A Travel Blog for Book Lovers: Part 3

Guest Blog by Mirah Welday

Welcome to the United States!

My previous two posts in this travel series have recounted my journeys in Japan and Spain but for July, as we celebrate American Independence Day and the spirit of summer vacations, let's head to the American West. 

My book inspiration for these travels is the incomparable Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.

My love for Lonesome Dove is a "chicken and egg" type of quandary.  Did I fall in love with the book or miniseries first?  Honestly, it all swirls together because I discovered both at essentially the same time - 1989. Over the years, I have read the novel and watched the miniseries more times than I can count.  Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is simply amazing. I know the word ‘amazing’ is overused in our world today but it is absolutely true in this case.  The characters are complicated and memorable, McMurtry’s turn of phrase makes me both laugh and cry throughout, and the descriptions of the locations and events are impactful and add momentum to the overall story.  Lonesome Dove is part of a four-book series centered on the lives of former Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae. Lonesome Dove is an engrossing epic and an in-depth study of these characters at a pivotal part of their lives.

When I first read Lonesome Dove, I fell in love with the American bison. I recognize this is an odd singular take away from the novel.  The novel is set when ‘buffalo hunters’ were killing bison by the thousands for their hides and tongues, leaving their bodies to rot on the plains.  This is the opposite of how the American Indians treated the bison, reverently using every part of their hunt; the bison was food, shelter, weapons, clothing, and more. Bison were numbered in the millions on America’s Great Plains and were part of many spiritual beliefs and of cultural significance to American Indians. By the late 1880s, they were hunted almost to extinction by buffalo hunters. I feel the bison is a representation of Woodrow in the novel; his ‘breed’ was essentially going extinct with the decline of the heyday of the Texas Ranger and decreased engagements with American Indian tribes. Woodrow’s need to maintain his sense of relevance is what spurs him to lead their cattle outfit on their momentous drive to Montana.

In April 2014, I made my first trip to South Dakota and was hoping to see bison at the state and national parks.  The Black Hills were simply breathtaking.  One of my favorite stops was Custer State Park. The Wildlife Loop within Custer SP has something to see around every curve, it is incredibly beautiful and seems to embody the song Home on the Range….where the deer and the antelope play. I saw bison, deer, antelope, prairie dogs, and burros but my favorite was, of course, the bison. I stopped my rental car at a lookout point and ate my lunch in my car to watch the herd walk and graze.  To me, bison are majestic. There were few visitors on the loop that day; it was so quiet I could hear the bison pulling the grass from the ground.  It was a highlight of my life, truly.  

Mirah’s lunch spot with the bison herd at Custer State Park (You can see the hood of the rental car at the bottom of the picture.)

I have since been back to South Dakota three more times and made a trip to Custer SP each time.  Every visit to see ‘my herd’ is just as magical as it was during my first visit. I can imagine how awe-inspiring it must have been to the cowboys on cattle drives like in Lonesome Dove to come across massive herds migrating across the plains. 

The bison herd at Custer State Park, 2014.

Bison and cinnamon (bison calf) at Custer State Park, 2017.

South Dakota is also home to the High Plains Western Heritage Center. During my visit there, I saw an extensive display of different barbed wires, an original Spearfish/Deadwood stagecoach, sculptures, American Indian artwork, and a large map of various cattle drive trails.  Woodrow and Gus would have taken a route that is likely a combination of some of these trails from Texas to Montana. 

Wall-sized cattle trails map at the High Plains Western Heritage Center in Spearfish, South Dakota.

To wrap up the South Dakota leg of this blog, I wanted to share my sojourn to Bear Butte State Park. Many American Indian tribes believe the Creator communicates with them through visions and prayers at Bear Butte and many still go there to worship and pray. Along the hiking trail, I saw flags and other markers representing spiritual visits and prayers. The day I visited, I was the only person there, the sky was a vibrant blue, and it was peaceful and calm. I could easily understand why so many believe it is where they can connect with their Creator.

Bear Butte State Park in Sturgis, South Dakota

A bison herd roams the base of Bear Butte and I was blessed to see a few during my visit.

Now, come along as I travel south and continue my Lonesome Dove travels.  In 2016, my husband and I went to Fort Worth, TX for The Lonesome Dove Trail event to celebrate the 1989 miniseries.  There were exhibits at various locations throughout Fort Worth that included photographs, memorabilia, and costumes from the series. One of my favorite exhibits was The Art of the Trail at the Sid Richardson Museum. I got to see the original dove sign that hung above the Lonesome Dove mercantile!

The Lonesome Dove Trail was a 6-month event in Fort Worth to celebrate the Lonesome Dove miniseries.

The Art of the Trail exhibit at the Sid Richardson Museum was full of incredible memorabilia.
Mirah with the dove sign that hung above the Lonesome Dove mercantile.

Hand-drawn map of important events in Lonesome Dove; drawn by miniseries production designer Cary White for Australian director Simon Wincer.

We took some time to walk around the Fort Worth Stockyards and I was reminded of Gus and Woodrow getting their supplies at the start of their drive north. I can only imagine the crush of people, the smell of livestock, the loud bartering and bidding for livestock, and the cowboys clogging the streets as they prepared for the drives.

Longhorns taking a rest in between their demonstrations of a cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Before I end this 3rd installment of Travel Blogs for Book Lovers, my 4-part summer series for Pretty Literate all about bookish travel, I want to touch back to my first travel blog post about The Memoirs of a Geisha and my trip to Kyoto, Japan.  If you read that post, you might remember that I closed by saying that I bought a souvenir in Kyoto that connected to another favorite novel of mine. Well, that connection was to the Lonesome Dove series and, specifically, the final book written of the series: Comanche Moon. One of my favorite literary characters ever is Famous Shoes, a tracker from the Kickapoo tribe who worked with Gus and Woodrow. Famous Shoes is a secondary character but, for me, McMurtry created him so vividly that I could see him clearly as I read. I told my husband for years that I wanted a pair of Famous Shoes boots. I had no idea what these boots would look like; I said would know them when I saw them. During our days walking through Kyoto, we kept seeing girls wearing fawn-colored ankle boots with fringe. I loved those boots and my husband started calling them Famous Shoes boots.  As we were walking back to our hotel after dinner on the final night in Kyoto, we passed a shoe store and my husband suddenly points and calls out, ‘Famous Shoes!’  So we stopped, went inside, got me a pair of boots, and I wore them the next day as we traveled home. To this day, when I wear those boots I think of Kyoto and my favorite Kickapoo tracker, Famous Shoes. It’s a literary/travel mash-up I never expected but I love it.

Mirah wearing her Famous Shoes boots at the Kyoto Airport.

I hope you’ll join me next month for my fourth and final literary travel guest blog for Pretty Literate.  I’ll be taking you on an adventure full of stunning views, an animal encounter unlike any other I’ve experienced, and visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Get your passport ready!

What about you?

Have you read Lonesome Dove or seen the miniseries?

Have you been to any locations that have a Lonesome Dove connection?

What are your thoughts on the epic adventures of Gus and Woodrow?  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. 

If travel isn't in your future, check out these Nine Need to Read Summer Classics that deliver downright vicarious vacation vibes.


  • Lynda, I love your mention of the Goodnight Ranch tie in to Lonesome Dove. The Goodnight bison herd has been preserved 75 miles from their ranch at Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque, TX. We love to go hiking at the state park and watch the bison as they roam the park.

    Pam C
  • Yes, I have read the Lonesome Dove series and watched the mini-series many times- it is one of my absolute, all-time favorites. I have been to many locations along the Lonesome Dove journey including travels from Texas up to Montana. I live in SW Oklahoma and cattle drives including the Chisholm Trail and ranching are in evidence in everyday life in this area. There are wild bison herds, longhorn cattle, elk herds and more at the Wildlife Refuge 25 minutes from my home. It was very easy to envision the former rangers’ epic cattle drive on a pretty epic journey I took with my sister a couple of years ago which retraced much of the area traversed by the Hat Creek crew.
    I agree with Mirah on the excellence of the LD series and McMurtry’s amazing talents in bringing these characters, places, and time to blazing life.
    Just a few days ago I passed the Charles and Mary Goodnight historic homestead on our way home from Colorado. Charlie Goodnight is a real person who McMurtry based his character Woodrow Call on; his partner Loving and (no spoilers) Augustus McRae had several things in common; I highly recommend reading Lonesome Dove and then researching Goodnight and Loving- sometimes truth really IS stranger than fiction! Btw- Goodnight does make an appearance in the series.
    Thank you, Mirah, for sharing your love of Lonesome Dove with another who loves it!

    Lynda A.

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