Scott and I drive a lot when we do our travels. There are 3,144 counties in the United States and we intend to pass through each of them; driving tends to be the way we are best able to do this. It enables us to stop and visit a town, getting to experience the people, their foods, and their culture. This is a bit slower than flight, but we both feel the hours getting to a destination is well worth it when we see the colored in space on the maps.
When we decide to go on what we call “Collecting Grab” trips, we sit down with Google maps or even a paper road map to plan the best route there and back going through as many different counties as possible. This often means never taking the same road twice. It is extremely rare for us to take the major highways or toll roads unless we need to get through previously collected counties.
If we are on trips that are more than a day trip, we will fill our vehicle up with delicious food, changes of clothing, and hammock/sleeping gear. While Scott is at work, I am able to get everything together and packed away; this enables me to pick him up as soon as his workday is finished and we can be on the road towards our destination.
Since we started doing these three to four-day trips to cover as much ground as possible we find National Forests and State Parks that are along our route to rest when we can no longer drive. We will pull into a camping area and set up our hammocks and cover. This is a quick setup and easy takedown so we are able to pull off the road as late as we need and leave as soon as we can minutes after we have woken up.
One of the things we find ourselves saying when we travel is that it is never a true adventure until we have left the pavement. Surprisingly, this happens to us a lot. We have been driving along a perfectly good paved road when “BLAM!” we have crossed onto a gravel road. These roads, however, have been some of the most beautiful places and there is almost always a surprise waiting for us.
Yes, we drive a lot. This means gas is our largest expense when we are on the road. Because of the style of travel we do and not need to use a hotel room, we are able to afford it. There have been times we needed to stay at a roadside hotel or motel, but we will stay in the most inexpensive place we can. We have been able to find some really awesome deals at Priceline Express Deals (https://www.priceline.com/elmo/pl/hotel/express-deals/list). However, a room with a view is a very rare occurrence for us.
Scott and I enjoy driving along the county roads within our country. This has enabled us to see what each state has to offer its people and how the people live and celebrate their lives. We love the miles we put behind us on the roads we drive upon no matter if they are paved, gravel, or dirt. We enjoy the adventure of having our expectations changed because the trip shows us so much more about a place. Yes, we drive, a lot; but, it is what we love to do.
When the Chickasaw Nation was forced to relocate to Indian Territory, within their new borders they found a wooded area filled with fresh water and strong-smelling mineral water springs. They believed these springs had healing powers. Fearing that they would not be able to protect this area from commercial development and becoming another Hot Springs, Arkansas, they sold it to the Federal Government, with the condition that it be protected, and kept open to the public. In 1902 Senator Orville Platt introduced legislation designating this area the Sulphur Springs Reservation, and in 1906 Congress passed legislation creating Platt National Park, named for Senator Platt, who had recently died.
At 640 acres, Platt National Park was the seventh and the smallest unit in the National Park System. Though small it was no less popular, in 1914 it received more visitors than Yellowstone or Yosemite. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps was assigned to make improvements, to make the area deserving of being a National Park. They added many buildings, and landscape features, that significantly altered the character of the park. By 1949 it was receiving more than a million visitors a year. However, many people within Congress felt that Platt National Park lacked the grandeur and scope expected of a National Park. On March 17, 1976, Congress changed the status from Platt National Park to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area because it was not the same natural beauty as Yellowstone and Yosemite. This former national park was added to the Arbuckle Recreation Area to create a lush playground for all to enjoy.
The older portion of the park, the Platt District, remains popular, still receiving more than a million visitors a year. It features the springs, a swimming hole, fishing, boating, hiking, and camping. The swimming hole has a small man-made waterfall called the Little Niagara. Here the spring water is cold and a host to people of all cultures.
There are three basic camping areas. The Lake of the Arbuckles areas: Buckhorn, Guy Sandy, and The Point. One, Guy Sandy, is first-come-first-serve and does not require a reservation. You simply show up, decide on your spot and visit the kiosk, then pay for your stay. Buckhorn and The Point are reservation camping loop is very nice with full hook-ups and full almost all year round. The third camping area is within the historic Platt District, the original area of the park has three camping loops, in which the only one is open year-round and only first-come-first-serve. This area is surrounded by the rushing creek and active in the springtime.
Ren and I first visited in the Fall of 2013, we were on the way back from visiting family in Oklahoma. This was before we really caught the travel bug, but we fell in love with the park and made plans to return. We have revisited the park several times since then, it is a reasonable drive from both Fort Worth and from Tulsa. When I started photography it was one of the first places I wanted to go.
We decided one day to visit the visitor center and hike trails behind it. Here the shade from the canopy of trees kept us cool in the Oklahoma August heat. It was quiet for the most part, except the various little waterfalls and birds chattering in the treetops. Here we found a peaceful place just minutes away from the main county road. It was an amazing hike.
We then took the time to swim in the swimming hole just below Little Niagara Falls. We even followed many of the young people and jumped off the top! It was exhilarating. I remember my heart pumping and watching the people ahead of us pop up from down below. My knee was aching, it was only recently healed from being broken and the cold, spring water felt good, taking away the swelling.
It may not be a National Park anymore, but it is still worth a visit if you are in the area.
Thank you so much for joining us on this park adventure. We appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to enjoy the time with us. Please remember to help us get out to many others and share this post.
It was time to head back to our camp in Black Mesa and Google wanted to take us back to Clayton, but we hate taking the same road back as the road we came on, so we, trying to be flexible, took the road less traveled; literally. What a difference. We went north through Folsom then took a small road east. It alternated between paved and gravel, and, usually, the gravel was smoother, but it was so worth it. The road led through a canyon we didn’t find on the maps, and where there is a canyon, there is a stream. The canyon, river, and road were all named the Dry Cimarron. Yes, another branch of the Cimarron River. The canyon went on for hours, almost entirely empty. Huge, rugged, and beautiful in a very different way than the other Cimarron Canyon, but no less impressive. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
If you want to do astrophotography, one of the things you have to deal with is light pollution. You have to get where it is dark, far away from the city lights. Living in Fort Worth, was not terribly difficult. I was about an hour and a half from reasonably dark skies, and three hours from very dark skies. The other thing you have to deal with is that you need to shoot when the moon is not in the sky, so the New Moon is ideal. Once we moved back to Tulsa, really dark skies were further away. Looking at the Light Pollution map on http://darksitefinder.com I saw that the darkest skies in Oklahoma were found at the far western end of the panhandle. In fact, these were as dark as any place in the continental U.S., and right there in the middle of these wonderfully dark skies was Black Mesa State Park. I wanted to go. The problem was that it was over seven and a half hours away; this would be a major trip. I had suggested it a few times, but Ren had not been enthusiastic because she was worried about the heat and the distance.
When I saw the August New Moon was going to fall on a weekend, and that it was going to fall during the middle of the Perseid Meteor Shower, I told Ren that I was going to want to be somewhere DARK that weekend. I was surprised when she suggested that we go to Black Mesa. It took me about half a second to agree. We started our planning. More accurately, Ren started planning. She presented me with three plans with a breakdown of costs, driving times, and the number of new counties we could get.
We figured out what we wanted to see while we were there, which counties we would visit, how much gas it was going to take, and even where we would buy our gas, as we were headed into areas where you could not count on gas stations being nearby when you ran low. We knew we were headed to the park. There were three tri-state markers we wanted to visit, (A tri-state marker is where three states meet. If it’s not in the middle of a river, there will usually be a marker of some kind.), and, since Ren loves geology as much as I love astronomy, we were going to visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.
Taking a half-day Thursday off from work we hit the road as soon as I got off work. We drove straight to the park along Highway 412, with only a minor detour to visit Gloss Mountain State Park, which was right on the way. We arrived at camp just after dark and got our first surprise. For a park that brags about their dark skies, they had the place lit up like downtown. Street lights everywhere. We would have to get away from the park to get our stars. We set up our hammock stand camp for the first time in the dark, but they are very straightforward and it went quickly. It was cloudy that evening, with a small chance of rain Thursday and Friday, but we got lucky, while there were storms around us, they passed us by.
We spent Friday, as planned, exploring the park, visiting two of the three tri-state markers, and a couple of canyons in Colorado. Friday evening I found a location and set up to take pictures, but it was pretty cloudy and I didn’t get the dark skies I had anticipated.
Saturday the plan was to get the third tri-state marker and visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico. We left camp and headed toward the Oklahoma-Texas-New Mexico border. When we got close enough to civilization to get a cell phone signal, I checked the weather forecast. The clear skies that had been predicted, were looking more and more unlikely. I wasn’t going to get my stars, again. I wasn’t too upset about it because we were having a great trip, and if you do astronomy long, you know that this is just part of the hobby. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
As we headed into Clayton New Mexico, on the way to the Volcano, I looked at the map and told Ren, “If I can’t have stars, I want mountains. Let’s go to Taos.” She asked how far it was, and I told her it was just over two hours. I expected a little resistance to scrapping the plan she had worked so hard on, however, to my surprise, she agreed right away. At this point, we knew nothing about Taos except that there were mountains. While Ren drove, I tried to figure out what we wanted to do when we got there. We aimed to stop at a place called Eagles Nest Lake State Park, and figure out where to go from there. While I looked over Google Maps, I saw a marker for Cimarron Canyon State Park, but it wasn’t clear what it was. We drove on toward the mountains, which were becoming more and more impressive the closer we got to them.
Reaching the town of Cimarron, we stopped at a tourist information booth to pick up some brochures and spoke with the attendant. I noticed a National Park Passport stamp and asked her what it was for. It turns out that Cimarron Canyon was a National Scenic, and Historic drive and we were driving right through it to get to Eagles Nest. We always try to take any Scenic Byway we pass. This was as beautiful as any with its huge cliffs and thick forest while the Cimarron River flowed the length of the canyon. I love Rivers, and the Cimarron is not just any river, it flows into Keystone lake just a few miles from where we live in Oklahoma where I have camped many times. It had an entirely different character here near its beginning. The middle section of the canyon was the state park, with lots of campsites along the road. We were in love with the place.
Reaching the town of Eagles Nest we had decided that we could see lots of interesting places by taking the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop, which includes Taos and goes through large areas of the Carson National Forest. The only issue was that it was nearly 3:00 pm and we were about three hours from camp if we skipped the volcano. I wasn’t willing to skip the volcano because I knew how much it meant to Ren.
I called my boss, asking if I could take an extra day of vacation, while Ren tried to find a reasonably priced hotel; turns out that reasonably priced and Taos, don’t really go together. After a bit of searching, we found a room right in Eagles Nest so we booked the room. While we chatted with the manager, he told us that if we were driving the Loop, we should be sure and drive over to the Gorge Bridge, and told us how to get there. We were set with a basic plan for the afternoon so we headed out on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop and it was well worth taking the extra day. There is something about the mountains that call to me, something that feels like home. Whether it’s the Davis Mountains in Texas, the Ozarks in Arkansas, or the Sierra Nevadas in California. I love the mountains. These were no exception. It was a gorgeous drive through mountains, forests, and quaint little towns. The highest pass we drove through was just over 9,800 feet.
There were several roadside parks that were part of the Carson National Forest when we stopped at one to stretch our legs a bit, we crossed a small stream flowing gently over the rocks. To my surprise, it was the Red River. We had lived on the Red River for five months when we were park hosting on Lake Texoma for Eisenhower State Park. We had even made a point of crossing every Red River bridge from Texas to Oklahoma, and here we were crossing it again in New Mexico; it was so small.
As we made our way around the loop we reached the intersection where we turned left to go to Taos, or right to go to the gorge bridge. We turned right. Wow! Just Wow!. On this trip, we had seen mesas, huge mountains, beautiful lakes, canyons, cliffs, forests, and scenic rivers, but this was by far the most majestic and impressive thing that we saw. It was the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The Rio Grande. We have traveled extensively in Texas, spent the better part of three years trying to see as much of Texas as possible, yet this was our first time to see the Rio Grande. It was amazing. This is the seventh highest bridge in the US, 565 feet above the river. There is a parking area on either side, with a scenic overlook, and you can walk out on the bridge. It was truly awesome, in the best sense of the overused word.
Reluctantly, we left the gorge and headed into Taos. I won’t spend much time on Taos, as this is getting rather long enough already. We drove around for a few hours, loved the place. Ren wants to move there; of course, she says that about every place we visit. I guess it’s a good thing we plan to buy an RV someday so we can live wherever we visit.
I suggested that we visit the Taos Ski Valley before heading back to the hotel. This was the first place I got any real pushback from her. Not that she didn’t want to go, but she is frightened about driving down twisty, turny roads, especially since it was getting late in the day; however, me driving scares her even more because, in her words, she is a bad passenger. One of the things I admire most about Ren is that she does not let her fears get the better of her. It took her a few moments to work up her nerve, but she agreed.
The Hondo Canyon Road is the road that leads up the valley to the ski lodge. I know I’ve said this several times already, but it was a beautiful drive through the valley with huge cliffs, tall trees, and a valley, there was, naturally, a stream named the Hondo, Rio. As is usual in this area, we were in the Carson National Forest and there were lots of scenic roadside campgrounds. We drove up to the lodge, but it was getting late, so we didn’t get out of the car, then headed through the valley again, stopping at a few of the parks.
It was time to be heading back to the hotel. The last leg of the drive was the twistiest and turniest road of the entire trip, and it was full dark, so we didn’t see most of it. When we got back to the hotel, Ren went to bed; she was exhausted from the last leg of the drive. The hotel manager told me earlier I could get a good view of the milky way from the deck on top of the hotel overlooking the lake. I went to take some pictures, but between the hotel and city lights, they were not the skies I had come seeking, but they weren’t bad.
The next morning we found the entire town socked in with fog. We were not eager to drive through the canyon again until the fog lifted, so we walked through town to find breakfast. What we found instead was there wasn’t anywhere in Eagles Nest to get breakfast at 8:00 on a Sunday Morning. Did I mention that Eagles Nest is tiny? Did I mention that Eagles Nest is at an altitude of more than 8,200 feet? We hadn’t really paid much attention to that before taking our walk, but as we were walking back the thinness of the air became apparent. We were huffing and puffing by the time we got back.
When the fog burned off we headed back through the valley to Cimarron then north to Raton, where we found breakfast. Then we took the Raton pass into Colorado where we visited Trinidad State Park, before heading to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. This is an extinct, cinder cone volcano, with the cone remarkably preserved. There are a visitors center and a road that wraps around the cone to a parking lot near the top. From there you can hike down into the vent, or around the rim. We intended to hike around the rim, but between the altitude, our exhaustion, and general lack of fitness we turned back well before we reached the top. It was still worth the trip, and even from the parking area near the top, it is an impressive view.
It was time to head back to our camp in Black Mesa and Google wanted to take us back to Clayton, but we hate taking the same road back as the road we came on, so we took the road less traveled; literally. What a difference. We went north through Folsom then took a small road east. It alternated between paved and gravel, and, usually, the gravel was smoother, but it was so worth it. The road led through a canyon we didn’t find on the maps, and where there is a canyon, there is a stream. The canyon, river, and road were all named the Dry Cimarron. Yes, another branch of the Cimarron River. The canyon went on for hours, almost entirely empty. Huge, rugged, and beautiful in a very different way than the other Cimarron Canyon, but no less impressive. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We got back to camp at a reasonable time, and as we were settling in, it became apparent we were going to have clouds again that night. Realizing I was not going to get the perfect night sky photo, I suggested we pack up camp and head south into Texas. In visiting the Texas Panhandle a few weeks earlier, we now had visited all but two counties in Oklahoma. The last two were down south and we decided to go get them.
We got back to camp at a reasonable time, and as we were settling in, it became apparent we were going to have clouds again that night. Realizing I was not going to get the perfect night sky photo, I suggested we pack up camp and head south into Texas. In visiting the Texas Panhandle a few weeks earlier, we now had visited all but two counties in Oklahoma. The last two were down south and we decided to go get them. In no time we were on the road. An hour and a half drive, and a minor crisis involving so many bugs hitting the windshield we could barely see out took us to Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. Being Sunday night the place was empty and we found a nice site overlooking the lake, and slept under the stars, with a cool breeze to keep the bugs away.
The next morning we visited the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. Walked through the visitors center, watched the informative movie and took a short hike, then got back on the road. We headed into Oklahoma to get those last two counties. On the way to Kiowa County, we were passing right by Quartz Mountain State Park. We couldn’t be this close without stopping. It is a very pretty park, though the lake was very low at the time. We spent about an hour here before heading to our next destination.
The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is a place I had to hear about for a while but had not yet managed to visit. It was getting late and I was thinking we should just head home, but Ren knew how much I have wanted to go here and insisted that we take the time. I’m so glad I listen to her. I had been afraid that after seeing New Mexico, that Oklahoma would seem dull and unimpressive by comparison. I needn’t have worried. The mountains of Oklahoma may not be as tall as those of New Mexico, but they are no less beautiful. We ended up staying much longer than we intended and it was getting dark by the time we headed home.
Arriving home late, we were tired and sore, however, the trip had been more than we ever expected because we abandoned our plans and took a chance. Sometimes having a plan is important because it tells you the when, the where, and the how; but it often causes you to miss the unexpected treasures of traveling along the backroads. Our motto is “Get out, live life outside your box,” which sometimes means getting outside of your plans. Take a chance, do something unexpected, live your life to the fullest. I still want to go back to Black Mesa. I still want those dark skies. But I wouldn’t trade this trip for the one we planned.
Psychoanalyst Werner Muensterberger states in his book Collecting: An Unruly Passion that collecting was “selecting, gathering and keeping of objects of subjective value.” While Carl Jung believed collecting stemmed from a collective unconscious of “nuts and berry” behavior inherited from our ancestors. This activity of our prehistoric ancestors literally saved their lives and it is now found to be a comfortable behavior to each and every one of us today.
Scott and I are definitely collectors. Over the past few years, we have mentioned things like “collecting counties” and “county grab” in our blog posts and videos. Recently we received a message asking exactly what this is and why we are doing it. Please allow us to take a few minutes and define these terms and explain exactly what our County Project is.
How This Thing Sort of Began
Scott and I had started to do a little exploring of towns around us, but there really wasn’t much exploring outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex until August 17, 2013. We had decided to head to Austin because Scott is a music nut; his favorite female artist is Nancy Griffith and he had a goal in mind. The plan was to attend Austin City Limits, but it wasn’t supposed to happen because the shows are announced and are a first come type of situation. However, we were able to change our plans and help him come a little closer to his music world.
This trip to Austin seemed to spark the travel bug in us and we began to go as often and as far as possible. From 2013 to 2015 we started visiting Texas State Parks and something occurred to us, we have over 100 counties crossed in the State of Texas so we started paying attention to those 254 Texas counties. The County Project was born without us really understanding what the heck we were doing.
So What Exactly Is The County Project?
When Scott and I were first married and moving between Oklahoma and Texas over and over, we were moving hundreds of boxes of things I collected and all of his books and music. It was heavy and exhausting. In 2016 we decided it was time to ditch all of the extra boxes and go from a house to an apartment. This meant getting rid of the collection of books, nicknacks, and other junk we accumulate over time and adopt a more minimalistic outlook. But we still had the desire to collect. That is when the travel and counties began to make total sense to us.
Starting out as Stitchntravel.com we decided to not only start a website but a YouTube channel as well. We had no idea what we were doing, but we thought it would be a great way to show off our travels. This eventually led us to a website where one could keep track of the counties visited. Mob-rule has enabled us to see exactly where we have been and others as well.
This tool has helped us find what we really love to collect, counties. The collecting of counties is nothing more than us driving across county lines to find out interesting things about each county we visit. This may mean just driving through to get to another county but we find roadside attractions that are unique to the county, landscape that is different from other places, and backroads that lead us to amazing adventures.
Actively Collecting Counties
We have a term we made up to explain exactly what a trip was going to be used for when we collect counties; this word is “county grab”. This is where we get in the car and head to counties we have never been to and try to drive through as many as possible. This is often a two-day trip and we will use the special Google imposed map on the Mob-rule site to help us find what roads pass through what counties. Because it keeps track of the counties we have visited, we are able to see just where we need to go.
Once we have made the decision as to where the destination is, we will use the map to find another route to head home. We try very hard to never take the same road home that we came on because it will get us twice the counties. Often times we will do what we can to get a photo of the county courthouses if possible.
We have set up specific colors that have specific meanings to help us know what counties we have just driven through, taken a photo of the county courthouse, what will be the one-way drive to a destination, and what will be the route home. This helps us to know what other things we need to do in counties we have already visited, such as if we need to try to and get a photo of a courthouse or not.
We are even able to break this down to a state-level which enables us to do a little more digging as to what we want to see and do.
As we plan our county grabs, we will go to the Google imposed maps for further detail to help us see where the county seat is located. This is important to us so we can know what route to take to get a photo of the courthouses.
And then we are able to scroll in closer so we can see how to collect a county in one direction and back in another direction. Let us look at this area a little closer so we can explain it in a bit more detail.
Here you have three counties and we would like to get all three without driving the same road home as when we came. This blown-up view enables us to find alternate roads that are on a backroad level if we would like. It has enabled us to really up our county collecting game.
How Do We Keep Track of Our Stats?
Keeping track is very easy to do. The user page on Mob-rule shows a spreadsheet with each state, the numbers of counties, the numbers of counties we have visited, the numbers of counties left to visit, and the percentages. It helps us to find the information quickly and be able to apply it to our website.
This really helps to encourage us and it gives us the oxytocin boost a regular collection would give. With this, the US map, and the courthouse photos we are able to get excited about where we have been and where we are heading to. Isn’t that what life is all about?
What Are The Benefits to Collecting Counties?
Many people travel, but everyone does not travel alike. For some it is flying to places, renting a car, and hitting popular sites. While others enjoy driving long distances to visit the vacation hot spots. However, for us, driving and seeing is the adventure. This style of travel we are doing enables us to take the roads less traveled and see some of the less touristy places. I honestly believe this has caused us to find some of the most amazing places and pieces of art.
Another benefit to the way we travel, we are able to avoid major crowds. With our national park system being more overcrowded than ever before, it is nice to get off the regular beaten path and find interesting places that are not as crowded. This enables us to bring attention to the places that are overlooked. We have met some of the most amazing people in these places and heard some wonderful stories about the location.
Because of us trying to obtain specific counties we have found some pretty fantastic things. If we would not have been trying to get specific counties in Wyoming’s southwestern corner, we would never have found Fossil Butte National Monument and then spontaneously grabbing a Utah county. We try to play it loose when we do county grabs because there are plenty of these spontaneous moments. It enables us to respond to new discoveries.
Cross County Travelers is about encouraging people to get out of their routine and try something different, to find the amazing lesser-known places all around them but do not get the attention they deserve. This is why we say “Get Out! Live life outside your box.” The box can be your home, your city, or even your county. What we want to encourage is people to get out of their comfort zone and experience something new through travel. Travel does not have to be a big expensive trip, there are adventures to be found right in your “backyard” that will open your mind and heart.
Thank you so much for joining us. We do appreciate each of you who take the time to read our posts. It means so much to us. Please remember to Get Out, Live Life Outside Your Box; you know we are.