Travel Dates: May 28 – Jun 26, 2016
In two and a half years of travel we have never stayed in the same spot for a month. Ever. Our typical stay lasts anywhere from one night, to our previous record of two weeks. Lately we have been aiming for 7-10 days, but an entire 30 days seemed a little intimidating. Luckily, we had the Mormon Miracle Pageant to keep us plenty busy. We posted back in June about our decision to participate in the pageant, but we thought a summary of our time there was in order – both for those that are interested in participating in Pageant with their families someday, and those that want to see what staying stationary can be like for full time travelers!
We stayed at the Temple Hill RV resort just north of the Manti Temple in a water/20amp electric site. The owners were great and the campground was very shaded (which was our saving grace!). Sanpete County is known for its ATV trails, so we had quite a lot of company on the weekends with warriors and their toys. Once pageant performances began, the campground filled up more regularly, but still never fully reached capacity. The sites were tight enough though that we had a few mornings where our neighbors were up long before us and we didn’t enjoy the noise in such close quarters. If we were to do it again, however, we’d make sure to sign up early enough to get a spot with 30amp hook ups at the local RV Park. Not having air conditioning and 100+ degree temperatures were a terrible combination. We all get a little irritable, lazy, and fairly non motivated when it gets that warm outside (and inside!). We had 20amp electrical and water, but no sewer which meant hitching up and dumping our tanks everyday 6-8 days.
The RV park has a pool, but for the first two weeks it was not heated and was COLD. The kids jumped in once or twice but they never lasted long. Our last week, however, they installed (or fixed) the water heater and we spent some long days at the pool to get out of the heat! It was nice having laundry on site, and during the week we felt we could spread out a little since there were few campers in our area.
Activities Other Than Pageant
For the first week and a half, we still managed to sneak in some school. The kids had subjects they were finishing up from last year (ahem, math!) but we were pretty lazy about it. With rehearsals not starting until 5:oo pm most nights we had plenty of time during the day to clean, work on school, and have Sam get his paid work in. Once things heated up with late dress rehearsals and performances, however, we gave up and just called it “summer”. Everyone was too tired by then to even think about school.
Since the campground pool was too cold, the kids and I took one day to visit the local Manti community pool which was fun but also disappointing because there was no diving board for the older two. Poor things. I also signed the kids up for 2 weeks (8 days, Mon-Thur over two weeks) of swimming lessons at Snow College up in Ephraim. In hindsight I’m glad I signed them up for the 11:20 am spot, because that last week we had dress rehearsals and performances which meant we didn’t crack our eyelids in the morning until at least 9:30am. Rachel and Andrew have done swimming lessons previously, but Cara never has. Despite their initial insistence that they could swim just fine, by the time lessons rolled around all three were excited. Rachel and Andrew worked on their diving and stroke technique, while Cara blew her teacher away with how fast she learned to dive for objects and swim the front crawl.
Shortly after arriving, we took a drive up to nearby Maple Canyon to check out a Box Canyon hike. We also were able to watch some of the rock climbers and decided we needed to come back the following week with our gear and try it out. I climbed down there long ago in college and remembered it being fairly beginner friendly. We went up the following Monday for Family Night and even brought the daughter of a friend (okay, for all purposes she’s considered a niece) and introduced her to rock climbing. Unfortunately the next time we went up to climb the routes were busy with Boy Scouts and we had to bail.
Our first Sunday evening (June 5th) we took a drive up Ephraim Canyon to get out of the heat. We checked out the campground, but our biggest find was an awesome boondocking spot we find off a forest service road. The following weekend (June 12-13) we towed our trailer up there Sunday after church and spent a blissfully cool couple of nights camping up in the forest. We still had to drive down for swim lessons, but the cooler temperatures were worth it! We had an epic campfire dinner one night and were also joined by Sam’s brother who was driving through the area on his way to Idaho from California.
We celebrated my birthday (June 16th) with waffles for breakfast, a climbing trip turned canyon picnic up Maple Canyon (boy scouts, remember?), dinner with my parents and friends and donuts & ice cream for dessert!
Father’s Day we left the trailer and drove up to Sandy, Utah to attend church and have dinner with my family. We then spent two nights at our friend’s house in Lehi where the kids played, and played, and played some more with their best friends. It was a fabulous break from the heat in Manti and we always love seeing our friends!
During performances we had both family and friends come down for pageant. It was so fun to see everyone! When my parents came down, in addition to celebrating my birthday we also visited the Ephraim cemetery where my dad’s ancestors are buried. Apparently “Madsen” is one of THE families in the Ephraim/Manti area.
We were also surprised with a visit from Sam’s parents! They flew from Oakland, CA to Salt Lake City, UT and then drove down. It had been months since we’d seen them last and we always love spending time with them! Our last afternoon together we spent a few hours at Palisades State Park canoeing, swimming, and generally horsing around.
We took one night off during pageant performances to watch the entire thing. Many of the other participants were surprised we had never seen it before and encouraged us to do so. We bought dinner from the vendors and had fun hanging out on the lawn before the show started. We loved watching it and we became even more excited for our final performances afterwards.
We had plans to visit the local libraries, but turns out the kids had enough books to keep them busy for the month. Once pageant performances started it really took up more time than we had originally thought and didn’t have the energy for much else!
My 31st – June 4th was our first week of rehearsals and it was a lot of fun. The pageant directors put out a master schedule and ran through various scenes from 5:00-9:30pm every night. All of these rehearsals were in the local church building and not actually over on temple hill. This was great because we were indoors, out of the sun, and it was air conditioned.
Many of the principal parts had rehearsals in the side rooms while the larger groups practiced in the gymnasium. Rachel, Andrew and I attended the square dancing rehearsals where we learned a simple Virginia Reel for one of the Pioneer Scenes. Sam would bring Cara over a little later as we went into rehearsals for some of our other parts. We had originally intended to not have Sam and Cara in the Pioneer Scenes as they were much later in the pageant, but we learned at our first rehearsal that we needed a man from our handcart group to join the Mormon Battalion so they started coming to rehearsals as well. We figured we’d just see how she did once we got into those late nights!
Our second week (June 7-11) we started rehearsing on “the hill” and were able to practice with our handcarts as Pioneers. I don’t think we realized how steep that hill actually was. It was a workout to run up and down it and even to pull those handcarts across! By this time we were able to have a sense of the show, how things worked, and where we were supposed to be. All the seasoned participants kept telling us that “it’ll all make sense once you get on the hill” and it really does! Nothing quite prepares you for the magnitude of the stage than actually being on it. We also were given costumes this week. There is a dedicated costume building on the property and we were able to try on our costumes, make sure everything fit properly and then we left them there to check out every night.
These were hard weeks for me as I had a lot of trouble balancing early rehearsals with dinner. Some days we’d have an early dinner and take snacks, but everyone would come home starving at 8:30pm. Other nights we’d snack before we went and have a quick dinner when we got home at 8:30. I still don’t think we ever figured out a schedule that really worked, but we survived. We definitely did not eat as healthy for the month but luckily we burned a lot of calories going up and down the hill!
Friday June 10th and Saturday June 11th were run throughs. We ran through the entire pageant from 5:30-7:30pm, and then everyone was fed dinner, we changed into costumes and we ran through the 1st half on Friday and the 2nd half on Saturday in costume with lights. The kids were extremely excited to practice in costume as it made everything more real. Some of the costumes they use are pretty elaborate and it was fun to see the different characters!
As a family we mostly participated in large group scenes. These were fun as we could all be together during rehearsals and performances. There were three main ones we did: Harvest, Christ in America, and Pioneers.
As Joseph Smith translates the Book of Mormon, scenes are shown of the people that once lived in North America.One of the story threads of the pageant is about a righteous man called Captain Moroni who led the Nephi people through wars with the wicked Lamanites. In Harvest, we celebrate his return from war, and its a colorful scene with many of the young girls (including Rachel) twirling ribbons. Unfortunately the people at that time were plagued with prosperity and many turned to wealth and riches and hardened their hearts towards the teachings of Christ (Sam and I alternated nights going “wicked” and pretending to throw rocks and shoot arrows at the prophet Samuel the Lamanite). From there we repented, and looked to Nephi as a prophet who foretold the coming of Christ to visit the people.
Upon Jesus’ death in Jerusalem, the people in North America experienced extreme earthquakes, floods, lightning and other tumultuous storms. On stage this meant a lot of running around in the dark with fireballs being lit by the stage crew. It was one of our favorites! At first Andrew insisted we hold his hand so he wouldn’t get lost, but by the last night everyone was comfortable to just run around by themselves. I loved how much confidence my kids gained through this experience!
We also participated in the “Christ in America” scene from the Book of Mormon where Jesus Christ visits the indigenous people of North America after his resurrection. This was my favorite scene and we were encouraged to really put ourselves there as if we were seeing the Savior. One night I was able to walk up to touch his hands and his feet, and another night Andrew and Cara were able to sit on his lap as he taught and blessed the children. While there, Jesus Christ organized His church and called Twelve Apostles, just as he had in Jerusalem. Sam started out as a “fill-in” Apostle, but eventually just planned to fill the role every night since the regulars didn’t seem to show up.
After Christ in America, we exited the stage and changed into our Pioneer costumes. Once the narrative reaches the end of the Book of Mormon where Moroni (not the same as Captain Moroni) buries the plates for Joseph Smith to find, the pageant returns to Joseph Smith and eventually the martyrdom of Joseph & Hyrum Smith and the exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo. As Pioneers we pulled our handcarts across the hill, participated in a campfire scene (that’s where the square dancing came in), and journeyed from Salt Lake City to Manti with the protagonist, Robert Henshaw, who is killed by Native Americans. What follows is a beautiful depiction of life after death and the fact that our families truly can be together forever after we die.
Looking back over our experience, I will admit its one of the most difficult experiences we’ve had as a family. Late nights, following a schedule, managing expectations, and just plain working hard were all involved, but it was definitely worth it! We feel closely bonded as a family having shared this experience, and our kids are already scheming for when we can participate again! Andrew wants to be a Nephite Warrior and Rachel can’t wait to be a Lamanite Dancer and an angel. We are so grateful we were put by the Lord in a time and place that this worked out so easily for us to do together. Our testimonies of Joseph Smith and the restoration of Christ’s church on the Earth were strengthened and we made many friends that will hopefully last a lifetime!