Francene and Kenneth’s Explorer Corps Anniversary Adventure

By Beth Mitchell

Just before Memorial Day weekend, Francene Spencer saw a commercial introducing the Natural History Museum of Utah’s Explorer Corps

A retired elementary school teacher with a passion for Utah history, she thought to herself, “Well that is just the sort of thing that we should do.”

To hear Kenneth Spencer, a retired Applied Technology High School teacher, tell it, Francene walked in with the printed passport and said, “This is what we’re going to do.” 

The couple was curious not only about the program itself -- NHMU’s quest to visit a physical marker placed in each of Utah’s 29 counties to highlight a location of natural or cultural history significance -- but what more they could learn about Utah. 

“To be honest, I thought we pretty much knew it all,” Francene said. 

“But boy were we wrong about that!” said Kenneth.

Lifelong Utah residents and committed road trippers, the Spencers decided then and there that they’d celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary on June 11 by joining the Explorer Corps and hitting the road.

Francene and Kenneth’s anniversary adventure ticked off a whopping 2500 miles, but took them only 15 days to complete, easily making the Spencers the first to visit all 29 markers. 

“We don’t let any grass grow under our feet,” Francene jokes. 

When asked about the highlights, Francene and Kenneth take turns finishing each other’s sentences and offering different perspectives. 

“There was that treacherous drive over the ridge getting to the Garfield County marker,” Kenneth begins. “Oh yes, that’s right, down into Boulder, at the Anasazi State Park Museum,” finishes Francene.

“And do you remember the heat in Moab for the Grand County one?” Francene asks. “It was melting the crayon you were using to do the rubbing!” adds Kenneth.

Spoken like the perfect schoolteacher and grandmother of twenty, Francene swears she doesn’t have a favorite county, or place. “They’re all just so unique in their own way.”

Kenneth cites the overall experience -- the journey -- as the real prize. “No matter where you go, there’s just such diverse scenery in Utah; it’s all a little different, and all spectacular.”

The Spencers made this trip their own, and ended up having a wonderful, memorable time.

“What better way to celebrate where you were born, where you grew up, and where you’ve raised your family than to get out there and do this,” said Francene.

The Spencers will be back on the road before too long, attending some of the Forever Mighty concerts this August, as VIPs, thanks to the Museum’s partnership with the Utah Symphony and in recognition of their “First to 29” status.

“She makes the plans and I do the driving,” Kenneth says with a giant grin. 

Learn more about Explorer Corps here.

Beth Mitchell is Senior Manager of External Relations at the Natural History Museum of Utah, a part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. In addition to housing outstanding exhibits for the public, NHMU is a research museum. Learn more.

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