The Pillows visit all 50 states


On a trip to New Jersey in 1991, a new family tradition began.

At the entrance to every state along the way, Craig and Lorraine Pillow of Clayton stopped the van and took a photograph of their two foster sons, Wes and Vance.

“We wanted them to have some visible proof they had traveled outside of Michigan in the event that they would return to their birth family,” Lorraine explained.

Welcome to Ohio. Welcome to Pennsylvania. Welcome to Connecticut.

On and on it went through eight states.

Four years later, they decided to “bite the bullet,” as Lorraine puts it, and fly to Hawaii. Her brother was living there at the time, so there was no worry about accommodations.

A travel agency found a good package that included the initial flight to Oahu, plus side flights to the islands of Hawaii and Maui.

On this trip, a second family tradition got underway.

“One of the things that we did was to buy for each of the boys a National Park Passport book,” Lorraine said.

Every National Park and National Historic Site has an official stamp. Travelers are invited to show their Park Passport and have it validated with the stamp of each park.

The passport books are organized by region, so wherever the family travels, they check through the list to see if any parks are in the vicinity. Hawaii’s Volcanoes National

Park was the first stamp in the Pillows’ books.

Wes, a senior at Morenci High School, still calls this early trip his favorite. It was his first experience flying, also.

“Since going to Hawaii had always seemed out of reach for us before, it made us think that it would be possible to get the boys to all 50 states, maybe before they graduated from high school,” Lorraine said. “It was here that the dream was born.”

Heading West

The trek westward was part of Lorraine’s family heritage. Her great-great-grandfather traveled the Oregon Trail and helped found the city of Monmouth, Ore. When she was a child, her family retraced the pioneers’ route on a summer vacation.

In 1996, Lorraine decided that same trip would be a great learning experience for her boys, now officially adopted and part of the Pillow family. Craig contacted AAA for planning materials and bought The Traveler’s Guide to the Oregon Trail by Julie Fanselow.

Mormon settlements in Nauvoo, Ill., wagon wheel ruts still in existence from the pioneers—the guidebook led the travelers to dozens of interesting sites on the way west.

On the return trip, they hit five northern states that included sites made popular by Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame.

They returned home with their tally of states reaching 22, notching 13 new locations.

Visiting all 50 now seemed like something that could actually be achieved.

Down the Mississippi

Next summer came a trip from north to south, following the Mississippi river from its origin in Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Louisiana delta at the Gulf of Mexico.

This time the Pillows consulted The Mighty Mississippi: a traveler’s guide by Lori Erickson. They crossed back and forth across the river as it made its way south, starting where the stream is so narrow it can be crossed by jumping from rock to rock.

By the time it reaches Grand Rapids, Minn. (Judy Garland’s home town), it’s wide enough for river boats to navigate. The awe inspiring Council Bluffs in Iowa,

U.S. Grant’s home in Galena, Ill., Mark Twain’s home town of Hannibal, Mo., Graceland in Memphis, the Ante-bellum homes of Natchez, Miss., and finally the swamp-lined highways of Louisiana—so much of this country’s history is wrapped up in a tour of the great river. Thirteen states, eight new states, and the tally was up to 30.

South with family

Lorraine’s parents are travelers, too, and her mother mentioned that she had been to all 50 with one exception. Somehow, she never set foot in South Carolina.

That sounded like a good plan to the Pillows. They were looking for a shorter, less expensive trip than previous forays, so they took Lorraine’s parents on a trip through the mid-Atlantic states to the Carolinas.

Yorktown, Roanoke, Monticello, Williamsburg, the Norfolk ship yards. A stop at Cape Hatteras before the famous lighthouse was moved. There’s history everywhere if a traveler takes the time to seek it out.

“We got to see why Kitty Hawk was such a good spot for the Wright Brothers to test their plane,” Lorraine said.

This turned out to be one of the family’s best trips even though it was one of the shortest.

Vance, a Morenci sophomore, names this Civil War-laden excursion as his favorite. It’s easy for Craig to see the appeal; he’s been a Civil War buff for years.

“We were where the Civil War began in Charleston Harbor and we were where it ended at Appomattox,” Craig noted. “We also went to Yorktown on that trip which is where

the Revolutionary War ended.”

Four new states brought the total to 34.

The St. Lawrence

They’d flown by airplane. They’d studied wagon train travel. They’d watched steamboats travel the Mississippi. The theme for the 1999 trip would be shipping along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

They traveled through six states on this sojourn and they also hit five Canadian provinces. It proved challenging for the boys— lots of mileage, fewer stops.

Highlights included learning about the author of Anne of Green Gables, a woman who grew up in Prince Edward Island, and visiting a graveyard in Nova Scotia where many of the Titanic victims were buried.

Boston offered plenty to see. Lorraine remembers this as her favorite trip, citing the scenery in portions of Quebec as outstanding.

Five new states were recorded. Thirty-nine down and 11 to go.

Spring break

The Pillows planned a shorter excursion for the year 2000, squeezing in a trip to Disneyland during spring vacation.

It was a little more on the fun side for the boys, but Craig managed to feed his interest in history. They visited Andersonville, the infamous Confederate prison in Georgia, and stopped in Jimmy Carter’s home town of Plains.

The surprise of the trip happened at Disneyland. By coincidence, Lorraine’s brother and his family were at the park the same day as the Pillows.

That trip added only two new states.

Route 66

If this project were to wrap up before Wes’s graduation, the family needed to knock off a big block of states. Route 66 provided the solution in 2001. The thought of such a long, hot journey gave them some pause.

“It was the trip I dreaded the most,” Lorraine said. “We hemmed and hawed about going at all.”

In retrospect, she calls it the happiest trip.

It was just a lot of fun. It turned out to be more than just a drive along the famous road. They took side trips to Mesa Verde National Park and to the Grand Canyon, then continued along the highway in Needles, Calif., thinking about Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Route 66 ends at a pier in Santa Monica.

“That trip had the most variety of topography,” said Craig about his favorite journey of them all. “It’s just so varied.”

Going back to Lorraine’s “happiest trip” remark, he agreed that things went rally well. Maybe they were just learning how to travel together.

“We were together 25 days—our longest trip—and when we got back home, we were still talking to each other.”

His biggest surprise was discovering the beauty of the desert. Their guide was this book: Route 66: the illustrated guidebook to the mother road by Bob Moore.

On the way back from the coast, they turned toward Colorado, which became their 49th state.

North to Alaska

Only one state stood between them and the completion of the decade-long tour. Lorraine really wanted to take a cruise along the coast. Craig wanted to head inland. Finances turned the trip to Craig’s favor.

They flew to Anchorage, rented a van and headed inland to the spectacular mountain scenery. Milepost magazine is the essential guidebook for anyone traveling through the state.

They logged about 3,000 miles in the big state, which included a side trip into the Yukon and British Columbia.

That means that seven of 10 Canadian provinces were visited, so is that the next goal?

“There was some talk about finishing up Canada,” Craig said, “but I don’t think so.”

The next goal, Lorraine says, would be something closer to taking it easy.

“We kind of want a summer where we don’t do anything,” she said.

Perhaps they’ll just save up for a big trip to Russia or Australia, Craig says.

They might be done traveling for now, but don’t expect this family to stay at home for too long.


9 vacations, 50 states 

Craig and Lorraine Pillow, with their boys Wes and Vance, covered all 50 states during nine vacations that started in 1991.

Starting from Michigan (1)—

1991, Family Reunion: Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (3), Connecticut (4), New York (5), New Jersey (6), Delaware (7), Washington, D.C., Maryland (8).

1995, Visit to relative: Hawaii (9).

1996, The Oregon Trail: Indiana (10), Illinois (11), Iowa (12), Nebraska (13), Utah (14), Idaho (15), Oregon (16), Washington (17), Montana (18), Wyoming (19), South Dakota (20), Minnesota (21), Wisconsin (22).

1997, The Mississippi River: Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota (23), Iowa, Illinois, Missouri (24), Arkansas (25), Louisiana (26), Mississippi (27), Alabama (28), Tennessee (29), Kentucky (30), Ohio.

1998, South Carolina: Ohio, West Virginia (31), Virginia (32), South Carolina (33), North Carolina (34), Maryland.

1999, St. Lawrence Seaway: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Maine (35), Massachusetts (36), Rhode Island (37), Vermont (38), New Hampshire (39), New York.

2000, Disney World: Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia (40), Florida (41).

2001, Route 66: Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas (42), Oklahoma (43), Texas (44), New Mexico (45), Arizona (46), Nevada (47), California (48), Utah, Colorado (49), Missouri, Iowa.

2002, Alaska trip: Alaska (50), Yukon Territories, British Columbia.

    – Jan. 29, 2003