Westward ho! Happy Pioneer Day

Here we are in the middle of another western  summer. After spending a week in alternating blazing heat and spectacular desert thunderstorms in St. George and Las Vegas it feels relatively calm (for the time being) here in the mountains near Salt Lake City. This last week we celebrated my Mom’s birthday, swapped stories with Dad and explored the Hoover Dam with my BFF Mary and husband Brad.

This is how Mormons do Vegas – we went to church Sunday, napped and ate Cowan’s famous tacos, no one does tacos like the Cowans. We played a board game Trek to Zion, made homemade ice cream and played a few other games. Monday we explored the Hoover Dam complex – fascinating technology, visited the Primm outlet mall so Newell could buy his annual (under $10) pair of jeans, shopped at Target for banana split ingredients, cruised the Strip to see the fountain show at Belaggio, the volcano eruption at Mirage and the art galleries at Caesar’s Palace Forum.

The next day we saw Incredibles 2 (I enjoyed it more than I thought I would – really well done.) Made the obligatory stop at Fry’s Electronics superstore. Had lunch, more games and ice cream and headed home so Newell could get to work. The only time we stepped into a casino was to take a shortcut to somewhere else and escape the heat. We didn’t even drop a quarter in the slots. Sorry LV, but we had lots of fun, Mormon-style. Which leads me to the feature of this post.

British-born Pioneer Christopher Layton

In a few days we will be celebrating the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley of the Rocky Mountains. Our great…great grandparents Chauncey Webb who owned the Webb blacksmith shop in Nauvoo, Illinois  (which you can visit today) came west with Brigham Young’s party and entered the valley on July 24th, 1847. Another ancestor, Christopher Layton, was toiling with the Mormon Battalion on his way to fight in the Mexican-American War and would join the pioneers when they were released from military service. Ancestors such as the Holladays, Ogdens, Fifes and others would live in Utah or be assigned to settle Arizona.

Outside the Webb blacksmith shop in Nauvoo Illinois.

We celebrate these intrepid empire-builders with games and stories, meals and adventures designed to pay homage to their foresight and sacrifice.

First you need pioneer wear. I made bonnets from a McCalls pattern

Plaid bonnets, I couldn’t resist.

You can also buy bonnets at Deseret Book. I made a complete pioneer outfit with a long skirt and apron that I wear on special pioneer occasions. Newell wears jeans, a bandana and a cowboy hat; and boots, McMurtrys know how to do “western.” Ask Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and other western novels; he’s my husband’s 2nd cousin.

Lonesome Dove Trail; art for the living room wall. Yep...this is will be hanging in my living room one day, and no one in my home will have a say on the matter.

Then you are going to need some Pioneer-style victuals – here are 3 recipes in the Deseret News for beans, beef jerky and marinated vegetables, updated for modern palates.

We play games with our grandchildren or the children at church,  and visit Pioneer-era landmarks in Utah like Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Art and History Museum and the state capitol in Salt Lake City. There’s also a Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum in Salt Lake City and This is the Place Park.

Children learn through doing and having fun; this is especially true of history. A few of our favorite activities include a Pioneer scavenger hunt that we hide the items and have the children find or do them – this is a link for a downloadable version on Etsy .

One of the favorite activities of the children I teach is making native American-style pictographs on faux skins (brown kraft paper torn in the shape of a small pelt.)  Also downloadable on Etsy:

Pioneer children enjoyed a good beanbag toss!

Bean bag toss

I saved the best for last. Round up a few stick horses, squirt guns, a bucket of water and blackboards or signs that you can make wildfire and buffalo targets on. Make a racing area outside for the little buckaroos to run around squirting  buffaloes and putting out wildfires!

Need a little more pioneer eye candy? Stop by my Pinterest board and give it a look-see.

Happy Pioneer Day!