I'm the kind of traveler who cringes at checklists. I don't feel the need, as a maniacal girl I met once did, to visit all 393 units of the National Park System. (Nor do I have the means, so American Samoa and the Virgin Islands' national parks will have to wait until after I win the lottery.)
But somehow over the past two decades, I've ended up visiting all 50 U.S. states. Alaska truly was my 'Last Frontier,' which I finally knocked off last month. Illinois, where I was born, was my first, followed by a trail of Western states zipped through during one summer vacation in a grand loop to Yellowstone National Park and back. Weekend trips to the lakeshores of Indiana and Michigan, the farmlands of Wisconsin and Iowa, and St. Louis for baseball, barbecue and rides high inside the rickety Gateway Arch made up my childhood travels.
It wasn't until after I graduated from college that I really got motoring. As I traipsed back and forth across the country, some moments stand out. Like gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles as I drove the Seven-Mile Bridge out to the Florida Keys. My car being searched for hours at a tiny border-crossing outpost in Maine. Sweating out a night in a stuffy hotel room in Janis Joplin's hometown in Texas. Cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway until the sun sank behind the Appalachian hills. I've driven around each of the Hawaiian Islands, too, getting stuck in Kauai's traffic jams and Lanai's 4WD jeep tracks and rattling around Maui's Haleakala volcano.
So, what's next? Like I said, I'm not a checklist traveler. But I need a new travel goal, to inspire my wanderlust. Any ideas?
Have you joined the 50 States Club yet? What are your favorite road-tripping states? Most miserable stops? Tell us by leaving a comment below.
Photo: Four Corners Region (Michael Connolly, Jr.)