Alaska, my 50th state, on December 26, 2015. (And did someone say Frozen?)
I turned 50 in 2015. How in the world did this happen? And what could I do to celebrate this milestone in a good way?
Well, first, I did what any reasonable man would do—I bought a new car (a Ford Mustang to be exact, which also just celebrated its 50th birthday). And second, I decided that I should take a big trip, preferably one that might have something to do with the number 50 (theming is important, you know…).
An idea plopped itself into my head. What if I visited all 50 states during my 50th year? I had already been to 43 states in my lifetime, but what if I tried to have a new experience in states where I’ve already visited along with finally seeing the states that I still hadn’t seen?
My rules would be simple:
- Set foot in each of the 50 states within the 2015 calendar year.
- Airports don’t count.
With a map and my calendar, I got busy trying to figure out how to make it work. After much thought, planning, and discussion, I put together 18 different trips that would allow me to accomplish the goal (specifics are listed in the appendix below).
And I hit the road.
The first trip in my quest was on January 3, 2015 to Malad, Idaho. (And, no, I didn’t buy a lottery ticket.) The trips continued with at least one excursion a month.
Merry Christmas and Happy 2015 from Malad, Idaho
With each trip, I tried to be as efficient as possible by maximizing the number of states visited. Some places made it relatively easy to visit multiple states in a short amount of time (like Four Corners, New Mexico). States bordering Utah were simple to visit as well.
The Mustang in the Four Corners parking lot
Selfie at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign on the Las Vegas Strip
Another efficient and delightful trip (and demonstrative of what I was trying to do) was my trip to the Gulf Coast. Flying round trip from Salt Lake City to New Orleans, Louisiana, I visited New Orleans; Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida over a weekend. These four cities in four separate states are only 3.5 hours apart.
Jackson Square in New Orleans, Louisiana
Beignets at world-famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans—the best!
I fell in love with the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast
The downtown skyline in Mobile, Alabama
Weekend traffic on the Pensacola Bay Bridge in Pensacola, Florida
The record number of states visited in one trip was to New England (no surprise there) where I drove to nine states over a weekend—West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine (along with stops in Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts—states that I had already visited earlier in the year—which would bring to number to 12 states in one weekend).
Traveled through Johnny Appleseed country in Virginia (where there are some seriously delicious apples and apple treats)
Pope Francis products for sale in the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop off the New Jersey Turnpike (and I’m not making this up)
I gladly paid the giant toll to get on the George Washington Bridge just to exit the endless (and awful) New Jersey Turnpike
Winding my way through New Hampshire
Checking out the historic district in New Castle, Delaware
Tranquil spot in Kittery, Maine
With each state, I always had a specific destination in mind. The main reason for that, truth be told, was to have a specific address in enter in to the Maps app on my iPhone (which was an indispensable resource during all of my travels this year). And while wandering and exploring without a specific agenda can be very fun (and which happened in multiple states throughout the year), it was also comforting to have a plan knowing where my next stop was and how I was going to get there. (I also made all hotel reservations in advance, too. Plan, plan, plan…)
Driving near Vale, Oregon
A private tour of Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for this animation fan
At the Nebraska/South Dakota border; driving through the black of night in Nebraska with no civilization (or even any lights or any signs of electricity) for miles and miles was really something
Finally got to visit Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee
Cloudy and beautiful Oahu, Hawaii
I tried to visit as many national parks and monuments along the way as possible. Some were great, like Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina and Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; others were a bust, like the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, in West Orange, New Jersey, which happened to be closed the day I was there (yet another choice experience in New Jersey). Still, the National Park Service is an American treasure.
Cape Hatteras lighthouse at dusk
Driving through Gettysburg National Military Park
Have I mentioned that I like cars? The year didn’t disappoint with cool experiences for this car lover.
Original 1962 Ford Mustang concept (along with a 1965 Mustang convertible) also at The Henry Ford
Wearing earplugs and loving it at my first NASCAR race, the Sprint Cup Bank of America 500 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina
Star Wars happily forced its way in to my 2015 travels, too.
At Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Celebration fan convention at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. Right after this, they screened the second teaser trailer for the film. (The fellow nerds are waving their lightsabers in approval.)
Fake George Lucas at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California; I saw this dude there and wished I had taken this pic (photo seen somewhere on Facebook)
Saw this excellent t-shirt in Hawaii
And back again at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California for Disney’s D23 Expo 2015, I was happily in the room when Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the new Star Wars-themed lands coming to Disneyland park in California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios park in Florida (photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Company)
I’m a big baseball fan and my journeys didn’t disappoint in this regard, either.
At Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California (my favorite ball park) to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers (my favorite team)
My first visit to Kauffman Stadium (aka “The K”) in Kansas City, Missouri, home of the 2015 World Series champions Kansas City Royals
I sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and had the chance to perform “The Star Spangled Banner” at Yankee Stadium for a New York Yankees game in New York City, New York; that’s me in the back right corner; we got to watch the game after we sang, too (photo courtesy of Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
And speaking of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, participating in the Choir’s 2015 Atlantic Coast Tour allowed me to visit multiple states and perform in some world-class venues.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed a surprise concert at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York; check out the picturesque location adjacent to the Hudson River; I’m the dude in the top right corner. (Photo © Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.)
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City, New York, July 1, 2015; definitely a personal highlight and a musician’s dream come true (photo courtesy Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
In my concert duds walking up 7th Avenue to Carnegie Hall in New York City, New York
The recently completed Freedom Tower, aka One World Trade Center, in New York City, New York; hope rising above tragedy and sadness
I was reminded time and time again about many of my heroes from American history. These imperfect, brave, and tenacious people rose above their challenges and were able to do many extraordinary things for the betterment of the country and of the world. Re-visting these sites (or in some cases seeing them for the first time) was inspiring.
The four greats at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. It rained like cats and dogs the day I was there, but the skies lifted briefly in order to see this impressive and inspiring site with my own two eyes.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC; “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
The barren, rugged, and beautiful landscape at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota; “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”
Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC; “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Loved visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; I’m standing at the takeoff point; each of the four markers in the distance represent the landing spots of the four successful flights taken on December 17, 1903.
Disneyland, Walt Disney’s original theme park and one of my favorite places, turned 60 in 2015; “Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
I love road signs. Here are some of my favorites from the year.
The Eisenhower Interstate System gets the MVP Award for my travels in 2015. Photo taken on the H-3 in Hawaii (the tagging is a nice touch, too).
Lots of crossing going on near Casper, Wyoming
Land of Lincoln and other stuff
Driving through North Carolina
Visited South Carolina just days after the side effects of Hurricane Joaquin completely trashed their road system. Very grateful to the South Carolina Department of Transportation for their excellent communications (and signage!) in helping people safely navigate through the state at a difficult time.
City marker in Hawaii
Road sign in Washington state
Somewhere along I-94 in Montana
The Big Dipper and North Star on a road sign!
My goal was accomplished on December 26, 2015 when I arrived and set foot (outside of the airport, of course) in Fairbanks, Alaska. I crazily but intentionally scheduled my trip to Alaska during the month of December with the primary goal of seeing the Northern Lights. Thankfully, things worked out.
Roads were pretty decent considering the low temps (-15 degrees) and all of the snow and ice
The Northern Lights showed up and they were glorious; frosting on the cake from an unforgettable year (picture taken with my Canon EOS M10 on a tripod)
Visiting all 50 states within a twelve month period has been an extremely fun adventure. Figuring out how to make it happen was an enjoyable challenge. I learned something new everywhere I visited. And I can’t wait to get back out there to experience more of this great land I live in (just please don’t make me drive on the New Jersey Turnpike).
Driving through beautiful Montana. Time to start planning another adventure.
My Top 10 Favorite Sites of 2015
Here are my 10 favorite places that I visited during the year (and not in any particular order):
- National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, District of Columbia
- North American International Auto Show, Detroit, Michigan
- Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
- Disneyland, Anaheim, California
- Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
- Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mississippi
- Carnegie Hall, New York, New York
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
- Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis sighting, Fairbanks, Alaska
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota
Honorable mentions: Arches National Park, Grand Ole Opry, Graceland, The Henry Ford Museum, Charlotte Motor Speedway
Places that I’ve visited before and that would probably make the list but wasn’t able to visit in 2015: Statue of Liberty National Monument, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Walt Disney World, Everglades National Park
My Bottom 7
The states I visited where I had less than desirable experiences this year include (and in particular order) :
- New Jersey
- New Jersey
- New Jersey
- New Jersey
- New Jersey
Appendix: The Plan
As previously mentioned, I planned 18 separate trips (labeled “A” through “R” in the table below) for the year, most all of them falling on a weekend. Below is a table showing how I broke everything down, including the transportation methods used (see “Transportation Legend” below).
Please contact me directly if you’d like any more specifics about my antics this year. I’ve also taken a picture from every state and posted them to my Instagram account under the hashtag #50statesin2015.
Map of the United States of America
||My Ford Mustang; driven to and from Salt Lake City
||Flight from Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) > Destination Airport Code; round trip unless otherwise indicated
||Home (aka where I live)
||States Visited (in order)
||Salt Lake City, UT > Malad, ID
||Salt Lake City, UT > Evanston, WY
||4) Michigan, 5) Ohio
||✈️ (SLC > DTW) 🚗
||Detroit, MI > Toledo, OH
||6) Arizona, 7) Colorado, 8) New Mexico
||Salt Lake City, UT > Four Corners, NM
||✈️ (SLC > LAX) 🚗
|| Los Angeles, CA
||10) Minnesota, 11) Wisconsin
||✈️ (SLC > MSP) 🚗
||Minneapolis, MN > Hudson, WI
||Salt Lake City, UT > Las Vegas, NV
||13) Texas, 14) Oklahoma
||✈️ (SLC > DFW) 🚗
||Dallas, TX > Durant, OK
||15) Louisiana, 16) Mississippi, 17) Alabama, 18) Florida
||✈️ (SLC > MSY) 🚗
||New Orleans, LA > Biloxi, MS > Mobile, AL > Pensacola, FL
||19) Montana, 20) North Dakota, 21) South Dakota, 22) Nebraska
||Salt Lake City, UT > Billings, MT > Medora, ND > Rapid City, SD > Ogala National Grassland, NE
||23) Missouri, 24) Kansas, 25) Iowa
||✈️ (SLC > KCI) 🚗
||Kansas City, MI > IA > Kansas City, KS
||26) Maryland, 27) New York, 28) Virginia, 29) Massachusetts
||✈️ (SLC > BWI;
BOS > SLC)
🚌 (Mormon Tabernacle Choir 2015 Atlantic Coast Tour)
|Baltimore, MD > Bethesda, MD > Mount Vernon, VA > New York City, NY (and other NY venues) > Boston, MA
||30) Tennessee, 31) Arkansas, 32) Illinois, 33) Indiana, 34) Kentucky
||✈️ (SLC > MEM) 🚗
||Memphis, TN > Marion, AK > Cairo, IL > Lincoln City, IN > Louisville, KY > Bowling Green, KY > Nashville, TN
||35) Oregon, 36) Washington
||Salt Lake City, UT > Pendleton, OR > Walla Walla, WA
||37) West Virginia, 38) Pennsylvania, 39) Delaware, 40) New Jersey, 41) Connecticut, 42) Rhode Island, 43) New Hampshire, 44) Vermont, 45) Maine
||✈️ (SLC > DCA;
BOS > SLC) 🚗
|Washington, DC > Falls Church, WV > Gettysburg, PA > New Castle, DE > West Orange, NJ > Bridgeport, CT > Providence, RI > Cornish, NH > Sharon, VT > Kittery, ME
||46) North Carolina, 47) South Carolina, 48) Georgia
||✈️ (SLC > CLT) 🚗
||Charlotte, NC > Kitty Hawk, NC > Gaffney, SC > Lavonia, GA
||✈️ (SLC > HNL) 🚗
||Honolulu, Oahu, HI
||✈️ (SLC > FAI) 🚗