One of the most difficult and challenging things facing LDS scholars is when it comes to the Geography of the Book of Mormon. Nobody can put the Book of Mormon anywhere in the real world. When they attempt to do so, nobody can agree on it, and they have to skew things written in the Book of Mormon, contradict what Prophets have said, and the LDS scholars usually contradict each other.
The Book of Mormon is a record of people that left Jerusalem around 600 B.C. and sailed by ship to the American Continent. They started out as one light-skinned group, but then they split into 2 groups, known as the Lamanites and the Nephites. For the most part, the Nephites were rightous but the Lamanites were wicked, and cursed with dark skin for their wickedness. These 2 groups were always fighting with each other and eventually the Lamanites killed all the Nephites around 400 A.D. There were other groups as well. The Jaradites were a group that also left the Middle East around the time of the tower of Babel by ship to the Americas.
The Book of Mormon is very detailed with it's descriptions regarding cities and geographic regions. For example, in
"And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite...from the east to the west sea...there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward"
Traditional Geography Theory
The Book of Mormon gives many detailed descriptions of the Book of Mormon lands. In this particular passage, it says there is an east sea, a west sea, a land northward, a land southward and a small neck of land that divided the land northward with the land southward that was the distance of a day and a half's journey.
It is important to note, however that there is no official church location for the Book of Mormon lands. The traditional geography theory was the assumption that the Book of Mormon lands covered all of North and South America. This is called the traditional geography theory because this is the theory that Joseph Smith himself and his followers believed in. That is, that the "land northward" was North America, the "land southward" was south America, the sea East was the Atlantic Ocean, the "Sea West" was the pacific ocean and the present-day Panama is the “narrow neck” of land.
Limited geography Theories
Most LDS scholars today disagree with the traditional geography view. John L. Sorenson mentions in his book An Ancient American Setting For The Book Of Mormon that when you calculate the travel time between extreme ends of the Book of Mormon Cities, even if by horseback, you get a maximum geography of a few hundred miles. This has lead to many non-traditional theories of the geography of the Book of Mormon lands. These are known as "limited geography theories". Limited geography theories contradict Joseph Smith and early Mormon followers. However, in present day, most LDS scholars and even some in the First Presidency agree that Joseph Smith and other Prophets were incorrect in their assumption that the Book of Mormon covered the entire North and South American Continent.
Of the limited geography theories, there are many different theories by LDS scholars as to the actual geographical location of the Book of Mormon lands.
Mesoamerica Limited Geography Theory
Among dozens of theories, the Limited Mesoamerica theory is the most popular. The geography seems to fit for the most part, except the narrow neck of land that is a day and a half's journey is kinda a stretch, since the narrowest section of land is about 130-140 miles. It is possible, however. Also, one would have to assume that North in the Book of Mormon is really West. So, once again, one would have to skew the meaning of the Book of Mormon to fit this idea.
There are many challenges to this theory. The main one is that the civilizations that existed in these areas don't resemble Book of Mormon lands at all. The plant life, animals, weapons, metallurgy, scripts, languages and overall culture in Mesoamerica do not reflect the descriptions in the Book of Mormon at all. They have them all wrong. Not even close. So although the geography could match, the anthropology doesn't resemble Nephites or the Lamanites in the least bit.
LDS linguists admit that their languages closely resemble North Eastern Asian origins. LDS Archaeologists admit that the archaeology in that region reflects Mongolian Ancestry. DNA testing has now proved what other scientists and LDS scholars already knew. Native Americans from that region are from North Eastern Asia. The other problem is that there are no specific cities that match both the descriptions, locations and time period as the Book of Mormon. For example, the time line might fit certain groups. However, the locations of these groups doesn't fit the Limited Geography Theory. Not only that, but most Temples were constructed hundreds or thousands of years before the Book of Mormon times.
Another example of difficulties placing geographical locations on the map is the famous temple at Chiapa de Corzo. It is one of the favorite temples that LDS scholars like to mention, because the temple there was built around 400-200 B.C. and was destroyed around the birth of Christ. However, just because they found a temple that happens to fit the time period doesn't mean it was a Nephite or Lamanite temple. Upon further and deeper investigation, the writing script at that area was a post-Olmec script, or a script based on Olmecs. It also couldn't be a Nephite City because although the temple fits the time period, the rest of the city was first occupied in 1,400 B.C. and the first mounds were built around 700 B.C. Those are little facts that LDS authors will not tell you. However, it is possible that the Nephites took over an existing Jaredite city, but there is no evidence to support it.
For more information on the Limited Geography Theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limited_Geography_Model_(Book_of_Mormon)
Great Lakes Limited Geography Theory
Of all the theories out there, another theory that has been closely examined is the Limited Great Lakes Theory. This particular theory caught my intrigue because the more I looked into it, the more it made sense.
The only official location for a Book of Mormon location by the church is a hill called "Hill Cumorah" located in upstate, New York. The Mesoamerica limited geography model required that the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York is a different Hill Cumorah than the one mentioned in the Book of Mormon. That would require 2 Hill Cumorahs and once again, LDS scholars are contradicting the prophet Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith was very clear that the angel Moroni gave him the golden plates at the Hill Cumorah where both major battles took place. The Hill Cumorah in upstate, New York was located about a mile away from where Joseph Smith was living at the time. According to Joseph Smith, there was always only one Hill Cumorah. Now, LDS scholars are saying that Joseph Smith was mistaken on his assumption that the Hill Cumorah in upstate New york was the same Hill Cumorah that is mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
So, it would make sense that if there was only one Hill Cumorah, as Joseph Smith said, that all the other cities would also be around upstate New York. Remember that the distance between the extreme opposite ends of the Book of Mormon Cities was only a few hundred miles. This led me to explore the limited Great Lakes geography theory. What I discovered in my investigation shocked me to my foundations. The more I looked into it, the more shocking and disturbing it was what I was looking at. I screamed out loud to my computer screen "I can NOT freaking believe what I am looking at!!!!" My experience investigating the Limited Great Lakes theory changed my entire outlook on the church, the veracity of the Book of Mormon, and every other claim made by the church.