The 50th

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I have been to all 50 States in the Union and have talked to maybe 10’s of thousands of people. When I pass by people I listen to what they say and have never met a person that has not taught me something. Do you think  maybe is the determining factor  “why”  I write what I do. Its a proud achievement for a certain type of traveler, and a worthy goal: Visiting all 50 states before my 35th birthday which I missed by one day.
With some of my highlights being #1 The North Rim of the Grand Canyon #2 The Evening Show at Mount Rushmore #3 Old Man of the Man before it came tumbling down Cannon Mountain  #4   Loretto Chapel / Santa Fe  #5 Gettysburg Battlefield  #6  The Maine Coastline  #7  Lake Tahoe & Giant Redwood   #8  Great Smokie Mountains  #9  Driving the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, George Washington and also Golden Gate Bridge in 10 days   #10 Portland Oregon (Gateway Arch in St. Louis.)
Image result for loretto chapelThree mysteries surround the spiral staircase in the Loretta Chapel: the identity of its builder, the type of wood used, and the physics of its construction.
When the Loretta Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir       loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel.

Legend says that to find a solution to the seating problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters’ prayers.

The stairway’s carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today.

The staircase has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. It is said that the staircase was built without nails—only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers relative to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway’s construction.

Over the years many have flocked to the Loretta Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including “Unsolved Mysteries” and the full-length movie titled “The Staircase”, staring William Petersen and Barbara Hershey.

OR The granite that makes up Cannon Mountain is called the Conway Granite. Jurassic in age, it was intruded as magma into the rocks of the notch area during the time of the dinosaurs, some180 million years ago.2  It’s pinkish color comes from one of the minerals that make up the granite. Called feldspar, this mineral slowly crumbles over time as water chemically breaks down the feldspar. This along with frost action eventually made the lower ledges so weak that on the night of May 3, 2003 the lower ledge could no longer support the massive weight above the Old Man of the Mounain of NH collapsed..
Turnbuckles and iron rods, installed over time to hold the separate pieces of the Old Man together, could not hold the weight either. The front rocks of the Old Man pitched forward and fell onto the talus slope below.  For years, he was one of New England’s best scenic wonders. Tourist would drive out to the White Mountain area to get a glimpse of the face in the sky. A decade later, the people of New Hampshire, got creative in restoring his profile back atop Cannon Mountain. Take a trip to Franconia Notch and see the current state.

But for those who take the quest seriously, merely crossing the border or changing planes at an airport doesn’t necessarily give you the right to say you’ve been there.

In fact, many 50-staters have a specific litmus test for what counts — eating a meal there, staying the night or spending a certain amount of time. Some even require what one 50-stater called a “National Geographic moment” — a memorable experience like visiting Mount Rushmore in South Dakota or walking down Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. — to cross a state off your list.
Others take a more relaxed approach: Cross the border, drive through or put your feet on the ground. At Four Corners Monument, tourists often crouch on the marker where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado intersect so they can be photographed with a hand or foot simultaneously in each of the four states. (I photographed my own children doing this on a road trip one summer.)
 Four Corners National Monument

The All Fifty States Club has about 2,800 members who have accomplished the feat,

from all 50 states and 13 countries.

The sole criterion for counting states toward membership in a group called the All Fifty Club — — is “that one should breathe the air and set foot on the ground. Thus driving through the state counts if you get out once, but airport layovers do not,” said club founder Alicia Rovey. But many members have their own standards: “Some do not count it unless they spend the night in that state or visit the state capital. With more unique ones being… sighting native birds of that state, playing a round of golf, donating blood in each state.”

There’s no way of knowing how many people around the country and the world have been to all 50 states. Visiting all 50 states is also popular among retirees, though they often start their travels earlier in life. I notice several folks have almost all the states, but are lacking one or both of the Dakotas.

That is one area it is very difficult to add to your list without specifically setting out to      go there. But I found it worth the effort. The Dakotas appear to be on quite a few lists.     I’ve actually spent a small amount of time in each. Other than the Black Hills, there’s       not a whole lot to see or do.

But let me be the first to point out that if you do go….to either North or South Dakota,    you can definitely expect a warm welcome and friendly natives!

Hint: go in the summer, it is not that pleasant in Minot when the winter winds whip across the plains.   )  

For Americans, traveling around the U.S. is also cheaper and less daunting logistically than traveling internationally. And because the U.S. is so big and diverse, every region has something different to offer, from cities to farms, from mountains to beaches, from Southern food to Tex-Mex.

Some travelers use apps or online maps to track their travels. Others use real maps. Alyssa Kauanoe sells a product online called JetsetterMaps ($28) that lets travelers “scratch off the states you’ve been to and get your own personalized travel map.”

Because there’s no real way to check on those applying for membership in the All Fifty club, “we don’t ask for proof,” said Alicia Rovey.   “It’s also kind of an honor system.”


For a visit to count, Rovey says, “You have to touch the ground and breathe the air.” That “rules out airplane layovers.” But she says most 50-staters set their own stipulations: having a meal, spending the night, going to a historic site or spending time with a local.

Jefferson George visited 50 states in 50 days. He drove to the lower 48, starting in Maine and ending in Seattle, then flew to Alaska and before noon on day 50, made it to Hawaii. But he didn’t just set foot in a place to check it off:

“I wanted to see something of note in each state, whether it was an established attraction like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon or something maybe a little more obscure like the first paved road in America in a little town, Bellefontaine, Ohio.”

Beaufort resident Kelly Will takes on all-50-states project …

 Kelly Will did the 50 states in a year, using social media to find families to stay with everywhere she went and immersing herself in each community for a few days.  She’s written a book about the experience that she hopes to publish titled, “Little Miss Willful: An exploration of feminism, fear and faith across 50 states,” and said the education she  got spending time with folks around the country was equivalent to “about six different master’s degrees in college.”

For some, the trips offer solace. Jen Miller, author of “Running: A Love Story,” set out to see the 18 states she hadn’t visited after her dog died and she was forced to sell her house “because of a terrible neighbor.” She got through the 18 in just one summer, and along the way, adopted a new dog in Boise, Idaho.

Kris Nazar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Poland in 1986, worked as a truck driver and drove a semi through the lower 48. He crossed off Alaska when he got a job helping to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and plans to see Hawaii with his wife in 2019 as a 25th wedding anniversary trip.


Rovey says more than half of the club’s 4,000 members name Hawaii and Alaska as their final stops. That makes sense: Those destinations require more planning, time and money than just driving across state lines. But the other place at the end of the 50-state road for many travelers is North Dakota.

“That seems to be a state that is not on the way to places for people,” said Rovey. “Many    of our members have had to make a special trip to get there.” One recommendation for travelers hoping to reach all 50:   If you’re close to another state, make that extra trip.

Former AP newsman Dick Lipsey is running a marathon or longer race in each state:          “I have four states left and plan to finish up in North Dakota.”

Melinda Frederick and her husband have been knocking off the 50 states along               with another couple. “We are simultaneously keeping track of each other,” she said.        “We have an agreement we will all cross into North Dakota together.”

I thought North Dakota would be my last, too.

But my travels through the 50 states have been somewhat random compared with those who themed their trips or set deadlines. As it turned out, I got to North Dakota’s beautiful Theodore Roosevelt National Park a few days before I made it to Idaho. But I did mark the moment when I ended my quest. I made my husband pull the car over and posed for a photo beneath the sign that read, “Welcome to Idaho.”

How many states have you visited?

Click or tap on the map below to count how many states you’ve been to, or click here to view the full graphic


Listen to AP Travel’s “Get Outta Here! podcast about traveling to all 50 states:

Preview  The quest to visit all 50 states: how many have you seen?