Monday, November 16, 2009

Only 100 Counties To Go

This past week I took a road trip in which I completed visiting each of the 67 counties in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania.  I stopped to take this photo upon entering Wyoming County from Sullivan County, traveling east on PA-87. Wyoming County was my 66th Pennsylvania county and #3,042 in my overall quest to visit each of the 3,142 counties or county equivilents in the United States at least once in my lifetime. From here, there are only 100 counties to go.

The first time I remember visiting Pennsylvania was a trip to to preach revival services in a church in Erie in August, 1964.  I was a 19-year-old youth evangelist then.  Nine years later I moved to the Keystone State for a total of four years (1973-1977), living for one year in the Philadelphia area and three years in Harrisburg.  During that time, and on subsequent visits, I traveled over most of the state.  Still, a few spots waited to be filled in on my County Quest.   

I have seen much of Pennsylvania on foot - hiking literally hundreds of miles through the state during the time I lived there.  My hikes included the entire 232 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, from the Maryland, on the Mason-Dixon line, to the Delaware Water Gap on the New Jersey state line.  Also, I hiked the entire 140 mile length of the Horse Shoe Trail, and parts or all of several other Pennsylvania trails.

Before ever visiting Pennsylvania, I always thought of it as a place of big cities and heavy industry - like steel mills.  Actually, most of the state is made up of beautiful wooded ridges interspersed with fertile green valleys, clear running streams, abundant wildlife, and some of the prettiest farms to be found anywhere.  "Penns Woods"  is a state of delightful discoveries.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Geographical Center of the United States

Travel to every county of the United States and eventually you may come across the center of the whole country. I did just that in a visit with my wife to South Dakota this past September - and we discovered that the "Center of the Nation" is in the middle of nowhere.

This flag, on a private ranch in Butte County, South Dakota, marks that spot. We found it by following an unpaved road for several miles, then climbing through a barbed wire fence and hiking the last hundred yards or so. The nearest town is Belle Fourche, about 20 miles to the south.  

Embedded in concrete at the base of the flag is a reference mark (Center - No. 1) placed by the U. S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survery in 1962. The flag and marker is surrounded by open prairie as far as the eye can see in all directions. It's a great spot in which to stand and contemplate the eternal verities of life.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My 10,000th Photo on Flickr

To remember all the special places I visit on my county quest I take LOTS of pictures. For more than a year now I've been posting them on

I actually print out very few of these pictures, but love cataloging them on line, both for my own pleasure and to share them with others. My photos are now receiving an average of over 1000 views per day and almost daily someone asks permission to use one or more of them in a blog, on a website, or for publication. It's very gratifying to get notes from folks all over the country who have googled them up.

After uploading this photo I realized it was my 10,000th photo on Flickr.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Howder Family Travel Adventures

Here's another website I found of a family which is counting their counties. Looks like they've got a great start - with more than 30% completed - in all 50 states. Readers of this blog may be interested in following this link:


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meeting a True Travel Hero

Here I am with world traveler extraordinaire John Frankenfield from Florida, at the Bayfront Convention Center, Erie, Pennsylvania. We are at the annual meeting of the Extra Miler Club, June 27, 2009.

John is holding up one of three thick ledgers in which he has collected official government stamps from the places he has traveled. One of the ledgers contains stamps from 223 countries of the world. The other two ledgers are from the county seats or couthouses in each of the 3,141 counties or county equivilents in the United States. John completed visiting every county in 1994, thus becoming only the ninth person in history known to have accomplished such an extraordinary feat.

No other county collecter has documented his or her travels as thoroughly as has John Frankenfield. He's got my utmost respect and admiration, and also a bit of envy.


Friday, July 17, 2009

The Extra Miler Club

Extra Miler Club Meeting in Erie, Pennsylvania

I had been counting counties for several years before I learned that there were other people who did the same thing. In fact there's a club of such like minded intrepid travelers with an obsession to visit each of the 3,142 counties or county equivalents in the United States at least once in their lifetime. It's called the Extra Miler Club and was founded in 1974. I became member #360 when I joined a few years ago.

The club is a very loose knit group of folks who meet once a year in some different spot around the country. I've been privileged to attend the last two meetings, Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2008 and Erie, Pennsylvania on June 27, 2009. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, county counters have found each other and probably most people in America who seriously collect counties are now members. Still, it's a rather small group.

The meetings, which last less than two hours, are lighthearted and fun. They consist mostly of each member being given an opportunity to report on recent travels and the progress of their county quest. The club also puts out a bi-monthly newsletter called the Extra Milepost, in which members can keep track of each other's progress.

Extra Miler's are famous for taking the long route, zig-zagging across the country on secondary roads to pick up another county - like going from Ohio to Colorado by way of the Dakotas, and returning through Texas, as I have done. I love the club's motto and fully agree:

"The shortest distance between two places is NO FUN."

You can learn more about the Extra Miler Club, including how to become a member, by going to their website.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Visiting the First Baptist Church in America

It was a hot Sunday morning in July and I was taking a walking tour of downtown Providence, Rhode Island, when I passed this historic church. Being a Baptist minister and a history buff, I was aware of the church but had not planned to visit services there. However, the Sunday morning worship was was just beginning, so on an impulse, I slipped in and had a seat. I was dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and tennis shoes but the folks there made me feel very welcome. They lived up to the slogan that was on the sign out front: "We reserve the right to accept everybody!"
The First Baptist Church in America was founded by Roger Williams in Providence, Rhode Island in 1638. Williams, known as "The prophet of religious freedom," broke from the Church of England to establish a democratic church which would be a "shelter for persons distressed of conscience" It was a magnificant old building that could easily seat several hundred people - maybe a thousand - but that morning only about 70 folks were present, including several visitors like myself.

The music was decent. The sermon was better and livelier than I expected. The pastor, a jovial, middle aged, white haired man with a full beard preached in his shirt sleeves in the unairconditioned building. With all due respect, he looked like a cross between Santa Claus and the Pillsbury Dough Boy - with a distinct southern accent that made me homesick. Curious, I stayed afterwards to meet the pastor, Dan Ivins and wife Libby, and learned that they were both originally from East Tennessee, not far from where I grew up. Seems to me that most of the best preachers come from the southern Appalachians, and even the people in New England have discovered that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Colorado: 64 Counties in 45 Years

On Saturday, May 1, 2009 I entered San Miguel County from Delores County, Colorado, thus completing my visits to each of the 64 counties in the Rocky Mountain State. I was traveling with my older brother, Philip, who recently retired as president of Western Oregon University. It was our first time to travel together since we were teenagers, growing up in East Tennessee.
Philip joined me for a week long trip across southern Colorado where we visited my; final seven Colorado counties. We were traveling north on CO-145, the San Juan Skyway, heading toward Teluride, an old mining town which is now a trendy vacation spot, especially popular with snow skiers.

The first time I entered Colorado had been in the summer of 1964. I was 19-years-old then, having just finished my freshman year of college. I was traveling from Dillon, Montana, where I had spent the summer, en route to Dallas, Texas for a church convention, and then back home to Tennessee.

I've been in Colorado about 20 times over the years, for a variety of reasons, including visiting my son, Christopher, who lives in Denver. This trip illustrates why county counting is so fascinating. Although I had been in Colorado numerous times over a span of almost half a century, there are several hidden corners of the state I would have missed if it were not for this obsession I have to collect every county.

On the trip we visited three national parks: Great Sand Dunes, Grand Canyon of the Gunnison, and Mesa Verde. I had been to the Grand Canyon of the Gunnison once before, and had visited Montezuma County - home of Mesa Verde - way back in 1967, but did not make it to that National Park until this trip.
As is often the case, my favorite counties on this trip were those remote spots which are seldom visited by the average tourist. These included Hinsdale County, with a population of only 790, and Custer County, where we enjoyed spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and had an impromptu meeting with the honorable Allen Butler, the mayor of Silver Cliff, Colorado.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

4,000 MIles and 90 Counties Across Texas

During two weeks in late February and early March, 2009, I put more than four thousand miles on this car, rented at the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas airport. On that trip, which took me on a very zig-zag route around the state, I completed visiting my final 90 of the 254 counties in the Lone Star State, and also completed several counties in Oklahoma.

I've heard other county counters brag about collecting 20 or more counties a day in wide open areas like this. Personally, I averaged seven counties a day, going from dawn to dusk, but stopping often along the way. Still, I felt like I was cheating myself my rushing through so many towns and rural areas without seeing all they have to offer. To me, there are only two kinds of places on earth, those I have never visited, and those I have visited but hope to return to someday to explore more thoroughly.

In these two photos I have stopped to take a few pictures at the Glasscock/Reagan county line on Texas Ranch Road 33.

With 254 counties, Texas has by far the largest number of counties of any state in the United States. The second highest number is 159 counties in Georgia. Tiny Delaware has the smallest county count with only three. The average state is subdivided into 66 counties.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Finishing Arizona in La Paz County

This dramatic view is the first glimpse I had of La Paz County, Arizona, March 28, 2009. It was my final Arizona county, and the 2,916th county overall, in my quest to visit each of the 3,142 counties or their equivilents in the United States. The view is from Mohave County, looking across Bill Williams River into La Paz County, along Arizona Highway 95, near Parker Dam.

La Paz County is one of the newest counties in the United States. It was established in 1983, being formed from the northern half of Yuma County. La Paz is the first and only new county created in Arizona since the territory gained statehood in 1912. Soon after the formation of La Paz County, Arizona laws were changed to make splitting other existing counties much more difficult.

I had first visited Yuna County way back in 1968, while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I had not been in the part of the county that broke off to be come La Paz. The county is named for an old settlement - now a ghost town - along the Colorado River. Parker, Arizona, just across the Colorado River from California, is the county seat.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Completing the 100 Counties of North Carolina

When I entered Stokes County, North Carolina on February 5, 2009 it marked the completion of my visits to each one of the 100 counties in North Carolina - made during countless trips over more than 50 years of traveling throughout the Tarheel State. With this, I have now visited every county in 28 of the United States, and more than 89% of the total counties in all fifty states. Stokes County was #2,898 in my quest to visit each of the 3,141 counties or county equivilents in the United States at least once in my lifetime.
North Carolina easily rates as one of my favorite states. Stretching from the Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast to the mile-high peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, the state contains a rich diversity of topography and climate that few other states can match.

This sign sits beside the driveway of a private residence. It is on old U.S. Hwy. 52, between Rural Hall and King, North Carolina.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Historical Sign that Changed my Life

When a person sets out to visit each of the 3,141 counties or their equivilents in the United States he never knows what life changing discoveries he may make along the way.

This simple interpretative sign at Tannehill Historical State Park in Alabama, was a catalyst that made a deep and lasting impact on my life. When I first read it in December, 2004, I would never have imagined the quest for knowledge on which it would lead me.

I had read countless other such signs during my travels, but for some unknown reason this one particular one on that particular day resonated deeply with me - especially the simple description of actions taken by Union troops from Iowa who were here during the latter days of the War Between the States:

"... they torched all the adjacent factory buildings, slave cabins, a large gristmill and tannery and a storehouse for food and supplies. In the fire Tannehill’s workforce of over 500 slaves and white mechanics were scattered and displaced."

Whoa, I thought! The Yankees burned the slave cabins along with those of the white workers? Hundreds of people were left with no shelter, no food, and nowhere to go?

Although I grew up in the South, all my life I had been told that the Union troops marched south to free the slaves. If that were so, then why did the Northerners burn the slaves out, leaving them destitute, homeless and hungry. Elsewhere on the grounds of the Tannehill Historical State Park I saw a large patch of woods, marked as the site of scores of slave cabins which the Yankees had ransacked, plundered and then destroyed - cabins that would have been equal to those my own Irish and Cherokee ancestors lived in during the same era in Alabama and Georgia.

I began to make the connection to other discoveries I had made during my travels, such as a monument to black Confederate soldiers in Mississippi and an antebellum plantation in Louisiana owned by a family of black slaveholders. I had dismissed these things as flukes, but now I was beginning to see a patteren which contradicted most of what I had always assumed I knew about the War Between the States.

It occurred to me that somebody was lying about what really happened during the so called Civil War, and I determined to find out the truth.

Since that fateful day in December, 2004, I have spent thousands of hours studying about the Confederacy, the causes of secession, and the War Between the States. As I have read scores of books, I have continued to visit hundreds of historical sites, now looking for clues to the real story, unvarnished by political correctness. To say that the things I have learned have been an eyeopener is an understatement.

Okay, I don't have room to get up on my soapbox and tell it all here in this one post. Much more time and space would be required to do that. I am now now recording many of my discoveries on a blog. I hope you'll check it out:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Road to Quoz, with William Least Heat-Moon

On one of my many road trips - several years ago - I took along with me a taped version of William Least Heat-Moon's book, Blue Highways, which I had checked out of the public library. It was so good I later bought and read the book. Heat-Moon is an outstanding writer and his book is a classic every traveler will relish - telling of his adventures on the "blue highways," or the state and county routes and back roads of America.

It didn't surprise me when I read an interview with Heat-Moon in which he said:

"I understand the slants and angles in America. I’ve been in every county in the United States — more than 3,000 of them. If you put your finger on a map of the United States, I have been within at least 25 miles of that place, except there are places in the Nevada desert I haven’t been yet. And a trip there is coming up."

William Least Heat-Moon has a new now titled Road to Quoz - an American Mosey.

Here's a link to the full article from the Columbia (Missouri) Tribune:
The photo above is one I took on the Talladega Scenic Drive in Alabama.