The week Raquel was diagnosed with a brain tumor (June 2014) we had planned to take a two-week LDS church history trip as a family to see some famous historical sites from the history of our church. Our church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the trip at that time, so we could pursue treatment for Raquel.
After Raquel passed away, we decided to take the trip before our oldest son departed for his 2-year mission to Cali, Colombia (South America). I was sad thinking that she was missing out, but then I realized that she would be able to go after all, and her spirit would surely be with us on many parts of our trip. So we started making plans.
First we thought to see the sites in order of distance (instead of chronological), trying to see them all, and ending in Palymra New York. I actually booked all our hotels on Expedia for this plan (yay for cancelability!). But then we would have had to drive 3 days straight to get home, and I knew that would be a killer. So a week before the trip, we rearranged the order and the hotels, to go to the following locations and learn about a couple of our favorite historical characters too…Lincoln and Mark Twain:
- Council Bluffs (Omaha, NB)/ Winter Quarters, Iowa
- Chicago, IL (for 1 day of non-history fun)
- Kirtland, OH
- Palmyra, NY
- Kirtland, OH (again)
- Springfield, IL (Lincoln sites)
- Nauvoo, IL (staying in Keokuk)
- Hannibal, MO (Mark Twain’s hometown)
- Liberty & Independence, MO
We decided to break up the driving by staying a night on the front and back end, in Denver with my cousin and her family. On our way to Council Bluffs, Iowa, we were able to watch the Super Blood Moon Eclipse. We watched the whole first half before we got to the hotel, and I had some time to gaze at it while the kids were swimming. It was so beautiful and awesome!
The next morning we drove back over the border to Nebraska to see the Winter Quarters Temple, Visitor Center and Pioneer Cemetery. The visitor’s center had some cool exhibits and hands-on activities for the kids.
The temple was beautiful, but we didn’t go in. The cemetery, across the street was the most poignant, as there were many quotes on stones about death and resurrection, which reminded us of Raquel. One of my favorites reads:
“Mourn not for those who peacefully lay,
their wearied bodies down,
who leave this frail and mortal clay,
to seek a fadeless crown.”
I love this one:
Or this one:
That afternoon we drove 5 hrs to Chicago area, and stayed in Lombard the next 2 nights. The next day we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was awesome! With 2000 exhibits, there was plenty of cool activities to keep us busy for several hours.
Then we went to what used to be called the Sears Tower, and is now called the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the USA. I love great views, but this one was a little unsettling for me, especially when my kids wanted me to go out onto a clear plastic deck that hangs out over the side of the building. As much as I told my brain that it was safe, I could not get myself to step out. Finally, I said if we could get a family photo, I would go out. I just didn’t look down until it was over.
Then I realized that we had missed finding our youngest child to be in the picture. Oh well. That night Mike took Nathan to a play, while I took the younger kids to a family play place with rides and go-carts. This helped fill our “fun” quota.
The next day we drove the 9 hours to Palmyra, stopping at Kirtland on the way. We went to the visitor’s center there, which we enjoyed, and the Newel K. Whitney store where many early revelation to Joseph Smith were received. We did not have time to see the temple as it is owned by the Community of Christ church and is only open until 5, so we saw it on our way back from New York.
After staying the night near to Palmyra, we went in the morning to see the Smith Family homes, farm and the Sacred Grove. It was a wonderful experience, especially in the sacred grove, where Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in response to his humble prayer about which church to join. We walked through the quiet grove, and felt the sweet spirit there. Then we went to the Hill Cumorah and visitor center there. We saw the statue of Moroni holding the plates that he gave to Joseph to translate into the Book of Mormon, a second witness of Jesus Christ.
We also saw the printing shop where they first printed the Book of Mormon.
Mike took Nathan to the Palmyra temple (which has beautiful stained/frosted glass depicting grove-like trees), and the next day we set out for Springfield, IL. We stopped for a night in Sandusky, OH to go to a big amusement park that night, but the weather was so cold and windy, that we decided not to attempt it. But our hotel had a fun indoor waterpark that our kids enjoyed instead.
We listened to LDS general conference over the radio on our drive to Springfield. Once there, we went to the Abraham Lincoln home and museum between conference sessions on Sunday. There were many interesting exhibits about his life, like the bed he died in, which was way too little for him, and the playbill of the play he attended the night of his death.
We then made our way to Nauvoo, staying nearby in Keokuk. There is a beautiful visitor’s center in Old Nauvoo, with a Women’s Garden featuring many statues of women and their valuable roles in society.
It was one of my favorite things to see. Some of them reminded me of Raquel.
We went on a wagon ride in the old town of Nauvoo, to get an overview of all the sites, and the last day there, we went on a carriage ride out to the country, which featured many wonderful stories.
I loved seeing the old drug store/herb shop there.
There was a Family Living Center, which had many activities for the children to learn how to make ropes, barrels, rugs, bread and candles. They had lots of fun there.
There was also a fun production the first night called Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo, performed by senior missionaries. It was great!
The second night, I took Nathan to the Nauvoo temple. It was very beautiful.
I especially loved seeing the moonstones on the temple. I couldn’t believe it was the “man on the moon!”
Here was the memorial stone on Joseph Smith’s grave, and the Mansion House where he had lived.
We also drove out to Carthage jail, to see where Joseph and his brother, Hyrum had been martyred. Here we met a lady in our tour who had lost a son, who was several years older than Raquel. It was a bittersweet connection, just as it was hearing the story about Joseph’s death.
When we were done seeing the sites at Nauvoo, we stopped in Hannibal, MO to see Mark Twain’s childhood home and museum. It was very interesting and entertaining, since his funny quotes were everywhere.
Our last stay was in Libery, MO to see the jail there, where Joseph Smith and others, were held on false charges for 4 months in the freezing cold of winter.
After what seemed like forever, driving along small country roads (I was wondering if we were ever going to find it), we also arrived at Adam-Ondi-Ahman.
We saw the memorial and temple cornerstones at Far West the next day.
The Visitor’s Center at Independence was very educational and fun. There were many video presentations and a cute play place for the kids.
Halfway through our tour, I told our sister missionary guide about how we had planned our trip the year prior, but had postponed because of Raquel’s illness and subsequent passing. Later in the tour, there was a presentation about eternal families.
At the end, I just knew the sister missionary would struggle emotionally because of what I had shared with her. Sure enough, the sister missionary got up to speak at the conclusion and was overcome with tears, knowing what we had experienced with our sweet daughter. She was used to saying the same words everyday, about her gratitude for the priesthood power that binds families for eternity, and how much that meant to her. But at that moment with our example right before her, the importance of that gospel principle was driven even deeper into her heart. I don’t think she will feel the same about it from now on.
We had a fantastic time, and learned a ton of history. Most importantly, we came home with a stronger conviction that God’s true and living church, containing the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, has been restored to the Earth again. What a huge blessing it has been in our lives! We are so grateful for the many sacrifices of the early saints and pioneers in bringing it forth. Because we have been sealed together by the proper priesthood authority of God, we know we will be together as a family beyond the grave, with our sweet daughter, Raquel.