Driving Me Crazy
I hate to drive. Driving someplace just seems inefficient. On a long drive, such as that from Salt Lake City, UT to Newport News, VA, all I can think about is, “If I was in an airplane right now, I would have been there xx hours ago.” Finding places to eat and sleep just seem like unnecessary work. As missionaries, however, there is no choice. Missionaries sent to labor in North America are expected to take their own car and use it in the work when they arrive.
Our journey ran late from the beginning. When we left Aurora on our way to the MTC, we had hoped to be on the road by 1000. By the time we finished all the final packing and cleaning tasks, we were underway at 1600. After a harrowing trip through the winding and snowy roads through the mountains, we decided to give up in Grand Junction. That set the tone for all future travel.
We were supposed to be on the road from Salt Lake City back to Aurora by roughly 1330. Again, we didn’t hit the road until 1600. That was okay because if one must drive across Wyoming, night is the time to do it. We rolled in to Aurora at around midnight and stayed in the Aloft Hotel by the airport. We got a very good price and decided to try it out. This is a hotel that goes out of its way to be trendy. While the room was not uncomfortable, it didn’t do much for us, either. No closet. No place to sit other than the bed. A shower that leaked. Internet that didn’t work. Pressure-sensitive floors in the elevators (that left your footprints highlighted).
We went back to our former home to pick up some things left in the garage and mail some boxes of excess stuff at the post office. Again, we thought we would be underway by 1000, but we slept in, so that wasn’t going to happen. By the time we got the car packed and were on the road, it was 1600 again on a rainy Saturday. We had hoped to make it to Kansas City – and we did, although at 0300 after battling snow and ice through the fringes of Winter Storm Linus across the last third of Kansas. Kansas, by the way, is another state best driven across in the dark. We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites, a brand I generally like, especially because they have free breakfast. But they did one thing I can’t stand – they started taking breakfast down around 20 minutes before breakfast time was over.
Visits with Friends
Our next stop was Belleville, IL, just over the Mississippi River from St. Louis. We had hoped to attend church with some friends from our BYU days (Robert and Linda Goodrich), but we didn’t get in until past supper time. They graciously fed us, and we still had a very nice visit before heading north to Naperville, IL, just west of Chicago. Friends from our Continental days in Houston (Phil and Trixi Emden) live there (he now works at the headquarters of United Airlines). We really got to see the snow piled up there (also from Winter Storm Linus). We had another lovely visit with them which resulted in another late departure, this time for Nauvoo, IL.
If you have never heard of Nauvoo, IL, the chances are you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nauvoo became the Church’s headquarters after the Mormons fled Missouri in the face of mob violence and terrorist attacks in the late 1830s. The Governor of Missouri even issued an “extermination order” against any Mormons found in the state. Generously, the State of Missouri rescinded that order a few years ago. It was a dark time for religious liberty in the United States.
The Church bought up a large tract of mostly swampland on the Mississippi River that was formerly known as Commerce, IL. They obtained a state charter, drained the swamps, and renamed it Nauvoo (meaning “beautiful”). The Church enjoyed relative peace for several years that allowed the city to prosper and grow larger than Chicago at the time. They built beautiful homes, places of commerce and industry, and towering over it all, a temple. The Nauvoo Temple sat on a bluff overlooking the river river and was truly a beacon. It was a magnificent building that cost nearly $1 million to build in an age that thought in hundreds.
Persecution returned, however, in part because of the growing political power in having so great a concentration of Mormons in one place. In June, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, surrendered themselves at the jail at Carthage, IL on trumped-up charges of treason and insurrection. They were both murdered in the Carthage Jail by a mob that painted their faces black to hide the cowardice of their deed. With its charismatic leader dead, they thought that the Church would shrivel and beblown away. This was, however, the Lord’s work and would not be stopped by the hand of criminals. The Mormons moved west to the Great Salt Lake Valley to escape the persecution that had doggedly followed them.
The temple, along with the many impressive homes and buildings, of Nauvoo were abandoned or sold for pennies on the dollar. The temple was burned by an arsonist and later the walls were weakened by a tornado. The building was eventually torn down, with stones from the building used in other buildings around Nauvoo. Nauvoo quickly faded back into obscurity.
The Church acquired the original temple site in 1937. In 2000, it was announced that a temple would be rebuilt there, with the exterior matching that of the original. It was dedicated in 2002 on the 158th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
Nauvoo is not a place to visit in the winter. The Church built a visitor center in Nauvoo and has restored many of the homes and workshops from the 1840s. They are available to visit at no charge. There are also demonstrations of blacksmithing, the wheelwright’s art, and making firearms at John Browning’s original foundry. It is a booming place in the summer. We discovered that it is hard to get a room in Nauvoo in the winter. Most of the hotels were “closed for the season.” Of the ones open, they were unattended with a phone number to call if one desired a room. We ended up staying at the surprisingly nice Nauvoo Hotel with a good room at a reasonable price. Eating is another issue. Cafes, diners, and restaurants (such as they are) were also closed for the season. Every single one of them. We ended up getting a pizza at Casey’s General Store and Gas Station. For the same reason, we had breakfast there, too.
We were rewarded handsomely for our efforts. We got to see the magnificent new temple at night. We also saw it the next day in the middle of a snowstorm. We took the time attend a session there and the interior is as spectacular as the exterior.
Following our worship in the temple, we were on the road again, finally headed for Newport News. Nauvoo is so far off the beaten path that we had to go west, into Iowa, to get to an Interstate highway that could get us to the East Coast. We battled snow and ice before spending the night in Champaign, IL. The ice was so bad that we really had to slow down on many parts of the highway. The median and the shoulders were littered with cars that thought they could drive faster than was really safe, and they paid for that mistake with a few moments of stark terror and a car stuck in a snow drift. To compound the misery, the temperatures went into negative territory.
The Final Leg
Fortunately, the roads got drier, the temperature increased (sometimes the 20s can seem absolutely balmy), and it was smooth sailing for the rest of the journey. We made a stop in Charleston, WV and cruised into Portsmouth, VA (which is where the mission headquarters is located) to be welcomed by our Mission President, Alan Baker and his wife. We had a very nice dinner with them at the Olive Garden and then headed to our home for the next two years.