The Fourth of July weekend was going to be a long weekend for me. The fourth was on a Sunday, but my work gave us off the fifth in observance of it. So I wanted to do what I could to maximize this long weekend as I did over Memorial Day Weekend.
For my planning, I often use Bill Cook's "Optimal Tour for Extra Milers." Bill is a professor at the University of Waterloo. He has dedicated his studies to the Traveling Salesman Problem. The Traveling Salesman Problem is finding the most efficient route between multiple waypoints. It also finds a way to not pass through the same waypoint twice.
Bill figured out a way to visit every single county seat in the USA in a single trip. It is a little over 93,000 miles. I wish I could follow this route in a single trip, but I do not have the time to do this with having to work a full-time job.
With that, I can follow some of the lines he has figured out. First, I will typically find a place to start on his map and follow that line. Next, I will figure out how much time it'll take and when I need to start heading home. I can then find another somewhat close line that will take me back home.
As you can see by the picture, you will often zig-zag between different states. Sometimes county seats are only a few miles away from each other and are only separated by a state line. But, when you're like me and trying to visit every country in the USA, state lines no longer matter. What matters is visiting as many counties as you can.
Since the days were still long, I'm always trying to figure out how to maximize daylight. This means finding somewhere close, so I can start on Friday and get a few counties in before it gets dark. As I complete more counties, this is getting harder. For this trip, I saw that driving to Albert Lea, Minnesota (Freeborn County) was about 4.25 hours. This would still leave me 3-4 hours of daylight to explore.
I then looked at the calculated line it would take and realized that it eventually ended up in Central Iowa. This would complete the trip only a few hours away from home in Wisconsin. In addition, this trip would allow me to pick up new counties in 6 different states. These states would be Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, and Missouri.
One thing I've learned from previous trips is knowing when to cut the trip short and head home. I'm often ambitious with the number of counties I want to visit. I end up planning more than I can actually visit. I'd rather have an optimal route for that than trying to figure an optimal route while on the road.
With that, my itineraries have become a bit more advanced. I used just to list the order of the counties I wanted to visit and the courthouse addresses. Lately, I've added the time to the next county, and the time it takes to get home. This allows me to do basic math in my head and know how many more counties I can pack in before I have to start heading home.
The picture above is just the first page of my itinerary. If all goes well, I planned to visit 67 counties. So on Friday, I hit the road at precisely 1 PM when I got done with work. Of course, there were a lot of other people that had the same idea. It didn't take me long to find a traffic jam.
I-94 between Madison and Minneapolis turns into a parking lot. Between Madison and Tomah, it runs concurrently with I-90 until it splits. I-94 will continue going towards Minneapolis, and I-90 will head towards La Crosse.
For this trip, I headed on I-90 towards La Crosse. After the split, the traffic was like night and day difference. I did not run into a traffic jam and was able to just set my cruise control and enjoy the open road.
The interstate driving was easy. I made it to my first courthouse, Freeborn County, Minnesota.
I would then start zig-zagging between states. My next few courthouses would be in Iowa.
Worth County, Iowa, was the next courthouse I visited. They were really decked out for the Fourth of July. I could even hear a band playing where it appeared they had a festival going on.
Next was Cerro Gordo County, Iowa.
Then was Hancock County, Iowa.
On my way to Winnebago County, Iowa, I saw a farmer that had a huge hay stockpile.
The courthouse was pretty nice too.
I was soon back in Minnesota to visit Faribault County.
By this time, I could tell the daylight hours were starting to get limited. It did make for a pretty drive.
I still had some daylight for Martin County, Minnesota. It appears this courthouse was getting a facelift.
It was time for me to find a place to sleep. I found this boat launch on Long Lake near St. James. I got a good night's sleep, and there was a nice sunrise in the morning.
The first courthouse of the day would be Watonwan County, Minnesota.
Traveling in the morning is often pleasant. The roads are often nice and wide open.
My second county was Cottonwood County, Minnesota.
My last Minnesota county of the trip would be Jackson County. This county was also getting a facelift.
I was soon in Iowa and at Emmet County.
Next was Dickinson County, Iowa. This courthouse had an interesting shape to it.
Soon I was in Clay County, Iowa.
Followed by O'Brien County, Iowa.
Between courthouses, you often travel in remote areas. So while I don't think I'd drive down one of these roads in a snowstorm, it was good to have an extra warning.
After driving in some remote areas, I was in Sioux County, Iowa.
Then was Plymouth County, Iowa.
Followed by Woodbury County, Iowa.
The interesting thing is the Sioux City city hall also looked like a courthouse.
Now it was time to do some zig-zagging between states again. So I zigged to Dakota County, Nebraska (my first Nebraska County).
I then zagged to Union County, South Dakota (my first South Dakota County)
I stayed in South Dakota and made it to Clay County.
I found a cool park with an awesome view along the way in South Dakota before I zigged back into Nebraska.
I then made it to Dixon County, Nebraska.
On my drive, I started running into construction. I guess that's better than the minimally maintained roads.
The construction slowed me down a bit, but I was soon in Wayne County, Nebraska.
Up next was Pierce County, Nebraska.
Madison County, Nebraska's courthouse was on the outskirts of town. It was a quiet place with cornfields around it.
On the way to Stanton County, there were nice rolling hills.
The drive through the rolling hills was nice, and I was soon at Stanton County, Nebraska's courthouse.
It didn't take long, and I was in Cuming County, Nebraska.
Then was Thurston County, Nebraska.
On the drive to Monona County, I found a nice scenic overlook. I could see the Missouri River and Iowa off in the distance. I would soon be zigging back into Iowa for a county.
That Iowa county was Monona County.
I then zagged back into Nebraska to visit Burt County.
Next up was Washington County, Nebraska.
Then was Dodge County, Nebraska.
Soon after was Saunders County, Nebraska.
My next county would be Lancaster County in Lincoln, Nebraska. I knew I wouldn't be able to get there before it was dark, so I looked for a place to sleep. I knew there were some rest stops along the area on the interstate, so I found one and made it my home for the night.
In the morning, I made it into Lincoln and first visited the Nebraska State Capitol Building.
I then made it to Lancaster County, Nebraska courthouse, which was huge.
I spotted something a little out of the ordinary for 6 AM on my way to Seward county. There was a really cool decked-out car on the interstate! I thought it was early for a cruise, but we coincidentally ended up at the same location. There was a big festival in Seward, and he was there early for the car show.
It was more difficult getting a picture of the Seward County, Nebraska courthouse. The lawn had many tents set up, so finding the best spot was a bit of a challenge.
After getting away from the crowd setting up, I made it to Butler County, Nebraska.
Next up was Colfax County, Nebraska.
Then came Platte County, Nebraska.
Soon after was Polk County, Nebraska.
Later was York County, Nebraska.
Fillmore County, Nebraska, was very majestic.
Soon was Saline County, Nebraska.
Then came Gage County, Nebraska. They were doing some sort of work on it, but not sure what it was.
Jefferson County, Nebraska, was up next.
Thayer County was the last county in Nebraska for a bit.
I was soon in Kansas!
As I wrote earlier, I just follow the most efficient route that has already been calculated. I try to cover as much ground as I can, so that's why I don't often have much between each courthouse. I did find a pleasant surprise at my first county in Kansas, though.
The optimal route brought me to Republic County, which is located in Belleville. I loved this coincidence because I live in Belleville, Wisconsin!
The Republic County, Kansas, was also pretty cool!
Next was Cloud County, Kansas.
I got to enjoy some rolling hills as I made it to Clay County.
I was soon at Clay County, Kansas.
Washington County, Kansas, was soon up.
Then I made it to Marshall County, Kansas. The modern courthouse was next to the old courthouse, which had since been turned into a museum.
Next up was Nemaha County, Kansas.
It was now time to leave Kansas and get back into Nebraska.
I was soon at Pawnee County, Nebraska.
Johnson County, Nebraska, was next on the list.
Nemaha County, Nebraska, was up next. If you thought you just read about me visiting Nemaha County, you're right. Nemaha County, Nebraska, and Kansas are very close to each other, and I visited both of them on this trip.
I soon dipped into Missouri and visited Atchison County. This was the first county courthouse I visited in Missouri!
I was then in Nebraska visiting Otoe County.
I wasn't in Nebraska long before I made it to Fremont County, Iowa.
In some ways, Freemont County felt a bit like being in West Texas (minus the corn).
Mills County, Iowa was up next.
By this time, I was trying to beat the clock. The sun was going down, and I wanted to get another courthouse or two.
I made it to Cass County, Nebraska, before it got too dark.
Since it was the Fourth of July and had just gotten dark, the fireworks were starting. I was able to catch a few right after I took pictures of the Cass County Courthouse.
Since fireworks were going off like crazy, I had a feeling I wouldn't be able to sleep for a while in my car with all the noise. I tried to go to the Sarpy County Courthouse but couldn't find the right entrance in the dark. I made it to another rest stop and called it a night there.
The following day, I got up early and drove back to the Sarpy County, Nebraska Courthouse.
My last Nebraska county was Douglas County in Omaha.
Pottawattamie County, Iowa, was one of those counties only a few miles across the state line. So I drove from Nebraska into Iowa to get there.
As I mentioned earlier, I had planned to visit 67 counties. However, when I got to county 61, I knew it was time to head home. Victoria had to work for the day, and we didn't want to leave Maya in her crate all day. So I hit the road back to Wisconsin. I made it back a little after 1 PM, and Maya was happy to get out of her crate.
In the whole scheme of things, I made pretty good progress. 61 counties over the course of a long weekend is pretty decent, in my opinion!