The Great America Eclipse came and went. I was one of those who chose to travel to the path of totality to view it. Back in March when I was deciding where I would view the eclipse, I decided it made sense to visit an area of the country where I could add a few new counties to my ongoing quest to visit every county seat in the United States. A combination of inexpensive airfares and a large section of uncollected counties led me to the middle of corn country.
The trip began with a drive to Dayton, Ohio for a flight to ORD and then on to SUX (Sioux City, IA). I chose DAY because I was able to get both a better fare and more convenient flight times. The flight out of DAY was delayed, and based on the ETA, I would have only 15 minutes to connect in ORD. Not good. Fortunately the pilot was able to make up a bit of time in the air and my 15 minute connection became 30 minutes. Had I known that the flight crew was also making the same connection, I might have been a bit less stressed. I’m sure it happens occasionally, but as far as I can recall, this is first time I’ve had the same pilot, first officer, and flight attendant on two legs of the same trip where a change of aircraft/gate was involved.
The FFI in Sioux City was nice. Breakfast was set up before the 6:00 scheduled time, so I was on the road by 6:15. First stop, Elk Point, SD. There’s not much to say about southeastern South Dakota other than I haven’t been in the state since 1997. Over the course of the day, I covered 15 counties before ending the day in Sioux Falls. I notched two “firsts” this day, the first counties collected in SD and my first Marriott stay in the state.
Corn fields were pretty much everywhere, and the county seats were mostly small, rural towns. About the only two notable stops were Al’s Oasis along I-90 near the Missouri River and Mitchell, SD. Al’s Oasis is nowhere near as iconic as Wall Drug, but it’s a worthwhile stop for lunch. The restaurant is famous for their buffalo (bison) burgers. Mitchell is best known as the home of the Corn Palace. I’m still not exactly sure what purpose it serves, but tourists love it. Every year or two the murals, made from corn and other grains, are changed. The current ones picture well-known musicians. Willie Nelson is easily identifiable as is Elvis, just around the corner (to Willie’s left).
Because the summer MegaBonus encourages hitting as many different brands as possible, my four nights on the road were at four different brands. Besides the FFI in Sioux City, I tried the ResInn in Sioux Falls, a CY on the southwest side of Omaha, and the Marriott in downtown Lincoln. All were good, except the Marriott. It was fantastic! I was upgraded to a King suite, corner room. The CL had snacks out in the evening, though not quite enough to make a meal of it. The breakfast offerings were extensive and available early, which was important to me as I had about a 5 hour drive (counting stops) back to Sioux City to make a 12:30 flight.
Hotels and county seats aside, the reason for being in this part of the country at this particular time was to see a total eclipse of the sun. We’ve all seen pictures. I’ve even experienced an annular eclipse (back in 1994), but this was the first time I’ve seen a total solar eclipse. I didn’t bring any special camera equipment, so as expected, the photos I took didn’t come out, but I wasn’t there to photograph. I was there to see. It’s hard to describe, so let me just say it was really cool. I was surprised as how quickly it was over. Where I was (Grand Island, NE), totality lasted about 2 minutes 34 seconds. It seemed way shorter than that. Regardless, it’s something I believe everyone should experience at least once. If you ever get a chance to view one, do it. For those of us in the USA, the next one will be April 8, 2024. While it might be a bit too early to start making plans, I’m putting it on my calendar now.
So, over the course of the four days, I hit 45 counties (15 in SD, 1 in MN, 5 in IA, and 24 in NE) and dove 1,837 miles. Here are the before and after maps.
Those 45 new counties puts me at 2,034 county seats visited. I still have a little over 1,100 to go, and my travels for this year are not done yet. While I have two trips (Miami and Wales) coming up in the next few weeks, neither will be to collect counties. The next time I’ll be doing that will be an overnight trip to southern KS and northern OK in early October.