Lucky for us, we have both visited all fifty states and have become members of the all fifty states club. We both had a very strong start independently at checking off the states, but when we became friends, we made a couple trips to finish things up. This post is about our efforts to join the all fifty states club part 1. Go here to read part 2 and here to read part 3.
Deciding what counts to be able to check off a state on your list is a matter of personal preference. Some people run a marathon (crazy) or climb the highest mountain (my brother) or visit the state capitol building; the list goes on and on. It really is up to you to decide how you want to define it, although pretty much everyone agrees that a layover at an airport shouldn’t count.
For me, I decided that I had to have done something or seen something specific in that state to count it. The list is pretty random, but if you are looking for things to do so you can check off a new state, you might want to try some of them out.
Alabama: Unclaimed Baggage Store
Have you ever left something on an airplane and wondered what happened to it after you exited the plane, never to see it again? Well, all the forgotten books, headphones, and sweaters go to rest is a strange little store in northern Alabama called Unclaimed Baggage. We had a good time browsing through the shelves of random goods, but I couldn’t help feeling a little sad for all of the lost treasures and the people who looked all over for them, to no avail.
Alaska is one of my favorite states. I spent two glorious summers there avoiding real life before and after graduate school. It’s pretty hard to pick out just one experience there, but I would highly recommend taking a helicopter ride in the Denali National Park area. You’ll be able to see for miles and miles and get swept away by the white mountain peaks and blue water of the glacier pools.
Arizona: Route 66
This stretch of the iconic Route 66 is pretty rad–you’ll drive through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. Depending on the time of day and weather, the Painted Desert might be all sorts of colors. When we drove through, the red in the sand contrasted fantastically with the bright blue sky. Petrified Forest National Park is chock full of pieces of, you guessed it, petrified wood. You want to make sure not to take any home as souvenirs though. The Park Headquarters gets pieces sent to them in the mail every day from people who have picked up a piece of wood and brought it home, only to have their life take a turn for the worse. It’s bad juju to steal a piece, and the only way to reverse the curse is to send it back to it’s rightful home.
Arkansas: the booming metropolis of…Pine Bluff?
When B and I were making a grand loop of the Southern States, we spent the night visiting my cousins in a suburb of Little Rock called Pine Bluff. We took a tour of the town and saw my cousin’s university. It wasn’t an earth-shattering visit to the state, but I did (re)learn an important travel lesson: after a few weeks of go, go, go, it is really nice to just stop and take it easy. And eating a home-cooked meal after all the restaurants and fast food places was amazing!
California: the Motherland
I have had a lot of experiences in California. I was born there. My parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, all pretty much live in California. I have put in a lot of time making the drive from B-town across Donner Summit and into the Sacramento Valley. But if I’m picking experiences that readers might be interested in, I would probably have to go with the Northern California coast. This water is pretty cold, so you might not want to go swimming. But man, is it pretty. There’s a street named after my family in the town of Mendocino which, if you visit, you might just recognize as the setting for the “Murder, She Wrote” television series. (Maine, my eye.)
Colorado: Musicfest at Steamboat Springs, CO
Imagine skiing all day and watching concerts all night. Now imagine doing that with about 40 bands and 6,000 (mainly) drunk Texans. It is a party. After two years of attending the craziness, B and I decided we couldn’t keep up with the shenanigans. (We had a REALLY good time those two years, though!)
Connecticut: Mystic Seaport
I had fond memories of watching “Mystic Pizza” when I was younger (although to be honest, I don’t remember the plot at all). So when I was in Connecticut, I decided to go to the town of Mystic. The Seaport is the largest maritime museum in the U.S. and there are lots of cool ships you can check out. Ironically, I didn’t eat pizza while I was in town.
B and I both needed to visit this tiny little (2nd smallest) state. We purposefully got train tickets in and out of Dover, but when we got there we didn’t actually see that much we wanted to do. We walked along a riverfront and explored a bustling food market. After a stop at a brewery, we loaded back up and headed out again.
Florida: Benvenido a Miami
On the way to Ecuador, B and I decided to stop for a few days in Miami (because why not?). Our shuttle dropped us off at the hotel on Miami South Beach around 2:00 a.m., but you wouldn’t have guessed it was that time by the number of people milling around, eating, drinking and looking all fancy. Talk about not fitting in! The next day we spent chilling on the white sand and swimming in the warm water (and picking up a Cubano for B). Funny thing: Miami felt just as foreign to us and Ecuador did, once we got there.
You know when you have an idea about something and when you get there, it just doesn’t live up to what you had imagined? Well, that did not happen when I visited Savannah. There is a main road that runs from downtown into a residential area with huge mansions, and when you walk down it the sun is blocked by gigantic moss-covered trees lining the street. I could practically see Kevin Spacey walking around in “The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Actually, I’m pretty sure we saw the house where that was set.
Hawaii: Mustangs on the Coastline
Hawaii was the last of my 50 states I visited and I wanted to go out with a bang. So, B and I opted to splurge and we rented a Mustang convertible for our week on the Big Island. If that sounds too warm, I have three words for you: air-conditioned seats. We put down the roof, cranked up the ac on our bums and had a fantastic time feeling like ballers.
Idaho: Ah, home
One of my favorite things about my hometown is that the foothills border Boise. Outsiders might think they are ugly and brown. (To be fair, they are. Boise is in a desert, after all.) But when I look at them I see hiking and mountain biking and freedom from my cares, all about five minutes from downtown.
On the way to Eastern Europe, B, C and I stopped off in Chicago to visit some of our friends who had moved there to attend school. We had a great time and our hosts were so wonderful. We walked across the river that gets turned green in March, ate tapas at a hip restaurant, saw the “Adventures in Babysitting” building, and rode rented bikes along Lake Michigan. All in all, it was a great vacation on the way to a great vacation.
Indiana: New Harmony
When traveling anywhere with my dad, I’m sure to get off the beaten path and see things most people have never heard of. Such was the case in Indiana when we visited the town of New Harmony. This town was founded twice by two different groups of people trying to live communally in the 1800s. Neither worked.
Iowa: Corn fields, motels and humidity
Iowa was a tricky state to visit. I have crossed the U.S. multiple times driving, but somehow never managed to hit up the great state of Iowa. After a lot of driving and a lot of corn fields, I ended up staying the night at a retro motel in Spencer, Iowa. For dinner, I went to one of the few restaurants open and a man from Texas bought my dinner because he thought I was a movie star…playing it cool. Sure, this experience has more to do with the story and less to do with the state. But you know what? I’m not going to forget the time I spent in Iowa.
Kansas: Ft. Leavenworth Military Prison
If you’re wondering why a military prison stands out to me during my time in Kansas, you’ve probably never tried to drive across this state. It is Capital F flat and all you’ll see for hundreds of miles is soybean plants and corn stalks. So when we took a drive around the United States Disciplinary Barracks (aka ‘Leavenworth’) facility, it left an impression. This is the place that the keeps serious offenders who have been convicted in the military courts, and it was pretty intense to see it. We visited the small cemetery where interestingly, there are unmarked graves for 14 German POWs who were convicted of crimes while being POWs.
No, I wasn’t there for the Kentucky Derby. But I did visit Churchill Downs and was impressed by the size of the place. I went on a tour of the facility and could practically smell the money that was won and lost at this racetrack. Did you know that in 2017, $200 million was wagered at this place…during one race…that lasted two minutes? Crazy.
Well, when I started writing this post I planned on getting through all fifty states. Turns out I had a lot to say. Stay tuned to future posts to learn about the other states. This country is pretty great and has lots of amazing things to see and experience. Get out there, check off another state and get working on your own all fifty states club part 1 list.
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