For only the third time in all my county collecting trips, I began with a flight rather than leaving home in my own car. My journey started with a flight to Dallas where I rented a car for a week of driving. I set out with the goal of visiting 97 counties, as I drifted through the high plains of northern Texas and western Oklahoma.
Following I-35 from Dallas to Oklahoma City netted 8 counties along the way. Not much need to be said about them except that almost two weeks after returning home the only postcard that has not arrived was the one mailed from Gainesville, TX, the second stop of the trip.
I had a wonderful stay at the Renaissance in Oklahoma City, but after the flight and the drive, didn't feel like going anywhere for dinner. The CL already had dessert out, so I opted for the hotel bar. The meal was fine, but what really sold it was the Mustang Sixty-Six Lager, a local Oklahoma City craft beer. Excellent. I also enjoyed the upgrade to a lovely two room suite. The Renaissance is clearly the place to stay in the city.
From OKC, I roughly followed Route 66 as I zigzagged across the western part of the state toward the Texas panhandle. I crossed this historic route numerous times during the day, my favorite time being in the town of Shamrock, TX (not a county seat). The old Conoco station (below), now a gift shop and tourist information center, is just one of the restored historic buildings in town.
I reached Amarillo a little after 6:00 so had plenty of time to explore the area near the downtown CY. Another upgrade, this time to a nice corner room overlooking the spot from where this photo was taken.
No visit to Amarillo is complete without a stop at the Cadillac Ranch. These 10 classic cars, partially buried in a cow pasture, are located just off I-40 on the western edge of Amarillo (roughly 10 miles from downtown). After dinner I realized that if I wanted to visit before sunset, I'd have to hurry. Needless to say I made it. The Cadillac Ranch is a must see site for anyone journeying along Route 66.
From Amarillo, my route covered the northwest Texas panhandle, the north-easternmost county in New Mexico, Cimarron County, Oklahoma (at the end of the panhandle), the two southeastern counties of Colorado, and almost a dozen counties in southwestern Kansas, finally ending in Dodge City, Kansas. The only Marriott property in town is a TownePlace Suites on the western edge of town. Nice, but not much to say about it. Dodge City thrives on its old west heritage including a museum dedicated to Boot Hill. I didn't visit, but did get a photo of the old west street from outside the fence. It looks like a few tumbleweeds should be blowing through town.
Dodge City is known as “Queen of the Cowtowns”, so naturally I visited Casey’s Cowtown Club, a local steakhouse. Not easy to find (it’s tucked behind the stockyards) but it was worth the effort. I paired dinner with another local beer, this time Gutch English Style Mild Ale from the Defiance Brewing Company of Hays, Kansas (roughly 100 miles to the north). Again, a great choice.
From Dodge City it was back into Oklahoma to collect the other two panhandle counties before returning to Texas. During the late morning and early afternoon while listening to the local NPR station, I picked up a program called “Western Swing and Other Things.” I managed to keep in range of at least one of the High Plains Public Radio stations for the entire three hour show. Fun stuff. By mid-afternoon, I was back in western Oklahoma (not the panhandle) on my way to the SpringHill Suites in Enid.
After a comfortable, but unremarkable stay, I headed north, then west, to visit a few more Oklahoma counties along the Kansas border. By mid-morning my route turned south toward Lawton. The flat scenery was interrupted only by the Quartz and Wichita Mountains rising from the plains. The temperature topped 100º (something that happened each day of this trip) reaching 103º in the town of Walters, OK. As there was not much to see in the small towns of southwestern Oklahoma, I kept my stops in Hobart, Hollis, Mangum, and Altus short preferring to be in my air-conditioned rental car. Another SpringHill Suites stay rounded out the day.
Day 6 began by visiting the last Oklahoma counties of the trip. I reached Wichita Falls by 9:00 and continued northwest along the Oklahoma border. In Quanah, the county seat for Hardeman County, I discovered this interesting display across the street from the county courthouse.
While it is a little hard to make out the details, it show many of the historical cattle brands used in the county as well as listing the owner and year each brand was registered. I always enjoy finding this sort of local history. In the next town I visited (Crowell), I found this along Main Street.
No explanation or sign accompanied it, so I have no idea why it is there. One interesting note is that Crowell, TX claims to be the wild hog capital of the world. After seeing a dead one on the road just outside of town, I believe it. I finished my day back in Wichita Falls at the Courtyard.
The final day of the trip included a handful of counties on the way back to DFW. Having skipped Dallas and Fort Worth at the beginning of the trip, I visited both on this last day. I had been in each city some years back, visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards, the Dallas zoo, and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, so my stops this time included only enough time to photograph the county courthouses and mail postcards.
I left Dallas with just over four hours until my flight home with the intention of visiting three additional nearby counties not on my original itinerary. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. I collected Rockwall, Hunt, and Collin counties and still had almost two hours to make my flight. What I had not anticipated was an accident on I-635 that virtually closed the freeway. It took almost an hour to go two miles and to make a long story short, I missed my flight by about 5 minutes. Luckily the gate agent booked me on a later flight and I made it home just over an hour after my scheduled arrival time (see United versus Delta for details of my experience).
During the seven day trip, I collected 99 counties (I'm still hoping that the missing postcard arrives to make it an even 100) in 5 states. Thank goodness for unlimited mileage because I put 3,798 miles on my rental car. Here are the before and after maps of the five state area I visited.
Eventually, I'll have to visit Lubbock and the nearby counties to fill in that strange looking gap south of the Texas panhandle. Even after adding 46 Texas counties to my tally, I've just crossed the 25% mark for the Lone Star State, so I envision several more trips over the next few years.
With summer winding down and the days growing shorter, my county collecting trips are nearing an end for the year. I have a couple of short journeys on my fall schedule which will include the last 9 counties in West Virginia, much of northern Virginia, and parts of Maryland. Blog entries will follow.