December 04, 2009

Day 4 at The Biggest Loser Resort + Prophets, the FLDS and other polygamist communities

By this time four days ago (um, 7 p.m.), I was ready to crawl into bed. But it's day four at The Biggest Loser Resort and I'm buzzing to do something tonight. Unfortunately, the options are limited (since I don't drive and we're pretty much in the middle of nowhere), so I'm just going to lay low and read a book or something. If it wasn't freezing outside, I'd read out by the pool, but I'd guess it's in the low 40s right now -- tomorrow a cold front is blowing in, brr.

Instead of hiking today, I left campus and met up with Heber Holm of Polygamy Tours (yes, click on that, it is a real company) and he drove me (in a Cadillac Escalade, woooohoo) to Hildale, Colorado City and Centennial Park, three strongholds of polygamy that line the Utah-Arizona border.

It was amazing.

Caption: The old meeting house for religious service, which has, since Warren Jeff's imprisonment, been used almost exclusively for funerals. Holm told me that when media is able to take photos of a parade of FLDS women walking down the street in this community, it's often because they're walking from the funeral service to the cemetary, which is just up the road on the left.

Not only was the scenery truly spectacular -- the communities border on the edge of Zion National Park -- but the towns were totally jawdroppingly fascinating. I took a bunch of pictures of buildings (and only managed to sneak a few of people -- it was the middle of the day, most kids were in school and there were some women driving around) -- notably Holm's family homestead, their school (in his generation alone, he had 67 brothers and sisters from 11 sister-wives -- all one father), and their family gymnasium. And by "school" and "gymnasium" I mean School and Gymnasium. Like high-school style. Just for his family. Holm told me that most large families will run their own home school. Makes sense, I guess, financially.

Caption: The Holm Family gymnasium.

Touring the area with Polygamy Tours was an unparalleled cultural experience -- most of all because Mr. Holm grew up in the FLDS (that's high-hair, prairie-dress-wearing, polygamist sect to you) community and left of his own volition at the age of 16, whereupon he moved to St. George, Utah, about an hour away. A few of his brothers also left the FLDS, including Richard, with whom Heber founded the tour company. Richard Holm had been a practicing polygamist and the FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs exiled him and repatriated two of his wives.

Caption: This is the cafe and location in Canaan, just outside Hildale, where Carolyn Jessop was picked up by car after escaping from the FLDS community.

The brothers can provide an incredible amount of insight into the FLDS community -- more than any media story, tv show or documentary can show. Holm was totally candid and answered every question I asked.

Caption: A girl in Colorado City, Arizona.

A few miles down the road from Colorado City is Centennial Park -- a polygamist community far more progressive than the FLDS whose faith is called "The Work of Jesus Christ." They're a break-off group from the FLDS and allow a lot more freedom for its community members -- the women don't wear prairie dresses, for example (though they still do dress conservatively, wearing longer skirts, etc.), and the children are allowed to play sports and families have access to television and entertainment. The Work of Jesus Christ Prophet (leader) is John Timpson, who (and this was like a celebrity sighting for me at this point) was at the Merry Wives Cafe in Centennial Park at the same time we had lunch there!

Caption: The Work of Jesus Christ Prophet John Timpson's house (still under construction) in Centennial Park, Arizona.

I've never been in the same room as a polygamist prophet before.

Polygamy Tours rocks, Heber Holm rocks, and if I come back to the region, I'd for sure take the tour again, no question about it. Highly recommended.