Way back when we started this little adventure, I placed a United States sticker map on our front door. These maps are ubiquitous among RVers and, while visiting every state wasn’t one of our original travel goals, I figured it would be a fun way to keep track of where we’d been.

When I first put the map up, I briefly considered the rules that should govern the placement of a sticker – how many nights we’d need to spend in a given state, how many individual towns we’d need to explore, whether a visit to the state’s capitol building should be a prerequisite, etc.

Then, we spent one night at a depressing roadside campground in New Jersey, I said “good enough!”, and placed the Jersey sticker on the map.

And so began the tradition of being flexible and honest when approaching the heavy question of when to place a sticker on the sticker map.

Anyway, as we’ve traveled around, we’ve tended to follow the typical snowbird patterns – winters in the south, summers in the north, and, in between, an occasional east/west trip across the top or bottom of the country. That left several states in the middle unexplored.

In the meantime, thanks to the pandemic, we hadn’t seen our friends and family on the east coast in almost two years.

Could our fearless heroes combo-pack these two projects together? Could they get from the west coast to the east coast while hitting some of these heretofore unvisited states? Would our planner-in-chief design a completely irrational route that ignored the mathematical certainty that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line just so she could put stickers on her front door???

OF COURSE, she would!!

What did all this nonsense look like in practice? Well, if we were doing what made sense, we would have left Southern Utah and driven due east across Colorado and Kansas before heading into Missouri, but we already had the stickers for Colorado and Kansas and we didn’t have the stickers for Nebraska or Iowa. Complicating matters, we didn’t really want to drive over the Rockies unnecessarily (it can be done; we’ve done it; it’s just not really fun and “getting stickers” didn’t seem like great justification for taking our lives in our hands while barreling down a mountain in 28,000 pounds of only kind of controlled chaos), all of which meant we had to drive north before we could head east. So, from Southern Utah we drove east to Colorado before heading north to Wyoming where we hung a right to head across Nebraska. And then, instead of continuing straight across Iowa toward our ultimate east coast destinations, we detoured south to Missouri before crossing Illinois.

None of which made any sense, but look how good my sticker map looked after the trip!!

(And yes, North Dakota is a problem. And yes, I did try to figure out a way to get up there on this trip, but no, even I couldn’t justify that much extra mileage.)

Nebraska

What do Bob Seger and Payton Manning have in common?

“Omaha!!!!”

Or, that’s what I think of when I think of Omaha, anyway.

But Omaha is much more than a line in an exceptional rock anthem or a former quarterback’s go-to call. Omaha is really, honestly, cool!

Sadly, we only had two nights in the area, but we spent an entire day downtown and really enjoyed our visit.

First, how we got there and where we stayed: My last post left off in Sidney, Nebraska, home to Cabela’s corporate headquarters.  After a night there, we continued East on I-80, stopped at a forgettable roadside Passport America campground, and then made our way to the cute little town of Ashland, Nebraska. This town is located just southwest of Omaha and the campground was a gem. It’s brand new, has nice concrete pads, a friendly camp host (who loaded us up with local maps and information), and easy access to the city.

The singular downside for those looking for longer stays is that it is water/electric only, but they have a dump station onsite, and it’s easy enough to maneuver around the campground that it wouldn’t be an issue for most visitors.

The Durham Museum

While I have long admired Chicago for its phenomenal architecture, what I didn’t fully appreciate until this trip was how many unique, historic, and beautiful buildings exist in these smaller Midwestern cities. One such standout in Omaha is its former train station, now a museum.

Before the development of the interstate highway system, Americans primarily traveled by rail, and back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, American architects built magnificent train stations. Some, like Grand Central Station in New York, have operated continuously since then. Others were allowed to decay before being rescued and revived by preservation minded governments and taxpayers (including Kansas City’s which I’ll talk about next post). Others, like the one in Omaha, were, fortunately, quickly transferred for preservation after they were shuttered.

Can you imagine if they had demolished this (as some suggested at the time?)

At its height, 10,000 passengers passed through Omaha’s Union Station each day. Opened in 1931, the station not only hosted 64 different daily trains, but it offered weary passengers everything they needed to travel comfortably and conveniently – from a barbershop, to a baggage check, to a dining room, to a soda fountain, to a USO organized letter writing facility for soldiers heading off to war.

Today, the Great Hall, which is decorated with beautiful Art Deco details, contains numerous sculptures that bring the building’s history to life:

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while the museum, located on the lower level, tells the story of Omaha and the larger Midwest:

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The museum also has some temporary exhibit space which, during our visit, housed an exhibit about James Cameron’s deep water ocean explorations. Additionally, there were artifacts from his movie, Titanic, including the costumes Jack and Rose wore in their unforgettable final scene.

Well, I guess Jack was pretty forgettable since Rose let his frozen ass sink to the bottom of the Atlantic faster than you can say “There was plenty of room on that plank for both of them.”

Speaking of cold, before heading out we paid a visit to the train station’s original soda fountain to sample its wares.

Delish.

Later that day, we headed over to the historic commercial area where we grabbed some delicious ramen

(This:

Not that:

(not that that isn’t delicious… it is… but the real stuff is pretty good too.))

before wandering over to the Missouri River which runs north south, dividing Nebraska and Iowa. Fortunately, there’s a nice pedestrian bridge to get you from one state to the other

and a photo worthy stop along the way.

Iowa

After our two night visit to Omaha, we continued east into Iowa, specifically, to Des Moines.

We spent 4 nights at the very picturesque Walnut Woods State Park.

In addition to the green and spacious campground, there’s a large lake with all kinds of facilities available for public use. So, not only did Thor get to come with us to visit a local brewery:

but we took him on the park’s trails and let him go swimming in the lake.

Des Moines was officially “Puppy Approved!”

Iowa State Capitol

We probably should have prioritized seeing state capitols as we’ve traveled around because the ones we’ve visited have been extremely impressive. And among those, Iowa’s state capitol was an absolute standout.

We happened to stop by when the legislature was out of session, so we basically had the building to ourselves. I believe during sessions, capitol staff offer guided tours, but because no one was around, the information desk handed us a map and sent us on our way. We wandered the empty halls, gawked at the stunning architectural and artistic details, and peered in on both legislative houses. It’s a beautiful building, not to be missed if you find yourself in the area.

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Downtown

We spent one afternoon wandering downtown Des Moines and came away pleasantly surprised by what the city had to offer. The downtown area is well kept, clean, green, and walkable with some pretty architecture and a fair amount of street art. (The featured image at the top of this post is the Des Moines skyline taken from the state capitol building.)

Speaking of which, while in the area, we checked out the Pappajohn Sculpture Park at the Des Moines Art Center, a 4.4 acre sculpture garden. It contained several pieces by artists we recognized from other museums, like this one by Deborah Butterfield which was very similar to her sculpture at the Palm Springs Museum of Modern Art which we visited in 2018:

or this version of Robert Indiana’s popular and familiar LOVE sculpture:

or this life sized version of my 1st grade art project:

Other sculptures were fun to check out from different perspectives:

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while some cried out for creative interpretation:

I call this one: “Toooooooo much tequila.”

Before calling it a day, we hit one more cultural landmark – Fong’s Pizza. In my last post, I mentioned that, while in Utah, we visited a combination Indian/Pizza restaurant made famous by Food Network personality Guy Fieri. Well, in Iowa, we visited a combination Chinese/Pizza restaurant made famous by Food Network icon Alton Brown.

Fong’s offers all kinds of interesting pizza flavors, like Kung Pao Chicken Pizza and Mongolian Beef Pizza, but its real claim to fame is its Crab Rangoon pizza:

In fact, Alton put this particular pizza on his “the best thing I ever ate” list, which is pretty high praise when you think about it. Personally, while I thought the flavors worked, it all seemed a bit much. Too sweet. Too rich. Too heavy. So, for me, in a head to head contest between “pizzas that combine unexpected flavor profiles,” I would say the Honey Curry pizza in Utah was better. Either way, though, it was fun to try another of these creative pairings.

And with that, we packed up once more, pointed Barney south, and made our way to our next state:

Coming up: Kansas City, St. Charles, and St. Louis!

______________________________________________________________________

Where we stayed:

Ashland RV Campground, Ashland, Nebraska

Walnut Woods State Park, Des Moines, Iowa

40 COMMENTS

  1. I think there’s nothing wrong with letting a sticker map guide your travels. Really interesting things can be found in unexpected places. Some of the more fascinating and surprising historical sites we’ve visited started with noticing that, “Hey, there’s some sort of NPS thing on the map near our route.”

    What stands out to me about your visit to these Midwestern cities is the lovely architecture, and your outstanding photos capturing the buildings and architectural details. The sculpture photos are also great. I love how travel to different types of environments provides a chance to work on different types of photography.

    • Thank you, Shannon. One thing I am endlessly grateful for with this whole project is this country’s wonderfully diverse scenery – both natural and man made. It never ceases to amaze me that we can spend one day gawking at a jaw dropping red rock canyon and the next at a beautiful monument to Art Deco architecture. There is just so much beauty and so much to learn and so much to appreciate. It’s been thrilling to dip our toes in the proverbial sea of awesome things, and, like you said, there’s never a shortage of fascinating things to find close by.

  2. So I’m bitter that Alaska is still blank since we were supposed to be there together. Stupid COVID! I love the pics of the different types of architecture. Union Station is so beautiful!!
    I wonder if the sculpture artist would agree with your interpretation. In my opinion, you nailed it!

    • I would LOVE to talk to that artist. I mean, honestly. “What the hell is that????” They obviously must be doing something right because they got paid a bunch of money and their work is being displayed in a prominent locations, but seriously… “what am I looking at here???” 🙂

  3. I laughed pretty hard at the “life size version of your childhood art project” sculpture caption 😂

    I love your state stickers, that’s such a fun idea to keep track! I also enjoyed this tour of 3 states in which I haven’t really spent much time… looks like there is much to see and do.

    • There is A LOT to see and do and these cities. We easily could have spent a week in each and not seen all the interesting stuff. It’s just further proof that you really never can tell much about a place until you’ve visited for yourself. (I tend to doubt they’ve got much in the way of amazing mountain hiking, though. 🙂 )

  4. While we never did the map thing, we did visit just about every state but a few small ones in the northeast as we traveled back and forth to the east coast to visit family. Having family in NY, PA, and GA helped us get to all the states inbetween. It is amazing how much each state has to offer. Like Kansas! John figured we’d make two one night stops. Then, I did some research and we stayed over a week. Ever town has something to offer. Glad you were able to route yourself around to almost fill in that map. Now to figure out how to get ND. We really enjoyed ND and crossed it twice. Once we did the southern route and once the northern route.

    • I totally agree, Pam. Every one of these places has stuff worth seeing, and we too have been pleasantly surprised by states we didn’t expect much from. The thing is, even with the states we’ve visited, there are very few I feel we’ve explored thoroughly. Spending six months in California this year, in addition to several months in prior years, has made me feel like we “earned” that sticker, but there are so many others we feel could use lots more time. As you well know, it can take years to really explore this country, and even then…. Speaking of which, hope you guys are still having a great time out there!

  5. LOL!! That looks a lot like my 1st grade childhood clay project, too—except mine had pointy ears because it was supposed to be a cat. I’m so glad you went to these states, because they’re still blank on our map (what the heck have we been doing all these years?). I appreciate your photo tour and the details you include, like the sculpture garden, the beautiful train station museum, and the delicious looking ramen, because those are all the things we would do. You’re saving me hours of time figuring out a plan! And both of those RV parks look great. Carry on! We still need info on Kansas and Missouri, too. 🙂

    • What HAVE you been doing all these years? Jeez… 🙂

      I feel bad for these Midwestern states because, when there’s so much incredible scenery out west and so much interesting history back east, it’s no surprise they end up being called “flyover country.” But they offer a diverse range of activities, some fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and if the sculpture garden was any indication, some wonderful (if confusing) art. I hope you’ll stop through on one of your treks. (And the ramen in Omaha was – surprisingly – legit!!)

    • I know!! I really, really wanted to head up there, but it just wouldn’t work. I would have had to rework our whole schedule. That’s ok, though. I’m reasonably confident North Dakota’s not going anywhere any time soon!!

    • There are actually a lot of states up that way that we’d like to spend more time in, especially Minnesota and Wisconsin, both of which we gave short shrift to. So, if we were to head up to Alaska, that would be a cool way to do it. The problem is, the northern summer lasts about 4 minutes and that’s a whole lot of mileage to take on in a limited amount of time. But… interesting idea!

  6. We filled our sticker map before we got our present coach. Driving to Alaska finished it. Only two provinces left for someday. For another cross-country trip consider US 20 – that is the federal highway not the Interstate. Newport OR to Boston Commons. Across Iowa and Nebraska there are loads of small museums and towns to stop for. We’ve driven all of it save Illinois where it is a surface street through Chicago. We did not even put the map up on the current coach.

    • What, you don’t want to drive a gigantic motorhome thorough downtown Chicago??? 🙂

      I’ve never heard of that route, but it definitely sounds intriguing. Taking one simple road from sea to shining sea, and seeing everything in between, would certainly be more interesting than the interstates. Of course, the nice thing about the interstates is we don’t have to worry about low bridges or tiny gas stations, but if we were in a smaller set up, I’d do that in a heartbeat!

      Hope you guys get to visit those last couple provinces at some point!

      • US Highways generally conform to truck standards and I have not found any low clearances on any across the country. The usual minimum is 13’6″ Higher numbered routes and state highways do require some precautions, but mostly in the northeast where railroad bridges can be as low as 10′ but on lesser roads. Other great highways include US 90 (southern border) and US 2 (northern border) US 1 on the eastern seaboard can be a bear since it passes through every major city on the coast, have fun in Boston for one.

  7. I’m intrigued by these delicious pizzas you keep finding, and I am reminded of a TV/movie conversation about the various crusts. One character says the crust is irrelevant because that’s just the vehicle to get the toppings into your mouth!

    I agree that you can plug North Dakota in when you re-plan Alaska.

    You were a super-talented first grader! 😂

    • Hogwash!! Pizza crusts totally change the character of a pizza and can make all the difference between stellar pizza and “meh” pizza. Of course, with these “creative” pizzas, the crusts take a backseat to the sauces and toppings, but they’re still important and, as a general rule, pizza crust is crucial to pizza success! That character was crazy!!

      And thank you. My parents didn’t think I would ever make it as a sculptor, even suggesting that maybe I should focus on Math and English instead, but I always knew I could do it!!! 🙂

  8. Because our main goal was to visit the 49 states, we bought the map at the get go. And as you know we made a big deal of it each state visit 🙂 But what we did not count on was that we could have visited all the state capitol while at it. It was only after visiting the Kansas state capitol (which was impressive) did we realize that these buildings have tours and is a great way to learn the state in fast track. It was already too late and we won’t turn around back to the East so we only checked just 12 state capitol. It looked like we missed a good one in Iowa.
    The space for ND will remain a good conversation piece for a while. Who knows when you go to Alaska you will just route Barney there or it might just be a good reason to head back west again!

    • I remember you guys visiting various state capitols! Honestly, I thought you had visited more than 12. I remember always being impressed by the architecture you showcased in your photos. I agree wholeheartedly that they are worthwhile places to visit. Like you said, not only are the buildings beautiful, but the tours are usually quite informative. Maybe we’ll make it a point to check out North Dakota’s whenever we get there!

  9. Congratulations on adding 3 more states! We have yet to hit the northeast so have a lot of those states to hit yet. When you finally do get North Dakota make sure you hit Medora and the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Definitely worth seeing!

    • The nice thing about New England is you can visit pretty much all of it in just a few weeks. Compared to the big square states, they are easy peasy. And with your small set up, you can stay anywhere, drive anywhere, and see everything. I think you’ll enjoy it. And yes, TRNP is already on the list, and we’ll look into Medora as well. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Your 1st grade art project must be a hit…if it ended up there! We do the map thing also; I think we’ve only done 22 states so far. We’re pretty slow as you know. But that is probably a lot more states visited than most folks. I think we’ll all have to cheat to get that Hawaii sticker!

    • I’ve tried and tried to figure out a way to get the RV to Hawaii, but I just can’t seem to make it work. 🙂 We’ll get there some day. In the meantime, I like your schedule of slow travel. If you’re gonna do it, you may as well do it right and spend the time to really explore a place. There are several of these states I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface.

  11. Haha, I thought about putting both a Canada and US sticker map on our RV but then I thought about the pressure and decided against it. Hubby put one one our blog page so we still strive to fill in the provinces and states but it doesn’t stare at me everyday. Thanks for sharing your travels with us 🙂

    • Yep, I really didn’t intend for it to be a goal, but as you start filling the stickers in, the blank ones become more obvious… and then they take over your planning and make you do stupid things. LOL.

  12. I love all the interesting and quirky things we find on our travels. You’ve been to some places I’d never considered traveling to, but found hidden gems along the way!

    • That is so true, Julie. Even though I give a hard time to places like New Jersey and Ohio, there really are no dud states. Every one of them has something interesting or beautiful or unique. Hell, just looking at Atlas Obscura in any given place is guaranteed to point you to at least a few interesting things. Nothing about this life is ever dull, that’s for sure!

  13. Oh my goodness! I received a notification from Gravatar that you had followed our blog, which led to two discoveries.

    1. Gravatar even does that – I seriously only ever went there because that’s where wordpress does their profile pictures. Never occurred to me that they provide any other service. :p

    2. This wonderful blog! I have to admit I’d probably never have stumbled across it, but I’m so so glad that I have. Diving into your archives this weekend is going to be an absolute treat. 🙂

    • LOL. I don’t understand Gravatar either, to be honest! I just happened to run into your blog and thought it was interesting and followed it through my WordPress reader since I didn’t see a way to follow it by email. Sometimes I get notifications through WordPress that someone has followed my blog, but other times, people follow it through other sites and I have no idea how they found or followed it. It’s all very mysterious. 🙂

      In any case, thanks for checking out my site too!

  14. That train station is really stunning. I wish we had spent more time in the Des Moines area. Glad to see Thor get some swimming in.

    • We were glad he got some swimming in too! It’s the best exercise for him (he’s got bad hips) and he won’t be able to do it once we get south (fresh water = alligators and salt water makes him sick), so we’re trying to let him swim as much as possible while it’s warm. He thinks we should just buy a house somewhere with a pool. LOL.

  15. While I’m not one to check off countries and states as I travel, or keep track of them, your sticker story is pretty funny. And, if I would have a magnetic map like that, I’d go out of the way to make it complete as well. 🙂 Then, it’s somewhat of a challenge. Fun times!

    I love state capitols and each time we end up passing a capital city – which I usually realize last minute as we are driving – I urge Mark to get off the highway to check it out. We recently saw the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, and it was impressive too. One day, I’ll have to make a collage of all the capitols I’ve come across during my travels in the US. It would be pretty cool.

    Unfortunately, we never go inside because a) we always have Maya with us and b) Mark is not interested in capitol buildings. 🙁 There have been times I had a quick look inside, but I always felt rushed. Often, there are free one-hour guided tours, which I’d miss out on.

    • I think any kind of “themed” travel or exploration is kind of cool. It just provides a different framework for a trip and can make things feel a little more directed. I’ve seen bloggers focus on various historical figures and events, sporting events or cultural activities, and even have one friend who made it a goal to camp (in a tent) at the highest point in each state. Visiting the state capitol buildings would be just one more way to do it. The nice things with those state capitol tours you mention is they provide a ton of history and information about the state in general. We’ve learned a lot on the ones we’ve taken.

  16. My rule for marking states off my list is sleeping in that state for at least one night and doing at least one activity in that state.

    So nice that Omaha turned their Union Station into a museum. The one in St. Louis was turned into a mall – although I believe they kept the historical elements. I wonder if you visited. Well see next post?

    I don’t think I’ve ever visited a state capitol building. But they seem interesting. Perhaps I’ll start adding them to my agenda.

    I grew up in St. Louis so I’m curious as to where you went. So much to do in St. Louis.

    • Hey Duwan,

      Yes, I wish we’d had more time (and better weather) in St. Louis. We definitely got a good flavor of it, but could have spent much longer there. We didn’t get to visit the old train station and, actually, several facilities were closed for restoration which was kind of a bummer, but we were glad to see them doing the work to ensure these places will survive for many more generations. It’s a great city, and yes, if I ever get my act together on this blog, I’ll write about it all. 🙂

  17. If passing through counted, I’ve now been to every state except Montana. We never did the sticker map, but I have kept sort of a journal. I am usually more than happy to drive way out of the way to go someplace we haven’t been. Having to be back in FL twice a year to do trees and fireworks sometimes puts a damper on how far we are willing to travel. I’m glad you enjoy cities. I wouldn’t get to see them if it wasn’t for you, lol. Steve and I usually avoid most cities like the plague (pandemic? same difference) Loved your thoughts on the sculpture garden, I think you named it perfectly!

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