Tuesday, May 26, 2015

MONTANA!

Memorial Day weekend, 2015 found us taking a little road trip to Montana. Our definition of “little” ended up equating to nearly 36 hours of drive time. But hey, we had fun!

We left our home on Friday night and drove to my fiance’s mother’s house. She lives on the far west side of Wisconsin. So this gave us a nice jump start for the weekend ahead.

On Saturday morning we headed out. Our destination was Aberdeen, South Dakota. Along the way we picked up four new counties in Minnesota: Pope, Stevens, Big Stone and Traverse – the latter of which we had to drive a mile out of our way to reach. While we did hit a few additional counties leading up to these four, they’d all been ones we’d been to before.

In the city of Glenwood we stumbled upon an interesting display entitled “Pottyville.” Apparently a couple of neighbors decided to start a used outhouse collection - the results of which you can see below.




After leaving Traverse County we headed south and west, crossing into South Dakota on HWY 12 in Ortonville. We followed the highway all the way to our hotel, the TownePlace Suites in Aberdeen. Along the way we drove through Grant, Roberts, Day and Brown Counties. We’d hoped to stop in Webster to see the museum that holds the world’s largest hairball. But it was closed by the time we arrived. So that grossness will have to wait for another day.

We did however get to visit an unusual park in Aberdeen. Being as L. Frank Baum (author of “The Wizard Of Oz”) had once lived in Aberdeen, the city built a park called “Storybook Land.” It features several Oz-themed attractions as well as other storybook attractions and a petting zoo. It was wonderfully odd. But it was very well-maintained. We found it a little strange that a town the size of Aberdeen would be able to support such a place. But they do. Be sure to go into Dorothy’s house to experience the tornado!






On Sunday we had our longest driving day planned. We got an early start, got back on HWY 12, and headed west. We picked up Edmunds, Walworth and Corson County before we took our first detour. After we crossed the Missouri River we veered south a few miles to see the (disputed) grave of Sitting Bull. We then took a slight side trip a little further south to cross into Dewey County. It was the middle of nowhere. And there was no county sign. But we went far enough to know that we were in.


We then got back on HWY 12 and continued northwest.  The highway runs parallel to the North Dakota border for 30-40 miles. At its closest point it’s less than one mile away. So of course we had to cross over into Sioux County.


When we got back on HWY 12 in South Dakota again we only had to go about two miles in order to get into Perkins County. We of course had to stop in Lemmon to see their Petrified Wood Park.


After hovering close to North Dakota for so long, HWY 12 finally crosses the state line. As we entered we crossed Adams County off our list. We then had to take another detour to hit Harding County, SD. So we followed HWY 22 south from the city of Reeder. It was 12 miles there and back. But in the quest for “no county left behind” we did it. Once we got back on HWY 12 we continued northwest, driving through Bowman and Slope Counties in North Dakota. We then crossed the border into Montana – and Fallon County.


We had planned to fill the car with gas in Baker, MT before heading south on HWY 7/323 toward Alzada. Unfortunately we forgot. About halfway there (picking up Carter County on the way) we suddenly realized that gas might be a problem. We had enough gas to get to Alzada. But according to our GPS there were no gas stations in Alzada. And the closest one was in Hulett, Wyoming – about 30 miles south of Alzada. And according to our car we’d run out of gas about two miles before we got there. Although we had a phone signal, we had no internet access. So we couldn’t verify anything. We decided we’d go for Hulett. Our GPS was nice enough to give us the phone number for the gas station there. So of course I tried it just to verify that they were still open for business. And of course they didn’t answer. So again we started to panic. The fact that it was raining didn't help any. We then decided to contact AAA. They were able to confirm that in spite of our GPS, there was indeed a gas station in Alzada. And sure enough as we pulled into town we saw the B&J Convenience Store. The gas was a little pricey. But it was a very welcome sight.

After we filled up we headed northwest on HWY 212. Our goal was the city of Boyes, and more specifically Powder River County. Hitting this county was a 35-mile “turnaround.” Generally speaking we would never travel that far just for one county. But it was in the middle of nowhere. And we’d managed to get into every other county surrounding it. If we didn’t go these 35 miles now, we’d have to go much further at some point in the future. No county left behind…


We immediately turned around and followed HWY 212 back from where we’d come. Shortly after Alzada we passed into the state of Wyoming. We spent about 20 miles in it before we got back into South Dakota – and the new county of Butte. The one Wyoming county we were in was one we’d gotten to two years earlier.


We drove through the city of Sturgis. It was a few months before the annual motorcycle convention. But the motif is always evident.



From Sturgis we got onto HWY 34 – which was basically a straight shot to our hotel in the state capitol of Pierre. Along the way we picked up the new counties of Ziebach, Haakon, Stanley and Hughes. We spent the night at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel. Ziebach County is apparently the 15th least-visited U.S. county among county collectors. So it was nice to cross that hard one off our list!


On Monday we headed out for the long journey home. We got on HWY 34 and went east, following it all the way to the Minnesota border. Along the way we drove through Hyde, Buffalo, Jerauld, Sanborn, Miner, Lake and Moody Counties. Once we got into Minnesota the road changed into HWY 30. We continued to follow it through Pipestone, Murray, Cottonwood and Watonwan Counties.


As we headed toward Mankato we entered Blue Earth County. We had to slightly veer off course and cross the Minnesota River once we entered town. By doing so we ended up in Nicollet County. From there we were able to put our home into the GPS. We still had about six hours of driving. But the most direct route home also picked up Waseca, Steele and Dodge Counties. And as we approached Rochester, there were no new counties to reach the rest of the way.

It was a crazy fun weekend, and arguably our most ambitious weekend road trip to date. In the end we drove 2200 miles in 36 hours. What’s up next? We’re only two weeks away from a weekend road trip through Missouri and Arkansas. We’ll see you then!


                                                NEW COUNTIES – 42
                                                TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2015 – 159
                                                ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL – 921
                                                

Monday, May 4, 2015

THE FLORIDA KEYS

In late April we decided to take a little weekend getaway to the Florida Keys. We had less than two full days in Florida. So our time was limited. Nonetheless we covered a fair amount of ground.

We flew into Fort Myers, arriving about 9:30 at night. We had a 2.5 hour drive to get to our hotel in Homestead. The airport was in Lee County. The route itself passed through Collier, Broward, then finally Miami-Dade counties. We arrived at the Hampton Inn & Suites around midnight. So even though the majority of the drive went through the Florida Everglades area on I-75, we couldn’t really see much of it.

The following morning we set out for our desired destination: Key West. It’s a beautiful drive down HWY 1. The entire Florida Keys are in Monroe County. Thus it was the only new county for us that day. The first city you hit is Key Largo. And it’s nearly impossible to not start singing the Bertie Higgins song as you’re passing through. “Here’s lookin’ at you kid…”

 
Key West is the end of the road. You know it from the mile marker zero. The chaos of Duval St. also tells you you’ve arrived.
 








We spent one night in Key West at the Best Western Key Ambassador Resort, then had to drive back to Fort Myers for an evening flight. Did we drive directly to the airport on the same route back? Of course not! We had seven more counties to hit! This time instead of getting back on I-75 we went north toward the small cities of Belle Glade and Pahokee. Both places are in Palm Beach County. We stopped in the Belle Glade McDonald’s for a quick bite to eat. Our route then continued north on HWY 98, hovering right next to Lake Okeechobee.  Eventually we hit the Martin County line. Both of these counties are fairly common visits for county collectors. But I’m guessing that few of us enter them where we did.







 
We turned around and headed back to Pahokee, going through it and continuing to follow the Lake until we were headed west toward the city of Clewiston. Considering that we drove right next to about 1/3 of the entire Lake, we were amazed how little of it can actually be seen from the road. There’s a bluff that rises higher than the road almost the entire way. A few miles before hitting Clewiston we entered Hendry County – one of the rarer counties for county collectors to hit. The same can be same for Glades County (which we hit next) just to the north of it. By this point we were on HWY 80 headed west. Unbeknownst to us the road actually barely crossed into Glades County. But just to “be sure” we turned on HWY 27 north toward Moore Haven, went about the equivalent of a city block, then turned around. But thanks to this little side trip we were able to snap a picture of the county sign.

 
At this point we put Sarasota in the GPS. Once we hopped on I-75 we crossed into Charlotte, DeSoto and Sarasota Counties. Our time in DeSoto County was very brief – perhaps only 1000 feet before the Sarasota County line. But I still managed to get a picture of the county sign. Sarasota County was our last new county of the trip. And once we hit it we had to go another five miles before we were able to get of the interstate and turn around to go back toward the airport.




Our weekend getaway netted 12 new counties, completing the entire lower third of Florida, and giving us 117 new counties for 2015. Our grand total now stands at 879. What’s next? A Montana road trip awaits us over Memorial Day weekend. We’ll see you then!