When you think about it, Las Vegas is the one place these folks may not stand out. But they will be easy to spot at any other point along the 800-mile trail between Salt Lake City and San Bernardino.
Just look for more than 200 Mormons dressed in pioneer garb and traveling in covered wagons.
The arduous trek this spring and summer will replicate the Mormon journey to Southern California 150 years ago, when 437 pioneers traveled across the vast deserts of southern Utah, Nevada and California to settle at the base of the Cajon Pass in what is now San Bernardino.
The wagon train is scheduled to leave Salt Lake City on April 25 and arrive in San Bernardino at the end of June for a three-day festival at Glen Helen Regional Park. Organizers said Southern California Mormons will make up the majority of the "pioneers."
"This is a unique story in the history of the West, yet nobody knows about it," said Marilyn Mills, co-director of the Heritage Trails Celebration. The San Bernardino woman will participate in part of the trek.
In 1851, Brigham Young, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent colonists to establish a western outpost that would serve as a major link in the church's supply line between San Pedro's harbor and Salt Lake City. The community would also be a way station for missionaries and converts from the Pacific islands.
"This was the first Anglo American settlement in Southern California," said Nick Cataldo, a past president of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society.
The boom town also included freed slaves, former slaveholders, Jewish merchants, trappers, prospectors, Spanish landowners and Native Americans, according to Edward Leo Lyman's book, "San Bernardino: The Rise and Fall of a California Community."
Heritage Trails organizers said their reenactment will underscore the community's diversity and its ability to come together.
"It's the most unlikely group you've ever imagined," Mills said. She quoted a passage in a pioneer's diary: "They worked almost as one family, they were so united."
Cataldo called it "an amazingly cohesive group."
Even more amazing when you consider the times and church history. Though always antislavery, Mormons didn't allow blacks into the priesthood until 1978. The belief, since rejected, was that African Americans were descendants of Cain and carried the curse of the man who killed his brother Abel.
But prejudices fell away in the western outpost as settlers worried more about survival.
"They felt really up against it," said Joseph Bentley, the church's Orange County director of public relations. "They had a lot of blank walls to climb. Without working together, they would surely have foundered."
Within six years of the Mormons' arrival in Southern California, San Bernardino's population had swelled to 3,000. Roads, houses and businesses had been built. Arid cattle land had been successfully farmed. Mail and freight routes had been started.
But then Young called the Mormons back to Salt Lake City. He needed manpower in case the church's deteriorating relationship with the federal government broke out into war. He also worried about reports of disloyalty in the San Bernardino ranks.
Two-thirds of the church members obeyed, heading back across the desert. Settlers who refused to budge were excommunicated or drifted away from the church. The Mormons wouldn't establish another official church in San Bernardino for more than 60 years.
"That's the most striking feature" of the Mormon immigration to Southern California, said Donald Waldie, a social historian and author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir." "The Mormons came, settled down and then went back. The history of California is much different than that."
Though only in town for half a dozen years, the Mormons are credited with being the founding fathers of San Bernardino.
The 2001 wagon train is designed to bring attention to the Mormons' role in Southern California history, in addition to giving church members and others a realistic taste of pioneer life. The 60 or so wagons will travel at 3 mph and cover 20 miles a day. The wagon train will roughly parallel Interstate 15. At times, though, the group will stray as much as 90 miles from the highway to follow the original trail that led thirsty pioneers from water hole to water hole.
The condition of the trail being followed by the 21st century Mormons will vary greatly: from paved roads to tiny dirt paths.
The reenactment is similar to the journey in 1997 when thousands of Mormons rode in covered wagons from Nebraska to Salt Lake City to mark the 150th anniversary of Brigham Young's pilgrimage to Utah.
"Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains did not have this kind of severe journey [crossing a desert]," Mills said. "The trek to California is a far more arduous journey with the heat and no water."