April 28 to May 15, 2023 trip to the northeast US
by Jeff Jacobsen
Method – I would use my road atlas and Google maps to plot out a route, and mapquest to calculate distance and driving time. Atlas Obscura helped find cool things to see along the way.
Result – completed, but it was a 5776 mile trip, averaging 320 miles per day. WAY too much driving. Also I missed some things that I had planned to see because of bad timing, like getting somewhere too late, or being there on a day the place was closed. On the other hand, I saw cool things that weren't on my schedule instead.
states I planned to visit to complete
my 48-state total
General findings about the northeastern states
Danger Watch – I just missed a left hand exit amongst some other exits at an interstate location, so I quickly tried to squeeze my way into the left lane, thus leaving my (thankfully tiny) butt hanging out over the other lane. I got beeped at instead of getting hit. In Missouri on a 2-lane highway, a big pickup truck decided to pull out and try to pass cars in front of him, and was driving straight toward me. Fortunately there was a wide shoulder right there or I would have had to drive off the road.
Day 1 (Friday April 28)
I rented a Chevy Spark (you don't get to pick except which type of car – economy, mid-size, etc). I had been looking to buy a car that gets great mpg, but then not long before the trip I saw that rental prices were about ½ to what they were when I last looked, so I rented instead. The Spark is one step up from a clown car size-wise, but it was peppy enough and got reasonably good mpg (my guess is about 38mpg average). Plus, it was just me on the trip.
I left about 8:20am with the day's plan to just shoot to Ft. Dodge, Iowa, with a stop at my grandparents' hay field that we were planning to sell. At the hay field I took panorama photos and flew my quadcopter over it, despite the high wind. The field is pretty flat and I only remember driving by it once with my grandparents when I was a kid. I got to Ft. Dodge at dark, the end of the longest one-day stretch of driving.
Day 2 (Saturday April 29)
My plan was to book hotels about 3 days
out so I can adjust planned locations if necessary. I can pick from an
area rather than one particular city, thus increasing my chances of a
cheap price for the hotel. I probably averaged about $68 a night.
Long ago, I had gone through Fairfield
Iowa to look at the domed building where Transcendental Meditation
taught “floating” or the ability to free oneself from gravity, or so the
promotionals said. At that time the Maharishi International University
wasn't very big. But I went through this time, stopping near the dome
again, and driving slowly around the large grounds. It looks just like
many other universities, with well-kept buildings and students walking
and biking to and fro. I was quite surprised by this, naively thinking
that TM had probably dwindled down to nothing by now. Instead it seems
to be large and prosperous, at least on their campus.
I went to Nauvoo, Illinois to gather in the history of the Mormon trek across America. Nauvoo was the first big stop for the Mormon trek west, looked kind of touristy to me, so I hopped over to Carthage, where Joseph Smith was “martyred.” The jail where he died is still there and is now used to promote the holiness of Joseph, although I think there is a lot of evidence against that telling. I was too late getting to Dickson Mounds Museum further along, so I satisfied my food tourism by eating at Sarku of Japan (my favorite fast food) in Champaign, IL, where I also spent the night.
Day 3 (Sunday April 30)
In the morning I went over to the Scientology building in Champaign. This was an office building, where the only reference to Scientology I could see was a directory inside that showed Dianetics in room 118A. So if you didn't know Scientology was there already, there was no way to find out.
I ate at Jack in the Box for my food tourism.
I spent over 2 hours at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, OH. Amazing! Huge! I saw 1/3 of it at the most. They even had my favorite plane, the Russian MIG-29.
I skipped the Newark earthworks as it was getting too late.
I tried airing up my tires for the first time, to get them to all be the same. This is when I discovered you have to pay for air. Usually it was $2, and the dispensers even had a credit card reader. The cheapest I ran into was 75 cents.
I stayed in Columbia, Ohio.
Day 4 (Monday May 1)
Weather-wise it's been rainy here and there. Today there was hard rain at times. In a busy interstate in a heavy rain, the cars also spray water around, so seeing ahead is sometimes difficult. I stopped at Grave Creek Mound Museum in Moundsville, WV, but they're not open on Mondays! 6 days a week, but not Monday. But the main mound is right there, so I at least saw that. Across the street is an amazingly old stone penitentiary, with a sign that says tours here. So I went over there, but just as I got to the locked gate, a quadcopter was flying over me from inside, and a woman came out to the gate. I asked her about tours and she said no, the whole place was being used for training at the time for people from around the world. So strike 2 for me.
Another place on my agenda was the Hare Krishna Gold Palace, but I was having trouble finding the turnoff on this back road. The hilly, windy skinny road had a “55 mph” sign but I couldn't imagine anyone driving that fast on it. When I backtracked I saw a sign for the palace and finally got there. The compound is nice but showing its age a bit. I took the tour of the palace as the only guest there. It's really quite interesting and the guide and I discussed the time I met Bhaktipada, a former Hare Krishna leader who sort of turned to the dark side. He's called “Kirtan Ananda” now. After the tour I walked around the compound a bit before leaving.
Day 5 (Tuesday May 2)
I went to the Houlette house in New Brighton, where my grandfather grew up, but is no longer owned by the family. It's a nice house that's showing its age. I could see that back then (early 1900s) this was probably an upper class neighborhood. Now it appears to be a couple or three apartments.
I then went to my cousin Emily's house north of Pittsburgh, a bit out of town. They took me all over the place, to a mill, a round barn, a cemetery, and then we ate at the Harmony Inn restaurant. This used to be a hotel where Emily's mother worked for a time and is now a very nice eating establishment.
On the way back to the Canonsburg hotel, I was blocked by a closed on-ramp to the interstate. The detour signs said “follow the detour signs” but then there were never any more signs! So I had to stop and use google maps to figure out the way back, which probably added another 45 minutes of driving to my trip. On the trip my method was to use a road atlas for general locating, then when I got into a town I'd use google maps for more precise directions. I forgot to bring my compass, which was bad because my “I'm sure this is east” sense is often wrong, and when it's cloudy the sun is no help.
About 10pm an alarm near the hotel went off that sounded like a tornado siren. It shut off and I went back to sleep. I asked the clerk in the morning what the siren was about and he answered that there had been a person around the hotel who shouldn't have been. Ok, didn't sound like cops to me, but whatever.
Day 6 (Wednesday May 3)
I went to Johnstown on the advice of Emily's husband, since my previous ideas were screwed up. On the way I started driving up into a wooded area and noticed small patches of snow, which quite surprised me, being in May. For the next 10 or 15 minutes I was getting into more and more snow, until it was maybe 2 inches deep and somewhat on the road. I had gone through a pass about 3000 feet in altitude, so I stopped on the other side and took photos of the snow cover.
I toured the museum in Johnstown, then went to St. Michel where the dam was/is (it's about like it was when it broke) and a memorial building is there. I listened to a survivor's account and was amazed how horrible that day must have been. From the memorial building you can look out and see the remains of the dam. It rained off and on, but not when I was outside doing things.
It took me much longer than I thought to get back to the interstate. I'm starting to distrust mapquest's time estimates for my plans. I stayed in Scranton, PA,
Day 7 (Thursday May 4)
I was driving through Lake Huntington, NY when I saw a laundromat by the side of the road, so I stopped and did my laundry, all by myself. The owner at one time came in and made sure I took a free water bottle. On the wall was an article about how global warming was causing algae bloom in the lake, which never used to happen. There was great concern about how to handle that.
I finally got to the Woodstock Music Festival location and looked around as it drizzled on me. I didn't go in to the museum, just saw the field, the memorial plaque, and such. The field is sort of shaped like a Greek amphitheater, but there are flat spots where I assume the concert goers there couldn't see the stage. It also completely baffled me how they managed to feed ½ million mostly unexpected people for those 3 days. Restrooms, showers, health centers... all this was somehow set up and handled? That's the amazing part to me. I ate in Wurtsboro down the road at a place built in the 1840s, I think called Danny's. And just as a point of reckoning, my view of local history is that anything older than 1875 is REALLY old, as that was the date the gold rush started in the Black Hills where I grew up. In much of the northeast, that date would probably be in the late 1700s.
I got to Albany about 5 pm but was too tired to do much exploring in the area. My thought was that Albany would be a nice central location to live in for a time to have access to the northeast US and explore. But what I saw of Albany did not impress me at all.
Day 8 (Friday May 5)
Vermont was just a drive-through on Highway 9, but it seemed really nice. My original plan was to drive up to Montpelier and hit some museums, but it was sinking in that when I stayed on back roads, there was no way I would be able to get the planned amount of driving in. So I just basically drove through with a stop for gas.
I ate at Jeanne's Family Diner south of Keene, NH. It was a small but very busy place with ok food. Gas here was about 3.37 a gallon. I went to the Concord NH museum and saw a very old 15-foot (I measured) dugout canoe, and an egg-shaped “mystery stone” that was dug up in 1872 with no idea where it originated. But since there was a 1/8” and a 3/8” hole drilled in the stone, I assume it's not really that ancient.
I went through North Conway, NH where my friend Elaine had once lived. It seems like a nice town. I ate in Norway, then finally made it to Lewiston, Maine. Getting about 38.3 mpg in my almost-clown-car.
It was rainy again.
Day 9 (Saturday May 6)
Coming into Lewiston last night, I unexpectedly saw a huge falls right in town next to a park. So the first thing I did this morning was drive over to the park and take photos. I had seen Churchill Falls in Labrador for about 30 seconds as we flew out of Happy Valley back in the 1970s before it was dammed up. I saw Great Falls in Montana. But this was pretty big. I asked some locals if this was as big as it got, and they said it peaked about 2 days before.
I took Highway 1 to Portsmouth, NH and ate at 3 Sisters. In Brunswick I took a few photos of the Scientology building, which had several cars around, then walked around the neighborhood which is the “historic district.” I'm curious why older houses built in the 1800s had so many windows? Made before electricity I guess, for more light? Then I toured the USS Albacore submarine in Porstmouth, which is displayed completely out of water. You just walk through on your own. The Albacore was a test sub, where inventions and ideas could be tried out to see if they worked. There was also a strange craft called “Ghost” next to the sub that was an experimental low-radar craft that apparently was tested and rejected by the Navy.
I then went to Ft. McClary, which is a fort first used in the 1830s and had a pretty long life. There are huge granite blocks laying helter skelter around because the reinforcements they planned were made obsolete by the new cannons that were invented. So the blocks were delivered and then abandoned. I then spent the night in Kittery, ME.
Day 10 (Sunday May 7)
Today was the tank museum in Hudson, MA. You may be thinking this was mostly a military tour, but it just sort of worked out that those were the places that I didn't miss through mistaken timing or planning. I was probably at this museum about 2 hours since I find tanks fascinating and there were lots of them. They also had brought from Vietnam the very prison cell that some of the US prisoners were held in for many months.
I ate at Uno for the first time, in Pawtucket. I tried to not eat at places that exist in Rapid City or surroundings. I went to the first cotton mill in the US, which was considered the start of the Industrial Age, but it was closed. There was some stuff to see outside and of course the buildings were still there. I had hoped to get to Groton in time to see the Nautilus submarine but was too late. But I spent the night in Groton.
Tonight I took a photo of the back of my hand, because a strange growth or something was starting to form. When I had left it was just a scratchy looking maybe-wart.
At about 11:30pm somebody knocked on my door, which was right behind the checkin counter. I assume the person thought this was the manager's door. I could hear a woman complaining to another woman who said “get your manager.” She was accusing the worker lady of coming into her room unannounced. They yelled at each other for a while, then they were quiet. I went closer to my door and could hear they were now just talking in civil volume but still arguing. Then I heard a guy's voice so I figured maybe that was the boss and went back to sleep.
Day 11 (Monday May 8)
First thing this morning I went to the Nautilus sub museum in Groton. Here this much larger sub – the world's first nuclear sub - is still in the water, next to the naval base. I was the first tourist waiting alone at the door. The guys inside couldn't get the automatic door to unlock, so I spent about 15 minutes looking at the displays of tiny subs outside. Finally they let me and another guy come in through the exit as they were still working on the sliding doors.
This is a first-rate museum, where you tour the sub on your own. The museum was chock full of stuff, including a full-scale model of the The Turtle, the first military sub in history. It's just big enough for one very busy guy to shuffle over to an enemy ship, lift the hatch to grab and attach a bomb, then shuffle away hopefully unnoticed. There is a hand crank for going forward or backward, a rope to adjust ballast, a little rudder handle, and a sump pump for any leakage. The sub I don't think ever went completely underwater, so there were windows in the hatch to see your way.
I stayed in Mahwah, NJ after crossing over the Cuomo bridge. The bridge is a toll bridge, but for people who don't have the EZ Pass transponder in their car, they take a photo of your license plate and mail you a bill for the toll. I think the rental company will take that off my credit card when they get it.
Day 12 (Tuesday May 9)
Today was just driving day. I was hoping to go around the big cities, but instead went right through them, which was ok from a tourism point of view. My problem started when I got off the highway rather than get on the toll road. I wound up in New Hope, PA, which appears to be a small tourist-trap type town but is very nice. It has more high-end restaurants per square foot than anywhere I've been. From there I abandoned my idea to go around the big cities and just randomly head home on whatever roads I wound up on. I drove straight through Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington, and some other cities. Row houses are new to me but they are everywhere. I had a realization that one huge feature of a city that gives it a bad ranking from me is if it's given itself over to cars instead of people. Most growing cities just become roads, highways, parking lots, etc. and people almost seem to be ignored in the planning.
The only place on my itinerary for the day were the Hessian Barracks in Frederick, MD. Turns out this building is on the campus of a deaf school and is still in use.
Next door to my hotel in Frederick was a Waffle House, so I ate there. It was surprisingly quiet there.
Day 13, (Wednesday May 10)
I had a choice to go north to the Antietam civil war battle site, or the Luray Caverns in Virginia to the south. When making my lists of places to go, I didn't notice how far apart these 2 were, so I chose the caverns. By this point I've given up on mapquest.com's estimates on how long it takes to get from one point to another. They were always way too optimistic.
Luray Caverns is a much bigger place than I expected, with a cafe, store, museum, adventure park, and maze. But the cavern itself is great! The walkway is all concrete and railed, and is maybe ½ mile of one incredible view after another. The mirror lake was beautiful and unexpected. There was a high school group ahead of me, so I just paced myself to them.
I wound up on I-81, which was by far the busiest highway of my trip, and stayed in Huntington, WV.
Day 14 (Thursday May 11)
I had lunch at Sarku of Japan in Lexington, KY for my food tourism. There is an air museum in Lexington, so I stopped there. It's a smaller place, but still had some interesting planes, including an old 4-winged plane invented by a local dude back in the earliest days of aviation. The main military plane was an F-14.
When I got to my hotel in Grayville, IL, the desk clerk said he couldn't find me on the list, so I checked my emails. I had mistakenly booked the night BEFORE for this location using my hotel points that I had accumulated. They were booked up except for the fancy rooms, so I quickly got on my laptop and found a room about 30 miles away in Mt. Vernon. After my trip was done, I told the company about my mistake and asked for my points back, which they graciously returned.
Day 15 (Friday May 12)
I did my laundry first thing at Soapy Joe's, where a guy saw my Colorado plates and wondered why I was way over here. He was a retired trucker so we gabbed for a while.
I had breakfast at Cracker Barrel, which is another place we don't have.
I got to the St. Louis area and eventually found the neighborhood of my friend. We were going to hang out, but the timing didn't work out as she attended her granddaughter's graduation in another state. So I had lunch at a Mexican restaurant there, checked out her nice neighborhood, and headed to Jefferson City. There was supposed to be a museum, but I didn't realize it was in the state capitol building. So I toured the museum (which has the best original stage coach I've ever seen), then decided to tour the building. As I climbed up to get different views of the rotunda, I noticed that the legislature was in session, so I popped in to listen to the debating for a while. They were talking about a “tongue in cheek” bill, but I still have no idea what that was about. It turned out this was the last day of the session, and they were trying to tie up loose ends of some bills. One legislator got up to ask the sponsor of a bill if it also covered foster children. The bill sponsor stumbled and said he didn't think so, but that could be added next year. There were a few votes, then I left.
When I got to Sedalia, MO, I was expecting it to be a small town, but it's actually a big and bustling 22,000. This night there were over 50 tornado warnings in Nebraska and storm warnings just west of us, but when I woke up the news showed one tornado in Nebraska that blew a truck around but nothing nearby.
Day 16 (Saturday May 13)
In the morning I went to downtown Kansas City and took photos of the Scientology building there. Then I went to the World War I museum. If you are studying the war for the first time, this seemingly has every aspect of the war's history covered in displays and posters, but I was mostly there for the displays and hopefully to see an early tank. Sure enough, there was a tiny 2-man tank made by Renault still in great condition. It's a large, informative place. When you first walk in the floor is thick glass that shows maybe a 10-foot drop below you. I asked if anyone freaked out about walking over this, and the guide there said a few people do, so they have a carpet walkway just for them.
I ate at the McDonald's in St. Joseph (a bit out of my way but I was checking something out). When I finished eating, I went to the restroom. When I came out, the female manager was near the front door, and a young shirtless guy immediately said to me “oh, you want a piece of this too?” I had no clue what was going on, but decided to go sit at a nearby table in case something bad might happen. The staff were trying to get the guy to leave, which he did, as the staff were calling the police. The dude got into a white car and apparently drove off, so I left too. Were his fries cold? Not enough ketchup? I'll never know.
After I settled into my room in Junction City, KS, I realized there was still quite a bit of day light, so I hiked up to “Atomic Annie” across from Fort Riley. Atomic Annie is a huge cannon that was built to fire nuclear bombs. From the top of the ridge you can see over Fort Riley, which was full of military helicopters, including Apaches and Chinooks. On the way down the trail, I saw a foot-long lizard with turquoise or maybe teal legs and tail. He and another lesser clothed lizard scooted into a rock crack near the trail, so I sat down on a rock and waited, hoping he'd come back out so I could get a photo of his amazing colors. I sat for perhaps 15 minutes and during that time the lizard moved maybe 6 inches, but I never got a great shot. It also appeared that the colors somewhat depended on what angle you were seeing him.
Day 17 (Sunday May 14)
I went to Mushroom Rock State Park near Brookville, KS, which is maybe two square city blocks in size out in the middle of nowhere. But it has a few remarkable rock formations that almost defy explanation. A dark heavy rock about the size of a truck rests precariously on about a 5 foot high column of light sandstone. You wonder how such a thing could occur naturally, but there they are. The harder, dark rocks are cracked and streaked in strange ways as well. There were a few other people there gawking at the rocks.
After eating lunch at Schlotzky's Deli in Salinas, KS, I stayed on the back roads to Colorado. It rained off and on all day. I stayed in Stratton, CO.
Day 18 (Monday May 15)
The only thing on the agenda for today besides getting home was a stop at the Sioux Ordinance Depot north of Sidney, Nebraska. This is a World War II site used to store ammunition in hundreds of bunkers each spaced perhaps 50 yards apart. The point of that is that if one bunker blew up, the others would not even be bothered. It took me a while to figure out how to get back there, but when I did, I stopped at the southeast corner of the complex and flew my little quadcopter around, taking video and photos. The whole place is now private property but some of the roads are not blocked or gated. I drove up to one bunker and took photos, then left on the gravel road.
As I was going east the road kept getting muddier and muddier, to where I was actually in danger of sliding into the ditch. But right after the worst section the road dried up and I was just ¼ mile from the highway. I preserved the video of this from my dashcam.
In Scotts Bluff I decided I had enough time to go to the Scotts Bluff National Monument, which I had never been to. They have a nice museum there, but the best part is a windy tunnel-infested road to the top of the bluff. There's a great view of the surrounding area and the town below with trails this way and that. Definitely worth the time.
I ate in Scottsbluff, then went quickly through Crawford, NE to Hot Springs, SD, where I washed the mud off my poor little clown car, and got home about 7pm.
Everything was fine at home. My friend had checked on things and watered my plants, so the only work for me was to mow the yard and make this travel blog.