Guernica Magazine

A Long Hot Walk to the Mormon Promised Land

Sexually frustrated teens in period costumes undertake a Mormon pioneer trek. The worst part isn't the heat. It's the singing. The post A Long Hot Walk to the Mormon Promised Land appeared first on Guernica.
Photo: Hannah Cowan. Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, Utah.

In 1847, the three largest groups of Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. One hundred years later, on July 24, my people took a commemorative “Pioneer Trek”—this time with automobiles decorated with oxen-shaped cutouts and canvas wagon covers—and drove together for eight days, from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah. It was symbolic, a centennial celebration. But in the decades since, we haven’t stopped trekking. To commemorate the sesquicentennial in 1997, a caravan of six hundred walkers and handcarts spent three months on the trail. As I was becoming a teenager then, a cottage industry emerged of people who made pioneer costumes and handcarts, and every Mormon kid was coming back in tears about how they’d never felt closer to God than when they were lost in the woods.

“Don’t leave those apple cores outside the tent, the coyotes will come sniffing,” I said to a girl, two years my junior, who was pretending to be my sister for the week. I met her for the first time the day we started walking, when I threw her backpack and pillow onto the wooden cart and began pulling hundreds of pounds toward the horizon—miles before the lace on her bonnet became stained with red dirt. Each morning, our group—an older couple in the role of our parents, two boys I was told to call brothers, one fake sister, and a plastic doll named Emma—tried to pack and leave early so that we could take the lead. Otherwise the rising dust from the other handcarts would choke us and sting our eyes all day. July in Utah can climb

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