The all fifty states club part 2 picks up where we left off in the first part of this series. This series explores interesting things to see and do in all fifty of the United States of America. (You can also go here to read part three.) We will now pick up with the middle. Incidentally, have you ever noticed how many of the states in the U.S. begin with the letters ‘M’ and ‘N?’ Except for Louisiana, this post will focus solely on states that begin with these two letters. Weird.
Everybody needs to go to New Orleans at some point. When I am traveling I usually lump together big cities as basically all the same in my head. Well, this generalization doesn’t work for NoLa. It is one of a kind. I have been here two times in the last few years and I can recommend a lot of things: cemeteries, ghost tours, WW2 museum, French Quarter, American Quarter, jazz festivals, the list can go on and on. But what I want to highlight here is the swamp tour B and I took.
We arrived at the swamp after about an hour driving from downtown New Orleans. We piled on a boat and for the next few hours, our tour guide powered us around swamps, pointing out gators, homemade fishing bobbers made of milk cartons and empty plastic bottles, and the interesting plants and birds native to this habitat. My favorite part of the experience was listening to this guy; I had no idea that Adam Sandler was spoofing people by the way he talked in Water Boy. But sure enough, our guide sounded exactly like that. Classic.
A few years ago, B’s and my work trips to the East Coast fortuitously occurred around the same time. Like we’ve said in previous posts, when work takes you places you really should make good use and take the opportunity to explore somewhere new. We did this and took a trip around the Northeast. Maybe not so fortuitously, it was the middle of February and the Northeast was experiencing a crazy snow season. I’ve never seen snow that high! It was as higher than I am tall. When we got to Acadia National Park, it was gorgeous, albeit a frozen tundra. This state was really cool and I definitely want to visit again in different conditions.
Maryland: Assateague Island Ponies
On an different work trip to Washington D.C., I rented a car and drove along the mid-Atlantic seaboard. I had watched a program on PBS about the wild horses found on this skinny island that stretches for 37 miles off Virginia and Maryland and wanted to see these guys in person. After driving around for awhile, I turned a corner and there they were. I was on the Maryland side of the island at this point, so the horses are managed by the National Park Service. Their population is kept in check by contraception; on the TV show I was watched someone shot a dart into the bum of a female horse so she wouldn’t get pregnant that year. Talk about crazy jobs! On the Virginia side of the island, cowboy types round up some of the horses once a year and auction them off.
Massachusetts: Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard is an island off of Cape Cod, the part of Massachusetts that juts out into the ocean. Like a lot of Cape Cod, it is known for swanky houses, democrats and people who wear sweaters tied around their shoulders. I spent a week visiting my dad in Cape Cod and took advantage of the handy ferry schedule that takes you the seven miles or so to and from the island. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to be that impressed since I assumed it would be uber pretentious, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I rented a bike and cruised around a few of the towns. My favorite part was the Victorian cottages in the town of Oak Bluffs. These adorable and very well preserved houses look like colorful gingerbread houses. They are small and intricate and frilly, if houses can be frilly. Definitely worth the trip over from the mainland.
Michigan: The Henry Ford Museum
When I was getting close to finishing up all 50 states, I realized I couldn’t come up with a memory of Michigan. This seemed improbable because I had driven from Massachusetts to Idaho and it is on the way. But to be true to my 50 state list, I decided to make a special trip to this state. My experience of choice was the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn. I figured this museum would be all about cars and while it did have a lot of that, it had so much more. I saw JFK’s limo, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from the Ford Theater, and unrelated to assassinated presidents, the bus on which Rosa Parks was riding when she opted to change American history.
Minnesota: Minnesota State Fair
I really like fairs and try to go to the Western Idaho Fair every year. I mistakenly assumed other state fairs would be on the scale of Idaho’s. Definitely not the case in Minnesota. I’m pretty sure this fair is one of the signature events of the year in this northern state. And why wouldn’t it be? I ate fried cookie dough, saw two lumberjacks race each other to cut down a tree using chainsaws, and listened to Sturgill Simpson, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard (may he rest in peace) sing. It was, all in all, a magical evening.
Mississippi: High Cotton
As B and I drove through the southern states we noticed a crop we weren’t familiar with. We decided to pull over and check out what the fluffy white stuff was and discovered to our delight we were looking at rows and rows of cotton. We (of course) took pictures and were (rightfully) embarrassed when a nice southern gentleman stopped his car to make sure we were okay and our vehicle hadn’t broken down. No sir, we’re fine, just some yankees who hadn’t seen cotton before.
Missouri: Antiques Roadshow
Okay, truth be told, I had already been to Missouri before we went to the Antiques Roadshow in St. Louis. But it is just one of my favorite memories, so I am going to put it down as my favorite experience in the state of Missouri. You can read all about it in this post, but suffice it to say I had a great time at the Roadshow and was impressed with the host city of St. Louis to boot. I hadn’t expected much beyond an Arch, but we really had a good time exploring this city.
Montana: Glacier National Park
When my brother and his wife decided to get hitched at Glacier National Park, it seemed very fitting. Also fitting is the fact that in Montana anybody can perform a marriage ceremony. Ha! And so it was that a small group of us hiked down a trail and my dad presided as they became a spousal unit. BTW, Glacier is gorgeous. I highly recommend visiting this special park, especially because the glaciers that the park is named for are supposed to melt in the next few decades.
Nebraska: Scotts Bluff
For anyone driving through Nebraska, you should know it takes a loooong time to get from one side to the other. I drove through from east to west and close to the border I stopped in at Scotts Bluff National Monument. It was at this point that I stopped feeling sorry for myself and how long it was taking to get across Nebraska; you see, Scott’s Bluff is on the trail that a hundred and fifty years ago people walked or rode in wagons to get across as they were slowly making their way to Oregon, Utah and California.
Nevada: The town of Reno, Nevada, is in between Boise and Northern California. As such, I have driven ol’ I-80 more times than I can remember. We would always pass through Reno and before we started climbing up towards Donner’s Summit we would turn off and visit Boomtown. When we were younger, we would play in the robust kid’s area. But when I reached 18, I started hitting the slots. Early on I hit big and won $250. I probably have lost almost that over the years, but I still like to pop in while I’m driving through.
New Hampshire: Live Free or Die
New Hampshire’s license plate reads, ‘Live Free or Die.’ We had only been in New Hampshire for a few minutes when we understood why New Hampshirans picked this motto. We were driving up to a red light when we saw multiple cars treat the read light like a stop sign, stopping and then proceeding through the red light. It was clear from oncoming traffic, and even though the law said stop, New Hampshirans made up their own minds and went. Respect.
New Jersey: Living in the ‘burbs
Many moon’s ago, my friend and I visited New York City for about a week. Instead of staying in Manhattan, we stayed with her family in New Jersey and caught the train into town (along with all the other big whigs who work in the Big Apple). For several days we explored the hustle and bustle of the big city and at night settled into a comfortable suburban home. At the end of the week, I could kind of get why people would spend two hours commuting instead of living in smaller houses closer to the big city. Kind of.
New Mexico: White Sand
In South Central New Mexico, there is a strange desert whose sand is white instead of the normal tan color. This is because the sand in this area is made of gypsum; in fact, this is the largest gypsum sand dune in the world. If you visit you should go on a hike, but make sure you don’t get lost and wind up next door on the military’s White Sands Missile Range.
New York: The Mets
On the aforementioned trip I took to New Jersey/New York, I saw and did lots of great things. It’s hard to narrow down to my favorite, but I think it would have to be splurging at a New York Mets baseball game. My friend’s uncle was very generous and took us to see the Mets. He went all out and we ended up with seats just above the Mets dugout. I got to see Mike Piazza up close and personal as I chowed down on a doctored up hot dog. That was my first experience with major league baseball and even though I have yet to get as good of seats, I always make sure to eat a big league hot dog at every game I go to.
The states in the middle of the alphabet were a pleasure to visit. Have you been to or is one of these your home state? What has been you favorite experience visiting the Middles? Stay tuned for the final segment in this series to hear about U.S. states. Quick–what is the last state of the 50 states alphabetically?…Wyoming.