One of the things Scott and I have been doing over the past couple of years is collecting counties. I guess you could say even though we do not have much room to collect things, we still have the urge, the need to collect something. We decided the best way to do this was to drive through a county and, as a bonus, capture the county courthouse, in pictures, if possible. There are 3,144 counties in the United State and our intention is to visit each one; true, this is a monumental task, but think of everything we will be able to see!
Most of the time when we start out on a trip, we do not really plan what counties we will be passing through. It is not until after the drive that we mark what counties we passed through. In November we decided we wanted to change that up a bit and made a sort of plan to get as many counties as we could while traveling through the state of Arkansas. However, it wasn’t exactly planned the whole way. We sat up in our Auntie’s bed with our atlas and started to look at where we were going to go the next day. We knew we wanted to stop and stay the night in Pine Bluff but that was as much as we knew. Looking at the atlas, we realized there was a pattern we could take to capture a bunch of Arkansas counties, so that was what we did. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was a “plan.”
Because of a basic plan we were able to accomplish a rather large county grab with 18 new Arkansas counties and 21 county courthouses (some courthouses were in counties we had already collected in the past). We were stunned when we realized it only left us six counties to get for the state, but we just didn’t have the time as Scott had to be at work the next day. This was sad for us, but it did open our eyes to how much we could accomplish with a little bit of planning. “Just think,” Scott daydreamed, “we could accomplish so much more if we just planned better and stuck with it!” He was right in his observation, but would we really be able to stick to a travel plan and not pursue bunny trails?
Since I have been working on the website, I have become more aware of the counties and how we will accomplish this county collection since we are tied to a sticks-and-bricks home. We have been to all of the closest counties to Tulsa County (marked in blue below) and it takes approximately two hours to get into counties we have not visited. Yes, serious planning is required now, if we want to accomplish anything.
This situation had us a bit baffled because we haven’t really made ourselves follow a travel plan and never really needed to do so. With this thought in mind, Scott and I decided it was time to start working on this very situation, so knowing we wanted to do something on Sunday morning we decided upon a county grab. When we drive somewhere with a plan to just drive through and collecting new counties, we call this a “county grab.” This would be a well planned day trip getting us six new counties, eight county courthouses, and one state park. However, because of the time we left, we planned for an alternative change of three new counties, four county courthouses, and one state park if necessary. The plan looked something like this:
Starting from Tulsa, we would take the Cimarron Turnpike (Highway 412) to the north of Stillwater at Highway 177 then head north to Newkirk capturing Kay County Courthouse. Then we would head further north to Arkansas City and capture the county courthouse there. Head over to Highway 35, up to Kansas to Highway 160, over to Wellington, then on to Harper and Medicine Lodge while grabbing both county courthouses as we went. We would then head south back into Oklahoma to Alva’s county courthouse for Woods County. Once there we would head home by way of Highway 64 to Cherokee for Alfalfa’s County Courthouse, picking up Great Salt Plains State Park. Then we would head east on Highway 11 through Medford, capturing Grant County’s courthouse. From there, it would be Interstate 35 back to the Cimarron Turnpike (Highway 412) towards Tulsa. This was a good plan and we would have been thrilled to get as much as we had; however, we soon learned our plans would need to be changed.
As we approached our exit on to Highway 177 towards Ponca City, we were alerted of severe winter weather road conditions. Checking the radar there was a huge snowy, winter storm heading directly for us if we crossed over the Oklahoma-Kansas border. The closer north towards Newkirk we drove, the darker the sky was becoming. When we stopped for the courthouse, we checked the weather radar to see that our planned path into Kansas was not possible so we altered the plans by turning south and heading towards Blackwell. This meant we would probably not be capturing two county courthouses, but someday we would be able to do so. We still had the plan, we were just altering it a bit.
As we came to Interstate 35, an SUV was exiting onto highway 11 just in front of us. The sky ahead of us was blue and all evidence of the possibly dangerous weather had disappeared, except for this SUV. He was covered with snow and ice. This, in itself, confirmed we had made the correct choice. Lesson One: Sometimes plans must change in order to have a good road trip. Checking the weather radar we continued east towards Medford, the county seat for Grant County.
From Medford, we headed on to the Great Salt Plains State Park just outside of Jett, Oklahoma. I had visited this area with my parents when I was in elementary school, but Scott had never been there. This is the location you can walk on the salt plains and dig for crystals. Unfortunately, the dig site was closed for the season. They are open from early April to late September each year; for this, we will be back, but definitely not during the hot summer months. This part of Oklahoma can be just as brutal in the summer as we were experiencing this day’s winter winds with a 15-degree windchill. We braved the strong winds to look at the spillway where the Great Salt Plains Lake fed into the Salt Fork Branch of the Arkansas River.
This was a moment we needed to make another decision about our day trip. If you will remember, we had originally thought about going into Kansas and getting two more Kansas counties but decided not to go north on Highway 177 because of the winter weather warning. We had to make a decision; were we going to stop our county grab in Woods County or would we be going north towards the two Kansas counties? Looking at the clock, it was 4:10pm and we still had a 50 minute drive to Alva. Scott checked the time of sunset and it was at 5:50pm. Obviously, we would be driving into Kansas in the dark if we continued and we would not see any of the two new Kansas counties. We knew Alva would be the last county courthouse for us for the day. So without any further delay, we drove just south of the Great Salt Plains to Cherokee in order to capture the county courthouse for Alfalfa County.
Alva was an interesting place, here you will find quiet streets filled with old prairie styled houses, many brightly painted murals on various types of buildings, and Northwestern Oklahoma State University. The later shocked me. I had been under the impression it was in far western Oklahoma; I was then even more shocked when Scott informed me that we were in far western Oklahoma. Looking at the county map, we were literally one county from being in the Panhandle of Oklahoma! I had a brief moment of excitement and almost suggested we drive to the Highway 64 crossing of the Cimarron River to dip our toes in Harper County, but that would be another 40 minutes and we were already looking at a three-hour drive home. So I kept my excitement to myself and turned the SUV eastward towards home.
We had accomplished what we set out to do, we had followed a plan and changed it accordingly so we could meet a goal we set. This was huge for us. For us, this meant we were able to make a plan, follow through, and make the necessary changes for our safety; all of this without being pulled away by bunny trails and curiosity. Lesson two: Spontaneity is not always something you should allow, especially when trying to achieve a goal. With us being in a specific place for an unspecified amount of time, we are going to find ourselves in need of long-distance travel to get to the new counties. This will take willpower because both of us tend to want to take the path of the unknown which will cause us to not achieve. We have a goal of visiting all 3,144 counties in the United States, we cannot crush this goal if we allow bunny trails to lead us away every time. With this trip, we accomplished more than just a county grab of three; we achieved success over bunnies.
Thanks for visiting us, see ya soon,