Although Shebby Lee Tours started as a local sightseeing company with the slogan, “we lend insights to the sights”, it wasn’t until 1993 that we expanded beyond our standard fare of western national parks and moved toward what would become our hallmark. That was the year we developed that iconic symbol of America’s westward expansion movement, the Oregon Trail. Beginning in Kansas City, the itinerary followed the trail across the plains and mountains, ending in Oregon City. The story of the development of the West has never lost its fascination for Americans and citizens of the world alike. It seemed appropriate to start our expansion there.
But as logical as it may seem, it still might not have happened if it weren’t for an enterprising Group Tour Coordinator at Missouri Tourism, who happened to share our love of history. (Her name is Kris Lokemoen, and she has since left the public sector, becoming a free-lance writer and tour director for Shebby Lee Tours, as well as other tour companies.)
The 150th anniversary of the first migration across the plains was approaching and she took the lead in organizing a FAM (familiarization) trip for tour operators who showed an interest in developing a tour of the eight Oregon Trail states. Obtaining the cooperation of eight state travel offices is not unlike trying to herd cats, but she managed it, and also hosted the 30+ travel professionals herself on a spectacular 12 day FAM. The trip introduced us to the possibilities for a learning adventure commemorating 300,000 pioneers who followed the trail westward toward a better future.
The Oregon Trail became the first of what we would eventually call the Vanishing Trails Expeditions, a series which has grown to include not only pioneer trails, but explorations (Lewis & Clark), commercial byways (Santa Fe Trail), Indian Wars (Nez Perce, Custer, the Dakota Conflict), and the fur trade (American Legacy), to name a few.
In 2011 we are offering more Vanishing Trails with scheduled departure dates than ever before, including two new ones: Bleeding Kansas and the Cherokee Nation Cultural Tour. Two more are in development for next year (the Civil War in Missouri and Camino Real). Check them out on our website, and we hope to see you on the trail soon!
Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.