Marcella Walker and her husband were thrilled to be called as missionaries to Cove Fort, an important site in Utah Mormon history.

Not only could they pop back home if necessary (because the boundaries of the mission included Utah County) but they almost literally got to step back into the past to the only fort built by the Saints in the 19th century that is still standing.

"If you come here, the most important thing to see is the fort. It lets you see how they lived in those days," Walker said. "For instance, there's a room fixed up for the boys with games set out like checkers and dominoes. Kids can see 'Oh, they played with dominoes, too.' "

The Walkers served at Cove Fort for 18 months, living nearby in a set of apartments owned by a member of President Gordon B. Hinckley's family.

President Hinckley's grandfather, Ira, was called in 1867 by President Brigham Young to direct the building of the fort, which he did.

The fort, built of lava rock from nearby, is 100 square feet, 181/2 feet tall with footings that are 4 feet thick at the bottom and 21/2 feet thick at the top.

It was put up as a way station for travelers who needed a place to stop, refresh and sleep, and provided protection from attacks. It was also a stop for Pony Express riders and church officials, including President Young and Thomas Kane, who was a frequent visitor.

The fort was used from 1869 to 1890, until the railroad came through and basically eliminated the need for it.

When the land around the fort was donated to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1990s, officials for the church decided to renovate it and create a place where visitors could peek into the past.

Today, all 12 rooms in the fort, including a kitchen, the telegraph office, post office, washing and weaving room, Hinckley family rooms and guest rooms, are furnished, and the large gardens outside the walls are cultivated. Visitors can climb a stairway to the top of the fort to survey the horizon and check out the original, heavy doors that could be closed for protection as needed. There is also a bunkhouse, barn, blacksmith shop and original prairie wagon to investigate.

"Everything there is exactly from that period," Walker said. "The church people were very specific about that. It may not be the same stuff but it's what they would have used."

On July 24, the missionaries dress in period costume and on the first weekend in August, they invite neighbors and area residents to come visit and enjoy hot dogs and drinks during "Cove Fort Days."

"It's a good place for the whole family," Walker said. "It's very accessible even for wheelchairs. The missionaries can take you around and serve as guides."

Cove Fort is open year-round — from 8 a.m. to sunset April-October and 9 a.m. to sunset October-April. It is located immediately northeast of the junction of I-15 and I-70, in the southeast corner of Millard County, 20 miles south of Kanosh and 24 miles north of Beaver.

There is no admission charge and there are free parking, picnic areas and restroom facilities located on the property. Tours begin every two minutes. Reservations are suggested for groups of 20 or more. Call 435-438-5547 for more information.