Among the earliest LDS researchers to explore the likely path trekked by the Lehites, we would be remiss if we failed to include Lynn and Hope Hilton. In the early 1970s, building on some of Hugh Nibley's textual speculations, the Hiltons journeyed to Arabia — traveling over 2,000 miles through the Arabian Peninsula — photographed the landscape, and wrote about their findings. Some of their photos and thoughts were published in a two-part series in the Ensign in September and October 1976. Details were expanded in a book they produced the same year titled "In Search of Lehi's Trail," and then a follow-up book, "Discovering Lehi," was published in 1996.
Since 1976, other LDS scholars — some with academic degrees relative to the topic — stepped forward and analyzed the Hiltons' conclusions. Newer research has confirmed some of what the Hiltons had written, while in other cases, the Hiltons have modified their views based on the updated findings. As noted previously, as with certain areas of biblical scholarship there are also some areas of disagreement among Book of Mormon scholars.
Other LDS scholars who have contributed to the research include Eugene England, George Potter and Richard Wellington, Jeffrey Chadwick, John Welch, S. Kent Brown, David LeFevre, and Warren and Michaela Aston.
Nephi tells us that it took eight years from the time they left Jerusalem until they sailed to the New World (1 Nephi 17:4) and as Brown points out, since the route could be crossed in a matter of weeks, the Lehites must have spent a "considerable period in at least one location." Since Nephi doesn't give us a breakdown of how long they stayed at each spot, the best that we can do is to speculate on some possible scenarios.
Warren Aston, as well as Potter and Wellington, believe that much of their eight years was spent in the Valley of Lemuel. This was a perfect home base that was a safe distance from Jerusalem but close enough that Lehi's sons could travel back to the city when they retrieved the brass plates.
Brown, on the other hand, thinks this could all have been done in less than a year, and LeFevre believes somewhere between the two theories. LeFevre agrees with arguments advanced by Brown, however, that the Lehites suffered a number of afflictions in the last leg of their journey (from Nahom to Bountiful), which suggests that a large portion of their travel time was spent on the movement east from Nahom. After turning east, Nephi tells us:
"And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness.
"And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children.
"And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness" (1 Nephi 17:2-4).
While Nibley and others have argued that they didn't cook meat for fear of being spotted by marauding bands, Chadwick suggests that in this part of the land firewood and kindling might have been scarce. "Raw" meat might refer to sun-dried raw meat or jerky which was made "sweet" (v. 12) by seasonings.
Regarding Lehi's "afflictions," Brown points out that many years later King Benjamin reminded the Nephites that during the Lehites' travels they "did not … progress in their journey, but were driven back, … and … were smitten with famine and sore afflictions" (Mosiah 1:17). Their eastward route, Brown explains, "would have brought more intense troubles since they were leaving areas of population and cultivation."
Brown also notes that twice in this section of the record Nephi tells his readers that they did "sojourn" in the wilderness (1 Nephi 17:1, 3–4). The Bible, explains Brown, often uses the term to refer to "servile relationships." Relying on many other clues from the scriptures, Brown argues that the Lehites may have experienced "subjugation to, or dependence on, desert dwellers."
Perhaps, suggests Brown, after leaving Nahom the Lehites found themselves without disposable wealth and were "obliged at some point thereafter to sell their services to one or more local tribesmen for food or protection, or both." The Lehites may have spent a large portion of their desert journey in the servitude of others bargaining their freedom in return for food and protection.