Illinois and Old Nauvoo was full of church history sites for us while we were on our 50 states in 50 weeks RV tour. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nauvoo was where the early pioneers of the gospel settled to try to find religious freedom. Little did I know, I would also find ancient burial grounds from 300 B.C. to 500 A.D. by accident.
Ancient Burial Mounds
Monday morning, I wanted to get out on a bike ride. When I started, I didn’t know where I wanted to go so I headed in a direction that seemed like the least amount of traffic. There were beautiful cornfields and farms but that ended. There was a highway if I were to keep going but I decided to turn around and ride through the residential area of town.
I had no idea where I was going but I took a turn and to my surprise, I rode past Hyrum Smith’s house and homestead. I kept riding. Nauvoo is not a very big town and I soon came to the point where going back to the RV would have been easy but I wanted to keep riding. Instead of going left, I went right. Soon I was riding outside of the city limits.
As I was riding along a paved street, taking in the trees and the river I saw a sign mentioning Ancient Burial Mounds. I got curious. My new mission was to find and see these burial grounds. There was a trail off to the right, up a side road. This was my first attempt. No mountain bikes allowed? I rested my bike on the ground and started to walk down the path.
The scenery was beautiful! Tall, skinny trees and greenery covering the floor. Now only if there weren’t massive spider webs traversing the trail. One spider web scared me pretty good. It was time to get a stick to hold out in front of me to whack the strings crossing my path. I didn’t see any mounds though, only what looked like a camping area.
I had been out on my ride for a while now and probably should have turned back at this point but remember, I was on a mission. Voila. As soon as I came up the next hill, I saw a sign and what looked like a hill on the mountain. If I wouldn’t have been looking for ‘burial mounds’ I would have thought the mounds might be part of the lay of the land. They were really neat.
I kept walking and saw a couple more. There was a sign stating that these mounds date back three-hundred years before Christ to five-hundred years after Christ. To be able to step back in time was incredible. It was truly a sacred experience.
We spent three days touring around Old Nauvoo. Our first stop was the brickyard Here, we learned how they made bricks in the old days. We even were able to take one home as a family.
Lucy Mack Smith’s, Joseph Smith’s mother, house was right across the street. This was our first experience and tour of how houses were set up back in that time. Seeing how they would have cooked outside and stored their food really took me back. It makes me appreciate my refrigerator and running water.
Saylor was tired by this point and Colter took her back to the RV for a nap while Blakely, Tessa and I sang and danced in the cultural hall, had a cookie sample in the bakery, saw how tin was made in the tin shop, learned how they wrote letters back in the day, toured John Taylor’s home and finished it off with walking around the Visitors Center.
I am glad we rode our bikes through town. This time of year, there is less traffic and it was easy to jump on and off as we saw different aspects of the town. Walking would have been hard for the girls.
Colter and Saylor met back up with us at about 6:30 pm. The Women’s garden is where he met us. We were there admiring the statues and inspiring quotes of women and their special talents and abilities. I know being in that special place helped me recognize all the amazing things I do every day that seem so small in the moment but make a big impact in the eternities.
Since everything was closed down by dinner time our choice was to ride into town or go back to the RV for dinner. We all voted into town to grab pizza at the Gas station. There weren’t very many food options. I am glad there weren’t many options or we would have never had the best gas station pizza I have ever eaten. It tasted fresh and like it was homemade. My favorite was the breadsticks. Cheesy with a hint of garlic.
It was dark by the time we started to ride back to the RV. Saylor and Tessa were riding on our bikes on their doLittle seats and Blakely was riding her own bike. Colter and I made Blakely stay between us on the side of the road where cars parked. I am glad it wasn’t a very busy town. We didn’t plan on being out past dark so we had no lights. I held my phone light behind me so the 3 cars that eventually passed us could see there were bikers on the road. Blakely was smart and brought her own flashlight. Rigging it to her basket in front was a challenge but we were able to make it stay to light her way.
A temple stop was pleasant on our way back to the RV. Right after the temple, there is a small hill going down into the valley. Blakely was scared she would not be able to stop so Colter had to coach and encourage her the whole way down. I thought going ahead of her would show her that it would be ok. It wasn’t enough but she eventually made it all the way to the flat portion of the road.
Most tourist sites in Old Nauvoo closes down at 5:30 pm due to missionaries being stationed at the sites. The Visitor’s Center is open until seven. You could spend as much or as little time as you wanted here. We did not see all of the sites in our three days.
Colter went through a temple session at eight before all of his work meetings started for the day. I stayed back, got the girls ready for the day, breakfast and prepared to do a pre-orientation school meeting for Blakely.
After I got kicked off the call due to lack of cell service, we headed to Pioneer past-times. This is the perfect place for kids to be kids. There are dolls, dress-ups, a game called walking bears, hoop pushing and ring tossing. Those aren’t their official names but I hope it paints a picture. With all of the games and toys, my girls almost did not know what to do.
Thankfully the couple manning the station showed them around a bit, and they were off playing house with dress-ups.
Playing didn’t last very long because Colter and I wanted to take a narrated wagon ride through Old Nauvoo. This was a treat. You get to sit and listen to all the history unfold. See the houses and imagine a busy, bustling town full of people dedicated to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This wagon ride is a great place to start if you are unsure of what portion of town you want to see or if you want to know where the different houses are in the layout.
The Joseph Smith farm and family cemetery land is owned by the Community of Christ and you can pay a small fee to tour inside the buildings. I knew the girls were tired and I didn’t want to walk all the way to the visitors center so we just walked around the grounds after the wagon ride. This is a very special place.
I had been praying to know if the Book of Mormon is true. Honestly, I had never asked. When I was reading the plaque on the Smith farm describing the journey and devotion of Joseph Smith SR and Lucy Mack, I began to cry. I sat down on the bench to take in the feelings I felt in the place where their bodies lie.
As it usually goes, traveling with children, Blakely and Tessa were ready to move on shortly thereafter. The blacksmith’s shop was our next stop. Here, they built wagons and horse and ox shoes. I didn’t even realize that the oxen needed shoes. We left with a free, small token of a small horse-shoe and a prairie ring (bent nail that fits around the finger).
It was a hot day but the girls wanted to go back to pioneer past-times after we finished with the blacksmith. After a couple minutes of running around on the grass, I had beads of sweat running down my face. Tessa at one point perched on top of a box by the drinking fountain and drank and drank. We were there close to closing time so when it was time to go, the girls helped clean up, and put away the toys and games.
The pioneer past-times do close if the weather outside is too hot.
Even though the games were closed, we still had time to stop by the bakery to get another gingerbread cookie. This time we went out the back door and saw the summer kitchen then headed back to the RV for dinner. It rained really hard this night and I did not sleep well.
Blakely woke us up crying. She had a bad dream I left her. I was planning on going to the temple so I decided to stay up and head to the shower in the park. Blakely had woken Saylor up with her crying so I took them down with me. Shortly after, Colter brought Tessa down.
The Nauvoo temple is beautiful. The staircase inside reminds me of the San Diego temple. There are also some really neat artifacts in the left hallway when entering past the recommend desk. There is Joseph Smith’s saber and early church temple clothing.
Upon leaving the temple I was able to stand outside. All of a sudden I heard church bells. The ringing seemed as if those who sacrificed so much to build it were rejoicing, singing along with the chimes. I listened. Then after the ringing ended I had the thought that building this temple back in 1841 would have been comparable to Noah building the ark in his day. What does the Lord ask of us today?
It started raining while I was standing outside so I went back to pick up the girls and tour the final places I wanted to visit while in Old Nauvoo. The Brigham Young house, Saylor fell down the stairs, the Heber C. Kimball house, Lyon drug and the Family Living Center. While in the Family Living Center we learned about making bread the old fashioned way (got to taste), candle making, rope making (got to take a piece home), pottery making, barrel making, spinning and loom work making rugs. The girls enjoyed it here.
While we were in Old Nauvoo, we could not miss out on the oxen rides. Initially, I thought they would be closed due to all the rain. To our pleasant surprise, they were not closed. We had a lot of fun. So much fun in fact, the girls asked for another ride. We got to pet the team and learn about their horns and mannerisms. Tessa like petting them the most. She loves animals.
Last but not least, we did a carriage ride through the country side. This ride had a larger wagon and had a nice live narration of stories from early church history by an older missionary. Saylor was a pain. She was tired and hungry and I did not bring my Mary Poppins backpack of snacks and treats. We made it through though.
When it was time to leave Nauvoo, I did not want to go. We had so much fun and learned a lot about early church history. All good things must come to an end and we headed to Carthage Jail.
There is a visitor’s center here that starts a thirty minute tour to view the old jail where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred. It might have been the three kids I had running around but I didn’t really enjoy being in the room where it all happened. Where these righteous men were hunted down and shot. Here you can see the original door with holes that were shot through. The original windows still remain, even the very one Joseph jumped out.
I find the history of the jail interesting. After the property was a jail, it was a house where people lived. They removed the bars and added on but the windows and doors remain the originals.
Touring church history sites brought stories to life and allowed me to walk where the early saints walked. The girls got bored at times but also were able to learn and play in Old Nauvoo. The ancient burial grounds brought to life the Book of Mormon and are a witness that ancient people lived in that area long before ‘white men’ came to settle on the same ground. I am amazed the mounds are even still here for us to view.
Have you been to Nauvoo? What are some sacred places in your religion that you want to see or have seen?
Landscape: Corn and Soybean fields. No mountains. Rivers and streams here and there.