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Gerry Avant, LDS Church News
A monument stands on May 3, 2012, at the temple site in Far West, Mo., where, in the fall of 1838, a temple site was selected.

At the conclusion of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple dedication in 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley requested that those attending take a “walk down Parley Street to the waterfront,” to the landing on the Mississippi River where the Saints crossed into Iowa and began their westward trek.

According to the LDS Church News, President Hinckley “asked members to leave behind the comfort of their air-conditioned cars, to walk and take time to read plaques along what is designated as the Trail of Hope … and read of those who left behind the beautiful temple.”

“’Look across to Iowa,’ President Hinckley said, inviting the members to ponder those past events,” the article said. “He asked that they imagine that it wasn’t a hot day in June, but a day of bitter cold in February, the month when the first company of Saints left Nauvoo under dire circumstances.”

Following the dedication, thousands crowded onto Parley Street to take the somber stroll and capture the spirit of the pioneers' winter exodus.

Since then, experiencing the Trail of Hope has become one of the memorable activities for families that visit Historic Nauvoo.

“It’s one of those special things we suggest families do,” said Elder David Pincock, site leader at the Nauvoo Visitors' Center. “It helps us appreciate our heritage and all those ancestors that lived before us and blazed new trails.”

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people visit historical sites owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, as well as other U.S locations. In order to help families have a memorable experience when visiting the sites, the Deseret News has compiled information and helpful tips for those planning to embark on a church history vacation.

Palmyra, New York

In New York, popular LDS Church history sites include the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center, the Sacred Grove, the Smith Family Farm, the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site, and the Peter Whitmer Log Home. Each summer, thousands flock to see the outdoor theatrical Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Elder Steven H. Stewart, a missionary serving as director of the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center, also recommends a collection of museums known as Historic Palmyra. Historic Palmyra, not owned by the church, consists of four museums: The William Phelps store and home, the Palmyra print shop, the Alling Coverlet museum and Palmyra Historical Museum. There is a small admission fee, but Stewart says it’s a gem and worth the visit. Over the years missionaries have served as volunteers for Historic Palmyra and a genuine friendship has been developed with owners Steve and Bonnie Hays, who are friends of another faith, according to Stewart.

Elder Stewart and his wife, Sister Ann Stewart, say it is not necessary to visit sites like the Hill Cumorah or the Sacred Grove to gain a deep testimony of the gospel, but it’s “a wonderful blessing to stand in these holy places and contemplate what occurred there.”

“The mission Joseph Smith accomplished seems even more daunting when you see the personal circumstances under which he and his family helped to bring forth such a great work,” the Stewarts wrote in an email. “The sacrifices Joseph and his family were willing to make so we might have the Book of Mormon are overwhelming to us. … We are reminded by our presence here that each of us can find our own Sacred Grove, whether we are in Palmyra, New York, or anywhere else on the face of the earth.”

To help families have a memorable experience, the Stewarts suggest each family member come prepared with questions to ask.

“The guided visits with our sisters or couples are interactive and fun,” the Stewarts wrote. “Thoughtful questions … could start the process that leads to a meaningful experience.”

Another suggestion for families might be to assign each family member to research a different topic or person related to a historical site.

“A short report on a simple topic or historical figure will not only encourage a desire to learn more about what happened here, it will also stimulate a personal interest in what they will see,” the Stewarts wrote.

For more information about the church history sites in New York, visit the Hill Cumorah Visitor's Center page at LDS.org or the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center Facebook page.

Kirtland, Ohio

According to Elder Robert E. Sorenson and his wife, Sister Marcia Sorenson, a senior missionary couple and the directors of the Historic Kirtland Visitors' Center, it’s possible to see all the area's best church history sites in one day. That includes the Kirtland Temple (not owned by the LDS Church), the Newel K. Whitney home and store, the Kirtland Ashery, the sawmill, the stone quarry, the John Johnson home and farm, the Isaac Morley farm, the visitors center and more.

“Everything is within close proximity,” Elder Sorenson said. “Most people don’t know as much about Kirtland and they pass by. But Kirtland is where the Savior appeared more than any other place. There were more revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith here than any other place.”

It was during his time in Kirtland that Joseph Smith received 65 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, worked on his translations of the Bible and was severely beaten, tarred and feathered. He taught the school of the prophets and received Section 89, which contains the Word of Wisdom.

Sorenson related one story of a man who toured the sites. Upon learning that church members put their chewing tobacco and pipes in the fireplace in response to the revelation, he reached into his pocket and handed the sister missionaries his can of Copenhagen tobacco, never to chew again. He later joined the church.

“He had a hard time quitting for 10 to 15 years,” Sorenson said. “People come here and feel the spirit of the place. They feel the spirit of the Savior and it impacts them. When my wife and I were called here, we’d heard of Kirtland but had no idea about the feelings of being on holy ground. These feelings have strengthened and enlarged our testimonies. Our lives will never be the same.”

For families to have the ultimate experience at Kirtland, Sorenson suggests parents teach their children about sites before they come. They tend to have a better experience when they appreciate what they see, he said.

“Parents should prepare their children for a good spiritual experience,” Sorenson said. “If parents would, as they travel here, tell their children something about the history of the church, it would really benefit them.”

For more information, go to the Historic Kirtland Visitors' Center Facebook page at facebook.com/kirtlandvisitorscenter.

The Missouri sites

The No. 1 Mormon site to see in Missouri is the Historic Liberty Jail, said Elder Douglas Brenchley, director of the Missouri Independence Visitors' Center.

“Considering the significance of the revelations received and the lessons learned by the Prophet Joseph during the four-plus months of incarceration, that jail is a sacred spot and a stunning experience for most everyone that comes,” Elder Brenchley said.

Families would also benefit from a visit to the Independence Visitors' Center, the temple corner stones at Far West, Adam-ondi-Ahman, the site of the Hawn’s Mill massacre, various sites in Richmond (including a location where Joseph and other leaders were held before going to Liberty Jail) and numerous smaller sites of historical significance, Brenchley said.

“There are all kinds of little things for the traveler who wants to see everything,” Brenchley said. “There are significant lessons to be learned that could bless people and families. There is a tenderness and sacredness you feel when standing in those sites.”

When asked about tips for families, Brenchley agreed with Sorenson in terms of educating children before coming. “The best thing you can do is prepare them before you get here,” he said.

His second tip — bring bug spray. If planning to walk around Adam-ondi-Ahman or fields of tall grass, there will be chiggers and ticks.

“If you are prepared, you shall not itch,” Brenchley said.

Finally, give yourself plenty of time.

“If you will just spend a couple of days in the area you will have a good experience,” Brenchley said.

For more information, visit the Independence Visitors' Center Facebook page at facebook.com/IndependenceVC.

Nauvoo, Illinois

There is no shortage of activities for families in Historic Nauvoo. A ride on a wagon around the village of replica homes, shops and buildings will give a sense for the rich history of the area. Visitors can also walk the grounds of the Nauvoo Temple, attend a show or the Nauvoo Pageant, or drive 30 minutes away to see Carthage Jail. Families can plan their visit by going to historicnauvoo.net, Pincock said.

“Make sure you have adequate time to come to Nauvoo," Pincock said. "You can’t see it in a couple of hours, you need three or four days."

Planning ahead is crucial, especially during the summer. Book a hotel months in advance, Pincock suggested. All events are free, but some require tickets, so inquire as soon as possible. Families can contact the Historic Nauvoo Visitors' Center at 217-453-2237, ext. 122, and request an electronic planning guide with a map, a list of sites, hotels, restaurants and other relevant information that will enhance a family visit to Nauvoo.

Another suggestion would be to do some family history work before you come, Pincock said.

“Did you have any ancestors or family members that lived in Nauvoo? Where did they live? Do you know their life history?” Pincock said. “That would make it a little more special.”

Regardless of what families are able to plan in advance, they are most welcome, Pincock said.

“Family life is what Nauvoo is all about,” Pincock said. “There is a fantastic feeling and special spirit in Nauvoo that is wonderful. You get a true feeling of the lives of the people that lived here. Sometimes we wonder if our kids are getting anything out of it, but they do. We want them to come.”

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone