Four Corners, Part 1 (Orientation)

On August 3, 2017 · 12 Comments

Our family visits a different part of the United States every summer. This year we decided to travel through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. We made it as far west as the Four Corners monument although we we spent only a few moments in Utah and Arizona. We toured through parts of Utah back in 2011. Arizona will need to wait for another day.



The embedded map showed our approximate route. We began our adventure at the Denver International Airport where we landed and rented a car. From there we drove down to Angel Fire, a ski resort town in New Mexico where I have family. That offered a nice base for a return trip to Taos, a place I last visited in 2013 during the Dust Bowl adventure. The next swing included a series of National Park properties: Pecos National Historical Park; Bandelier National Monument; Chaco Culture National Historical Park; and Mesa Verde National Park. We also spent time in towns along the way including Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Durango. Then we drove back to Denver.

We packed a lot of activities into those ten days. From mountains to desert, from cold to warm, from historic to modern, we tried a little of just about everything. I didn’t capture many new counties on this trip though, for a couple of reasons. First, the immense size of counties out there made it difficult, although each capture covered a lot of territory on the map too. Second, I’d been to several of the places before. This was more about visiting friends and family, and showing the kids places I loved seeing during an epic road trip I took a quarter century earlier. Even so, I still found time for a few county captures, some under interesting circumstances


Pecos Subterfuge


Pecos National Historical Park

The path from Angel Fire to Santa Fe, New Mexico would ordinarily go through Taos and enter Santa Fe from the north. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to capture a couple of new counties by traveling along the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, then looping back to Santa Fe from the south. That inefficient route led directly past Pecos National Historical Park. I used the park as my excuse. We enjoyed Pecos — and I’ll talk about that some more in a future article — although the actual reason focused squarely on the new counties, Mora and San Miguel.

The park fell within San Miguel and the photograph above gave a nice overview of its terrain. Each afternoon the "monsoon" rains of summer covered the plains. Mora County looked similar, maybe a little greener, with an economy seemingly based on ranching. I didn’t see a lot of wealth in sparsely-populated Mora. At one point we drove through its county seat, also called Mora, and the speed limit dropped down to 15 miles per hour (24 kph). You better believe I didn’t go a single mile per hour over that limit. It seemed like one of those places where speeding tickets probably funded the few public services that existed out there. I admit I had no evidence of that and perhaps I’ve made an unfair assessment. I didn’t risk it either.


Let’s Make Sure at Los Alamos


Bradbury Science Museum

I’d marked New Mexico’s smallest county, Los Alamos, as one I’d visited previously. Los Alamos made my tally many years ago during that previously-referenced epic road trip. However, I’ve since doubted that I actually captured it. No major roads between popular destinations cut through there. That was by design. Los Alamos served as the secret hideaway for scientists designing atomic bombs during World War 2. Nobody was supposed to travel to Los Alamos without a specific reason to be there. The county, established formally in 1949, covered barely a hundred square miles (250 square km). I simply couldn’t see how I’d crossed its borders on that earlier trip. Why had I concluded otherwise so many years ago? This time I made sure to record my visit photographically for the sake of accuracy and completeness. It didn’t "count" as a new capture even if that might have actually been the case.


Giving William McKinley His Due


Chaco Culture

My exceedingly brief visit to McKinley County, New Mexico probably set a record for my most absurd county capture ever. It also became another exceedingly rare example of a "walk only" county like my recent visit to Cass County, Michigan. McKinley happened during my trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Nothing was easy about getting to Chaco Canyon. The National Park Service recommended the northern route that involved about 16 miles of mostly decent dirt and gravel roads. I took that route. Visitors could also approach from the south with about 20 miles of "at your own risk" dirt roads. The southern route, if I’d been more adventurous, would have brought me through McKinley County.

However, I noticed that I could head south from the Visitors Center, go a couple of miles along the southern dirt path, and reach McKinley. I decided to touch McKenly at its closest point, where the road ran directly along the county line. I simply needed to stop the car and touch a point of land just beyond the roadside (map). A barbed wire fence ran along there too, so I put my foot between the strands of wire. Then I gently patted the ground with my foot. County captured.


Colorado Backcountry


Durango, Colorado

Actually I captured most of my new counties on a single day. We drove from Durango to Denver using the default route. We had some friends to visit in Denver so I didn’t want to go out of the way. Even so, that brought me through Archuleta, Mineral, Rio Grande, Saguache, Chaffee, and Park Counties for the first time. Driving through Saguache offered particularly remarkable scenery. Much of the county sat in humongous bowl surrounded by mountains on all sides. Amazingly flat, filled with fertile fields, and yet the wide plain sat at an elevation of something like 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). Park County also offered a little entertainment, if only as the setting of the South Park cartoon. That included a drive through Fairplay, the inspiration for the quiet mountain town where Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman lived.

Nine (possibly ten) new county captures didn’t seem like a lot from a numerical perspective. Nonetheless, we covered quite a bit of territory and had a great time doing it.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Heartland, Part 1 (Why, oh Why?)

On June 8, 2017 · 2 Comments

Here we go again! I just finished a drive through the Midwest, all the way out to Iowa and back, and returned on Saturday. We didn’t stay anywhere for very long and kept moving most of the time. We also stayed in different hotels seven of the eight nights, and covered about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) all told. Readers who enjoy Twelve Mile Circle’s road trip adventures will like the next several articles. The rest of you may want to return in a couple of weeks instead.

The Route and the Count


Route Into the Heartland
The Route. New Counties in Dark Blue

A simple map might be the easiest way to describe my trip. It seemed like a fairly straightforward route although I threw in a few twists to increase county counting opportunities. Light blue counties represented those I’d visited before. Readers with discerning eyes probably figured out the rationale of those earlier visits already. Major interstate highways ran through them, specifically the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana turnpikes. My new captures, those marked in dark blue, represented efforts to shave off the next level of counties towards the south as well as fill in a couple of troublesome doughnut holes.

The revised tally reached 1,416 counties as I finished the trip. I also broke the 45% barrier of United States counties visited. I’m not sure if the results encouraged or depressed me though. I started doing a little math. My 1,000th county visit happened in June 2009 during a trip along the Great River Road. That’s when I crossed the border into Crawford County, Wisconsin. I should finish in about 35 years if I keep going at that pace. It’s doable although I’ll be really old when I’m done. I think I need to speed it up. Nonetheless, I managed to pick up 26 new counties on this trip and I’m proud of my effort.


There for the Races


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

New county captures served as a nice side benefit although they weren’t the primary purpose of my drive. Once again, the trip involved a Mainly Marathons event, this time the Heartland Series. We’ve done several of these before as I’ve recounted in previous 12MC articles (i.e., Dust Bowl, Riverboat, Center of the Nation, New England). This time things went a little differently. We participated in only four of the seven races because my runner didn’t need the other three states on a quest to finish a race in all 50. That’s how we found ourselves in Bryan, Ohio; Portage, Indiana; Fulton, Illinois; and Clinton, Iowa. We skipped the Michigan race and headed into Indiana to capture more counties instead, and later went home after the Iowa race, missing events in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

I did things a little differently too. In the past I’d often been happy to stand on the sidelines while my runner finished a half-marathon each day. Most people selected the full marathon option and a few hearty soles selected the ultra-marathon. That made me feel downright lazy so I started doing some of the 5k’s. I did that again during most of the Heartland series. However, I also got talked into running a half-marathon for the Illinois race. I did pretty good for an old guy and I finished my first ever half-marathon at 1:53:29.

Now, however, I knew I could do better because I used all of the excuses. I’d never run that distance before, I had tired legs from races over several previous days, the course included a lot of hills, the wind blew pretty hard, and so on. Is this how addictions begin? I may try the occasional half-marathon in the future although I don’t have any plans to go overboard with the seven races in seven states in seven days thing.


Experiencing Nowhere



The drive didn’t follow a straight line all of the time. I also deviated for specific geo-oddities. For example I got to experience the Highway to Nowhere in person. I stumbled across a reference to it several years ago and featured it in a 12MC article. Feel free to check that one out if you want to learn how a town with fewer than 800 residents got its own interstate highway to its doorstep. The map showed it clearly; Interstate 180 appeared as an L-shaped spur south of Interstate 80 in central Illinois. Supposedly fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day used this highway. I drove its full length of course.

On my side of the road, along the entire distance, I saw only one car and one truck. The car passed me, doing something considerably faster than the posted 70 miles per hour.


A Tripoint Too

I also wanted to go a little out of my way for a state tripoint. It would be such a tragedy to drive within a few miles of such a spot and fail to reach it. So we deviated down a gravel road for this important oddity and stopped there for a few moments. It seemed only fitting to stand upon the singular spot where Indiana, Michigan and Ohio all joined together (map). Tripointers called the marker INMIOH in the naming shorthand they liked to use.

Although where might it be, exactly?


INMIOH Tripoint

There seemed to be some controversy on the Intertubes. Did it fall within the middle of the road or off to the side a few feet farther east? Adherents seemed to take sides. I decided to go with Jack Parsell’s Tri State Corners in the United States. I’ve used that source plenty of times before and it generally seemed to be the most accurate. It stated that surveyors in 1999 placed a commemorative metal plate within a small crypt about a foot below the road surface, covered by a protective steel cover. Dutifully, I put my foot up to the cover to touch all three states simultaneously.


INMIOH Tripoint

Then, to hedge my bets, I also found the broken stone marker on the downward-sloping eastern embankment. Some people said that this spot actually marked INMIOH. However Parsell and others claimed that it was merely a witness post. Before something cut it down to a nub it once said something like, hey the tripoint is in the middle of the road. Anyway that’s what the old-timers said. I found those explanation more convincing than the counterarguments. That didn’t stop my from taking a picture of it anyway "just in case."

This seemed to be one of the lamer tripoint I’ve seen during my wanderings. I’ve hiked to other tripoints in much more obscure locations that put this one to shame. Sure, it fell within the middle of the road although someone should make a nice roundabout there with a better marker as its centerpiece.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Any Excuse for a Road Trip, Part 1 (The Premise)

On April 23, 2017 · 3 Comments

People following Twelve Mile Circle’s Twitter account knew something must be happening. Suddenly tweets tagged to places like Ste. Genevieve and Cape Girardeau in Missouri began to appear on my feed just before Easter. I hadn’t announced the trip ahead of time although I’d been planning it for several weeks.

I’ve been aiding and abetting my wife’s scheme to run a race in all 50 states for quite awhile. Now she wanted to add Missouri, otherwise she’d face an alarmingly obvious Midwestern doughnut hole by the end of the summer. That seemed like a great excuse for me to do some exploring, and I hatched a crazy plan. I had to work most of the week so I’d fly to St. Louis on Friday morning to meet my wife who’d already be there, then we’d drive to Cape Girardeau to be ready for the race the following morning. After the race we’d drive as far as the middle of Ohio, stay overnight, then drive the rest of the way home to Virginia to celebrate Easter with family. A two-day road trip covering a thousand miles (1,600 km) plus a half-marathon, then dealing with dysfunctional relatives? What didn’t sound great about that?


Breaking it Down


Route from Missouri
The Route. New Counties in Dark Blue

All reservations melted away when I discovered that I could tweak the route and add 19 new counties on Saturday while driving only 20 minutes extra. I could also grab five new Missouri counties on Friday. My county counting list would jump by 24 over the course of a single weekend. I plotted a route on the special Mob Rule page that I use for experiments. Previously unvisited counties appeared on my map in dark blue while those I’d visited before appeared in light blue.

I didn’t have a lot of time to play around so the preponderance of new pickups would have to be Interstate Highway counties. That seemed a fair trade-off. I needed to capture them eventually so I might as well take advantage of the opportunity now. The basic route left Missouri, went over to Interstate 57 in Illinois, then to I-64 crossing Indiana, leading to I-71 in Kentucky and Ohio, then on to I-70 heading east out of Ohio, and finally home.

I also added a couple of new "overnight" counties; Cape Girardeau, Missouri and Muskingum County, Ohio . I considered those new members of the gold standard of county county visits. In my mind, staying overnight added a much higher level of prestige and credibility to a capture than simply crossing the border for literally a few seconds as happened with some of the others. I’ve now completed an overnight in 227 counties. I don’t think I could ever finish that odd quest though. It would take 8.6 years to spend the night in every county if I slept in a different one every night until completed. I’m not nearly that obsessive.


Jogging Not Racing


County Jogs
Jogging to Counties

The racing would take place on Saturday morning on foot. However, that still left plenty of time for jogging, and definitely not the kind on foot. Those involved little jogs that I took as we leveraged our proximity to snag a handful of additional counties. Two of those happened on Friday. With minor detours, really just a couple of miles out of the way, I captured Bollinger and Scott Counties in Missouri. The next day I took a similar short diversion and captured Hamilton County, Illinois. As I said to my son, "it would be a crime to come so close to (Bollinger/Scott/Hamilton) and not cross the border." The family collectively rolled their eyes even though I knew they’d appreciate it someday.

Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that the kids participated in this adventure too. They were on spring break from school so mom drove out with them to St. Louis. They took a nice, leisurely route getting there and then they went sightseeing for a few days. Their friends all went to Florida or the Caribbean or Europe, while they had to go county counting in the Heartland. I’m sure their therapist somewhere in the distant future will get an earful. Whatever.

My county counting total stood at 1,390 (or 44.2% of all counties in the United States) as the trip concluded.


Uh Oh, Doughnut Hole


County Left Behind
Pulaski County, Illinois – Doughnut Hole

Solving one problem can sometimes create other problems, and that happened here too. My frenzied pace and inability to deviate much from the most efficient route created a clearly visible doughnut hole. Someday, and I don’t know when, I will need to return to this area to cross the border into Pulaski County, Illinois. However, it will have to stand alone at least for the foreseeable future. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll find myself unexpectedly near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers again. I never expected a second opportunity only three years after my original visit to the area. Lightning could strike a third time.


Any Excuse for a Road Trip articles:

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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