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Renowned Traveler of 50 States: Nicole Cooper

Renowned traveler, Nicole Cooper has traveled to all 50 states in the United States of America. Nicole is a mother to her five-year-old daughter and three-and-a-half-year-old son, a wife, and she’s the Director of Media at A.E. Engine Media-Marketing. She completed her 50-state journey within thirty years. 

Nicole grew up in upstate New York and still resides there today. She started her traveling journey with her grandparents, Donald and Barbara Hess when she was a little girl. Her grandparents owned an RV and they’d travel pretty much every summer. A couple of times Nicole was homeschooled in the RV when they traveled during the school year. She’d travel so much with her grandparents that it eventually became clear that she could accomplish all 50 states. 

Nicole’s Grandparents at the Four Corners

Nicole’s passion for travel is owed to her grandparents who were avid travelers. Her Grandfather Donald had successfully traveled to all 50 states and her Grandmother Barbara traveled to 48 states. Once Nicole got a little older she loved learning about her nation’s history. She’d love to choose a destination to visit next on what she had been learning about. Her grandparents were very supportive of their granddaughter in choosing the next location. Nicole stated,

“There’s no better way to get a connection to history than to stand in that spot. You can just imagine the people around you and that atmosphere.” This is how Nicole’s love for traveling continued to set fire. 

When Nicole got into high school they didn’t go on many big trips because of school and sports. The time for college came around and her grandparents were too old to travel so it came down to Nicole traveling by herself and then eventually with her husband and kids. Nicole and her family have made a fun new tradition of taking a picture with a paper plate to document what number/state they’re in.

Young Nicole at the Four Corners

Nicole’s grandparents, Donald and Barbara Hess passed away in 2020 and Nicole vowed to complete traveling all 50 states in their honor. “I don’t think that any of this would have been possible without my grandparents. I feel like I got the best grandparents in the world.” Nicole stated. She just recently finished traveling to all 50 states last September 2021 in Alaska. Nicole has visited Iceland, Spain, France, and Italy so far during some breaks from traveling the states. She’d love to continue to experience other places now that all 50 states are checked off.

Nicole’s Favorite Western Destinations

Redwoods in California

Nicole loved California, she especially loved visiting the Redwoods home to the sequoia sempervirens. There are several locations around northernmost coastal California where you can see the great redwoods. These beautiful evergreen trees are long-lived being 1,200-2,200 years old or more. The redwoods are the tallest and oldest living trees on earth. They reach about 379 ft in height (without the roots) and 29 ft in diameter. Nicole stated, “It sounds funny but the smell there was incredible. You’re just living in a bunch of Christmas trees. It was so pretty, it felt so nice, and it was just so peaceful.” 

Badlands National Park 

The Badlands National Park in South Dakota is another special spot and something you can’t see anywhere else. It has a presentation of dramatic landscapes including steep canyons, towering spires, and layered rock formations. Bighorn, sheep, bison, and prairie dogs inhabit the grasslands of the Badlands. The atmosphere is very unique and the people are very genuine. 

Four Corners, Navajo Nation

Nicole also fell in love with the Southwest area of the United States, the Navajo Nation. It’s truly an extraordinary and breathtaking nation within a nation. It is over 27,000 miles and covers over four states: New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. She loved visiting Four Corners where you have the opportunity to stand in all four states at once. 

The Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department oversees all Navajo Tribal Parks in the largest sovereign nation in the United States. As a sovereign-autonomous tribal government, the Navajo Nation creates laws and governs its citizens – which means all non-Navajo travelers and visitors must comply with and abide by tribal regulations, policies, and laws. Their intent is the caretaking of Mother Earth, which Navajos respect at all times. You definitely want to experience the breathtaking views the Navajo land has to offer.

Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park

The Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park located in Colorado was another incredible place to witness. It is one of the best-preserved and notable sites on the North American Continent. After primarily living on the mesa top for 600 years, in the late 1190s, Ancestral Pueblo people began living in pueblos they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. The structures differed in size from one-room storage units to villages with more than 150 rooms. They continued to farm the mesa tops while still continuing to reside in the alcoves remodeling, repairing, and constructing new rooms for just about a century. The population slowly began migrating south to present-day Arizona and New Mexico in the late 1270s. The Ancestral Puebloan occupation of Mesa Verde came to an end in 1300. Nicole stated, “To be able to learn about the people who were here 1000s of years ago, to stand there, and take in that this land was civilized for a long time before any of us got here is incredible.”.

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone, Arizona was a really unique place in a mythical kind of way. Located in southeastern Arizona, this town is one of the most authentic western towns left in the United States. The town was founded in 1877 and the western heritage runs deep through the town’s roots. Once you arrive you’ll step back in time and enjoy the Old West Atmosphere. There are tons of attractions, shops, restaurants, and saloons in “The Town Too Tough to Die”. 

Petrified Forest National Park

The Petrified Forest National Park is located in northeastern Arizona and it’s simply beautiful. It’s this old-growth Rainbow Forest located in the desert that has turned into colorful petrified wood. You’re able to walk around and witness all these hardened trees. Nicole thought it was such a wild and cool experience. 

Nicole’s Travel Tips

  1. Start Young

If you’re wanting to travel all fifty states Nicole recommends starting young. Nicole stated, “Even if you’re traveling with young children don’t think that it’s about remembering every detail. It’s about realizing you can travel while learning so much. You get to see so many things, have so many more experiences, and meet so many other people. So it’s not about remembering every single thing that you do or see. It’s about learning that you can go and do and see that stuff.”

  1. Avoid Touristy Places

Another travel tip is to avoid touristy places as much as possible. There are some things you should see, for example, the Grand Canyon but there’s always a better way to see it than parking on the side and exploring. There are guided rafting and hiking tours, and it’s the same for just about everything. If you’re at a farmers market, restaurant, or museum don’t be afraid to talk to the locals for ideas on places to visit. 

  1. Check out Your Nation’s History

Nicole believes that you should see where you’re from to connect your history before you can really understand what your country is about. Once you have gathered that information go explore other countries. Nicole suggests visiting Gettysburg, Boston, Charleston, and Ellis Island; those kinds of places are where you can see history, stand there, and learn about it while you’re at the physical location. That would help people get rooted. 

  1. Eat all the Food

Don’t be afraid to try new food! Nicole really loves going to places and not knowing what anything is. Getting to taste something and see if it’s either good or bad is such an amazing experience. You’ll learn what the area has to offer, the culture, why that food is on your plate, and who’s putting it on your plate. 

  1. Hostels & Airbnbs

Before having kids, Nicole loved getting a hostel. It was a great way to meet local people who could direct you to some neat places especially if you’re traveling overseas. If you’re traveling by yourself, it’s also a great way to meet new people and be able to go to a restaurant together if you’re looking for company. Airbnbs are a great option if you have children and they’re a go-to for Nicole and her family. You have your own space and there’s a wide variety of unique Airbnbs to choose from all over.

  1. Just Start Traveling

Go for it, don’t be afraid to get out there and travel. It doesn’t have to be a cross-country trip. In most states, you can drive for a few hours and be in another state. There’s so much beauty that our world has to offer. 

  1. Gaining Self-Confidence

There’s so much self-confidence that you gain from traveling. Whatever trip you go on, there’s a potential that something goes wrong and you just have to figure it out. It’s problem-solving on the fly, you’re learning so much and it helps everyone grow.

Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine

This article was created for the Summer Issue of the Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine which was released in early July. You can catch this article and many more by checking out the full issue. For more information on Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine, visit the website here.

*All photos are provided by Nicole or are stock photos.

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Howdy, I'm Megan deFabry, I grew up in Reno, Nevada & I now live in Austin, Texas. I'm very passionate about digital marketing and journalism, especially within the western industry. I have a love for agriculture, rodeos, country music, and maintaining the western way of life!

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