A Travellerspoint blog

On the Road Again…Finally


View Columbia River Gorge on countycollector's travel map.

At last. I am finally getting to write up a new county collecting trip. Normally by the time June rolls around, I’d have been on three or four trips. Not this year. Having been home since October, it was nice to head out on the back roads of America. 2020 was by far the slowest travel year of any in the past decade, and while 2021 will be better, it will still likely see the second fewest county trips since 2011.

One major challenge I hadn’t expected this year is the outrageous price of rental cars. Normally I’d be spending between twenty and fifty dollars a day for a car. Lately finding anything under $100 per day is difficult. Some places I wouldn’t consider major tourist destinations are charging more than $200 a day. Due to the nature of my county collecting travels, there is no way to do it without a vehicle, and because virtually every county I want to visit is more than a full day’s drive from home, flying and renting is about the only viable option. While I’m okay spending a little more, there’s no way I’m dropping $1000 to rent a car for the weekend. I’ll just forgo a few trips until car prices moderate.

For the first trip of the year, I headed to Portland, Oregon. By booking the car early, I was able to find a decent rate, and by using some of the flight credits from canceled trips in 2020, the airfare didn’t add any new cash outlays. Even the hotel prices were still low in mid-May. Not a bad way to start the year. Likewise, I could not have asked for better weather. Late spring in the Northwest can be a mixed bag. Often the sky is dreary, sometimes it rains. In the mountains, there might be occasional snow. Not this particular weekend. Clear skies for two days with temperatures in the mid to upper 70s. Perfect weather for driving and exploring.


From Portland, I headed south through McMinnville, Salem and on down to Eugene before turning back north. I made stops in Corvallis, Albany, and Newport (on the coast) and then headed inland to Bend. I had visited many of these cities back in the late 90s, a decade or more before I began my county collecting project, so I chose not to spend much time exploring. I did enjoy wandering around downtown Bend in the evening after my day of driving was over, and I made a point of stopping in the Bend Public House for dinner and to sample a few of the Deschutes Brewery’s award winning beers.

Sunday morning dawned as beautiful and clear as Saturday as I headed north toward the Columbia River. The view of the mountains of the southern Cascade Range was breathtaking. At one point the road aimed straight at Mt. Hood with excellent views of Mt. Jefferson to the left. A little farther to the left, Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters were plainly visible. Later in the day after I crossed the river into Washington State, I spied Mt. Adams, and off in the distance both Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier. I’ve never had much luck taking good photographs of wide open landscapes (with or without mountains). I did get one decent picture of the Columbia River with Mt. Hood in the distance. As for the other mountains, you’ll just have to take my word that they were both impressive and beautiful especially with the early morning sun reflecting off their snowcapped peaks.
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In addition to 14 counties in Oregon, I added 2 counties in southern Washington (Klickitat and Skamania) both along the northern bank of the Columbia River. One curious site on the Washington side of the river is a concrete replica of Stonehenge, a memorial to the soldiers from the area who died in WWI. The design imagines what Stonehenge might have looked had the original builders had access to 20th Century technology. It certainly merits a brief stop for anyone exploring the Columbia River Gorge.
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From here it was back to Portland crossing back and forth over the river to visit the county seats on either side. Anyone who is familiar with the area might wonder why I didn’t stop to see Multnomah Falls or many of the other waterfalls just off the highway. As I noted earlier, the weather was beautiful and being a Sunday, thousands of others had the idea that driving out of the city to see nature might be a good idea. Between the traffic jams and parking issues, it seemed better to bypass these locations. I’ve been there before and will visit again, so skipping over them this time didn’t concern me.

North Portland had one last curiosity I wanted to see. You may recall my blog post on Northern Minnesota with all the photos of Paul Bunyan statues. Turns out, Minnesota is not alone in honoring the legendary lumberjack from American folklore. In the Kenton neighborhood stands a 31-foot tall statue of the mythical woodsman. While a bit out of the way for the casual visitor to Portland, the area is easily reached on the yellow line of Portland’s MAX light rail.
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Over the weekend trip, I visited 16 county seats. Unfortunately one postcard has still not arrived despite being mailed over three weeks ago. Having received one late last week, I considered waiting a few more days to upload this latest post. Instead, I’m treating the missing item as ‘lost in the mail’ (though my fingers are still crossed this straggler will arriving the in the coming days) and will look at making a future trip to Clackamas County Oregon. So, with 15 new documented county seats, the maps of the states I just visited look like this (check out one of my prior entries for details on what the colors represent).
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Up next is a trip to Oklahoma and Arkansas in late June. Be sure to check back in early July for a detailed report.

Until then…
Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 18:52 Archived in USA Tagged oregon washington county_collecting paul_bunyan columbia_river_gorge Comments (4)

A Decade of County Collecting – Part 2

Before long, it will be time to set off again to continue the quest to visit every county seat in the USA. While we’re waiting to get back to traveling, here’s the second part of my recap from the past decade. 2016 marked the first year where every county collecting trip involved a flight (or two) followed by renting a car. Prior to this, at least some of my trips were close enough to home that I could head out in my own car. Now with the nearest uncollected counties a day or more away, I haven’t used my own vehicle on these trips at all over the last five years. At the beginning of 2016, my map looks like this.
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That year, I began searching out interesting photo ops along the way. While I had stumbled across a few curiosities in the prior years, in 2016 I started actively looking for something out of the ordinary to photograph on each trip. One such example was this sign in Kinsley, KS.
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By the end of 2016, I had added another 314 counties over the course of 12 separate trips. In the process, Tennessee moved into the completed column, the 13th state finished.
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Progress continued in 2017, albeit at a slower pace with another 177 counties added. Hawaii became the 14th state I completed when I made my second county trip there in March. I also added counties in North and South Dakota for the first time. By the time the year ended, only 6 states (AK, ME, MA, MT, RI, and WA) were left without any “blue” counties, meaning I had yet to receive a postcard I mailed from those states.
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Perhaps the highlight of 2018 was my first ever trip to Alaska. I continued looking for unusual wayside attractions such as this 55 foot tall statue of the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN.
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By year end, my county tally had grown by 236 to a grand total of 2,310. I completed Florida, Alabama, Michigan, Wisconsin Rhode Island, and North Carolina this year. While there is no question I’ve been making good progress, it still felt like three was still a lot of ground to cover.
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2019 marked an important milestone, at least one county collected from all 50 states. Montana ended up being the last state I reached since I began back in 2011. In addition, Iowa and Mississippi moved to completed status, marking 22 states where I have documented visits to every county seat.
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Travel in 2020 was drastically curtailed, but I still managed to add 117 counties and finish the last parishes in Louisiana. I also visited the final counties in Minnesota. The grand total now stands as 2,615. With only 534 left the go, the end is in sight. How long it will take is anyone’s guess. Five years seems reasonable, but I've learned that as I get nearer to the end, it becomes hard to add a lot of new territory. It's likely this will continue late into this decade. Come along (virtually) for the ride and we'll see when I cross the finish line.
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That brings things up to date. I’m beginning to plan trips for later this year. My first destination will be Oregon in May. Other places I’m considering for 2021 are Utah and Wyoming, South Dakota, eastern Washington, New Jersey, and the final counties in Georgia. I’m not sure I’ll get to all of those places since it’s hard to know how many trips I’ll be able to make this year. Plans often have a way of changing. One thing is certain. I will be able to fill in a bit more of my map before 2021 ends. Since I’ve no travel planned until heading to Oregon, look for the next blog entry once I get back from that trip in mid-May

Until then…

Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 17:52 Archived in USA Tagged county_collecting Comments (0)

A Decade of County Collecting – Part 1

The start of a nationwide quest

Since travel is still not generally advisable, perhaps now might a good time to look back over the last decade of travel. A majority of my trips during the 2010s were devoted to my ongoing quest to visit every county seat in the USA and document each stop by mailing a postcard to myself with the relevant details of those stops—name of town/city, name of county, date, and time (plus a few thoughts from the road). For those curious why I chose mailing postcards as my means of keeping track of my progress, please read my earlier blog post County Collecting Basics.

Mid-February 2021 marks 10 years since I got serious about making this a project that would encompass the entire county. While I collected all 88 counties in Ohio in 2007, I did not intend at the time to make this a nationwide project. Between 2007 and the beginning of 2011, I mailed few postcards home, but the idea that I would someday expand my goal to cover all 50 states was not something I seriously considered. All that changed on February 15, 2011.

On an otherwise normal business trip to Indianapolis, I opted to visit a few county seats both on my way there and on my way home. While only able to add 4 counties to my total, it was the real beginning of reaching beyond the boundaries of my home state of Ohio. As mentioned above, I had stopped in a few county seats here and there over the previous few years, but as the map below shows, I had made only a halfhearted attempt to do much outside of Ohio. Here’s my progress as of January 1, 2011.
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For those familiar with my color scheme, feel free to skip ahead. The dark blue color denotes counties where I have visited the county seat and documented that visit by mailing a postcard home. Green is for counties where I’ve been to the county seat, but haven’t documented it (most of the ones on the map above represents county seats I visited in years prior to beginning this project). The cyan (light blue) marks counties in which I have visited or traveled through without stopping in the county seat. Again, many of these I would have visited prior to 2007. As a side note, anyone familiar with the Interstate highway system in the US, may be able to pick out some of the major freeways I used to crisscross the country.

At the start of the year 2011, my county count (the blue ones) was at 113 out of the more than 3000 across the country. By the end of the year, that number had had only grown a little. I finished the year with 201 counties collected. Most of my travels that year were in the Midwest most notably a trip to Iowa in early fall, though I did manage to add Key West and Miami as well as the two southernmost counties in California when I was visiting those areas on family vacations.
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The progress continued in 2012 with more drives to neighboring states, plus a few longer road trips. One of those included my first ever visit to Delaware where I was able to visit all three of the state’s counties in a single day. There was also a weeklong trip to eastern Georgia and South Carolina which added 97 more counties to my list. This was the first time I chose to fly somewhere and rent a car with the primary purpose of collecting counties. By the end of that year, my total had jumped to 563. A careful eye will note a few green counties completely surrounded by blue ones. This isn’t case of skipping over those places. Occasionally the US Postal Service fails to deliver one of the postcard I mailed, meaning I don’t have the documented proof of my visit. In such cases, I mark the county green and put it on my list to visit again. Over the course of the years, it’s happened about a dozen times.
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2013 marked my first foray into the Southwest. From the starting point in El Paso, a weeklong trip covering almost 5000 miles allowed me to collect all of Arizona, most of New Mexico, and much of southwest Texas. I also made my first visit to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Actually, in 2013 I visited the far northern part of Michigan twice, once coming across the Mackinac Bridge in July, the other as part of a trip in Wisconsin a month later. By the end of 2013, the number of blue counties had grown to 795, though only 3 states had been fully filled in—Ohio, Delaware, and Arizona.
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The following year, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, and West Virginia moved into the completed column. In terms of overall progress, 2014 marked my best year as I added 472 counties to my tally, ending the year at 1,267.
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By 2015 it was becoming increasingly difficult to collect counties in my own vehicle. By this time, virtually all the places still to visit were more than a day’s drive from home. Around this time it started making more sense to fly somewhere and rent a car. While I had done that once or twice a year since 2011, after 2015 it became my default method. Perhaps the best trip of this year was to Hawaii, where I was able to collect 3 counties. As one might guess, this was as part of a vacation to the Aloha state and not solely a county collecting trip. I’m not sure I could justify the cost just to fly there and back only to mail a few postcards, but a 2 week trip to 3 different islands that just happened to coincide with visiting the county seats is a different story. By the time the year had ended, the number of collected counties stood at 1,582 approximately half of all the counties in the county.
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That’s probably enough for now. I’ll add another entry soon covering the second half of the decade which will bring things up to current. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’ll be back on the road again adding more postcards to my collecting. While it’s nice to look back from time to time, I always enjoy getting out and visiting new places. I can’t wait to do that again.

Until then…

Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 16:26 Archived in USA Tagged county_collecting Comments (1)

County Collecting 2020 - the Year in Review


View The Dakotas 2020 & Mid-Atlantic & MN and ND & Texarkana & Georgia - Jan 2020 on countycollector's travel map.

It would be wonderful to look back on the past year and remember all the great places I had the opportunity to visit. In a normal year, that might be the case. Sadly, 2020 was anything but a normal year. From a travel standpoint, the last 12 months have probably been the worst in recent memory. While the year was not a complete bust, my county collecting plans were thrown into disarray about the time spring weather arrived.

Typically as the days grow longer, I enjoy getting out on the rural highways of America as I work to fill in the blank sections of my travel map. While most years see eight to ten county trips, this year saw only four. Of those, two were early in the year before travel became risky due to the pandemic. The later trips were in July and October when things appeared to be getting safer. That turned out to be a false sense of security, though I was able to travel safely, mainly due to the fact that most of my time was spent alone, driving through sparsely populated areas.

In case you missed them, here are the posts documenting my four county collecting trips of 2020
Georgia on m Mind
Texarkana—One City, Two States
Northern Minnesota is Paul Bunyan Country
Out There on the Edge of the Prairie

As I usually do, this time of year, I compare my maps from the beginning and end of the year to get a visual of how much progress I made in the last 12 months.
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For those who have not been following this blog for the past 6+ years both here and at its prior (now defunct) location, the colors do have a meaning. The dark blue is for counties where I have visited the county seat and mailed (and received) a postcard documenting the date and time of my visit. The green is for counties where I have been in the county seat but do not yet have the postcard proving I was there. I stopped in the majority of those counties prior to starting this project. The light blue represent counties where I have been in or through the county without visiting the county seat. Many of those also predate my county collecting quest.

Even with the limits on my travel, I still managed to mail postcards from 117 county seats. I actually had to visit Fergus Falls, MN twice this year as the postcard I sent in July failed to arrive. Fortunately when I returned in October, the postal service did let me down a second time. My tally now stands at 2615 out of the 3149 county seats in the country. Over the last decade, my average has been around 250 new county seats each year, so given the unusual circumstances in 2020, adding 117 isn’t horrendous.

Now I have only 534 county seats left to visit. It seems likely that a pace of 100 counties per year might become the ‘new normal,’ so perhaps I’ll be at this for another 5 years. I think I can handle that. At the beginning of 2011, my total stood at 113, so adding about 2,500 county seat visits over the past 10 years is not too shabby.

I expect in the first part of 2021 travel will not be back to normal. Maybe by the time the days get longer and the weather warmer, I’ll be out on the road again. Who knows, the next county collecting trip might be delayed into the second half of the year. Let's hope it's sooner than that. Wherever (and whenever) I go, you’ll be able to read about it here.

Until then…

Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 22:38 Archived in USA Tagged county_collecting Comments (2)

Out There on the Edge of the Prairie

Travels in the Dakotas


View The Dakotas 2020 & Mid-Atlantic on countycollector's travel map.

Scenery in parts of the United States can be easy to predict—mountains in Colorado, desert in Arizona, farmland in Iowa, or lakes in Minnesota. Of course not every state fits nicely into categories. North and South Dakota are good examples. The western part of both states is rugged, think the Black Hills or the Badlands while the eastern half tends towards field of wheat, corn, or sunflowers. What surprised me on my latest trip to these plains states were the number of small lakes in southeastern North Dakota. I suppose it should not have been such a surprise given that the area is just west of Minnesota—the Land of 10,000 Lakes (actually there are 11,842 in the state, but that’s not important). Admittedly, many of these lakes were small, though they were large enough to have names such as Clear Lake, Mud Lake, Coldwater Lake, and Green Lake. They were a nice change from the landscape otherwise devoid of anything but farms, grain elevators, railroad tracks, and rural highways.


Spend my days driving in sparsely populated areas meant I saw only a few of the odd sights that can be found in various parts of the USA. Those who read my last post will recall all the Paul Bunyan statues I encountered in northern Minnesota. Nothing quite so grand this time. I did see this sign in Lehr, ND.
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The city sits on the border of Logan and McIntosh counties. With only about 70 residents, it lays claim to the smallest city located in two counties. Given that my goal is to visit every county in the USA, this sort of thing is right up my alley. Interestingly enough, the following day, I stopped in Gann Valley, SD which is the smallest county seat in the country (population 16).

I did find a couple more interesting bits of Americana on the final day of my journey. Behold the “World’s Largest Pheasant” in Huron, SD.
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What else can one say about that? Well, I learned the ring-necked pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota despite having been introduced from China in the 1880s. Hunting pheasants is popular in the state. If I’m not mistaken, hunting season began the weekend after my trip. I did spot a few pheasants in the fields along the road over the course of the weekend. One ever flew right in from of my car early on Saturday morning.

As I was wrapping up the trip, my route took me through Mitchell, SD. I had visited the county back in 2017, but it’s always worth a stop to check out the Corn Palace. As expected the corn murals had changed since my last visit. Unfortunately, my time was short as I had an early afternoon flight to catch out of Sioux Falls. Rather than go into detail on the history of this unusual building, I’ll leave you with a picture and you can decide whether you want to search the internet for more info.
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Over the course of my 3-day weekend, I collected postcards from 26 county seats, 7 in ND, 18 in SD, and that last remaining county in MN. If you recall from my last blog entry, my postcard from Otter Tail County got lost in the mail. In instances such as this, my remedy is to make a return visit and send another postcard. I’m happy to report, this one showed up. Minnesota becomes the 24th state where I have mailed and received postcards from every county seat. Here are the before and after maps showing my progress.
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I don’t expect to make any more trips this year. I do plan to put together a “Year in Review” post sometime before the end of December. Look for that soon.

Until then…

Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 18:43 Archived in USA Tagged south_dakota north_dakota county_collecting Comments (1)

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