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Skipping Through Time

Most of the time I just love being a tour planner and relish spreading my maps and reference books all over my desk, making notes and delighting in making new discoveries to share with my travelers. Unfortunately, I am also a tour director, and preparing for upcoming tours while researching new ones to totally different destinations and different time periods can be daunting.

For example, I just finished my annual re-reading of Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, which I review every spring before taking a new group of Lewis & Clark buffs on the adventure of a lifetime. It is purported to be a biography of Meriwether Lewis, but is first and foremost an exciting re-telling of the Lewis & Clark Expedition from 1803-1806.

I love to immerse myself in that era, when nothing traveled faster than a horse – and never had throughout history – and to imagine the natural wonders and adventures the men experienced every step of the journey.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of focusing on any one era or subject for long. Also on my desk right now is a brand new Vanishing Trails Expedition for next season: El Camino Real. This subject is largely new to me, and pre-dates the Lewis & Clark Expedition by some 200 years! Don Juan de Onate blazed the first trade route between Mexico City and what is now northern New Mexico in 1598. For one thing it’s not that easy to find physical remains from that long ago. Add to that the totally different cultural elements, a different part of the country, ethnic foods, and a tour planner risks serious culture shock!

The Old West Trail highlights another – more familiar – era: the Manifest Destiny period of the mid-19th century. Gold rushes and Indian Wars and the Oregon Trail have been our stock in trade for decades – but unfortunately, I can’t actually relax into this familiar era since the research was done years ago, and besides, I’m not even taking this tour!

This fall, we are offering our first ever Cherokee Nation Cultural Tour, with different tribal experiences, unfamiliar geography plus vastly different history, but at least the time frame is somewhat familiar: the first half of the 19th century.

Two Civil War programs round out this melange on my plate right now. Bleeding Kansas, including lots of living history reenactors and covering a little-known part of our nation’s history, is scheduled for October, and I’m just beginning work on the Civil War in Missouri for August of 2012.

Disclaimer: Lest I leave you with the impression that I am doing all the work here, let me hasten to add that I get plenty of help. My colleague Kris Lokemoen, the FAM Queen, is a knowledgeable advisor, as are all of my friends in the travel industry who represent the various regions in our touring area. We couldn’t bring you the West where legends live without them!

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.

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