For many people, myself included, the most joyous words in the English language are “Pitchers and catchers report!” I have been fortunate for many years to spend two weeks in the normally dreary month of March, basking under the Florida sun in as many Major League Spring Training ballparks as I can squeeze in.
But at Shebby Lee Tours, we have another springtime phrase: “Wagons roll at the first greening of grass”. Our ‘wagons’ are figurative of course, but the implication is that we are re-tracing paths first made by migrating wildlife, then followed by Native Americans, explorers, fur traders, and eventually Euro-American settlers (or as we are known here in Indian Country: non-Indians).
Our ‘wagons’ have lavatories, video monitors and state of the art suspensions and we don’t have to gather firewood for dinner, or worry about forage for the livestock, but you get the idea.
Western wildlife still welcome their next generation in the spring of course, and that includes buffalo. Bison were very nearly annihilated by the end of the 19th century, but thanks to preservationists and a reversal of national policy which espoused the philosophy that if you killed off all the buffalo, the Indians would soon follow, they are no longer on the endangered species list. (Neither are Native Americans by the way; the US census lists them as one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country.)
In South Dakota’s Custer State Park, we now have so many buffalo that we must cull the herd, so each fall we round them up, vaccinate and brand the calves, and sell off the same number of five year olds as were born that year. Without calves born in the spring, we would be missing out on this unique Old West tradition in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. You can see this awesome ritual for yourself, plus visit the sites where the last great gold rush in American took place on the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup program (Sept. 25-30).
Spring inevitably means flowers and one of the most renowned places to see them is the International Peace Garden on the border of North Dakota and Manitoba. Over 150,000 colorful floral displays are spread out across the 2,330 acres of Formal Gardens, terraced walkways and reflecting pools. The Peace Garden is just one of many unique stops on our exploration of Legendary North Dakota. (July 21-27)
And finally, it was in the spring when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Charles, Louisiana Territory on their epic Voyage of Discovery, not knowing where they were going, or if they would return, but with the confidence that they were setting out on the adventure of a lifetime. They did return of course, and the detailed journals they brought back (over a million words, all told) contributed to the world’s knowledge of science immeasurably. Modern day travelers with a sense of adventure can follow the trail in August as we set out once again on the surprisingly unspoiled Lewis & Clark Trail. (Aug. 2-17)
Is it any wonder I like spring so much? It’s a renewal, a beginning, a reawakening – and time to make those travel plans for the upcoming season.
See you on the trail!
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.