Stories from Visiting the 50 United States of America 🇺🇸

This year I reached the milestone of having visited each of the 50 United States of America. Going into 2017, I was down to Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, and North Dakota, so I made a goal of crossing those all off the list. I had visited most states during my childhood, between various road trips and summer vacations. Most of the remaining ones were in the Northeast, which was made easier once I moved to NYC.

The criteria I had for visiting each state was doing something in it, with the exception of flying through. Driving across counted, which I’ll explain. One of the unexpected takeaways of my travels was how much the geography of a place influenced the culture. I took this for granted growing up in Colorado, where everyone out west seems to have the rugged individualism that comes from the frontier history. But places like Hawaii, where the respect for nature and generous hospitality can maybe be explained by the abundance and extremes present on the islands. Driving across a state, and imagining what life was like as it became settled, gives a strong sense of the place and I think that counts.

Here we go!

Alabama

I spent six weeks in Montgomery for Air Force training in 2008, and also jumped out of a plane near Mobile. I don’t have much to say about the state at large. Montgomery had some decent things to do, and the Gulf Coast was beautiful when you’re free falling from 10,000 feet.

A fall afternoon on the Kenai Peninsula

Alaska

Incredibly beautiful state. I travelled around Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, and Juneau with quick day trips to Denali National Park and Barrow. It’s vast, scenic, and uninhabited. I saw a whale that had been hunted get carved up in Barrow.

(not to scale)

Arizona

I spent a week in Phoenix for orientation for grad school at ASU, and spent a few days camping at the Grand Canyon. Phoenix is fine, the Grand Canyon is unbelievable.

Arkansas

The first “technically visited” state. I drove through Arkansas the summer of 2004 en route to Tennessee on a summer trip with my church youth group. I probably stopped somewhere, and don’t remember anything other than crossing the Mississippi. That was stunning.

Just as dorky in high school

California

I’ve been to California a number of times, the first to San Bernardino for another youth group summer trip but several times later to LA, San Diego, and the Bay Area for various trips. California has just about everything you could want somewhere in the state.

The sand dunes are very large

Colorado

I lived in Colorado the first 18 years of my life, and my mom still lives there. It’s great. The mountains are beautiful, and Great Sand Dunes National Monument is one of my favorite places in the country.

Connecticut

I drove through the state in 2012, and went to Yale for a career fair while I was working at eBay. On the road trip, it was really cool driving on a small highway and seeing the 300 year old cemeteries and buildings.

Delaware

There’s a great rest stop in Delaware that all the northeast bus companies stop at on the NYC<->DC route. It used to have a Cinnabon, so it’s gone a bit downhill.

From a trip to see the Shuttle launch (which we didn’t end up seeing, because the launch got delayed three months)

Florida

So many beaches! I first went to Florida in 1996 or so on a trip to Seabase, a Boy Scout summer camp. We kayaked out to an island the boy scouts owned and camped there for a week. Key deer are basically miniature deer that somehow spread to all the islands in the keys. Later trips to Florida took me to Ft Lauderdale, Miami, Panama City, and Pensacola. I have not been to Disneyworld.

Georgia

I’ve flown through the Atlanta airport a million times, but also went to there in 2005 for the National Catholic Youth Conference. All I remember is going to the Varsity and getting sick from trying all the flavors of soda at the Coca-Cola headquarters.

The view from Waimea Canyon on Kauai

Hawaii

Hawaii was an incredible first big trip of 2017. I spent a few days each in Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii. One of my favorite memories was the day I visited Waimea Canyon, which is apparently stunning. I couldn’t tell you, because the day I was there it was raining and foggy and you couldn’t see more than a hundred feet in front of you. I had a lot of fun though, as I drove up there and was bombing around the (probably very scary) mountain roads with no one else in sight.

Idaho

Two of my best friends married each other in Boise. It was a lovely ceremony, and that morning the gentlemen of the party went and shot some very large guns at a range.

Illinois

My sister lives in Chicago, so for me “Illinois” is really just Chicago. Chicago is maybe a uniquely American big city. Unlike the other large cities in the US, it’s largely unconstrained by geography. Yes, there is a lake on one side, but the entire rest of the area is flat. It’s physically a large city, and coming from NYC you definitely feel the difference. If you’re going to visit Chicago, go the Art Institute and take an architecture tour.

Indiana

I visited Indiana in 2003 for a different National Catholic Youth Conference, going to Indianapolis. I recall visiting the racetrack, and that downtown Indianapolis is based off of a single intersection. Also, on later drives through Indiana, seeing the aggressively conservative Christian billboards lining the highways.

Iowa

My big trip around Iowa was in 1999 while my sister was visiting potential colleges. She was looking at Cornell College (which a friend I met later in life actually attended). Iowa’s rolling hills are beautiful, and we took a day trip to see the Field of Dreams. If you’re going to visit Iowa and can ride a bicycle, I would strongly recommend doing RAGBRAI.

Kansas

Hays, Kansas is home to the merit badge camp I attended several years while I was a Boy Scout. You would go for a weekend, and basically knock out a bunch of the requirements for merit badges. Coleman would come and do a big discount sale, which is where I picked up the tent, sleeping bag, and groundpad that I still use today. That was maybe 18 years ago.

Kentucky

The second “technically visited” state on the list here. While at the summer camp in Tennessee, we drove to a Walmart across the border in Kentucky to pick up some supplies. I need to go back and do a proper visit.

Napping off a hangover in a park in New Orleans

Louisiana

I took two trips to New Orleans in early 2009 while I was in nearby Biloxi. We basically stayed in the French Quarter and drank a lot. I had a great time, and would love to go back.

Maine

I drove around southern Maine and spent the night in Portland. There’s a lot of cultural similarities to people from Maine and people from Alaska. I think being isolated and surrounded by nature can have that effect.

Maryland

My dad has lived in Maryland for the majority of my life. I remember going to the aquarium in Baltimore once in 1994 or so. My friends who got married in Idaho used to live in Bethesda, and I would visit them every few months (stopping at the rest area in Delaware, of course).

Memorial Day Weekend overlooking Cape Cod

Massachusetts

My three Massachusetts experiences are: 1) Going to Marlborough for a work trip in 2011 2) Memorial day weekend on Cape Cod the last two years 3) My first week working at Blue Apron when we rented out a summer camp in the Berkshires.

Michigan

My aunt and uncle live in Clinton Township, a small town north of Detroit. My cousin got married in Detroit. I visited there in fourth grade while I had a broken arm, and I think that was the week I figured out I could drop a quarter through my cast without it getting stuck.

Minnesota

My sister ended up going to school at Gustavus Adolphus, which was cause for my first trip to Minnesota in 1999. I later went on another summer camp with my church youth group in 2005, and on a trip for work to Pipestone in the southwest corner of the state.

Mississippi

I spent six weeks in Biloxi for training with the Air Force. Biloxi has some nice casinos, and one of my favorite barbecue places in the country (which unfortunately burned down).

Sunsets in Missouri 😍

Missouri

I drove through Missouri on the trip to Tennessee, and also went this year to Kansas City for a friend’s wedding. The dinner before was on a farmhouse in the rolling hills, where I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen this year.

I have a million of these photos from Glacier National Park, and I honestly love every single one of them

Montana

I took a couple weeks off this year to visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, then drove across Montana towards North Dakota. Montana is phenomenally beautiful, from the mountains in the west to the eastern plains.

Nebraska

My mom grew up in Nebraska, and my aunt and cousins still live there. We would drive from Colorado at least once a year to see my grandparents and the rest of the family. I would stare out the backseat window of our 1987 Toyota Corolla and marvel at just how many farms and fields there were.

Nevada

I drove through Las Vegas on the trip to California, and spent a weekend in Wendover for the Fourth of July in 2012. The casino in Wendover smelled like stale cigarette smoke, and I don’t think I ever acclimated to it. I had beginner’s luck the first time I played craps, but lost it all a short while later.

New Hampshire

I spent the night in New Hampshire on a road trip up the East Coast. I recall a lot of water wheels and cute little historic downs as I was winding my way through the state.

How you look after you’ve ridden a coaster non-stop 6 times in a row

New Jersey

My fondest memory of New Jersey is the day me and a bunch of my friends took the day off work and went to Six Flags in 2015. It was a cloudy day, and school wasn’t out yet, so the park was almost empty. Towards the end of the day, we didn’t even need to get off the rides and could just keep going. El Toro is by far the most thrilling coaster I’ve ever been on. A+++++, would ride again.

New Mexico

I rode 65 miles of the Santa Fe Century bike ride with my mom for her birthday one year. It was one of the most draining things I’ve ever done, and we basically just rode off into the plains south and west of the city. Everything in Santa Fe is made from adobe (or at least looks like it). And there’s turqouise jewelry all over the place.

A #nofilter sunset I saw somewhere near Oswego, NY

New York

I first visited New York in 2004 on a sailing trip with my uncle. We went sailing on Lake Ontario for a week, bouncing around a bunch of different cities. Also, I live here, NYC is the greatest city on earth, what else do you need to know.

North Carolina

A friend lived in Raleigh/Durham, so I took a trip to see her in the fall of 2015. Carolina BBQ is delicious. I don’t prefer it over Memphis, but it still tastes great.

North Dakota

I spent the night in Dickinson earlier this year while driving literally from one end to the other. Teddy Roosevelt National Park looks beautiful, and I should’ve stopped (but I didn’t). That maybe sums up a lot of North Dakota.

It didn’t feel any better than it looks

Ohio

I ran the only marathon I’ve ever ran in Dayton, OH. I didn’t train properly and it messed up my walker for literally a month afterwards. I could barely stand up the rest of the day after. I don’t recommend running a marathon and not training beforehand.

Oklahoma

My grandmother was born and grew up near Norman, OK. We had a family reunion at some point in my childhood, and I just remember the sweltering heat of the summer.

Looking moody on the Oregon Coast, as is tradition

Oregon

The Oregon coast is another of my favorite places in the country. Driving through the rainforest and hills and then bursting onto the Pacific will always make my heart swoon. On a trip to the Rogue brewery, a friend and I watched a mock naval battle in the harbor.

Pennsylvania

I have driven across this state a few times, and taken trips to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The cheesesteaks are serious business, and you should eat them. I had one from Pat’s, and I regret nothing about it.

Rhode Island

We ate at a diner in Providence, near Brown University, which several of my friends attended. This diner was next door to their dorm, and is known for it’s large pies.

While in Charleston, I recommend finding a building or wall that matches your shirt

South Carolina

My friend who used to live in North Carolina and I took a trip to Charleston (pronounced chaw-ul-stun), and it’s quite a lovely city. The history and architecture are great, and you can walk around the historic part of town quite easily.

South Dakota

I went to bootcamp in South Dakota, at Ellsworth AFB. It was four weeks long, and a good portion of it was spent starting at either our manuals or nothing while standing at attention. We drove through the black hills while returning to Denver afterwards, and it was quite scenic. They did not take us to Mount Rushmore.

Tennessee

The much discussed Tennessee trip. We spent a week near Kingston, on the eastern edge. I was stunned at how hilly and wooded the Appalachian mountains are. We spent the night in Nashville, and all I remember from that was the whole duck situation at the Peabody Hotel.

A tethered aerostat with a radar underneath in Southern Texas

Texas

Numerous things have brought me to Texas, and I’ve been to basically every big city in the state. It’s probably the state I’ve seen the most of without having lived there personally (or had family there). I saw a tiny jet, climbed inside of an aerostat, went to ACL, stepped foot on the Astros’ field, visited the oil and wind fields of West Texas, and passed through Amarillo in the middle of the night.

Atop Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

Utah

I lived in Utah for nearly five years after graduating college. There are few other places that have such easy access to unbeatable outdoors. The state is desolate, but beautiful. Zion National Park is one of my top five favorite places in the country, and if you haven’t visited I can’t recommend it enough. Also, Utah has my favorite pizza place in the country. Check out Lucky Slice if you’re ever near Ogden.

Vermont

French for “green mountain”, that basically tells you everything you need to know about the state. It’s mountainous and green. And very pretty. I was in the capital, and there was a visitor’s center with quotes about the state. Likely the best advertisement for the state and my personal favorite is this one from an unnamed Vermont schoolgirl:

I like Vermont because the trees are close together and the people are far apart.

Virginia

Work, family, and friends have taken me across eastern Virginia a number of times. One of the most unexpected things I realized about the East Coast was just how dense the forests are. Growing up in Colorado, I thought I knew what a “forest” was, but those had nothing compared to the sheer density in Appalachia. Also, I saw a bear the only time I’ve ever been hiking in Virginia, in the Shenandoahs.

Fog rolling over Capitol Hill

Washington

I went to undergrad in Seattle, and fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. I think the scenery of Puget Sound is my favorite physical environment to be in. I had never visited the state until I showed up for the first day of school in 2004, in what was likely the best blind decision I’ve ever made. My freshman and sophomore years of college, I lived at the top of the dorm that looked east over a small valley along 12th Ave in Seattle. One of my favorite views was coming back from early morning ROTC workouts to see the morning fog fill in the valley, with the hospital on Cherry Hill peeking out on the other side.

West Virginia

The last “technically visited”. I took a day trip to Harper’s Ferry and did a hike near there. I want to visit the rest, there’s not much else to say about that.

Wisconsin

Marquette University was my second choice school. I visited Milwaukee, first for a wedding in 1999 and later in 2003 when I was looking at schools. I decided the weather in the winter was better in Seattle than Milwaukee.

Artist’s Point, overlooking Yellowstone Falls

Wyoming

Last alphabetically, but certainly not least. Growing up, you would go to Wyoming to buy fireworks since they were illegal in Colorado. Later in life, I fell in love with the mountains in the west. Trips to Jackson Hole, and then Yellowstone National Park this year gave me a much deeper appreciation for the state than the loathing and dread I previously had from driving across the nothingness of I-80 on trips between Utah and Colorado.