Parts 1 and 2 got us most of the way through the all fifty states club of America. This last post will pick up where we left off in North Carolina and highlight interesting/fun things I saw/did whilst exploring the USA. Funny thing–turns out I’m not so good at remembering all of the states. I was supposed to go through the Ns but I forgot two. Whoops.
North Carolina: Halloween in Asheville
Asheville is a little pocket of weirdo in a seemingly normal state. It was delightful to explore this cute town located in the mountains and trees in Western North Carolina. B and I just happened to hit town on October 31, so we decided to dress up and find somewhere to spend Halloween with the natives. We ended at a concert (no idea who the band was) and had a great time partying with all of the other be-costumed revelers. The best moment of the night was when the main act came out and five hairy, bearded, scrungy fellas proceeded to play and sing for the next few hours dressed up as Disney Princesses. Yikes.
North Dakota: Fargo (dontcha know)
North Dakota is typically one of the last states that people hit on their quest to see all 50 states. It’s isolated, kinda empty and there’s not much to do. I had very low expectations for this northern state when I headed out for a solo trip to Fargo. I didn’t see anyone chopped up in a wood chipper, but I did see a surprisingly cute downtown road with a few fun boutique-y stores and good restaurants. Who knew? The 20ish-year-old kid who checked me into my hotel gave me a map of downtown, just for funsies (that last part is a direct quote, people). So visit North Dakota, friends, just for funsies.
Ohio: the Stones
One of my life goals was accomplished in 2015: I saw the Rolling Stones in concert. When I learned they were touring the U.S., I knew this was my moment to make it happen. I booked a trip to Columbus, Ohio, and even though I just went by myself, when Mick, Keith, and the boys took the stage, I was in the company of 60,000 of my new besties, dancing and singing our hearts out. I tell you what, when Keith played the intro to “Paint it Black,” I knew I had made the right decision to fly across the U.S. Ohio State has a huge stadium, easily the biggest I’ve ever been in. I can only imagine what it is like when it is packed with die-hard football fans.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma City National Memorial
Well, it had to happen sooner or later–I’m adding a sad item to my 50 states list. The Okie City National Memorial is a poignant reminder that one misguided person can change the lives of countless others. The memorial is at ground zero of the bombing that happened in 1995. Instead of a tall Federal building, there is a grassy area with metal and glass chairs, 168 in number, with the name of each person who lost their lives during the bombing. B and I went at dusk and the chairs were lit up, making the memorial even more haunting. It is sad, but very moving.
Oregon: the Pendleton Roundup
B did a great write up of this, one of the most famous of the Western Rodeos. If you aren’t familiar with rodeos, A) you are definitely missing out and B) they are events that highlight the prowess of cowgirls and cowboys and the speed and beauty of animals. The Pendleton Roundup is unique in that it takes place on grass instead of dirt. If it rains, like it did when C, B and I went last year, it adds an element of excitement to an already exciting venture because every animal (human and not) slips around on the wet grass.
Pennsylvania: Philly Cheese Steak
Not many cities are renowned for an item of food. Being as Philadelphia is, B and I knew we were going to have to make a special stop at a sandwich shop to partake of the signature dish. We were not disappointed. After researching ‘best cheese steak’ and coming up with several places that locals seem to swear by, we realized it was probably just a matter of preference of the people being asked. They were probably all good. Heaven knows the shop we ended up at was quite tasty. Good meat, grilled peppers and onions (for me, not B) and cheese on a grilled bun. How can you go wrong with that combo?
Rhode Island: Newport
Around the beginning of the 1900s, the rich and famous on the east coast needed a place to get away when city life became a little too much. Hence, the Vanderbilts, Astors and other richy richies built gi-normous mansions on the coast of Newport, Rhode Island. You can take the Cliff Walk and explore some of these truly incredible houses and dream about what it was like to live like a king during this time.
South Carolina: God’s Acre Healing Springs
While solo travel can be good because you get to do whatever you want, it is also fun to travel with friends because you end up at places you never would have by your own accord. Like when B got the idea to visit rural South Carolina on a quest for some Healing Waters that bubbled up from a natural spring. God’s Acre Healing Springs is in fact a spigot poking out of the ground, but believers drink it to cure their ailments. We drank some and quenched our thirst and got moving down the road.
South Dakota: Badlands
I’m probably just choosing this because it is one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. However, regardless of The Boss, the Badlands in South Dakota are pretty dang cool. It is eerie land, nothing much seems to grow and all you see are sand colored hills that look kind of decrepit as wind and water have eroded them greatly over the last few millennia. I enjoyed hiking around Badlands National Park and seeing the complete absence of what you normally see on hikes (trees, flowers, etc.).
Tennessee: Pigeon Forge
Okay, Pigeon Forge is actually a horrifying little town, but it does have one gem that is well worth putting up with the town to see: Dollywood. This is the amusement/theme park that is jointly owned by the diva Dolly Parton. Since Dolly Parton is awesome, it just goes to show that Dollywood is also. The theme of the park is old timey, so it feels like you climbed back into the 1800s Appalachia, except of course for the giant roller coasters sprinkled here and there. We went on a wooden roller coaster that tossed me around like a rag doll–I had stuffed my sunglasses into my tight shirt and by the end of the ride they were on the ground by my shoes. No idea how that happened.
My folks spend the winters in Texas, so I have a lot of good memories of this giant state. FYI: it takes 467 days to drive from one side to the other. For reals. Anyway, a few years ago, B and I had the opportunity to visit a Texas institution, John T. Floore’s Country Store. This is a good ol’ fashioned honky tonk and for two nights we rocked out to the Randy Rogers Band as they recorded a live album. My one regret is that I didn’t try the famous Floore’s Hot Tamales. Luckily, this gives me a perfect reason to go back.
Utah: National Parks
Utah is one of the most incredible states when it comes to geological kick-buttness. There are some beautiful red rock formations in several national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef. These parks are must sees, must hikes, and must make time to visit before you die. The word is out though. In the news recently there was an article about how Zion might start having a daily limit of visitors because so many people want to visit. Here’s a tip: go outside the summer months. It is still strikingly beautiful–maybe even more so because white snow contrasts with the red rock and blue sky.
Vermont: A real New England B&B
B and I visited Vermont during a freakish cold snap in the middle of January. We used the totes adorbs town of Woodstock as our home base and splurged on a B&B. Excellent decision. Our B&B was in a historic farm house outside of town. The hosts were true delights and we had the whole house to ourselves (this is saying something–this place was huge). Instead of watching TV in our room, we opted to spend our time in the music room. I’m not sure if our hosts appreciated our performances, but we had a great time playing the guitars and piano. And when the show was over, we worked on a puzzle. We stayed warm and toasty inside with our hot beverages while it dipped into negative digits outside.
Virginia: Antiquing in the Sticks
On another solo trip, I ventured into rural Virginia. I wanted to get a feel for what life was like outside the big cities so I reserved a room at a quaint hotel in a town that I can’t actually remember the name of. (Pretty much closed my eyes and pointed at a town on the map. I don’t feel like my experience was unique, though. I suspect any number of small towns on the Blue Ridge Parkway belt would be cute and have antique shops.) The next day I visited several of the town’s antique stores, purchasing a ceramic cream and sugar set. Unfortunately, on the flight home the lid to my sugar bowl fell out of my bag, probably under the seat in front of me. Perhaps it made it to the Unclaimed Baggage store in Alabama, but most likely it was chucked by the cleaning staff.
Washington: Sailing across the Sound
My sister lived on the opposite side of the Puget Sound from Seattle for many years. To get to her house, I would typically take the ferry across the sound. During one visit, her friend was taking out his sailboat and asked if we would like to join him. Heck yes, I would. I learned how to steer a sailboat with the Seattle skyline in front of me. Once I got the hang of it I did pretty well, managing not to hit any other boats or sea life. That I know of.
West Virginia: Harper’s Ferry
Before Abraham Lincoln emancipated slaves, a white abolitionist in West Virginia attempted to set them free. He failed, pretty spectacularly, but will go down in the history books as someone who took a stand. The town of Harper’s Ferry has been preserved to look the way it did back in John Brown’s day. I was lucky enough to visit during the fall, so I was able to see history and the beautiful fall colors turning on the trees.
I don’t drink beer, but I can appreciate the mechanical prowess that is required to bottle and ship millions of bottles of beer. On a visit to Milwaukee, we toured the Milwaukee’s Best factory. It was pretty awesome, even if I didn’t taste the samples at the end.
Wyoming: Devil’s Tower
In the middle of a Wyoming prairie, a giant column of igneous rock juts out of the flat landscape. This column is made of magma that cooled and the rest of the sedimentary land eroded around it, leaving a big tower. Like 1,200 feet out of the ground. Mom and I took a road trip across the U.S. and stopped at Devil’s Tower right around dusk. We had enough time to hike around the base and enjoy the pink and red hues that the Tower turned as the sun set.
Well, that’s it. All 50 states. There are technically five more permanently inhabited U.S. territories that I could venture to (hey, I’ve already been to one, Puerto Rico); maybe when I hit the other four I’ll write an addendum post. What I’ve learned through all these travels is that America is incredibly varied and diverse. I can honestly say that I enjoyed a long road trip through the Southern states as much as I enjoyed going to many international destinations (and in some places, they felt just as foreign to me!). So if a big trip overseas isn’t in the cards or the budget, you can have just as much fun exploring new areas of your own country.