

Nowhere, Nebraska - I couldn't have put it better myself. One of our innumerable gasoline stops. This is my wife, not as thrilled to be here as she appears.

Singin' immigrants - A rather odd statue on the "This Is The Place" monument in Salt Lake City. What are they singing about? Being happy that they can finally settle down in the Salt Lake Valley after the trials of the handcart trek from Nauvoo, Illinois.

Pony Express rider - A statue at the "This Is The Place" monument in Salt Lake City. Most people are unaware that the pony express only ran in 1861.