You have probably seen and maybe even read a book or two in the suddenly popular “see before you die” segment of the travel book genre. At the library last week I came across “101 Places *Not* to See Before You Die,” a funny riff on the genre. Very funny, actually. And we can all use a little humor during this train wreck we call 2020. As well as maybe a lighthearted post, after all the doom and gloom posts of the last couple of months (because sometimes as a blogger you just have to play the cards you’re dealt). So first I’ll list a few of the highlights of the book. You can see the whole list of not-so-wonderful places by clicking the Amazon link and looking at the table of contents. I expect readers will chime in if they have seen these site or similar ones. Second, I’ll list a couple of Mormon places not to see before you die. Again, readers no doubt have their own sites to nominate.
Some of the entries in the book are straightforward: Euro Disney (called “a cultural Chernobyl” by one French critic) or Nevada (citing “the heat, the emptiness, the atrocity that is Lake Las Vegas, the nuclear waste, the alien sightings,” and so forth). Some are more involved, such as Amateur Night at a Shooting Range (not so funny, actually) and An Overnight Train in China on the First Day of Your First Period (probably the funniest entry in the book. Two words: squat toilet). Here are a few entries that might ring a bell for some readers:
- Stonehenge, somewhere in England I think. You’ve probably seen enough shots of Stonehenge that you feel like you’ve been there. At the real thing, you’re mostly stuck behind a fence now unless you take a pricey private tour. Apparently the view from the highway is just as good.
- Burning Man, somewhere in the California desert. It’s sort of an annual pagan festival. Described as “a parched desert squat with the population density of a refugee camp, but with more noise … and less hygiene.”
- Wall Drug, South Dakota. It first attracted visitors by advertising free ice water, which tells you something about South Dakota and something about America in the 1950s. Personally, I think the Corn Palace, just down the road from Wall Drug, maybe should have gotten this spot on the list.
- Onondaga Lake, New York. I’ll throw this in just because the name makes a guest appearance in the story of Zelph, as recounted by Joseph Smith. As you no doubt recall, Zelph (whose bones were unearthed from a burial mound by a band of Mormons in Illinois during the Zion’s Camp travels) was a mighty warrior who fought under the leadership of one “Onondagus,” a mighty prophet. You can find a nice discussion of Zelph and the gang at a very early BCC post. The lake itself, Onondaga Lake, is about sixty miles east of Palmyra, where Joseph Smith’s family lived. Due to industrial waste pumped into the lake over the years, it’s not a very inviting place at the moment: “the lake is still unsafe to swim in, and the sediments at its bottom are on the federal Superfund list.” Onondagus would not be pleased.
- Rush Hour on a Samoan Bus. I have been on a few Samoan buses. There’s the island music blaring from a cassette player up front, maybe hanging from the ceiling. There’s the fact that everyone on the bus seems to know each other, except you. It’s likely the brakes have not been serviced in quite a long time, which comes to mind as you descend a steep hill. The bus makes a variety of unexpected turns and stops — it’s maybe more like a taxi for 30 than a bus with an established route. But it’s Samoa, so there’s a certain friendly politeness about the gathering: “elderly people get the front, then come women with children, then women with no children, and finally a throng of men at the back.”
Okay, let’s get to the Mormon stuff. Any Mormon sites or events you thought were big downers that you would like to share? [Caveat: Hey, it’s Thanksgiving Week, so if you want to be unflinchingly positive and upbeat and thankful, yes, you can share a Mormon site or event that brought joy to your heart. But no hashtags.] I thought about Attending Conference In Person (first year at BYU, October Conference, I about froze to death in line, because I grew up in Seattle where it never gets very cold) and Any Youth Interview With the Bishop (but I’m sure your stories on this one are much better than mine; I had great bishops). But here are my winners for Mormon Places Not to See Before You Die:
- Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River, Wyoming. You will find this lovely oasis if you drive down US 287 from Lander to Muddy Gap, so it’s likely none of you have ever seen it. It is a bona fide Mormon Historical Site on the Mormon Trail, complete with a page at LDS.org and staffed by senior couples who drive their RVs there and stay for the summer. It’s got a connection to the Martin and Willie handcart tragedy, which is pretty much why it’s there. It was late in the day when I pulled off the highway to take a look, so the “museum” (a room or two inside a cabin, with a handcart or two on display, no doubt) was closed. A couple of Youth Trek groups were camped over in the meadow. It was chilly and windy. (Most of Wyoming is windy most of the time.) I hope they got good food for dinner rather than rice and beans on one of those zealous “eat like the pioneers” Treks.
- Cove Fort, Utah. You probably see the sign for this every time you drive from Salt Lake to California and back. It’s about a mile down the road from the I-15 freeway exit for the nice Chevron station on the east side of highway just as you head up a long hill. To give the kids a break, we decided to go see the fort. Again, it’s a Mormon Historical Site with it’s own page at LDS.org. In the days of Brigham Young, the fort was a convenient stop for travelers headed to St. George — kind of like the Chevron station is for freeway travelers today. You don’t just get a tour of the fort, though. You get the Mormon spiel. The missionary script. Whether you are LDS, non-LDS, or whatever. It was after our visit that I looked into the whole industry. Turns out Mormon Historical Sites are identified, researched, and developed by a department within the LDS History Division, but once open to the public they are controlled by the Missionary Department and staffed by missionaries. Which explains why the staff giving tours really don’t know much history, if any, about the sites they are staffing, but they’ve got their missionary script down pretty well. So I don’t go out of my way to visit any Mormon Historical Sites these days. Your mileage may vary.
So now is your chance to show off your global travels. Have you ever seen Stonehenge or Euro Disney? These items from the book didn’t make my highlight list above, but perhaps you have visited The Beijing Museum of Tap Water or The Grover Cleveland Service Area (a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike). And your Mormon travels. I’ve never seen the LDS sites in Ohio or New York; I’ll bet some are good and some are bad. And your Mormon events. I’m thinking an excommunication trial would make the list of an event to avoid (by which I mean if you are inclined to terminate your membership, resignation seems like a more humane choice). Maybe you have some good recollections to share. Or maybe you, dear reader, have a tale to recount of a Mormon place not to see before you die. Pray tell.