A Travellerspoint blog

Carhenge


View Western Nebraska on countycollector's travel map.

Sometimes while traveling the back roads of the USA, it can be tricky to find tricky to find interesting places to feature. The United States has plenty of strange and unusual sights, but because to the vastness of the country, I frequently find myself far from major population centers and tourist destinations. Once in a while, I stumble across a quirky location almost in the middle of nowhere. One such instance happened on a recent trip to western Nebraska.


Aside from a few buttes and bluffs, the terrain was mostly rolling prairie, typical in much of the central US. It’s not the sort of place one expects to find this.
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On an empty stretch of Nebraska route 87, not far from the town of Alliance sits Carhenge, a scale replica of Stonehenge. The cars, all painted gray, replicate the current condition of England’s most famous ancient monument. The location is curious in that Carhenge is almost 90 miles from the nearest Interstate highway, meaning most tourists have to go out of their way to visit. Fortunately, I was on my way between the county seats of Rushville and Alliance, giving me the opportunity to see this wonder of the modern world without deviating from my planned route.

Amazingly, this is not the first Stonehenge replica I’ve encountered on my travels. Some may recall the concrete Stonehenge in Washington State along the Columbia River which from my visit last summer. In case you forgot, here's the link On the Road Again...Finally. Nor is Carhenge the only automotive art installation I’ve seen. Way back in 2014, I visited the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX. It’s located along I-40, so it’s a lot easier to reach.

Though this trip only consisted of a weekend, I still managed to add an additional 15 counties to my list, 12 in Nebraska and 3 in Colorado. The tally for the year is now at 44. If all goes well, I might be able to bring that total to 100 before the year is done. Here are the before and after maps from my latest trip.
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At the moment, I don’t know when my next county trip will be. I’m off to NYC for a weekend in June, and then to Greece in July. It’s possible I might try to collect a few more counties in August, but there is nothing currently in the works. I’m certain there will be a few more blog entries later in the year, but don’t expect anything for the next few months. Be sure to check back around the end of summer or the beginning of fall.

Until then…

Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 13:49 Archived in USA Tagged carhenge nebraska county_collecting Comments (0)

Bienvenue à Paris… y’all


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

Like most other travel, my county collecting has not yet returned to its pre-pandemic level. I don’t have as much time to devote to county collecting this year as I normally would partly due to a couple longer family trips that had been postponed since 2020. In most years, by April, I’d be on my third or fourth county trip rather than having just completed my second. With much of my available vacation time and dollars devoted to trips originally scheduled in 2020, my county trips are not only fewer in number, but also shorter in length. Take my recent visit to Texas and Oklahoma as an example.


Over the last decade most of my county trips began with a flights to a major airline hub like ORD, ATL, DFW, or MSP, followed by a connecting flight to my starting point. Since that transit time was typically 5-6 hours, it was nice to have 3 days or more to drive between county seats and mail as many postcards as possible. Right now, it’s hard to find more than weekend available, so I opted for a direct Friday afternoon flight to DFW and then 2 days of county collecting before flying home Sunday evening. The tradeoff for not taking time off work was collecting fewer counties. My goal wasn’t to do much in Texas but rather to finish up the last 8 counties in southern Oklahoma. I’d pick up whatever else I could in the time available.

I reached DFW late afternoon on Friday, picked up my rental car, and headed for Denton, a city just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Saturday morning it was on to Oklahoma. I’d love to say I saw all sorts of interesting sights along the way, but sadly there was little to report. By Sunday I was already back in Texas on my way to the airport before there was anything worthy of sharing. I reached Paris, the county seat of Lamar County by late morning and after dropping my postcard in the mailbox, went searching for the Eiffel Tower I’d heard was in town. It is a scale replica, about 65 feet high, and since it’s in Texas, is topped with a giant red cowboy hat. Welcome to Paris, y’all.
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As luck would have it, Paris wasn’t the only place with something worth photographing. Around lunchtime, I stopped in Sulphur Springs. On the town square adjacent to the county courthouse, I discovered this unusual crosswalk sign.
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Fans of Monty Python should immediately recognize the silhouette inspired by John’s Cleese’s character in the classic Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. Apparently similar signs have been appearing in recent years in such places as Ottawa, Reykjavik, as well as towns in Norway and the Netherlands. I hear there is also one in Manitou Springs, Colorado so maybe next time I’m close to Colorado Springs, I’ll make a side trip to look for it.

Over the weekend, I added 12 more counties to my ever-growing tally, including 3 in Texas and 1 in Arkansas. Perhaps more significantly, I collected the remaining 8 counties in Oklahoma, making it the 28th state completed.
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Up next is another short trip, this time to northeast Colorado and far western Nebraska. With only a weekend available, my goal is to add 15 more counties. My self-imposed time restraints will put a limit on what I’m able to do this year. It’s taken a decade to get this far, and with fewer than 400 counties to go, a dozen here and a dozen there will still put me closer to the eventual finish line. I look forward to discovering more curious bits of Americana as I’m exploring the highways and byways of this country. Check back in a few weeks to see what I find.

Until then…

Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 14:11 Archived in USA Tagged texas oklahoma arkansas county_collecting Comments (2)

Peaches and Peanuts

A Backroads trip through rural Georgia


View Albuquerque, Durango, and Flagstaff & Georgia 2022 on countycollector's travel map.

Though 2022 has barely begun, the first county collecting trip of the year is already behind me. Traveling in winter is not ideal for county collecting since driving 8-10 hours a day is necessary. Shorter days and unpredictable weather create challenges this early in the year. Regardless, I decided to take a chance and head to Georgia figuring I might be able complete the last 17 counties I needed to visit without facing the prospect of snowy roads or flight cancelations.


Despite being ranked 24th in terms of total area, Georgia has the second highest number of counties, trailing only Texas. Though most of the counties are fairly small, the fact that there are 159 of them means it can take quite a bit of time to visit all of them. My first county trip to Georgia was at the end of February 2012, meaning it’s taken close to a decade to complete the state. Granted, there were several years during that stretch where my focus was solely on states out west, meaning my only interaction with Georgia was passing through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Still, it’s taken 7 separate trips to Georgia over the past decade for me to reach all 159 counties.

The counties I collected this time were all in the south central part of the state, not too far from Atlanta. That turned out to be a good thing because during the weekend I visited, a winter storm with snow, ice, and rain hit the northern third of the state. While I encountered a few snow flurries and some steady rain toward the end of the trip, neither prevented me from getting to all the county seats planned, nor did they cause any delay or cancelation of my flight home.

I’d love to share details of all sorts of cool stuff I saw along the way, but sadly, there wasn’t much. I passed by a number of peach orchards and peanut farms, but all were quiet in the dead of winter. During the summer months, signs for fresh peaches and boiled peanuts are everywhere. While I’m not a huge fan of peanuts, farm fresh peaches are amazing. Just thinking about it makes me want to return when the weather is warmer. About the only roadside ‘attraction’ of note was in Plains, known far and wide as the hometown of former President Jimmy Carter. The town is pretty small, not much more than a crossroads, but there is one interesting photo opportunity there.
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Other than the 13 foot Jimmy Carter peanut statue in Plains, I didn’t really spot anything else worth photographing while on the road. On a positive note, I was able to finish the remaining counties in the state. Georgia is the 27th state I’ve completed. Anyone curious about my color scheme should read my County Collecting 2021 – the Year in Review
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At the moment, I’m not sure where or when the next county collecting trip will be. At the end of February, I’m heading to Hawaii for a family vacation, but since I’ve already visited all the counties in the state, I don’t plan to post details here. Locations for county collecting I’m considering for later this year are New Jersey, Nebraska, Montana, and Kansas. None of these have risen to the level of ‘planning’ yet, and it’s possible I may end up choosing somewhere else by the time I get ready to head out on the road again. When I do, another update will soon follow.

Until then…
Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 17:10 Archived in USA Tagged georgia county_collecting Comments (0)

County Collecting 2021 – the Year in Review


View Kansas & Albuquerque, Durango, and Flagstaff & NYC Dec 2021 & Southern California & Northern Michigan & Eastern Washington & Northeast Oregon & Oklahoma & Arkansas & Columbia River Gorge on countycollector's travel map.

Considering that my travel year didn’t begin until May, the past twelve months of county collecting turned out reasonably well. I visited 113 new county seats across 10 states and have now visited every county in Washington and New Mexico, the 25th and 26th states completed. In case you missed the details, here are links to the 6 county collecting trips this year.

On the Road Again...Finally
Oklahoma is OK
Oregon Again
Smoke from a not-so-distant fire
Up, Up and Away
Who in the heck is Johnny Kaw?

As usual in my year end summary, here are the maps from the beginning and end of 2021.
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For readers unfamiliar with the color scheme on my maps, blue indicates counties where I’ve visited the county seat(s) and collected a postcard documenting my visit. Green is for counties where I’ve been to the county seat but don’t have the postcard proving I was there. Two of those, the one in NY state and the other in Oregon (both surrounded by blue counties) are the fault of the United States Postal Service. I mailed postcards that never arrived. At some point I’ll have to go back and try again. All of the other green counties represent places I visited prior to beginning this project over ten years ago. The light blue (cyan) counties are ones I’ve been in or through, but did not include a stop in the county seat. Many of those also predate my county collecting quest.

As noted earlier, the number of county seats from which I’ve documented my visits increased by 113, from 2,615 to 2,728. At the end of last year, I stated my ‘new normal’ goal is to collect about 100 each year, so I’m pleased to be have been able to reach that number. In years past it wasn’t too difficult to exceed 200 per year, but as I get closer to the finish line, it becomes more challenging. As of now there are only 421 cities/towns left to visit.

It’s hard to believe that at the end of 2011 my collection of postcards documenting my travels stood at just 201. Over the course of the last ten years, that number has grown significantly and now includes all 50 states. Twenty six states are complete; several others at or near 90% done. Overall, my current tally means I’ve been to 86.6% of all the county seats in the country.

Looking ahead to 2022, I haven’t given a lot of thought to which parts of the country to tackle. At the moment, I’m planning on finishing the last bit of Georgia, most likely in mid-January. After that, who knows? Wherever my travels take me (at least when they include adding additional counties) you can read it about it here.

Until then…
Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 12:39 Archived in USA Tagged county_collecting Comments (0)

Northern Minnesota is Paul Bunyan Country


View MN and ND on countycollector's travel map.

For the first time since the middle of February, I finally got out on the road again for a bit of county collecting. I debated whether it was wise to do any traveling given the restrictions and recommendations against taking non-essential trips. Things appeared to be getting back to normal in June, so I made the decision to start exploring again. My county collecting travels involve many hours alone in the car meaning interactions with others are relatively minimal.


My planned trip to Washington and Idaho in June fell through, but rather than reschedule that for July, I decided to forego the 5 hour flight for something shorter. With the requirement of wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, I didn’t want to spend more than a couple of hours in the air. For the same reason, I didn’t want to go somewhere that would require a connection. With the number of nonstop destinations from CMH somewhat limited, I settled on MSP which I could reach on Delta in under 2 hours. Though I had already completed the eastern and southern parts of the state, a couple dozen counties in rural northwest Minnesota presented an excellent opportunity especially at a time when avoiding large population centers is advisable.

Other than having to wear a mask and the reduced capacity on board, the flight was unremarkable. Delta is again serving beer and wine (no cocktails) in FC and Comfort+, so the mask requirement does have at least one loophole. I was surprised by small number of passengers in the airports. The last time I flew was in February and things were still relatively normal back then. Occasionally on returning home on a late night flight, I’ve seen empty airport concourses and all shops closed up tight. It’s strange to see that in the afternoon and evening when such places are usually bustling. No one rushing to make a close connection. Nobody shopping for the latest bestseller. Only a few well-spaced patrons in places where one can find a bar or restaurant that is actually open. No telling on how soon that will change.

The drive around northwest Minnesota was wonderful. While not quite as scenic as the northeast part of the state, there were still plenty of lakes along the way. Minnesota, known as the ‘Land of 10,000 lakes’ actually has over 11,000 of them. I have no idea how many I saw, but I do have a count of another claim to fame of this upper Midwestern state. Over the course of my 4-day trip, I spotted 4 different status of the American folk hero, Paul Bunyan. Minnesota is not the only state to have statues of Paul Bunyan, but it might have more of them packed into a small area that anywhere. From Brainerd to Jenkins to Akeley to Bemidji, I stopped whenever I saw one. One postcard I found called this part of north-central Minnesota “Paul Bunyan Vacationland.”
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In addition to parts of Minnesota, I also covered most of eastern North Dakota, spending a night in Fargo, Grand Forks, and again in Fargo. Both hotels in Fargo (Delta and Element) offered mobile keys, and for the first time ever, I had zero interaction with anyone from either property. Under normal circumstances, this might not be ideal, but with Covid-19 a concern, it wasn’t such a bad idea this trip. Check-in/out was via app; phone unlocked the room. I didn’t bother with whatever limited breakfast options that may have been available. Points and nights credited fine.

Beyond the larger-than-life lumberjack, there were some other curiosities along the way. At the northern end of US 75 is a now-closed border crossing into Canada. The abandoned US Customs station is still there. It’s quiet, almost eerily so, though the eastern edge of Emerson, MB is visible beyond the barricade across the road. Those wishing to enter Canada now use I-29 in North Dakota. For the curious, do an internet search for Noyes-Emerson border crossing.

Another fascinating sight is the replica stave church in Moorhead, MN just across the river from Fargo. It might be worth a visit to the adjacent museum if you want to get a look inside or to see the Viking long ship also on display. Many in both North Dakota and Minnesota are proud of their Scandinavian heritage and it is not uncommon to see towns with names like Oslo and Scandia.
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Over the course of the trip, I collected 39 counties, 28 in MN and 11 in ND. It would have been 40, but one postcard from Minnesota failed to arrive. I’m still hoping it shows up, but now roughly two weeks after returning home, those hopes are diminishing. If I do have to return to Otter Tail County, it won’t be too far away from counties in North or South Dakota I still need to visit. Here are the before and after maps showing my progress. For details on what the colors mean, check out my earlier blog entry County Collecting Basics.
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Throughout my trip, I did my best to adhere to the proper social distancing guidelines. Even so, upon returning home, I decided to get tested for Covid-19 on the slight chance that I might have been exposed to the virus while on the plane or elsewhere in my travels. My results came back within 24-hours and, as expected, they were negative. While quick and painless, the test was decidedly uncomfortable. I think if I had to get tested every time I return home from out of state, I’d rather not go anywhere at all.

I would like to get out for some additional county collecting later this year. Whether that is possible is hard to predict. If so, you can read about it here. If not, I guess the next post will be my annual Year in Review. I’m hopeful there will be a few more trips before then. Time will tell.

Until then…

Happy Travels
Brian

Posted by countycollector 22:54 Archived in USA Tagged minnesota north_dakota county_collecting paul_bunyan Comments (3)

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