July 19, 2018
Well, not exactly. After driving 4,500 miles within the state borders of Arkansas, we have successfully been through all 75 counties. It has taken about a year and a half, but it is finally done. However, we are not exactly finished with the state. Even though we have driven through 75 counties, photographed 27 county courthouses, visited 12 of the state parks, walked about 3 of the National Park sites, and enjoyed both of the National Forests, there is still many more things to do and places to see. So why, exactly are we saying we are “finished with Arkansas” when there is more to see? We have been busy doing what we call “collecting counties.”
In 2014 when we decided to start working towards moving into an RV to live fulltime, we were living in a 2,000 square foot house. Scott had a huge collection of books that were shelved in his study and the living room, while I collected craft supplies, nick nacks, and everything else for no reason. We had so many things we were overwhelmed at what to do with it. After two garage sales, many trips to the donation centers, and deciding we would not collect anything else, we were able to move into an RV. However, we still had an urge to collect things; isn’t that what we do, collect things to remind us of our travels and loved ones? Unfortunately, living in 122 square feet does not allow us to do this. We decided in 2015 we would start collecting counties in Texas since that was where we were living, but soon we found ourselves traveling to more places than the Lone Star State. The other states had to be included in this collection, it could not be limited to just one state; so we decided all 3,144 counties across the United States would be our goal.
In order to accomplish this goal, we have to do what’s called “county grabs.” This is when we sit down with the map and plan out a driving trip where we can get as many counties as possible in the amount of time we have available. Ths means, we do our best not to drive the same route home as we left. This may seem like a difficult thing to do, but we have found it is much easier than you would think. Unfortunately, this means we will not be able to always photograph the county courthouse of every county, but we have come to accept this fact; it’s just part of the traveling long distances without crossing back where we have been. Scott does his best when planning a county grab to get as many courthouses for me as possible and I call these photographs “the cherry on top!” If we are going to be near a state or national park, we will make sure to put those detours in the plan. There are over 10,000 state parks in the U.S. so we try to hit the parks up as much as possible on these trips. Often we are only able to do a drive-through, but we get the traditional sign photo and drive every road that is publically accessible. If the travel is multiple days, we will try to stay overnight in one of them. Since we have fixed the SUV up to sleep in or have the hammocks with us, the sleeping situation can be quick to set up and just as quick to take down. This has enabled us to cross off many state parks, which is another thing we tend to “collect.”
We actually did not plan to finish Arkansas’ counties as quickly as we did; it just happened. One holiday we decided to take the long route home and we drove along the western side of the state back towards Texas. Another holiday some of the Oklahoma family were not well, so the time we would have spent with them was spent visiting the Eureka Springs area. This meant we would have to find another route home since we were not going to go back home via Oklahoma Highway 75. We ended up visiting the Buffalo National River area and, during another trip, the Hot Springs area. Once we sat down and looked at the counties we had already driven through, we knew this state would be finished soon. With this in mind, Scott sat down and made a route for us to get the most counties in the shortest amount of time. Scott, our dog Cordie and I packed up and headed out that November 16th; we were on a mission to get the last 24 counties we had left. Unfortunately, time was not on our side and there were six counties left in the middle of the state.
Since November we have been back to Arkansas, but not as much to grab the last counties as to experience what the Natural State has to offer in the way of people, culture, and nature. Often we have day tripped to places like Siloam Springs to enjoy the spring festivals, mark off a state park or three, or just enjoy the beautiful mountains where Scott’s Aunt Freda lives. Staying in hotels tend to be pricey and Scott and I don’t always agree where to stay. He is always looking for the best deals to make our budget stretch, while I want to stay in the Bed & Breakfasts or resorts. Needless to say, we have yet to stay in a B&B or resort; most of the time, if we are not camping, we are staying in a dog-friendly Motel 6. Cordie goes along with us most of the time if we do not plan to stop for long periods of time; this makes traveling a little difficult sometimes, especially if we are planning to visit a museum or go out for a meal. Fortunately, our daughter enjoys having a small lap dog around and she will watch Cordie for us.
At this point, we decided to collect our last six remaining counties in Arkansas. Because we had plans for Saturday evening, we needed to make it a quick trip so Scott took off Friday and we headed out to Freda’s Thursday after he was finished with work. Since we have collected the counties so close to the area we live in, we have at least two to three-hour drives to get to any new counties enabling us to utilize the highways and toll roads we normally would not think of taking. We prefer to take the roads less traveled and not to take the same road twice, if able. Having been to Freda’s so often, we are to this point, but we were able to get to Fort Smith within a matter of hours so we were able to kick around this city for a bit and still make it to Freda’s before 10:00 pm! This enabled us to get a good nights sleep and be able to head out in time for Scott to get some great photos.
Because we left so early on Friday morning we were able to do more than just drive through the six counties, we were able to visit seven Arkansas State Parks and get photos of all the county courthouses. It was an amazing day for us and by the time we reached our fifth state park, we had driven through all six counties. We took a few moments and did a short Live Video on Facebook and made the announcement. Both of us were extremely excited. Not only did this give us the 75 counties in Arkansas, but it meant we had visited 414 counties out of the 3,144 counties in the United States; this means we are 13% of the way! We can now focus on completing other states such as Oklahoma where we only have 17 counties left or up towards Kansas or Missouri. But it also enables us to be able to look deeper at Arkansas and truly see what more there is. We can slow down and really focus on this one state and enjoy places we have passed saying, “We will be back for you soon.” Our eventual goal is to be back to living in an RV spending weeks, if not a couple of months, in different regions really learning what is in each area. These county grabs give us an opportunity to scout out the places and know what more we want to see, do and experience.
Yes, this is a huge undertaking. However, it is not the destination that is important for us, it is the journey. This type of travel enables us to see the United States and appreciate everything it has to offer. We have made friends in places we never thought we would ever get to go, but because we have decided to get outside of our box, our neighborhood, we have been able to experience so much more culture and diversity. We could not do some of the travel through without people like Aunt Freda. She has allowed us to use her home as a jumping off point for our explorations. Without her, we would not have been able to complete the collection of the Arkansas counties so quickly. (Thanks so much Aunt Freda! We love you!)
Travel is what you make of it. For some, it is business travel to far off destinations; for others, it is going to the lake a few hours from their home. For us, it is collecting counties and the county courthouses while getting to experience new things. It has gotten us out of our box and that’s an amazing thing. Arkansas is the first state for us to complete visiting all of its counties. This has enabled us to see her mountains, her forests, her deltas, her lakes, and her rivers. We have loved every road we have driven and cannot wait to drive them again someday. Please celebrate this small thing with us and join us on our next county grab.
See you soon, safe travels,