From a distance the wagon train looked like a small storm moving along the base of the sagebrush green mountains. Through the dust, the dim figures of the people looked like ghosts. Out in front, two dogs crisscrossed back and forth across the trail, staying a few steps ahead of the lead scouts on horseback. The wagon train had five wagons, each pulled by a well-matched team of horses or mules. It was a warm day so the canvas coverings on the covered wagons had been rolled back.
The wagons were on part of a trail known as the Honeymoon Trail, leading from the Pipe Springs National Monument in northern Arizona to the temple in the city of St. George in southern Utah. It’s called the Honeymoon Trail because couples who wanted to be married for eternity sacrificed and worked to make the trip, sometimes spending weeks in the effort, to have the ceremony performed in the right place—the temple.
Everything about the scene seemed to place the date somewhere in the late 1890s, except the “pioneers” were wearing T-shirts instead of calico, Nikes instead of boots, baseball caps instead of cowboy hats. The young people on this wagon train were from the Kaibab Utah South Stake and the Santaquin Utah Stake in a combined youth conference. For these modern teens, the actual trail to the temple is now a paved road that takes about two hours by car. But the other path to the temple, over rough spots like peer pressure and the immorality of the world, is just as difficult and just as challenging as the trip made by their pioneer ancestors.
After the St. George Temple was dedicated in 1877, it became possible for the settlers in Arizona and as far away as northern Mexico to make the trip. After the crops were harvested in late fall, couples would invite family members to accompany them as chaperons, and they packed provisions into their wagons and headed to St. George. They faced dangers from the bleak landscape of the desert, including a lack of grass for their livestock and bad water. And then there were dangers from wagon-breaking rock ridges, a ferry crossing over the turbulent Colorado River, marauding Indians, and wild animals. But these couples, many of whom were the great-grandparents of the teens attending this youth conference, were willing to do whatever it took to fulfill a commandment of God, to be married in the temple.
The goal is the same today. The modern equivalent of the Honeymoon Trail is dating. Dating can be a path marked by dangers, but for LDS teens there is a map for this particular trail. It’s the For the Strength of Youth brochure. The section on dating gives some excellent guidance about dating decisions, including not dating before age 16.
Craig Baird, 21, a recently returned missionary said, “I just feel that those who date before they are 16 are more likely to get into problems.”
Avoid the roughest parts of the trail by following knowledgeable guides. Listen to those who have made the journey successfully.
Even though the pioneers had some rough weeks on the trail, what made the trip pleasant was having good friends and family along. Just like the pioneers had their families to accompany them on their trip, these teens have their families to help them make good decisions about dating.
Realizing that her actions affect others, Kasha Mackelprang from Kanab waited to date until she was 16. She said, “I thought about my decision a lot. I have little sisters, and I wanted to be a good example.”
During the youth conference, Kasha participated on a dating panel. The audience was a little stunned when the commentator of that panel pointed out that the people they chose to date were really their spiritual brothers and sisters. Would that make a difference? Yes, the audience nodded, if everyone understood that concept, it would make people better, more kind and considerate.
In pioneer times, Loretta Ellsworth Hansen and Hans Hansen, Jr., accompanied her brother, Frank, and his fiancée on their trip along the Honeymoon Trail. This is the experience she recorded:
“One morning, way out in the desert, the boys were greasing the rear wagon, we girls, at the other washing dishes, found ourselves completely surrounded by large prairie wolves. We lost no time climbing into our wagon and the boys killed wolves as long as their ammunition lasted. It was a sight to see about fifty large wolves lined up like soldiers. At the sound of the gun they would jump back a few paces still facing us, then they would step forward again. The howling of the wounded, and the firing of the guns finally frightened them away” (Roberta Clayton, ed., Pioneer Women of Arizona, Mesa, Arizona, 1969, p. 209).
How do modern teens scare away the wolves that appear in much more human form? Talking about resisting the invitations of friends to participate in activities he really wanted to avoid, Ryan Campbell, 18, said, “How do I answer people who want me to party with them? I say faith without works is dead. One day they are going to realize the hurt they are causing themselves. I want to shake them and say, Listen to me, pal.”
Ryan found a great listener in his bishop. When he was wondering about some of the decisions he was making, he got a chance to talk things over. “The best thing that ever happened to me was talking to my bishop. It was the greatest. I have the biggest testimony of repentance.”
Ryan had advice for his younger sister who just turned 16. He said they are close and stay up talking about things like dating. “I worry now because she has this feeling that she needs to have a boyfriend. She’s too young to be getting serious. I don’t want her making mistakes. I love her.”
Stay safe. Keep the wolves at bay by sticking together with those that share your standards.
The descendants of the couples willing to make the journey on the Honeymoon Trail to the temple know that the trip was worth the effort. The blessings of keeping the commandments of God get passed on down generations. And most who can remember hearing the stories of the Honeymoon Trail reported their parents always said it was a wonderful trip.
It would be wonderful if, years from now, the children of the teens who attended the youth conference at Pipe Springs could hear their parents talk about their dating years in the same phrases. How nice to look back at the time they are going through right now with no regrets. If these youth keep the goals they set at youth conference, their path should lead to the temple, just as it did for their great-grandparents a hundred years ago.
Don’t date until 16. If you ignore this counsel from our prophets, what other counsel will you ignore?
Group date. Go in groups or double date. It’s a lot easier to keep things casual.
Keep standards. Date only those with high standards.
Try daytime dates. Instead of waiting for the usual Saturday night movie, try a picnic and hike and maybe even a water fight with some friends in the afternoon.
Don’t get serious. Getting too serious before your mission can cause problems. Break it off or cool things down.
Become friends. Physical involvement often gets in the way of becoming good friends. Showing someone you love them means showing respect for them.