A Travellerspoint blog

Who in the heck is Johnny Kaw?


View Kansas & Albuquerque, Durango, and Flagstaff on countycollector's travel map.

Most folks are familiar with Paul Bunyan, the giant mythical lumberjack of the great north woods, but did you know there is a similar character in Kansas folklore named Johnny Kaw? I didn’t until I came across his statue while visiting Manhattan, Kansas in mid-November. There are a number of improbable feats attributed to Johnny such as digging the Kansas River by dragging his scythe across the state, inventing sunflowers, and even besting Paul Bunyan in a fight after the lumberjack trampled Johnny’s wheat field. Make of that what you will, but if giant statues are any measure of fame, Paul Bunyan still stands the tallest in American folklore. You may recall my post Northern Minnesota is Paul Bunyan Country. If not, check it out.
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Finding statues of obscure folk heroes wasn’t the primary purpose of my trip to Kansas. As regular readers surely know, I was here to visit more county seats and mail postcards home documenting my stops. Along with Kansas, I covered a bit of territory in northwestern Missouri and southeastern Nebraska. While it’s not fair to say all these rural county seats look similar, sometimes there isn’t all that much that differentiates them. In most, the county courthouse sits on a square with shops and business on all four sides. In some, half the storefronts are empty, while in others the town square is a buzz of activity.


Occasionally a town has a claim to fame which may be known beyond the borders of the county or even outside the state. Marysville, Kansas is one such place which claims to be “Black Squirrel City.”
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The city also has roughly three dozen, 5-foot tall, black squirrel statues, each uniquely decorated by local artists. I noticed several as I drove through town including “Sister Teresa” on the grounds of the Church of St. Gregory the Great.
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For what it’s worth, Marysville is not the only town with black squirrel statues. Much close to home (for me), the village of Glendale, OH just north of Cincinnati has similarly decorated (though slightly smaller) black squirrel statues. By the way, Marysville claims the black squirrels arrived in town in 1912 when the critters escaped from a traveling carnival. They thrived and in 1972 become the town mascot. City law even grants the black squirrels “the freedom to trespass on all city property, immunity from traffic regulations, and the right of first choice to all black walnuts growing within the city.” Interesting? Maybe, maybe not. You decide.

Beyond the oversized wheat farmer and the Squirrels on Parade (as they are known), I didn’t stumble upon too much else worthy of discussion, though I found a few more of the 8½ foot tall Statue of Liberty replicas. I’ve come across these fairly often over the last five years. On this trip, I noticed one in front City Hall in Leavenworth, KS and this one outside the county courthouse in Falls City, NE.
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Over the course of my four day trip, I logged about 2,000 miles while visiting 42 counties, 28 in Kansas, 9 in Missouri, and 5 in Nebraska. As usual, here are the before and after maps.
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While there is a little more travel ahead for me in December, none of it will involve collecting any counties. That means the next entry will be my annual “Year in Review” wrap up. Look for that in the coming weeks.

Until then…
Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 22:34 Archived in USA Tagged missouri nebraska kansas county_collecting Comments (0)

Up, up and Away


View Albuquerque, Durango, and Flagstaff on countycollector's travel map.

When traveling to anywhere in the USA I have not previously visited, I rarely pass up the opportunity to add to my county seat postcard collection. Such was the case on a recent vacation to New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. Though I completed all of Arizona and most of New Mexico back in 2013, there were still a few parts of the Southwest I hadn’t reached. While planning a family getaway to Albuquerque and the Grand Canyon, adding a few stops along the way turned out not only to be easy, but great experiences as well.


The journey began with flights from CMH to DEN and then on to ABQ. Despite visiting Albuquerque before, this was my first time flying into ABQ. The main reason for choosing Albuquerque as a starting point was because of our first planned adventure—ballooning. As many know, at the beginning of October, the city is the home of the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. While it would be cool to attend, knowing that commercial balloon rides are sold out months in advance, we planned our trip a few weeks before the festival in order to experience floating above the city, drifting along wherever the breezes might blow. For many, going aloft in a hot air balloon is a “bucket list” item. I’m not sure I would have described it in such a way, but it was definitely something I wanted to do. Now that I’ve done it, I’m eager to go again. Do yourself a favor. Book a sunrise balloon trip in Albuquerque. You won’t regret it.
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From Albuquerque it was on to Taos and then Durango, Colorado. Though I had visited Taos before, it was a convenient overnight stop on the way to Colorado. Heading this way meant driving across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge northwest of Taos. At roughly 600 feet above the gorge, it is the 10th highest bridge in the United States. It doesn’t look that high when you’re driving across it, but there are sidewalks and viewing platforms on either side of the bridge. And yes, I did walk out to get a look down into the gorge. That’s when you realize how far below the river lies.
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After the bridge, it was on to Tierra Amarilla and Aztec, the last two county seats I needed to visit in New Mexico, before ending the day in Durango. For train enthusiasts around the world, Durango is known as the home of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and I can’t think of a better way to visit the two county seats that make up the name of this historic rail line than to take the train through the mountains. Many years before planning this trip, I had considered a journey on the D&SNG railroad as a possible way to get to Silverton. The scenery on the 3½ hour train ride is stunning. Views along and above this stretch of the Animas River are only accessible by rail and are definitely worth the price of a ticket.
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Silverton is a small, historic town with only one paved street. Parts of it don't look like they've changes much since the 1880s. Wandering up and down the dusty streets, it seems an odd choice for a county seat until you realize that it’s the only city in San Juan County that is inhabited year round. For a great day trip, I suggest taking the train from Durango to Silverton and then ride the motor coach back to Durango. The scenery is different and it only takes an hour and a half by road meaning you get a bit of extra time to wander around Silverton without having to rush through lunch.
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From Durango, we headed west along US route 160. After a stop in Mesa Verde National Park, I mailed the final postcard for this trip in Cortez, CO. We lingered only briefly at Four Corners, making sure to walk around the marker, setting foot in each of the four states—Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. With the sun beating down on us and not much to see (other than the only place in the USA where four states meet), we continued on, finally ending the day at the El Tovar Hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This was my third visit to the Grand Canyon and also my third stay at El Tovar. No matter how many times a person visits, the views never get old.
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We spent most of the following day visiting different view points and vistas along the south rim before heading to Flagstaff late in the day. The next day wasn’t too busy. We drove to Sedona via Oak Creek Canyon and stopped at Montezuma Castle and Walnut Canyon before returning to Flagstaff.

On the way back to Albuquerque, we made a quick visit to Winslow, Arizona. I figured I should take a picture of “Standin’ on the Corner” park. It’s exactly the kind of quirky Americana I love finding as I travel the highways and byways of this country. Try not to start singing the Eagle’s hit that made this particular corner on Route 66 so famous. Go on, I dare ya. :)
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While I only managed to add 5 counties to my list, I was able to cross off the last two counties in New Mexico. That state now becomes the 26th one completed. As I noted earlier, the primary purpose of this trip was not county collecting, but it’s always nice when I can mail a few county seat postcards on a family vacation. As usual, here are the before and after maps.
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Getting to the remaining counties in Colorado should be fun. Whether or not I can collect the 16 mountainous ones left in the southwest part of the state in one trip remains to be seen. It may be possible, but due to the rugged terrain, it will likely take several days. That’s something I’ll have to figure out in a year or so.

The next county collecting trip is in early November when I’ll be heading to eastern Kansas. I expect to add a few counties in Nebraska and Missouri as well. While I do have a couple other trips in mind, chances are good it will be the last time this year I add any new counties. I’ll post an update in mid-November.

Until then…
Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 18:29 Tagged grand_canyon arizona colorado ballooning albuquerque new_mexico durango silverton county_collecting Comments (2)

Smoke from a not-so-distant fire


View Eastern Washington on countycollector's travel map.

Flying through Seattle has become a ‘thing’ for me recently. For the third time out of four county collecting trips this year, I hopped aboard Alaska flight 1193 for the roughly 2000 mile journey out west. This time my ultimate destination was Spokane in order to visit the remaining counties in Washington, all in the eastern half of the state.


As many know, much of the western USA is experiencing extreme drought and a severe wildfire season. During my trip to Oregon at the beginning of August, it was impossible to miss the smoke blanketing the landscape. Knowing I’d be visiting the area again in late August, I took a keen interest in the location of several wildfires close to places I hoped to see. It was important to monitor the fire activity as road closures are sometimes necessary. In the more remote parts of the US, it’s not uncommon to find only one or two routes in or out of an area. A closed highway could mean an hours-long detour. One such area is north central Washington where the Walker Creek fire has consumed about 20,000 acres of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The main route crossing the area is Washington highway 20, and earlier in the summer, one section of the highway farther west of where I was going was closed for several weeks. While I didn’t get close enough to see flames, there were road signs warning of fire activity north of the town of Wauconda and advising a speed of 35mph for the next 14 miles. The normal speed limit is 60mph. Smoke mingled with low clouds to create an eerie pall over the hills.
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While fires were a concern, I was able to enjoy the drive as the smoke wasn’t uniformly heavy across the region. Some places it was more like a light overcast day. Other times, especially after a passing shower, the smoke all but vanished. I also noticed quite a difference in the agriculture depending on where I was. In the far eastern part of the state, wheat fields dominated. Near Yakima and Wenatchee there were apples, hops, and grapes aplenty. I saw some occasional cornfields as well. Unlike the Midwest, where the land is mostly flat, the farms in this part of Washington covered hills and valleys alike. While familiar, it was different enough to make it interesting.

Speaking of interesting, one of the fun things about traveling far and wide in this country is finding some strange and curious sights. On this trip, I discovered two that are worth noting. In the town of Colfax is what first appears to be a large totem pole. The Codger Pole is a tribute to a bunch of old guys who replayed and epic football game between two arch rival high schools, 50 years after the original game. I don’t want to go into the full details here, but a quick internet search will yield all sorts of information about the 1988 rematch of the 1938 football game between the Colfax Bulldogs and the St. John Eagles.
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The other odd sight is the oversized bust of George Washington in front of a gas station in the city of George, Washington. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

I achieved my goal of collecting remaining 12 counties in Washington. I was also able visit Moscow and St. Maries in Idaho, adding two more counties to my tally, bring the total up to 2,681. Washington becomes the 25th state complete. Here are the before and after maps for this trip.
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My next trip will be to a weeklong vacation to New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. While not planned as a county collecting trip, I will have the opportunity to visit the last couple county seats in New Mexico as well as a few in southwest Colorado. I completed Arizona way back in 2013. It will be nice to be back in that part of the country with a less aggressive agenda than on most of my solo travels.

Until then…
Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 14:40 Archived in USA Tagged washington idaho county_collecting Comments (2)

Oregon Again

With a bit of Washington and Idaho added for good measure


View Northeast Oregon on countycollector's travel map.

As July ended and August began, I returned to central Oregon to collect more counties. The trip began with an uneventful Friday morning flight from CMH to SEA on Alaska Airlines. Since they began flying to Columbus in March 2019, I’ve tried to fly out west with Alaska more frequently. A stop in Seattle is always nice especially if it includes a visit to one of the Alaska lounges. On this trip, I got to spend a bit more time in the lounges than I originally planned.

To make a long story short, my flight from SEA to RDM in central Oregon got delayed and eventually canceled. I was able to get booked on a later flight making what should have been a 90 minute layover into a bit over 4 hours. I spent the first half in the flagship lounge near the N gates, but as the uncertainty grew around my connecting flight, I moved over the lounge by the D gates which was much closer to where I would eventually depart. While flight delays and cancelations are never fun, waiting them out with free food and beverages in an airport lounge makes them tolerable.


The delay in Seattle messed with my plans for the start of county collecting. Initially, I was supposed to be in Redmond around noon followed by roughly 6 hours of driving, finally ending the day in Kennewick, WA. By the time I reached Redmond and picked up my rental car, it was 4:00. Not wanting to arrive at my hotel at what would be 1am back home, I needed to rework my driving plan for the afternoon/evening. I omitted two of the four county seat stops figuring I might be able to pick them up before returning home on Monday. Even skipping a couple of stops, it was well after dark when I finally arrived in Kennewick.

Saturday began early as I worked my way across the lower edge of Washington, stopping in places like Walla Walla, Dayton, and Pomeroy. Before turning south and back into Oregon, I popped briefly across the Snake River into Idaho and visited Lewiston. What would have undoubtedly been a lovely view of the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers was sadly obscured by smoke from one of the numerous wildfires afflicting this part of the country. For much of the trip, everything in the distance was clouded by smoke. Most of the places I visited, the smoke just looked like low cloud cover or haze. Only once or twice did I notice the distinct smell of wood smoke. I wrapped up the day on the outskirts of Boise.

My plan for Sunday was minimal, essentially straight from Boise to Bend with just one new county to collect along the way. I arranged my route that way so as to arrive in Bend during the early afternoon thereby enjoying a bit of downtime before dinner. With the two missed counties in north central Oregon from Friday, I made a few adjustments to my plan which put me in Bend a little later than I had hoped, while still collecting all the county seats I had intended to visit on this trip.

If you’ve never visited Bend, I can highly recommend it, especially if you like outdoor activities. The city is a natural base for hiking, kayaking, camping, and mountain biking. This was my second visit this summer and I’m already looking for a reason to go back. By the way, if you like craft beer, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to do a pub crawl as there are a couple dozen microbreweries in town. After dinner (and a couple of local brews), I took a leisurely stroll along the Deschutes River which runs right through downtown Bend. You’d never know from this picture that I’m only a few blocks from the city center with a population of about 100,000 residents.
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One more curious fact about Bend. It is the location of the last Blockbuster store. How and why it remains in business is a mystery to me, but it has become a photo opportunity in its own right.
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The trip home on Monday was completely uneventful. The flight from Redmond to Seattle departed on time and arrived early. I waited in the Alaska lounge until just before my flight to Columbus began boarding. Again, we departed on time and arrived early. That’s just how I like it. Over the course of the 4 day trip, I was able to add 15 counties, several of which I’d never previously even driven through. Counties in the western US are much larger than most of the ones east of the Mississippi. For example, in a state like Georgia, it’s possible to visit 15+ counties in a single day. Out west, even reaching double digits almost always involves an incredibly long day of driving. My main goal was to complete the northeast corner of Oregon. Getting to southeast Washington and even a couple counties in Idaho, added to the overall value of the journey. As usual, here are the before and after maps.
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Before August is over, I’ll be back in this part of the country. My goal will be to complete the 12 remaining counties in Washington. Also on the agenda are the last two counties in Idaho that border Washington. With luck, there won’t be quite as much smoke this time. Whatever the case, I’m sure I’ll have a great time.

Until then…
Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 13:55 Archived in USA Tagged oregon washington idaho county_collecting Comments (5)

Oklahoma is OK


View Oklahoma & Arkansas on countycollector's travel map.

Hard to believe the year is half over and I’ve only completed two county collecting trips. Admittedly the year got off to a slow start, but now that I’m fully vaccinated against Covid-19, travel is beginning to ramp up once again. The last weekend in June, I flew to Oklahoma City with the goal of visiting roughly two-thirds of the remaining counties in the state. It might have been possible to complete the rest, but I chose to hit a handful of cities and towns in northwestern Arkansas rather than the counties in southeastern Oklahoma. As I was planning this trip, I reasoned those final Oklahoma would probably be easier to reach from the DFW area than from OKC.


I’d love to share details of all the quirky sights I found along the back road of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Unfortunately due to the short trip and the unforeseen storms, that is just not possible. Casinos abound in eastern Oklahoma, mostly run by the Muscogee, Cherokee, Pottawattamie Native American tribes. Not being a gambler, I had no interest in visiting, though I did wonder briefly how much money they must take in for there to so many.

There were a few times over the course of the weekend where the weather cleared enough to make driving enjoyable. One such time was on a stretch of road in Arkansas known as the “Pig Trail Scenic Byway.” While the route did not have nearly as many twists and turns as the “Tail of the Dragon” along the NC/TN border, there were enough. Some long-time readers of this blog may recall my post about the Tail of the Dragon way back in 2015. Sadly the forum where that was posted is gone meaning there is no way to link to that write up. The scenery in the Ozarks was lovely though there were limited opportunities to stop. Here’s a view from one of the only scenic overlooks along the way.
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In another nod to a long lost blog post, I stumbled across a miniature Statue of Liberty in Wewoka, Oklahoma. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of these, but I remember coming across many of them starting in mid-2016. It turns out the Boys Scouts of America had a project called “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty” in the early 1950s in which approximately 200 replica statues where created and placed around the country. About a hundred of the 8½ foot tall statues remain, many located on or near county courthouses such as the one I saw in Seminole County, Oklahoma. I’ve personally seen at least a dozen of them in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, New Mexico, and now Oklahoma. It seems fairly likely I’ll come across others as I continue my travels.
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During the weekend, I reached 22 county seats in 20 counties. Arkansas is one of 11 states in which some counties have two county seats, a practice that was dates back to days when traveling even relatively short distances was difficult. Since my county collecting goal is to visit every county seat, whenever I come to a county with two county seats, I visit both. Here are the before and after maps showing the progress on this trip.
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One last note about this trip. Everything was going smoothly until it was time to fly home. A few hours before my scheduled flight from OKC to CLT, I got notified of a delay. Normally I wouldn’t worry. This time, however, I knew I already had a very tight connection and the delay would make it unlikely I’d make my later flight. Given the updated estimate from the airline, my first flight would land about 5 minutes before my scheduled departure home. Yikes! Before departing OKC, I managed to get rebooked on a later flight from CLT to CMH though it meant a 3 hour layover in Charlotte. As luck would have it, the first flight boarded quickly and we departed slightly ahead of the revised time. Whether we had a good tailwind or whether pilot did something else to make up time, we landed in CLT only a few minutes after our originally scheduled time. That’s when things got interesting.

My original flight home was due to depart in about 30 minutes. Getting to the gate would take about 20 minutes if I hurried. I decided to give it a go. Knowing I had a seat on the later flight, I figured that if I showed up before the boarding door closed, there might still be a seat I could grab to get me home by 10pm instead of after midnight. I reached the gate just in time and talked to the boarding agent. As luck had it, there were still a couple empty spots. I ended up in the very back row, but I got home on time.

Up next is another trip to Oregon at the end of July. I hadn’t planned to return so soon after my May visit, but I had such a great time and was able to find both decent priced flights and car that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Check back for details on that trip in August.

Until then…
Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 19:03 Archived in USA Tagged oklahoma arkansas county_collecting Comments (2)

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