Several years ago, way back in November 2009, Twelve Mile Circle published an article called Counting Border Crossings. It revealed a new way to track travels suggested by loyal reader Jon Persky. Many people count countries, states, provinces, département, territories, counties or whatever. Jon’s method counted a place only when an adventurer traversed each border that it shared with every one of its neighbors. Refer to that original article for additional explanation. It’s not that complicated. Anyway, his analysis resulted in a comprehensive map of possible crossings for the internal state-level divisions of the United States.
Possible Border Crossings
The map included crossing between individual states as well as with provinces of Canada and states of México. Some efforts could be completed only by ferry as designated by green dots.
I seemed smitten with the concept at the time and I vowed to track my personal progress. Then I promptly forgot about it until I stumbled upon that old article recently. I still loved the premise and I decided to update my personal map. This is how it looks now.
My Crossing Marked with Black Dots as of September 2016
In 2009 my tally stood at 75 crossings with only 6 states completed. My 2016 results improved to 95 crossings and 17 states completed without any conscious effort. I said at the time, and I still agree, that "this game is insidiously difficult… players have to cover large distances to complete even the smallest of states because the object is to work the perimeter." Many possibilities will also remain uncounted on my map until I take a lot more trips into Canada and México.
Those Geography-Based Running Trips
Pretending I’m a runner
The secret to my success happened by accident as I chauffeured a participant in several Mainly Marathons race trips. Longtime 12MC readers probably remembered the premise. These races catered primarily to a very specialized subset of marathoners who wished to complete a course in all 50 states. Others had completed literally hundreds of marathons and simply wanted to increase the lifetime totals. My participant specialized in half-marathons and insisted she was only "half crazy."
Each series featured back-to-back races in different state on subsequent days. For example, the New England Series I wrote about in May included seven races in seven days in seven states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York). I’d also served as driver for other races including the Center of the Nation, Riverboat and Dust Bowl series. All told, those races involved 23 separate states. The whole premise of race site selections focused on minimizing driving distance while crossing between numerous states, a perfect combination for Jon’s concept. How else would I reasonably expect to find a reason to cross between New Mexico and Oklahoma, as an example?
Shhh… don’t tell anyone. I actually started running the 5K’s each day beginning with the Center of the Nation series. That made me about 12% crazy by my calculations. It was the only way I could stop eating piles of snacks at the aid table as I waited for my runner to finish.
Back then I said, "I haven’t even completed my own home state of Virginia where I’m missing its border crossing with Kentucky and I doubt that I’m going to get this one anytime soon." I couldn’t have been more wrong. Immediately thereafter I began an effort to capture every county and independent city in my beloved Commonwealth, although the effort lasted several more years. However, for this purpose, the quest drew me to the isolated counties at the far southwestern corner of Virginia. There I crossed the Kentucky-Virginia border at the KYTNVA Tripoint in 2013.
Other tripoints offered additional border crossing opportunities. I crossed Massachusetts-New York for the first time at the CTMANY Tripoint, thanks to Steve of CTMQ. I also leveraged an amazing three tripoints on the Dust Bowl trip for additional first-time crossings; Colorado-Oklahoma at CONMOK, New Mexico-Oklahoma at NMOKTX and Colorado-Kansas at COKSOK.
A couple of new crossings stood out above the rest. Kentucky-Missouri might have been the best. These two states shared a very short border along the Mississippi River. Anyone looking at a map would see that no road crossed the river anywhere between them. However, a dry-land border still existed! The river shifted at some point leaving a small part of Kentucky stranded on the Missouri side (map). It retained the curious name Wolf Island even though it wasn’t an island anymore. I found a gravel road leading to a pasture where I could cross from Missouri into Kentucky via Wolf Island. Any hour later I crossed between the two states again, this time over the Mississippi River on the scenic Dorena-Hickman Ferry (my video). I felt proud that I completed the border crossings using the only two means available, both creative and completely non-traditional.
A second favorite might have been my crossing between Utah and Nevada. I took the family to Utah in 2011. One morning, while the family slept, I decided to drive 150 miles (250 kilometres) each way from Ogden to West Wendover, Nevada. Why? To visit the only place in Nevada that legally recognized Mountain Time. That was completely nuts, and that’s what made it so memorable.
The Ones that Got Away
I paid a steep price when I forgot Jon’s game. A couple of opportunities wriggled away while I wasn’t paying attention. Last summer I went to Asheville, North Carolina and captured a slew of new counties. I was pretty close to Georgia and I could have snagged the Georgia-North Carolina crossing. I don’t know when I’ll get that chance again. Ditto for Nebraska-Wyoming and Montana-South Dakota when I took my Center of the Nation trip. Those may be too remote to hit without special effort, especially Montana-South Dakota. That one would require a drive over many miles of gravel road (street view). Missouri-Tennessee, on the other hand would have been an easy pickup. Alas I missed that opportunity too.
I still loved the concept. Maybe this time I won’t forget about it for several years. No promises.
Did someone say "Utah Adventures?" I focused our efforts primarily on northern Utah but I did slop across the borders of neighboring states. I will concentrate on some of those meanderings in this final installment.
I wrote about my quick jaunt to Nevada earlier so I won’t rehash that story again. It wasn’t about the salt so much — although that was a great sight and I’m glad I traveled through the flats — it was more about the Time Zone anomaly. Yes, I drove five hours to stand in a Time Zone jog created solely so that gamblers arriving from Salt Lake City wouldn’t have to change their watches. I don’t know why I’m so enamored by that anecdote but that’s the sad truth behind that particular journey.
I’m a fan of roadside Americana too. Naturally I had to pay my respects to Wendover Will on the Nevada side of the line in West Wendover. The town was kind enough to provide a nice pullout so that oddballs such as myself could photograph Will safely without worrying about traffic.
Terrain varies so drastically in these parts with everything from searing deserts to forested mountainsides. I was truly impressed by Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border. Several 12MC readers had suggested Bear Lake, and I thank each of you because it was quite simply spectacular. We spent a morning at Rendezvous Beach State Park on the Utah side. It was the historic site for at least two of the old raucous Rocky Mountain Rendezvous held in the days when fur trappers and mountain men roamed here. Our adventure was rather more tame. We had a nice picnic lunch, splashed in the water and then drove into Idaho.
The kids had enjoyed their previous cavern adventure so greatly that we decided to try another one, Minnetonka Cave, in the Cache National Forest. It involved a ten mile drive into the forest and up a mountainside but the views were well worth the effort. The caverns were nice too but I figured one cave photo from the previous article was enough.
The kids also wanted dinosaurs but we were too far away from Dinosaur National Monument. We settled for the closest similar thing available: Fossil Butte National Monument in southwestern Wyoming. This site featured a seabed from an era somewhat after the dinosaurs so the fossils were of fish primarily, a herring-like species called Knightia in greatest abundance.
Another shout-out to the 12MC audience: thanks to Scott for suggesting National Park passport stamps. We’re now the proud owners of passports and we’ve collected a couple of stamps along the way. I’m sure this collection will grow in the future.
Worthwhile things often require effort.
We learned that a scientific dig was in progress but visitors had to hike up a steep hillside in the scorching sun to get there. About two-thirds of the way up our older son decided he no longer wanted to be a paleontologist. It’s too much work, he complained. Those thoughts disappeared quickly as scientists allowed him to chip the stone with their tools. He uncovered a beautiful fossil of two fish crossed over each other. Fossils cannot be removed from the park but he was excited to see that his find was numbered and cataloged for further scientific study. The thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of the find put his future career back on track.
County Counting results
I consider the last several days a successful set of county counting adventures. I recorded fourteen new counties previously unvisited, I attached the former Salt Lake "island" (which I’d previously visited only by airplane) to the rest of my visited counties, and I didn’t leave any unvisited doughnut hole counties behind.
The vast white expanse on the left half of this satellite image is a gigantic salt patch, the Great Salt Lake Desert. The smaller blue area in the upper-right is the salt water of the Great Salt Lake itself. Both are the remnants of ancient Lake Bonneville, much of which drained away in a single massive, cataclysmic flood about 14,000 years ago.
I am presently in an endorheic watershed, a part of the Great Basin. Water drains to no ocean or sea within this bowl. It is trapped without an outlet. Water carries trace minerals down slowly eroding rocky hillsides and then evaporates within the basin, leaving behind salts that collect over millennia.
Bonneville Salt Flats
The wife and kids decided to take a pass on this journey. I left Ogden at 5:30 am in the dark. I was awed as I turned the corner along the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake, and watched the sun rise over Interstate 80, illuminating the ridges in yellows and reds. There are no towns of much significance out here in the 120 miles between Salt Lake City and Wendover. I had the road to myself, in a world of contemplative silence. To me, these are perfect driving conditions.
Brownish desert grasses gave way to streaks of salt and finally to the starkly white and barren Bonneville Salt Flats themselves. A ghostly blanket stretched to the base of mountains on the far horizon, resembling a fresh snowfall if I hadn’t know better. Random vehicle tracks diverged from the highway into the horizon of the flats, no doubt left by people who wished to test how high their speedometers could climb. Some of the most unimaginable automotive speeds anywhere have taken place right here at the Bonneville Speedway on absolutely level terrain, including the Blue Flame which hit a speed of 630.388 mph (1014.513 km/h) in 1970. I remained on the highway, thank you.
I crossed the border into Nevada because I wanted to visit the only place in Nevada that legally recognizes Mountain Time: Wendover. I paid a quick visit to the Wendover Will statue, turned around and headed back home. This also allowed me to record my first trip to one tiny corner of 17,203 square mile Elko County, Nevada. It is larger than several of the smaller states in the eastern U.S., but much less densely populated. That crossing will fill in a nice chunk of geography when I find the time to update my county counting map.
I returned a little after 10:30 am, just as the rest of the household was ready for the remainder of our day’s adventures.
Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, a mountainous backbone jutting from the surface of the shallow lake. A 7 mile (11 km) causeway connected the island to the mainland, a fun drive in itself. Watch out for the seagulls though: they seem perplexed by passing automobiles and we had a number of close calls.
There are many activities on the island including driving tours, hiking, bird watching, taking in the spectacular views, and searching for the antelope for which the island was named (we spotted several). It also includes a large bison herd although it’s a large island and they must have been grazing on the other side when we visited.
The public beaches are another popular feature. Here visitors can conduct personal tests on the buoyancy of excessive salinity. It does seem to hold true. The kids bobbed like corks. You won’t want to swim here if you have an aversion to flies. Notice the part of the video where I walk along the beach as swarms of flies move away from me in waves. They’re harmless but they may be a bit disconcerting to those with bug phobias. The waters are also filled with brine shrimp. My older son caught one and wanted to keep it as a "pet" but I said he couldn’t unless he found a matching trident and crown. Apparently he’s not attuned to sea monkeys as a cultural icon as the joke went completely over his head. I guess you had to grow up in the 1970’s to understand.
A road led far down the east side of the island to the Fielding Garr Ranch. This had been a privately-held working ranch from the earliest days of the Utah Territory until 1981 when the state purchased the ranch to convert the entirety of Antelope Island into a public park. The isolation must have been intense even with the major cities of Utah clearly in view just across the salty water.
Friends seemed rather amused when we chose Utah as a summertime holiday destination. They could understand winter (skiing) but summer? I think they wrote it off as yet another one of my unusual vacation choices. On the other hand, I’ve noticed a high percentage of European visitors at the many places we’ve stopped during the trip including the Golden Spike site and the Great Salt Lake. I ask the European 12MC audience: is this a cowboy and "Wild West" fascination? Many people in the U.S. seem to take this area for granted, which is unfortunate. They don’t know what they’re missing.
The Utah tourism council should feel free to send me that endorsement check now.