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Darrel Hammon
Hailey, Joanne and Darrel Hammon as part of the handcart company.

Editor's note: Part 3 in a series of essays on visiting sites significant to the history of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When we lived in Montana, our stake in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Glendive Montana Stake — decided to take the youth to Martin’s Cove to experience what the early pioneers went through when they crossed Wyoming and to stand in one of the Lord’s sacred places (see Doctrine and Covenants 45:32; 87:8).

The whole trek experience was an incredible way of learning about sacrifice, sacred things, people’s lives and, especially, oneself. The youths dressed in pioneer-era clothes; pulled handcarts; acted on behalf of one of the handcart pioneers; and packed their belongings in a single, five-gallon white bucket.

Perhaps, one of the most sacred experiences we had was crossing the Sweetwater River. It was a gorgeous day in July, bright blue skies with a hint of clouds and a slight breeze blowing — unlike the ravaging winds, cold temperatures, ice-choked river, and cold and falling snow that confronted the poor and bedraggled Saints.

For safety reasons, a few of the adult leaders carefully forged the Sweetwater and secured a rope on the other side with another adult leader. Then, the youths began to cross, one by one, holding on to the rope, their safety line to the other side.

While they were crossing, one of the youths began playing "Come, Come Ye Saints" on her trumpet. As I sat on the opposite bank, simultaneously watching the young people struggle against the current and listening to the beautiful notes of that sweet hymn as it blended melodically with the silence that hung over the group, tears rolled down my cheeks, as well as the cheeks of all those who made it to the other side and those who were waiting for them. It seemed like the Celestial Kingdom as the faithful reached the other side and heartily embraced their family members and friends.

The next morning, the youths rose from their sleeping bags, took their buckets and journals, and headed to a silent place in the sagebrush to write about their experiences. What a sight it was! Young people were scattered about. That morning dawned beautiful and bright. Silence was palatable. Soon, sniffles and soft crying could be heard across that sacred prairie as the youths wrote.

I, too, found a quiet place in the sagebrush away from the others. After sitting on my bucket, I scribbled the feelings of my heart. During our three-day trek, we had pulled handcarts to Martin’s Cove, basked in the overwhelming spirit that engulfed the Cove, stood silently as the young women struggled to pull and push the carts up the hill, crossed the Sweetwater, and had a spiritual testimony meeting.

There was much to write about. As I wrote of the experiences, tears dropped onto the paper, smearing some of the ink. When I finished, I had written six pages of heartfelt copy, reliving my Martin’s Cove experiences and the incredible spirit of those Saints who gave their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Even today as I reflect on this incredible experience, I can transport myself back — it’s almost been 10 years — and feel the goodness and the spirit and the quiet sacredness of that holy spot. I can breathe it all in once again, and the tears renew in blessed remembrance.

An Idahoan, Darrel Hammon likes being outdoors, growing things and seeing things the way they could be. You can read more of his musings at darrelhammon.blogspot.com. He and his wife recently served a mission in the Caribbean Area Welfare Office.