Over the past couple weeks, I’ve detailed my visits to three of Hawaii's islands. If you missed those posts, I encourage you to read them before continuing. Okay, on with the trip wrap up.

Though collecting counties was far from the main purpose of this Hawaiian vacation, I did visit and mail postcards from three of the four county seats in the state. As the Japanese proverb says, isseki nicho (literally: one stone, two birds). Only Lihue on the island of Kauai remains. Regular readers of this blog will recognize the before and after maps tracking my progress. Those not familiar with my color coding may wish to look back over some previous posts for an explanation.



Sharp eyed readers may notice a fifth county in the images above, Kalawao County on the north coast of Molokai. Rather than go into detail as to why Kalawao County has no county seat, I refer you to the Wikipedia article on the List of counties in Hawaii. With no county seat, Kalawao County has no place on my list of county seats to visit. I would like to go there anyway, and I may mail a postcard from Kalaupapa—the largest community—just to say I visited every county in the state. For anyone interested, the islands of Kahoolawe, Lanai, and most of Molokai (except Kalawao County) are all part of Maui County. Similarly, Niihau is part of Kauai County. County collecting aside, it would be fun to visit as many of the islands as possible.

For anyone considering a trip to Hawaii, I encourage visiting more than just Oahu. Honolulu, Waikiki, and the all the other great places on Oahu are worth visiting. They don’t, however, give a true impression of the different things available across the state. Go to the Big Island to see the stars like you’ve never seen them before. Go see the world’s most active volcano. Go to one of the best snorkeling spots in the world (Kealakekua Bay). Go to Kauai, go to Maui. Go visit kharada46. One trip is not enough to do everything. I will add, that all the Marriott properties at which I stayed were excellent.

Though we did three islands over ten days, a better pace might be two islands in that amount of time. A couple more days on Maui might have meant getting to Hana. An extra day on the Big Island would have allowed for more time at the Volcano or to see the Waipio Valley. More time on Oahu could have meant finally visiting the leeward coast. (In several visits to Honolulu, I have not made it west of the airport towards Ewa Beach and Ko Olina).

My county collecting will require at least one more visit to Hawaii. Hopefully, I will make many more trips than that. With so much to see, there are things I haven’t had the chance to do. There are places I want to see again. Perhaps in a couple years, I’ll be once again sitting on the beach sipping a mai tai (or lava flow) watching the sun set into the ocean.


In the meantime, I’m getting ready for an aggressive county collecting trip to Texas (50+ counties in 4 days). I’ll post details in mid-October.

Until then…

Happy Travels,


After visiting Oahu and the Big Island, all that remained for this visit to the Aloha State were a few days on Maui. The short flight from KOA to OGG was over almost as soon as it began. In no time, we were in the rental car and on our way (have I mentioned how much I love not checking luggage? ). I made a quick call to the Maui Ocean Club to see if we might get checked in early. If not we would be exploring the island. It turned out the room was available, so off to Kaanapali we went . Highway 30 is a lovely drive with the ocean on one side and the west Maui Mountains on the other. Those of you who have made the drive know what I mean. Sadly, for those who haven’t I don’t have any photographs to demonstrate.

The room at the Ocean Club was quite nice, although a bit small compared to the rooms earlier in the trip. Not that it mattered. Time in the room was not a priority. The view, however, was great.


We spent the late morning and early afternoon exploring the area around the hotel and along the beach at least as far as Whalers Village. I was a little disappointed to discover the beach in front of the Marriott Vacation Club property is barely existent. From the beach walk, the sand slopes quickly into the ocean with almost no beach to speak of. To find the best part of Kaanapali Beach, one must walk about half a mile north to the Sheraton, a couple of hotels beyond the nearby Shops at Whalers Village.

The afternoon included a short drive to Lahaina. We wandered along the main tourist street past the Lahaina Banyan Court Park, poking in and out of shops. From a very young age, I’ve been a great admirer of banyan trees. I remember climbing one on Lord Howe Island over 40 years ago, and still sometimes have a desire to scamper up into the branches. Though I’m wise enough now not to act on that desire, I always enjoy walking amongst the trunks of these amazing trees. Naturally, in addition to the tree, I also photographed the Old Lahaina Courthouse on the edge of the park.

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Having been in Hawaii for more than a week, the souvenir shops held little appeal as most carry the same array of junk trinkets, though I did keep my eye out for a postcard to mail from Wailuku, the Maui County seat.

Early evening found us on the grounds of the Sheraton for the Maui Nui Luau at Black Rock. Rather than buy the full luau package, we opted to arrive after dinner to enjoy the show and have a few mai tais (I think it was only a few. Each. Maybe ). Choosing to forego dinner cut the price by about two-thirds, a decision I don’t regret in the least. I have no doubt the food was good, I just couldn’t justify spending so much on relatively uninspiring fare (my previous luau experience may have influenced me ). Now unlimited drinks and a show, that’s a different story.



Oh, did I mention that we arrived at the luau just before sunset?

Maui sunset.jpg

As it turns out, most of the luau shows along the beach at Kaanapali are easy to watch from afar. We happened to be passing by the Hyatt the next night as the fire knife dancers were performing, so we stopped to watch for a short time (but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Thursday morning meant another snorkeling trip, this time to Molokini. Molokini is a partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a perfect crescent, and is one of the most popular snorkeling spots in the state. We were up early as we needed to make the 30 minute drive to Maalaea Harbor for a 7:30 check in. We breakfasted aboard the boat as it began the 10 mile trip to Molokini. The crater is now a marine sanctuary and is teeming with life—coral, fish, sea urchins, and the occasional reef shark (I didn’t see any). Visibility is superb up to a depth of 150 feet. The above water portion is home to numerous sea birds, most notable on our visit, the Great Frigatebird.


I chose to pay the extra fee to try snuba. Snuba is a cross between snorkeling and scuba using a standard scuba tank which floats on a raft at the surface. A hose connects to a scuba regulator allowing the diver to spend 30 minutes or so at depths up to 12 feet below the surface. Twice before I’ve been scuba diving with a licensed dive master (once at the Great Barrier Reef , and once off the coast of Key Largo ). This was my first experience with snuba. I can heartily recommend it. Anyone who might be interested in scuba diving should give snuba a try. Being tethered to the raft can reassure some. If there is a need to resurface (difficulty with water in your mask, can’t equalize the pressure in your ears, just want to breathe fresh air for a moment) pull yourself along the air hose and grab onto your raft. Once all is good, it’s back underwater. Scuba is a bit more complicated with buoyancy vests and remembering to stop every 10 feet or so as you ascend. Those are not issues with snuba. You cannot dive as deep with snuba, but you do get most of the other experiences associated with scuba diving.

In this picture you can see the dive master and the other snuba divers in the distance (and of course my air tank raft floating at the surface).


More photographs, some from Molokini, can be found in the photo album Underwater Hawaii.

Lunch aboard the boat included grilled chicken, veggie-burgers, or Kalua pork sandwiches. I’ll let IAHFLYR guess which one I chose . Shortly after noon, we were back on land and off to explore more of Maui. I thought it might be worth visiting the Wailea Beach Marriott, if for no other reason than to stop in for some refreshments . I decided to try a beer from the Maui Brewing Company, their Bikini Blonde Ale, which turned out to be my favorite of the trip.

While the Maui Ocean Club is a great property, for a short stay like ours, visiting a Marriott Vacation Club almost doesn’t make sense. We didn’t cook in our room or at any of the many grills located on the grounds. We didn’t swim in the wonderful pool, and the only time we ventured into the ocean from the beach, we headed over to the Sheraton (where they have a much nicer beach). When I return to Maui, I will probably stay at the Wailea Beach Marriott. It’s a beautiful property, and despite some of the mixed reviews I’ve read on Insiders, it looks to be a place I would enjoy.

From Wailea, we headed into Kahului and Wailuku so I could mail my postcard from Maui County. Lest regular readers of my blog think I forgot to take any courthouse photos, I offer this as evidence to the contrary.

Maut Courthouse.jpg

As the day waned, we returned to the Maui Ocean Club. Dinner in Lahaina and a nighttime stroll along the beach walk with a last stop for “prescription meds” rounded out the day . As mentioned earlier, we watched part of the Drums of the Pacific luau show at the neighboring Hyatt Resort.

I left the schedule for the final day in Hawaii wide open. With an overnight flight to the mainland, we had over 10 hours to while away however we wanted. After breakfast by the sea at the MVC, we drove beyond Kapalua as far as highway 30 goes. Following the advice of kharada46, when we stopped at the Nakalele Blowhole, proper footwear was in order. The climb down was moderately arduous as was the return, but nothing most folks can’t manage.

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Morning shifted to afternoon and we still had time for one more visit to the beach, so we returned to the Sheraton to swim and snorkel around Black Rock. The snorkeling from that part of the beach is almost as good as at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island. Almost. After an hour or so in the water, we grabbed a couple drinks at the pool bar so we could get our parking validated (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it ). We made one last stop at the Marriott Maui Ocean Club where we used the hospitality room to change clothes before bidding farewell to west Maui.

Before leaving home for this trip, I remembered reading about a tiki bar in Kihei called the South Shore Tiki Lounge, so with a couple hours of daylight remaining, we went searching. Even with Google Maps, it was tricky to find, but persistence paid off. Though still a bit early for dinner, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and now seemed a good a time as any for a meal to go with our classic tiki cocktails (is it possible to go to a tiki bar without ordering drinks? ).


We whiled away the last couple hours in an around Kahului picking up a couple of last minute souvenirs and gifts before returning the rental car and getting ready for our overnight flight back to the mainland.

While we explored west Maui reasonably well, there are still several areas of the island to visit on a future trip. I had hoped to make the drive to Hana. I also would have liked to get to the top of Haleakala. I did see part of the southern shore near Wailea, but there is more to do there as well. These places give me a reason to come back to Maui (like I need an excuse, right?).

Many folks rank Maui as their favorite island, and while I enjoyed Maui very much, it can’t compete (in my opinion) with the lush beauty of Kauai or the diverse landscapes of the Big Island. (As a side note, my last visit to Kauai was 2004). In all fairness, it is hard to choose a favorite island because each has beautiful and wonderful things to see. If I had to choose, I think I’d still put Kauai at the top (maybe I should visit soon again so I can be sure ). At least for this trip, I enjoyed the Big Island best. Some of that may have been influenced by the amazing Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Regardless, the overall trip was fantastic and not one I’ll soon forget.

With a couple stray threads to tie up, look for a brief blog entry in the coming days to wrap things up and add a few final thoughts from this incredible island vacation.

Until then…

Happy Travels,


The visit to the island of Hawaii, commonly referred to as the Big Island, began late in the third day of the trip. The first thing most folks notice upon arrival is that there are no jet bridges. Since my last visit in 2004 the mobile aircraft boarding stairs have been replaced by boarding ramps, but deplaning still requires crossing the tarmac to reach the open-air terminal. Within ten or fifteen minutes of landing, we were in our rental car heading for the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, about 25 miles to the north. More details about the property are in the post Mauna Kea Beach Hotel - Autograph property par excellence. We spent the evening getting settled and exploring the layout of the hotel.

Our first full day on the Big Island began with a snorkeling trip to Kealakekua Bay. Actually it began with a 45 minute drive to Keauhou Bay followed by a 7½ mile boat trip to Kealakekua Bay, which is often cited as the best snorkeling spot in the entire state. I can see why.


There are additional pictures, several of which came from Kealakekua Bay in the photo album Underwater Hawaii.

Two and half hours in the water, followed by a great lunch (cheeseburgers, hot dogs, or garden burgers) passed quickly. Another hour back to the dock and the excursion was over. After returning to land, we lingered a while in the Kailua-Kona area stopping by Don the Beachcomber’s in the Royal Kona Resort for our afternoon “prescription meds.” As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I’m a bit of sucker for tiki bars and Don the Beachcomber was one of the heavyweights in that field (along with Trader Vic). Though I was a little disappointed with the décor, the location overlooking the ocean was superb.

By the time we returned to the hotel, the combination of sunshine, surf, and physical activity had worn us out. Add to that the fact that we still had not fully adjusted to the six hour time difference and an early evening nap became a long night’s sleep.

The next morning, fully refreshed, if not a little sunburned, we readied for a drive to Hilo on the eastern side of the island. As many Insiders know, mailing postcards from each county seat in the US is a necessary part of almost all my travels, so a visit to Hilo (the seat for Hawaii County) was a must. I actually stayed in Hilo on my last trip to the Big Island, but since that was before I began my county seat collecting, I needed to return to “collect” Hawaii County. Of course the 90 minute drive from one side of the island to the other was not just about mailing a postcard from the county seat (okay, yes it was ). Even so, the windward side of the island has sites worth exploring, especially along the Hamakua coast. The most impressive place we visited was Akaka Falls State Park. Akaka Falls is 442 feet high (one source says 422 ft.). However tall, it is impressive. There are actually two waterfalls at the park, Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. If pressed for time, skip Kahuna Falls.



By the time we reached Hilo, the thermometer had hit 90 and we needed a way to cool off. I now understand why shave ice is so popular in Hawaii. We found a shop called Hawaiian Brain Freeze (sounded like the perfect place) and ordered a couple small shave ices, mango for her, raspberry with a snow cap (covering of condensed milk) for me. Seriously, these were the small size. I came just short of eating all of mine, glad I had not chosen a larger size.

After mailing my postcard, we drove back the way we came through Waimea where we stopped for a late lunch. We watched another sunset from the beach and then dropped by the Hau Tree, the beach bar for some evening refreshments.


Once the sun had set, the hotel staff turned on the flood light near the north end of the beach at a place nicknamed “Manta Point.” The light attracts plankton, which attracts fish, which attracts manta rays. We watched these amazing creatures for about an hour before turning in for the night.


The third full day on the Big Island turned out to be Labor Day. On an extended vacation, it can be hard to keep track of the days. What I didn’t forget is that this was the day I had booked our tour to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Knowing that Hawaii Volcanoes NP is on the exact opposite side of the island from our hotel, I knew I didn’t want to make a round trip drive, so hiring someone else to do it made perfect sense. Our mini bus arrived around 11:30am and whisked us and the other 10 guests across the Saddle Road (average elevation 6000 feet) to Hilo and on to Volcano. On the drive we were lucky enough to see the Pueo, or Hawaiian Owl. Unlike most owls, the Pueo is often active during the day and we saw several flying above the grasslands. One even perched on a fencepost along the road almost begging us to take pictures.

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As we descended into Hilo, we stopped at Kaumana Caves (actually a lava tube) and Rainbow Falls (above). We had considered visiting Rainbow Falls a day earlier when in Hilo, but did not, so I was glad the tour made the stop. Though not as tall as Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls has more visitors since it more easily accessible just on the outskirts of Hilo.

After another hour, we finally reached the area around Kilauea. The entire place has an otherworldly fell with vents spewing steam into the air and ground that appears to be smoking. When I last visited it was still possible to drive all the way around the crater on Crater Rim Drive. Not anymore. Since 2008, Crater Rim Drive is closed between the Jagger Museum and Chain of Craters Road due to dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide. I consider myself lucky to have been here before the road closure. I understand the parking lot and trail I visited last time have since been destroyed by the volcano.


The only disappointment of the entire trip came when we visited the Jagger Museum after dark to see the glow of lava. Clouds obscured most of the view, though I did manage to get one semi decent photograph of the glow reflecting off the clouds.


I had hoped to get a more clear view of the crater, but it was not to be. I suppose that will mean a third visit to Volcanoes National Park could be in my future. Three hours later we arrived back at the hotel glad we left the driving to someone else.

Our final full day on the Big Island began with breakfast at the Aloha Deli, just a couple miles north of the Mauna Kea in the small, unincorporated community of Kawaihae. Despite the amazing buffet spread put out at the Manta Restaurant in the Mauna Kea, sometimes simple is better. We knew we’d never get $70 worth of breakfast the buffet would cost for two, so instead we found a place frequented by locals. Nothing fancy, just your typical breakfast which set us back less than $10 apiece. I’m all for the convenience of hotel dining, but sometimes it’s nice to get out and discover little hole in the wall restaurants. Other options for off-site dining are 10-15 minutes south at the Shops and Mani Lani and Waikoloa Village. Most places there cater to tourists, so expect somewhat higher prices though still cheaper than eating at the hotel.

On our way back from Kawaihae, we stopped briefly at the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, just a mile or so north of the Mauna Kea. The site has historical significance related to the conquest of all the Hawaiian Islands by Kamehameha the Great. Those curious can find lots more information on National Park Service website.


Though barely 9:00am, the sun was already beginning to bake us. What better way to remedy this than a dip in the ocean. With such a great beach and amazing snorkeling right along the shore, we returned the hotel and hit the beach. By 11:00am we were sacked out on lounge chairs under a cabana enjoying the good life.

Two o’clock found us back in the car heading for the rendezvous point for another tour, this one to the top of Mauna Kea to watch the sunset and stargaze. Everyone goes to the Big Island to see flowing lava. What everyone should do is take a tour up to the top of the world’s tallest mountain (when measured from its base at the sea floor). Mauna Kea stands 13,796 feet above sea level, but is over 33,000 from base to summit. It also happens to be home to about a dozen of the world’s most powerful telescopes. The high elevation and limited light pollution make the peak one of the best places in the world for astronomical observation.

We made a brief stop at the visitor’s center officially known as the Okizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station, roughly 9,200 feet up the mountain. Beyond the visitor’s center, the road is unpaved and very steep. Only guided tours and four wheel drive vehicles can continue on to the top. We reached the summit in time to take in a glorious sunset above the clouds. At roughly 35 degrees F, the parkas and gloves provided by the tour company were most welcome.


MKsunset.jpg  MKsunset2.jpg

Once the sun set we headed back down to around 9,000 feet where our guide set up the telescope. This wasn’t your typical backyard set up. This was an 11” Celestron telescope that would set an amateur astronomer back between $3,000 and $4,500 depending on the choice of filters and accessories. Unlike the free viewing across the way at the visitor’s center, we had only a dozen people using the telescope which allowed us to look at a variety of objects. We saw Saturn (rings clearly visible), the Lagoon Nebula, several star clusters, and the Andromeda galaxy. Our guide also pointed out a number of constellations like Hercules, Scorpius, Draco, and Cygnus.

My camera equipment was completely unsuited to taking photographs of the night sky, but I was fortunate enough to capture this.


Staring at the Milky Way, I barely thought about taking any photographs, so I’m glad I did get a few. Perhaps if I return, I’ll come better equipped.

With a 9:00am flight to Maui the next day, the journey back from Mauna Kea essentially ended the Big Island portion of the trip. Needless to say, the time here was well spent. We were busy, but no so busy as to feel rushed. We stayed at a truly amazing hotel, spent part of almost every day in the water, and sampled a variety of tropical drinks. It was everything a Hawaiian vacation should be.

The next blog entry will wrap up the trip to Hawaii with my first ever visit to Maui.

Until then…

Happy Travels,


While my recent visit to Hawaii was not for the sole purpose collecting counties, I used the opportunity to add a few postcards to my collection. After all, I need to visit the four county seats in Hawaii (Hilo, Honolulu, Lihue, and Wailuku) for my collection to be complete. I’ll save the discussion of Kalawao County and why it has no county seat for later.

This journey began with a stay at the Columbus Airport Marriott the night before an early morning flight to HNL via LAX. The idea of rushing to the airport first thing on a Wednesday morning had absolutely no appeal and with a category 1-5 certificate from my MR Visa set to expire, this property was a perfect fit. Despite two lengthy flights and an hour delay in LAX, I arrived at HNL early in the afternoon. About fifteen minutes after the aircraft door opened, I was on I-H1 on my way to Waikiki. Being first off the plane, not having any checked bags, and using my Hertz status all helped speed up the process.

I already knew a day or so before that trip that my city view room at the Waikiki Beach Marriott had been upgraded to a deluxe ocean view. Here’s the view from the balcony.


Needless to say I was thrilled. Our resident Hawaii expert kharada46 has commented extensively on this property, so I refer you to his discussions for more details that I would ever be able to provide.

Here are some good examples

Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa - 3 Stays in 1 Review

Waikiki Beach Marriott Renovations

Waikiki Beach Marriott Upgrades

Marriott Waikiki v.s. Courtyard Waikiki

After a long day of travel, the only things on the agenda for the first afternoon/evening were food, drinks (tried both a Waikiki Blonde Ale and the “free” hotel mai tai), and a little swimming. I should mention that two “free” mai tais are included per stay as part of the $30 a day resort fee. One breakfast per room per day (including gratuity) is also covered which at $28 a pop essentially makes the mai tais free. None of the other benefits offered to MR members had any value to me. By 8pm, having been up over 20 hours, it was time for bed. Crashing early the first night made it easier to adjust to the six hour time change during the rest of the trip.

Day 2 began with a heavy downpour which necessitated a change in plans. Instead of climbing Diamondhead, we drove around the southeast coast of the island and on to Kailua. The rain had mostly blown over by the time we reached Kailua Beach Park, so a short walk along the beach seemed in order. The humidity and continued possibility of rain kept the visit brief, but we did get a few photographs including this selfie.


From there we crossed back over the mountains on our way to Haleiwa on the north shore. A quick stop at the tourist trap Dole Plantation included a Dole Whip (essentially a pineapple flavored soft serve). We got crushed pineapple on top of ours. I can’t really recommend a stop there as it is just an excuse to separate tourists from their money, but the Dole Whip was tasty and the bathrooms are clean. On principle I refused to spend any money on the mountain of tacky souvenirs.

Lunch in Haleiwa was at a fantastic vegetarian restaurant called the Beet Box Café. Worth a stop even by omnivores for great sandwiches and smoothies. Maybe next time kharada46 visits the north shore, he can do a full review. I really enjoyed it. After lunch we followed highway 930 along the northwest shore, past the Dillingham airport/glider field to where the road ends and found this rocky, deserted beach.


A trail continues on the shoreline to Ka’ena Point and then around to the leeward shore where it meets highway 93 before heading to the resorts at Ko Olina. I loved wandering the beach and climbing on the rocks watching crabs scuttle for shelter as I approached. Having the place to ourselves and getting a respite from the continual showers made the stop a joy. As busy and crowded as Honolulu is, it’s nice to know that a relatively short drive can take you to a place that feels far away from everything with just the sound of the wind and waves for company.

The return trip to Waikiki took almost an hour with rain and traffic interfering in nearly equal proportions. After a brief rest and a couple happy hour mai tais (sensing a theme yet?) at the nearby Cheeseburger in Paradise (not affiliated with Jimmy Buffett), it was soon time for an Insider dinner (Insiders meet in Honolulu). I tried another local beer, this time the local Primo Island Lager from Keoki Brewing Company. Dinner was only surpassed by the company that evening.

By Friday it was time to say aloha to Oahu and head over to the Big Island of Hawaii. Before leaving, I mailed my postcard from the Honolulu County (county seat Honolulu) and made one last important stop. I’m a huge fan tiki culture, so when I discovered the La Mariana Sailing Club has been operating a restaurant and tiki bar that is virtually unchanged since 1957, I had to drop in for a drink.

LM.jpg  LM2.jpg

LM3.jpg  LM4.jpg

I had just enough time for a mai tai before heading to the airport to drop off the rental car and catch the flight to Kona. While the time on Oahu was short, we had a great time. With three islands planned over ten days, we had to make a few tradeoffs. The limited stay in Honolulu was one such example. Over the years, I’ve spent perhaps a combined 10 days on Oahu and have no doubt I’ll visit again, perhaps when I come back to Hawaii to mail a postcard from Lihue.

I wholeheartedly recommend the Waikiki Beach Marriott. Just make sure to ask for an upgrade. The view alone is worth it. The staff is top notch and will do what they can to make any stay enjoyable (Re: Outstanding service - Waikiki Beach Marriott).

Up next will be the Big Island including a most amazing stay at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

Until then…

Happy Travels,


It’s been over a year since I last set foot in Michigan and to quote Irving Berlin, "That's why I wish again, to be back in Michigan."

My last visit was to the area affectionately known by Michiganders as “the thumb.” (Green Thumb) This time, I decided to visit the remaining counties in the Lower Peninsula. Though there were only 22 from which I needed to mail postcards, it involved covering a lot of territory.

Here is the “before” map which gives an idea of the place I needed to see (any counties not colored dark blue).


The drive from Ohio was wet. Collecting counties in the rain isn't much fun, but at least most of the first day involved passing through previously visited places, so stops were minimal. By the time I reached Hastings in Barry County, the rain had ended. In fact, the entire weekend was dry except for a brief shower on the drive home.

The three and a half day trip proved successful as all 22 postcards I mailed arrived within a few days of returning home. Here is my “after” map showing just two counties in the Upper Peninsula left to collect.


My stays were at the FFI Lansing West (nothing noteworthy to report), the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, and The Henry—an Autograph Collection hotel in Dearborn. The JW and Autograph properties were my first experience with those brands and I must admit, I felt a little out of place. Perhaps it’s that I’m more accustomed to Renaissance and Marriott, but whatever the reason, I enjoyed the luxury nevertheless (the lounging chair at JW was a bit more comfortable).

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While in Grand Rapids, I decided to check out one of the local brewpubs (Beer-cations!). I selected Hop Cat. It’s a few blocks from the JW and worth a visit for a beer and a burger. Make sure to get their signature “Crack Fries.” Truly addictive. Check out this article from the Food Network (America's 10 Best French Fries).

Hop Cat.jpg

As I usually do, I photographed many of the county courthouses when I stop in a county seat to mail home a postcard. Here are a couple of note (Traverse City in Grand Traverse County and Mio in Oscoda County).

Traverse City.jpg   Mio.jpg

During my last visit to Michigan, I stayed at the Dearborn Inn on the recommendation of jerrycoin and jakeal. This visit, I decided to try The Henry, located just a couple miles away. The Henry (named for Henry Dearborn, not Henry Ford as I had thought) used to be a Ritz Carlton until 2010 when the fallout of the economic downturn prompted RC to sell the property. A multimillion dollar upgrade by the new owners included a new Concierge Lounge and renovated rooms. Artwork lines the walls in most of the lobby and hallways. Almost hard to believe it’s a category 5 property.


Even so, were I to go back to Dearborn, I’d choose the Dearborn Inn over the Henry, though both are excellent options.

My trip to Michigan is the only true county collecting trip of the summer. I do have a couple overnight visits to places I have already collected (Cincinnati and Buffalo) but nothing further planned until fall. I will collect three counties on my late summer trip to Hawaii, but that is almost ancillary to the visit itself. Even so, I will post a blog entry about my visits to the counties of Honolulu, Hawaii, and Maui.

Until then…

Happy Travels,



Appalachian Spring

Posted by bejacob May 3, 2015

Late April found me driving through the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. As mentioned at the end of my last blog entry, I planned to visit the remaining uncollected counties in VA, as well as the last mountain counties in NC and TN. With that in mind, the trip south began.

The first stop (not counting breakfast) was Clintwood, VA, roughly 6 hours from home. Another 6 hours, and 7 county seats, brought me to Boone, NC and the CY. This location has been open for about three years and still has that new feeling. jakeal and other beer fans will appreciate the beer and wine shop right next door stocked with all manner of libations and staffed by a knowledgeable staff. Looking for something from the local area, this is the place to go.


Following a recommendation from IAHFLYR, after getting settled, I drove another 7 or so miles to the town of Blowing Rock to eat at Woodlands Bar-B-Que.

Dinner was good, but not as amazing as I had hoped. My pulled pork sandwich was a little on the dry side, but a generous squirt of BBQ sauce and a dollop of coleslaw on top (Carolina style) solved that problem. I enjoyed dinner while listening to a local musician playing guitar and singing. Not a bad way to start a trip.

Driving the hills of western NC and eastern TN through towns like Burnsville, Bakersville, Jonesborough, brought me to Asheville, NC by the end of day 2. I had originally planned on staying at the Autograph Grand Bohemian, but when the rate jumped to almost three times the price of a room at the Renaissance, I opted for the latter. Being upgraded to a suite proved that I made the right choice. Dinner in Asheville was at the nearby Pack’s Tavern where I sampled a couple of the local craft brews. My favorite was the Hi-Wire Lager, made right in downtown Asheville. The area around Asheville has more microbreweries per capita than anywhere else in the U.S., something I learned from the front desk staff at the Renaissance.

The Renaissance in Asheville is within easy walking distance of more restaurants than I could count. It’s now a category 8 property, and while nice, I’m not sure why it’s rated so. I've stayed at nicer properties which were lower categories, so location must be a major factor. Certainly a place I can recommend, and one I would consider visiting again.

Day 3 took me farther south into NC and eventually to northeast GA. One notable stop along the way was Brevard, NC, the county seat for Transylvania County. Among other things, the area is known for its white squirrels. During my short visit, I saw three different indications of the significance these little creatures (though sadly, no actual white squirrels).

WS Shoppe.jpg  WS license.jpg  WS sign.jpg

For anyone interested the town holds an annual White Squirrel Festival the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Memorial Day. Now might be a good time to make plans.

bejacob and foxglove.jpg


By late afternoon, I visited the last county on my list for the day and headed south about another 30 miles to the Springhill Suites in Athens, GA. I had previously driven through Athens and collected the nearby counties, but being so close foxglove territory, I couldn't pass up a chance to visit with a fellow Insider. Details of this meeting can be found at Another Insider meet up (bejacob and foxglove).

Day 4 took me north, this time as far as Knoxville, TN. Though the day began with rain, it cleared up by the time I reached Deal’s Gap and the Tail of the Dragon, the nickname for US route 129 between NC and TN. Route 129 winds along the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has become a favorite drive for car and motorcycle enthusiasts. For me, it represented the shortest distance from Robbinsville, NC and Maryville, TN. Over the course of about 11 miles, there are 318 curves. Some readers may remember about a year ago I mentioned this route when I drove state route 16 in western VA which has been nicknamed “The Back of the Dragon” (see North Carolina – From the Mountains to the Sea). Back then, I didn't think I'd have an opportunity to experience this route as well. Funny how things work out sometimes. The drive along US 129 is not for the timid, but it as long as traffic isn't too heavy, it can be enjoyable and the scenery is amazing. Here is a map showing the route (note the yellow mileage signs).

Dragon map.jpg

Before starting the drive, I stopped at the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort to take a few photos. One of my favorites was the “Tree of Shame” which collects pieces of wrecked motorcycles from along the route.

dragon.jpg   deals gap.jpg  tree of shame.jpg

Though not particularly dangerous if diving at a reasonable speed, every year it seems at least one reckless biker loses his life on the road. It does put things in perspective. The popularity of the Tail of the Dragon has encouraged numerous enterprising photographers to set up shop along the route. Much like roller coaster cameras, photos are available for purchase on the web after the ride. I'm still deciding if I want to buy one (I found my pictures from all the different companies, but have not yet determined which one to get, if any. It is, after all, just a picture of me in my car, though I suppose it does prove I was there).

By early evening Saturday, I arrived at the Knoxville Marriott. The properties dates from the early 1970s and is reminiscent of the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World in its A-frame design and 10-story lobby (though no monorail). Despite a couple places where it shows its age, it is well-maintained, and is a great place to stay when in Knoxville. Oh, and is still a category 5 property. It compared favorably with the category 8 Renaissance in Asheville, making it a bargain for points redemption. I would gladly visit again.

Knoxville.jpg  interior.jpg

It’s an easy walk from the hotel to downtown Knoxville where a plethora of restaurants await. I chose the Downtown Grill & Brewery. Beer is brewed on site (their coasters proudly proclaim “the cure for all your ales”) and with 7 signature beers, there is bound to be one that pleases (I liked the Downtown Blonde Ale best).

By midday Sunday, I mailed the last postcard of this trip and headed home. Of the 62 postcards sent, all but one have arrived. Hopefully the missing one (Ellijay, GA) will show up soon. If not, are return visit will be in order. As has become my habit, I have prepared before and after maps showing my continuing progress.

South.png  South2.png

The goal for the trip was to fill in that strange gap just below WV. Looking at the ‘after’ map, I’d say, “Mission Accomplished.” I still have a few counties in northern Georgia along I-75, but a flight to ATL on DL and a rental car would take care of those in no time.

Each check-in was accomplished with the mobile app which worked like a charm. Keys were ready for pickup when I arrived at each of the four hotels which happened to all be different brands. I did get one upgrade and because the lounge was closed at both the Renaissance (renovation) and the Marriott (weekend), I earned additional points.

During this journey, Virginia became the 10th state in which I have mailed and received postcards from every country. Virginia, in addition to the 95 counties, has 38 independent cities which are technically not part of any county despite the fact that 13 of these cities also serve as county seats. So I collected 120 postcards in the state, 95 county seats, plus the 25 independent cities that are not county seats (confused yet? Don't worry, it took me a while to figure out how I was going to tackle this very issue).

With no travel planned for May, it appears I will break my string of 15 straight months with at least one Marriott stay . Up next will be a short visit to Michigan in early June followed by Hawaii at the beginning of September . Although there may be one or two Marriott nights in between, my stays during the typical summer promo period are limited this year. Hopefully, I can still earn a few bonus points .

Overall my county collecting total has reached 46% of my intended destinations, up from 40% at the start the year. Hitting the halfway point is still possible this year, though it will require adding at least one trip to my already planned itineraries. Whether I cross that mark this year or next, I'll detail the trip here.

Until then…

Happy Travels,


California is the most recent state to be added to my list of Marriott stays. The tally is now 29 states, plus the District of Columbia (Re: In How Many States Have You Stayed at a Marriott Property?). The three-day jaunt to the left coast was too short by far, but having spent many weeks in this part of California over the years, the hurried pace was no problem. The goal for this journey was to collect a few dozen counties in the central part of the state.




The trip began with a short flight on UA from CMH to ORD on an A319. Lake Michigan, still showing signs of large sheets of ice came into view just before arriving in Chicago. I've flown this way many times before, but don't recall ever doing so in winter, so seeing part of the lake frozen was somewhat of a novelty.

Despite continuing on to Sacramento on the same flight number, the ORD-SMF leg was on a different aircraft (A320) and in a separate concourse. Even with the distance between gates, there was enough time to grab a quick dinner. The bulkhead row ended up with considerably more legroom than I anticipated and I expected no under seat area in front of me. Finding the divider between FC and Economy Plus had a cut out at the bottom allowing room for my laptop was an added bonus.


Until this trip, the only California counties I had visited since beginning my unusual hobby of mailing a postcard from every county seat in the country were San Diego and Imperial Counties along the southern border. My map of the state looked like this (green being for counties where I previously visited the county seat, teal for counties I have been in or through).


By the time I flew home, it looked like this. (Hmmm, looks like I need to plan a trip to LA soon to collect those 8 counties in So Cal.).


Certainly the highlight of the trip was getting to see pluto77 again. We had met in D.C. last November, but since I was passing through her home territory it seemed appropriate to visit again. Sadly we didn't think of taking any photographs. Our get together really felt more like friends meeting for dinner rather than an Insider gathering. I enjoyed a lovely dinner with her and Mr. Pluto, and naturally, much of our conversation involved Marriott, MRI, and travel in general.


Over the three days, I covered 1691 miles, but lest you think all I did was drive, here’s a photo from the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.


The trip would not have been complete without at least one stop at In-n-Out burger (I managed to grab lunch there twice ) or without crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.


The drive through Napa County on the final day of the trip was amazing. I crossed the county roughly south to north along State Route 29 in hours just after sunrise and enjoyed the scenery immensely. No pictures, I'm sorry to say, and at the time I visited, none of the wineries were open. I'll have to make a return visit for a tasting tour some day. I did manage to hit all my planned stops, something that doesn't always happen due to traffic or weather. The trip included stays at 2 CYs and one SHS. All quite nice, though nothing remarkable. I'd stay at any of them again.

The journey home yielded one last unexpected bonus—an upgrade to First Class. Having the extra space on the overnight flight from SMF-IAH made a huge difference (I was actually able to doze off a few times which probably would have been impossible even in Economy Plus). Perhaps the pre-flight beverage helped a little.

All 35 postcards arrived within a week of the trip (the first dozen showed up an hour or so after I arrived home) bringing my collection up to 1,389, roughly 44% of the county seats in the country. With only one more aggressive collecting trip planned, reaching 50% might not happen this year, depending on what other travel opportunities come my way. With Hawaii on the agenda for September, I will be trading quantity for quality. I'll collect 3 counties in Hawaii over the course of 10 days (such is the sacrifice one must make when visiting paradise ).


Up next will be a trip into Appalachia at the end of April, which will involve completing the last counties in VA, western NC, and eastern TN, as well as dozen or so in northeast GA. Also included will be a visit with foxglove. I’m sure that will be fun.


Until then...


Happy Travels,


This is how the first county collecting trip of the year ended.


I'm jumping ahead, so let me start with a more cheery tale. As my travel year beings, my county collecting map spanning a few hundred miles east and west of the Mississippi River looks like this.


As a quick reminder, I’m mailing home a postcard from each county seat in the United States, and counties where I have received that postcard get colored blue. Counties colored teal, I have been in, but not visited the county seat, and green counties are where I have been to the county seat but not mailed, or in a few cases received, a postcard (see County Collecting 2014 - the Year in Review for my map of the entire country). I decided 2015 would be the year to create a contiguous stretch of blue counties reaching from Canada and the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico (perhaps next year I'll work to connect the east and west coasts).


I set out from Ohio on a Sunday morning at 2:30am, knowing it would take 10-11 hours to reach the first uncollected county (just south of Birmingham, AL) The trip started out fine, and though it was cold in Ohio, by the time I reached Alabama, temperatures moderated. As the sun set, I pulled into the Prattville Marriott (hotel/conference center), and rather than venture out for dinner, the Oak Tavern in the hotel provided a tasty, if unremarkable, dinner.


I used mobile check-in, but still needed to wait at the front desk to have my keys prepared. Apparently, there had been a number of late departures, so there was some question as to which rooms were ready. This somewhat defeats the purpose of mobile check-in, though I did get a nice view of the golf course which makes me think I did get an upgrade.


The next day, as I continued south toward the Gulf, it reached almost 70º, a far cry from the single digits back home. I detoured about a half mile off US 31 in southern Alabama to take this photo for my photo album of  State Welcome Signs.


Since I had previous visited Escambia County, Florida where this sign is located (interestingly the adjacent counties in both AL and FL are both named Escambia), I continued though southwest AL and southeast MS ending the day at the Courtyard in Gulfport, located across the street from the beach.  By the time I arrived, the rain had started and the temperature had dropped into the low 50s (by morning is was freezing). This hotel is undergoing renovations to upgrade the front desk (and likely to add a Bistro). My ground floor room overlooked the parking lot and the ocean beyond (no way this could have been an upgrade). Dinner at the Half Shell Oyster Bar, a short drive away, consisted of char-grilled oysters (YUM!) , blackened redfish, and key lime pie, all washed down with a Lazy Magnolia Indian Summer beer (local to the area). I recommend this place if visiting Gulfport.



From Gulfport, it was into southeastern Louisiana—bayou country. At Pointe a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish (counties in LA are called parishes), the only option was to do some serious backtracking or cross the Mississippi River by ferry. Naturally, I chose the ferry.

It’s worth mentioning that I drove through the area south of New Orleans on Mardi Gras. Having already visited New Orleans and not wanting to deal with the crazy crowds, I bypassed the area (for the most part). I did see a few floats with some already drunken revelers heading toward the parades around mid-afternoon as my route headed north across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (traffic heading into the city was starting to get ugly). At almost 24 miles long the causeway is the longest bridge over water in the word. I snapped a few pictures from behind the wheel, but none are worth sharing. Nightfall found me at the Renaissance in Baton Rouge. With the weather still cold, dining at the hotel seemed a reasonable option. Another appetizer of char-grilled oysters, this time followed up by a shrimp po boy, and accompanied by a Canebrake beer by the nearby Parish Brewing Company. Not as good as dinner in Gulfport, but still quite good.



The next three days were nothing special. Cold, gray, and a lot of driving. Each day ended at a CY (Jackson, Tuscaloosa, and Tupelo). The location in Jackson/Pearl is less than a year old, and in addition to my regular Platinum arrival gifts, I received this little gift bag. Not exciting, perhaps, but a nice gesture.

The room had numerous power outlets (which some older locations are lacking) as well as USB charging ports both on the desk and the bedside table. This is the first time I've seen that in a CY. I hope it becomes the standard.



That brings me to the journey home. I completed my planned county collecting early on Saturday, and began what should have been an 8-9 hour drive back to central Ohio. Winter storm Pandora (as it was named) decided to play havoc with the roads. My intention was to follow the Natchez Trace Parkway from northern Mississippi to its terminus just south of Nashville. Rain, freezing as it hit the roadway, made this route treacherous. Every bridge was a sheet of glaze ice and the two-lane parkway was slush. Figuring the interstates would be safer, I headed north to pick up I-40. About 50 miles before reaching Nashville, I hit the granddaddy of all potholes. Both passenger tires blew out and I spent the next 6 hours waiting for a tow. I was not the only one. A line of cars and trucks littered the side of the road.

Some had one flat and were able to change the tire and move on. I was not so lucky. By the time my car was put on the back of a flatbed tow truck and I was settled in my non-Marriott “Super” motel, it was about 9pm (the blowouts happened around 12:30).


A short cab ride on Sunday morning took me back to my car (left at the Wal-Mart auto center  in Dickson, TN the night before). By 11:00am, I was back on the road. I still had two slightly bent wheel rims (now on the back) because replacements were not available, and the wrong size tires (my size was out of stock). Still, I made it the last 500 miles home for which I am thankful. Some drivers on the ice and snow-covered roads in Tennessee that same weekend were not so lucky.


I managed to visit all the counties I planned and completed my north to south line of blue. Here is what this part of the country looks like now. I’m still waiting for the last 3 postcards on those green counties near the LA/MS border (hopefully they'll show up at the beginning of the week).


I suppose with all the driving I've done over the last few years, a mishap like I had was bound to happen eventually. I made it home safely a day late, so other than the inconvenience and expense, there is little to complain about, though it would have been nice had there been a FFI or CY along I-40 near Dickson. Missing out on a paid Marriott night during a MegaBonus just added insult to injury. On the plus side, I did earn both the Marriott and Renaissance badges (and 50 bonus rewards points) during this trip, bringing my total to 8 (not sure this is particularly worthy of bragging rights).


Up next is a trip to California. It’s only three days, but there’s lots of ground to cover. Look for a report in mid-March.


Until then...


Happy Travels,


February is approaching and it's nearly time to hit the road again. With that in mind, a brief blog entry on where my county collecting trips will take me this year is in order (To see my map from the end of last year, please read County Collecting 2014 - the Year in Review).


First up for 2015, is an escape from the snow in the Midwest. Last year around this time, I covered most of northern Alabama. This year, south-western portion of the state is on tap. Combined with the eastern parts of both Mississippi and Louisiana, I expect to visit about 88 county/parish seats during the 3rd week of February (note that Louisiana has parishes instead of counties, though they serve the same function ).


After that is a short visit to northern California in early March. Highlights include Sacramento, Monterey, San Francisco, Napa, and Fresno, home of our very own pluto77. Then comes a drive into the Smoky Mountains, planned for late April. Parts of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia (including a visit with foxglove) are on the agenda.


Beyond April, things get a bit fuzzy. Two scheduled trips are Hawaii, in September (just to say hello to kharada46 ), and Saratoga Springs, in November. With almost all my attention turned to Hawaii, I don’t expect to devote as much time to the mainland during the summer as I normally would, though I’d still like to visit the remaining counties in Michigan (at least the ones in the Lower Peninsula) or visit family in Iowa (with only 16 of the 99 counties complete, there is much to do). Another option is to save some vacation time for late in the year and visit somewhere warm between Thanksgiving and Christmas (Florida sounds good . Or maybe east Texas,IAHFLYR ).


Regardless, 2015 will not top 2014, at least as far as the numbers are concerned. Hawaii pretty much tops all, so despite only collecting 3 postcards from the islands, the trip will be the best of the year. If I can reach 308 counties this year, I’ll cross the halfway point in the overall goal to visit every county seat in the United States. Right now, I’m looking at about 200. Perhaps the trips I haven’t planned yet will put me over the top.


So Insiders. Watch for me coming through your part of the country. If the timing works out, we should get together.


Until then...


Happy Travels,


Although there is still just over a month left in the year, I have no additional travel planned, so it is time to reflect on where I've been in 2014.

With daylight saving time ended, my long days of driving the back roads of America are finished for this year, but what a year is has been. Over the course of the past 10 months, I have set foot in 24 states, plus the District of Columbia in the process of collecting 472 postcards from county seats and independent cities. This has been, by far, the most productive year of county collecting (the next closest was 2012 when I visited 362 counties).

Now that most of the territory within a few hours’ drive from home is complete, I expect the pace will slow down as I take fewer (but longer) trips in the coming years. Of the 3149 destinations I set for myself, I have now visited 1267about 40% of the country. Considering that I ended last year at 25%, I’m quite pleased. Reaching the 50% mark (just over 300 more counties) in 2015 while moderately challenging, looks possible. It’s always good to have a goal.

I won't go back over a detailed telling of my travels having already posted blog entries about each (which I hope you will read if you haven't already), but I will mention a few of the highlights of the year.

Perhaps at the top of the list are the two trips that included meeting other members of this community. In May, on a visit to St. Louis, I had lunch with jerrycoin. He had just returned the night before from a trip to Paris, but was gracious enough to drive downtown to meet me at the Renaissance Grand Hotel. We took a short walk down the street to a quiet Irish pub (it was early on a Sunday afternoon) where we shared travel and Marriott stories. (bejacob & jerrycoin relax in STL!).  My most recent trip, brought me to Washington, D.C. and an amazing get together with pluto77, erc, and our very own communitymanager Nathalie at the Renaissance Mayflower. That now legendary event has a discussion of its own, so I'll let that stand as the mostly accurate description of what happened. (Insiders Get Together - Mayflower Hotel).

pub.jpg  edgar.jpg

Instead of more reflection, I decided to compile some noteworthy statistics that tell part of this year’s story.

Numbers from the road – 2014

County collecting trips: 9

Average trip duration: 5 days

Postcards collected: 472

Postcards that failed to arrive: 1 (Gainesville, TX)

Postcards mailed a second time due to similar failure in previous years: 2 (Sandy Hook, KY and McConnellsburg, PA)

States visited: 24 (OH, KY, TN, AL, MS, GA, WV, VA, NC, SC, MI, IN, IL, MO, PA, NY, TX, OK, KS, NM, CO, VT, MD, DE) + DC

Miles driven: 19,691 (most in my own car)

Marriott brands visited: 7 (8 if you count Marriott Conference Centers as a separate brand, which apparently it is)

Most frequent brand visited: SpringHill Suites and Fairfield Inn (9 each)

Number of properties visited: 31 (does not include 3 stays for reasons other than county collecting)

Promo certificates used: 6

Average reward category of hotels visited: 3.6

Marriott badges earned: 6 (along with 150 rewards points. Woohoo! )


Should I be bragging about these badges? They aren't terribly exciting,though I suppose over time they will show that I have some level of devotion to the various Marriott brands. I guess they take up less space than Marriott pens from each hotel brand.

In addition to those statistics, here are some bests and worsts of the year

Favorite Marriott property: Renaissance Charleston South Park

Least favorite Marriott property: FFI Youngstown/Austintown, OH

Best CL food: Renaissance Grand St. Louis

Best room: 2-bedroom suite at Towson University Marriott Conference Center

Highest category hotel visited: 9 (CY Ocean City)

Lowest category hotel visited: 1 (FFI Oxford, AL and TPS Columbus/Worthington, OH)

Worst traffic: Baltimore beltway (Wednesday evening & Thursday morning)


CY Ocean City. Category 9? Really? Seriously? How does that even come close to County Hall in London?

I always like to share the maps showing my progress.

counties 2013.png

I began the year with 795 blue counties (those from which I had received postcards documenting my visit).

counties 2014.png

The year will end with 1267 blue counties. (As a reminder, green is for counties where I visited the county seat but have not received a postcard, and teal is for counties that I have been in, but not yet visited the county seat). All but a couple of the green and teal counties are places I visited before I began sending postcards to document my travels.

Looking at the maps leads me to think about where I wish to travel next. A couple things come to mind. So far I have not completed a contiguous stretch of blue either from coast to coast or from north to south. I’d like to rectify that, and as such, I’m planning to drive through southern Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana as early as mid-February. Completing the east-west piece will likely wait beyond 2015. I’m making progress along the Atlantic coast, as well as the counties along the Mexican border. Likewise completing the counties on the shores of the Great Lakes should be within reach before long. I need to begin a serious push to visit places west of the Mississippi, especially in the northern half of the country.

I did add six more states to my completed list in 2014. I have now visited (and documented) every county seat in SC, KY, IN, IL, MD, and WV. They join OH (2007), DE (2012) and AZ (2013). I also mailed a postcard from the District of Columbia which, although not a county, is a separate administrative district outside the jurisdiction of any state (so I collected it just to be safe) meaning 9 states, plus DC are now complete. I expect to add Virginia to the list next year as I have only 5 counties and the independent city of Bristol to visit (in April perhaps).

Where else I go in 2015 is still to be determined. With 60% of the counties in the United States left to explore, I've got lots of options.

I don't anticipate any more blog entries until February, but you never know.

Until then...

Happy Travels,


A recent trip to the nation’s capital (and beyond) wrapped up my planned travel for the year in fine style. Over the course of a week I spent three days in the DC area, explored most of Maryland, stayed 4 different Marriott brands, and had the pleasure of meeting several wonderful Marriott Rewards Insiders.

The drive to Washington was not direct in order to accommodate my need to visit several counties in northern Maryland. Stops in Cumberland, Hagerstown, Frederick, Westminster, and Towson filled the afternoon of the first day. The Towson Marriott Conference Center Hotel upgraded me to a beautiful two-bedroom suite, by far the nicest room I've stayed in all year. Having had a late lunch that included fresh baked apple-pie at Weaver’s Restaurant & Bakery in Hancock, MD (worth the stop if you happen to be near the I-68/I-70 interchange), dinner at the CL was all I needed.

After breakfast (again in the CL) it was off to Bel Air, Baltimore, and Ellicott City before reaching the Arlington Residence Inn around noon. Two of the three nights there were covered by category 1-4 certificates from the spring MegaBonus (had I gotten category 1-5 certs, I would have stayed at the Renaissance next door). The choice of hotel was primarily based on the location of a conference held at another hotel chain just across the street from my preferred hotel chain. The conference was good, but the highlight of the three days in and around DC was the Insider get together with erc, pluto77, and the communitymanager at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel.


Erc began a great discussion of the fabulous event hosted by our own community manager, Nathalie, so I have no need to elaborate on that. See Re: Insiders Get Together - Mayflower Hotel for details.


Since this trip was built around the conference, the Insiders get together, and visiting a couple dozen counties along the east coast, I didn't devote much time to sightseeing, but I took part of Saturday afternoon to explore a little of the area around the National Mall. I stopped briefly at the Air and Space Museum, walked from the Capitol to the Washington Monument to the White House and then back to the Capitol taking a few photos along the way.

monument.jpg   whouse.jpg


(Insert your own joke about who broke the Capitol here).

By Sunday, it was time to get back on the road again. When I visited Virginia back in July, I purposely omitted Virginia Beach so that I would be able to include it on this trip. From DC, I drove to VB and then crossed the Chesapeake Bay to collect the two Virginia ocean counties. I had considered visiting them by coming south from Maryland and skipping the bridges and tunnels crossing the Chesapeake, but that would have involved some backtracking. Besides, having never driven the route across the Bay, I wanted to experience that as well.

Here is picture of the southern approach to the bridge taken from the Buoy 44 restaurant in Chic's Beach, a good lunch stop. (foxglove, I opted for the steamed oysters appetizer followed by excellent fish tacos, though the crab cakes are good too. )


In addition to the 2 Virginia counties, I visited 3 more in Maryland before stopping at the CY Ocean City. While it’s a very nice hotel, I struggle to understand why it is a category 9 property ( know, location, location). Undoubtedly the place is packed during the summer months, and despite the wonderful restaurant (The Captain's Table), it lacks the amenities of the full service brands. I will admit the location can't be beat and getting an ocean view room for less than a quarter of the price during peak season made it worth visiting.


During the final two days of my trip, I visited the remaining 6 counties in Maryland, Loudoun County, Virginia, the 3 counties in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, and Fulton County, Pennsylvania. This last stop was to mail a second postcard from McConnellsburg since the one I mailed back in November 2011 never arrived. Happily this time the postal service delivered all 26 postcards I sent.

The final night on the road was in Hagerstown at the Springhill Suites, a brand which I almost always enjoy. This was no exception.

As has become my custom, here are before and after maps detailing the places I visited (the mid-Atlantic states are filling in nicely).

MD1.png    MD2.png

Over the week, I completed two states, Maryland and West Virginia, bringing my total up to 9 (plus the District of Columbia). I can now also add Maryland to list of states in which I have stayed at a Marriott property (that total is now up to 26 + DC). And most important of all, I have now met 5 MR Insiders, erc, pluto77, Nathalie, and jerrycoin. I'm hopeful that next year or two, I can meet a few more (foxglove, kharada46, and IAHFLYR you are all definitely on my radar based on my projected travels for 2015-2016).

With no more trips planned for 2014, it will soon be time for a year in review blog post. Stay tuned.

Until then ...

Happy Travels,



A Washington (D.C.) Weekend

Posted by bejacob Oct 2, 2014

This past weekend, I took my shortest county collecting trip of the year (and the shortest since a day trip into eastern Indiana in April 2012). My journeys over the last couple years have typically been between 3 and 7 nights depending on which part of the country I visit and how much vacation time I can squeeze in to my busy schedule.

I've known for about a year that I would be taking a trip to the D.C. area in early November 2014. As I began planning so I could maximize the number of counties I would visit, I realized that no matter which route I took, I would either need to spend more time on away from work than I had allocated or have to leave some counties in the area for a separate trip. Rather than burn more vacation time, I entertained the idea that I could cover much of the additional territory in question in about two days, perfect for a weekend trip, as long as I was willing to rack up another thousand miles on my car and not get to do any sightseeing. While some might consider this a waste, for me it made perfect sense. By cramming all that driving into a weekend, I would be able to spend more time enjoying my weeklong trip at the beginning of November. And let’s not forget that I've got two overlapping promotions going on, so all paid stays have the potential to really boost my rewards points balance.

With all that in mind, I embarked on a quixotic journey to the nation’s capital to clean up the mess just in time for the upcoming mid-term elections. Oh wait, that’s the wrong story. I embarked on lovely drive through the wilds of West Virginia and across the Shenandoah Valley in the pursuit of counties that might otherwise remain uncollected until well after next spring's thaw. I decided that having never stayed in the District of Columbia before, that this trip would be a good time to remedy that. I opted for the Georgetown Marriott, and because I booked early, managed to secure a AAA rate of $134 (a week before my trip, the AAA rate had doubled to $270).

With the destination fixed, I just needed to plan my route to visit as many counties as possible. Rather than recount the boring details, I'll just share the before and after maps of my trip.

Note, for anyone who doesn't understand these maps, please read a few of my earlier blog entries for an explanation of what I am doing and what the colors on the maps mean.

VA1.png     VA2.png

I've included Maryland as I was able to visit two counties there as well as a couple dozen in WV and VA. Though I didn't get to see much, I did visit all the independent cities in northern Virginia – Alexandria, Manassas Park, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas, and Winchester (the last three also happen to be county seats for the surrounding counties of Fairfax, Prince William, and Frederick respectively).


In November, I will visit the final three counties in eastern WV panhandle as well as Loudoun County, VA (the last county in northern VA). I’m also looking forward to a potential MR Insider gathering that is being discussed (see Visiting DC area in November). erc, pluto77, vaboywnder, ssindc, and communitymanager, I'll be looking for you (and anyone else who might like to join us).


In any case, I accomplished the goal I set for the weekend. I visited 21 county seats, plus the 3 other independent cities that are not county seats, as well as the District of Columbia (not technically a county, but I've added it to my list anyway). Most of the remaining counties in Maryland are on my itinerary for November, as is Virginia Beach (another independent city) but that's a future blog entry.


Apologies that this entry is so short and doesn't have much in the way of cool photos, but that pretty well sums up how the trip went. While I didn't stop for any sightseeing, this weekend jaunt will make my planned drive next month considerably easier and undoubtedly much more enjoyable.

At the moment, that upcoming trip is the last one scheduled for this year, so I'm already looking ahead to next year. I’ll save my thoughts on that topic for my year-end wrap up. Look for a mid-November blog post which I hope will have a picture or two of a few of the Insiders gang.

Until then…

Happy Travels,



High Plains Drifter

Posted by bejacob Sep 7, 2014

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.

CY Amarillo.jpg

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.jpg

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.

Texahoma.png   Texahoma2.png

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.

Until then…

Happy Travels,


My most recent journey on my ongoing quest to visit every county seat in the United States covered much of southern Virginia as well as a few counties in north central North Carolina.

Unlike most of my trips this year, which have lasted about 5 days, this foray only involved 3 days on the road. With a compressed schedule and an aggressive agenda, I had less time to explore the interesting history that abounds in the area.

Below are my before and after maps showing the area I covered. As a reminder for anyone what has forgotten what the colors mean, teal is for counties I have been in, green is for counties where I have visited the county seat but not yet collected, and blue is for collected counties. To collect a county I must mail (and receive) a postcard from the county seat.

NCVA.png     NCVA2.png

One thing that makes Virginia different from most states is that in addition to the 95 counties, there 38 independent cities which function separately from any county to which they may be adjacent or in some cases surrounded by. In order to make my travels complete, I decided (several years ago) to visit each of these independent cities as if they were county seats. Ironically, 13 of the 38 actually serve as county seats, so I've already committed to mailing a postcard from these 13 cities meaning I just need to include the other 25. Slightly complicated, I know, but an important consideration when planning my travels. Incidentally, most of the remaining independent cities I need to visit are in the Washington, D.C. area.

Despite driving near several Civil War sites (Appomattox, Petersburg Battlefield), I did not stop to do anything other than mail postcards and photograph courthouses. I can imagine visiting this area to explore many of these places, but this was not such a trip.

I do however have one humorous anecdote to share. On the final day of my journey, I realized I had broken one of IAHFLYR's travel rules: “Don’t leave NC (and I’ll add VA) without stopping for some local BBQ.” I was on my way between the Virginia towns of Fincastle and Salem and found a place (Three Li’l Pigs) along US 220 just off of I-81 so I stopped for lunch. Along with my sandwich, I had a local beer (Devils Backbone Vienna Lager ). About 15 minutes later, I noticed the sign for the town of Fincastle, the county seat for Botetourt County. I was thinking back to how good lunch was and that I would have to mention it in my blog when I realized I was out in the country driving down US 220. Somehow, I completely missed the town. I made a U-turn and discovered Fincastle was about 4 miles ahead. I vowed then not to have even one beer at lunch while county collecting (I'll save that for dinner after I'm safely ensconced in a Marriott property for the night).

Speaking of Marriott properties, my stays included FFI Hopewell, VA and SHS Lynchburg, VA. There isn't much to say about either one. Both were comfortable. Both thanked me for being a Platinum Elite. The room at the SHS was a bit nicer, as was the immediate area, but both are decent representations of their respective brands. One particularly nice fact about the SHS was that breakfast was available by 5:00 even though the scheduled time was 6:00 to 10:00. I had a long day of driving to get home, so getting an early start was wonderful. I noticed several other folks eating at 5:30 who appeared to have the same thought.

Overall, I had a good trip and covered a lot of territory. As you can see from my maps, Virginia is now nearly complete. Only three area remain: northern VA (which I will visit in late September and early November), the eastern shore and Virginia Beach (also on tap for November in conjunction with a stay at CY Ocean City, MD), and a few counties near the Tennessee border (tentatively planned for Spring or Summer 2015 on a trip that could also knock out the remaining western NC counties).

Next up is a trip to madmax country in mid-August.

Until then…

Happy Travels



Counties and Lakes of New York

Posted by bejacob Jun 13, 2014

As part of my quest to visit every county in the USA, my most recent travels took me through northern Pennsylvania, much of upstate New York, and the northwest corner of Vermont. Over the course of 5 days, I visited 66 county seats in 65 counties (explanation embedded below).

Typically, my county collecting road trips begin early in the morning so I can make the 3-4 hour drive through areas I have already visited before dawn. This time, because knew I needed one extra night (in addition to the 4 nights planned for this trip) to achieve the “Taste of Platinum” promotion, I chose to leave after work on a Tuesday and get this 3 hour drive out of the way. My first night was spent in the FFI Youngstown Austintown, barely a stone’s throw from I-80. I can't really recommend this location. For details, here is my review (Not quite up to standards)

I rose with the sun and after grabbing an early breakfast (which was still being set up by the FFI staff) got on the road just before 6:00am. Winding my way across north-central Pennsylvania, I reached the SHS Scranton Wilkes-Barre Wednesday evening. On the way, I made about a dozen stops in different counties to mail postcards. I also made a brief visit to Punxsutawney, home of the famous groundhog. While not a county seat, my route went right through town so I took a few photos. Here is one as I arrived in town.


Later that afternoon, I visited Williamsport, the county seat for Lycoming County, which happens to be the home of Little League baseball and the site of the Little League World Series. I didn't have much time to explore the town, but it turned out to be one of several baseball related towns I visited. Speaking of baseball, the lights of the PNC Field (below) in Scranton drew me like a moth to a flame The AAA ballpark is just down the hill from the SHS. I was too far away to see much of the action, but I did have a view of home plate and could hear the crack of the bat when one of players got a hit. 


I enjoyed the SHS in Scranton (actually Moosic, PA) very much and will likely stay here again in November 2015 on my way to Saratoga Springs, NY. If in the area, this is a good place to overnight.

From Scranton, I headed north toward NY. Stops for Thursday included Binghamton, Ithaca, Utica, Cooperstown, Troy, and Albany (among others). I traversed the campuses of Cornell and Colgate Universities as well as some beautiful scenery in the southern Adirondacks on my way to and from Lake Pleasant (the Hamilton county seat). Cooperstown, home to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame was packed with baseball fans (often fathers and sons, but not always). I plan to return to visit the MLB HoF someday (maybe after Seattle Mariners great Edgar Martinez gets inducted ). On this trip, my primary purpose was to mail a postcard. The limited parking and crowds actually made this more difficult than it needed to be, though I accomplished my goal, and within 20 minutes was back on the road again.

The SHS in Albany-Colonie was fine. Nothing remarkable, but a good representation of the brand. On Friday I took I-87 north from Albany toward Plattsburgh (with a few stops in between). I saw a bit more of the Adirondacks as I made my way to Queensbury, past Lake George (a former county seat), and onto Elizabethtown. From there, Middlebury, Burlington, St. Albans, and North Hero, Vermont were my next destinations. I couldn't resist a photo of Lake Champlain and the new bridge (opened in 2011) I would use to cross into Vermont.

Champlain.jpg     bridge.jpg

My last visit to Vermont was 1985 and I’m pleased to report that Burlington is just as great as I remember it. It may be bit more crowded, but Church Street still has the same character. After visiting North Hero in Grand Isle County, I had planned on crossing back into New York near the northern end of the lake via US route 2, but instead caught the ferry from Grand Isle to Plattsburgh (technically Cumberland Head). Interestingly, my last three trips have all include ferry rides, though this one was the first one that was not free. Still, I can't complain as it cut about 30 minutes off my trip.


From Plattsburgh, I crossed the northern-most counties in NY and ended the day at the FFI in Watertown, NY, one of the nicest FFIs in which I have had the pleasure of staying. This is a relatively new property, and my room had a desk with more outlets than I needed. At some older properties, I have a hard time finding enough outlets to charge my phone, kindle, and plug in my computer at the same time.


Saturday, my last full day in the state, took me from Watertown to Corning. Had I driven directly, it would have taken roughly 3 hours, but that is not how my county collecting trips work. By trying to visit as many county seats as possible, I often end up with strange routes. Here is the route I followed that day.

Day 5.PNG

A couple of notes may be in order. Destinations E (Ovid) and F (Waterloo) are both county seats for Seneca County, NY which has the distinction of being the only county in the state with two county seats (this is much more common in the South). I mailed a postcard from both, and thus managed to visit 66 county seats in 65 counties. Another oddity of my route is the detour I made between stops I (Auburn) and J (Batavia). Finding postcards is often a challenge, so I detoured to an exit just off the NY Thruway where both a Truck Stop of America and a Flying J were located. Usually, I can find postcards at both places. So instead of a 3 hour drive from Watertown to Corning, my day lasted about 14 hours (3½ hours for stops along the way).

I saw several interesting courthouses on this trip. One of my favorites was in St. Lawrence County, NY. It looked more like a castle than a courthouse.

StLawrence NY.jpg

Another castle-like building was the Federal Courthouse (below left) in Auburn, NY which I preferred to the Cayuga County courthouse (below right) across the street.

Cayuga Federal.jpg          Cayuga County.jpg

County courthouses were not the only sights. I passed by numerous lakes as well. In addition to Lake Pleasant, Lake George, and Lake Champlain, I saw many of the Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario. There are also a multitude of small lakes and rivers in the Adirondacks. I didn’t get photographs of many, but here is a picture of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse (below left) on Lake Ontario and a shot from the southern end of Seneca Lake from the village of Watkins Glen.

Ontario.jpg          Seneca.jpg

My final night was at the FFI Corning Riverside, a very nice property. From there it was back into Pennsylvania on Sunday to collect 6 more counties and then home.

Several Insiders have enjoyed seeing the before and after maps from my trip. A quick reminder on the color coding (white = never visited, teal = been in the county but not to the county seat, green = visited the county seat but have not collected a postcard, and blue = visited the county seat and received the postcard mail from the county documenting my visit). Here are the maps showing the area this trip covered.

NY.png          NY2.png


As it stands now, no trips are schedule for the rest of June or July (though that could change). In August, I plan to fly to DFW and then drive into Oklahoma and southern Kansas, as well as the panhandle of Texas. That trip could add another 100 counties to the tally depending on how much driving I am willing to do.


In any case, my current total stands at 1068 county seats (out of 3149) or 33.9%, so I have now passed the one-third mark. Already this year, I've added 273 to the completed list, and should have no problem reaching 400 for the year. Wow!

Two other accomplishments for this trip. I achieved Platinum elite status and I added another state in which I have stayed a Marriott property (NY). I have now stayed at Marriotts in 23 states with a few more to come later in the year. Lots more places to visit and plenty to blog about.

Until then…

Happy Travels,


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