NOVI, MI (December 5, 2016) -- Many people make it a priority to travel more frequently when they retire. But few people can say they have covered the territory that Fox Run retirement community resident Allen Zondlak has. He has been to all 3,142 counties in the United States and all 59 of the nation's national parks.
Allen says the idea to challenge himself to visit every county in the country first came to him in college. He had a geography professor at Wayne State University who was doing the same thing, and Allen, who had only been to 7 percent of the nation's counties at that point, was intrigued.
When he and his wife Patricia married, they decided to make travel a priority. Since then they've been exploring the world together along with their three children.
Patricia has been to 51 of the 59 national parks, all 50 states, and about 85 percent of the counties. Two of the Zondlak kids, following in mom and dad's footsteps, have visited all 50 states.
"It's great to get out and meet the people of America," Allen says. "I've had the chance to talk to people from the north, south, east, and west, and see the scenery and enjoy the beauty. We live in a great country."
When you learn that someone has visited every single county in America, you have to wonder how exactly he accomplished such an ambitious feat. The answer is a lot of time, of course—and many, many road trips. Allen says he would check off several counties in one trip by crisscrossing a state. Texas, for example, has 254 counties.
"We wouldn't just travel through counties," he says. "Wherever there was something of interest—a museum, natural beauty, history—we would stop."
To reach other counties, Allen says, he would fly to a destination and then drive around the area to hit several counties in one trip.
He's also taken cruises and visited counties and national parks during the stops at different ports.
"I enjoy being off the beaten path, not taking the main roads," Allen says. "I love running into scenic areas you never expected to see and meeting people—whether in the hills of Arkansas, the desserts of Arizona, or the mountains in Colorado."
Over the years, Allen tracked his progress on a large map of the United States. After he visited a county, he'd color it in on the map.
He completed his mission in 1991 with a visit to Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he and Patricia met their family for a vacation as they reached the final county on Allen's list. They arrived just in time for the area's annual cranberry festival, making for a memorable trip.
Having checked off all of the counties in the United States, Allen then set off on a mission to visit all of the national parks. He reached that goal in 2003 and has since been back to visit several of the parks for a second time.
He recently went back to Acadia National Park, and in 2017 he plans to revisit Yosemite, Grand Teton, and Arizona's Saguaro National Park.
"You've been to them and you've enjoyed them so much that you want to go back," he says.
However, Allen is hard-pressed to name his favorite national park. "That's like naming your favorite grandchild," he jokes.
He says Yosemite and the Grand Canyon are particularly impressive and in a class all their own. And he counts Glacier, Zion, and Denali National Parks among the most memorable.
"It's a great way to see the beauty of the United States," he says. "You're so refreshed and renewed when you're out in nature."
In 2015, Allen and Patricia moved from Wixom, Michigan, to Fox Run.
Allen joined the resident-run history club, where he has had an opportunity to share his extensive travels with his neighbors.
He prepared a two-part presentation for fellow Fox Run residents on the national parks, one of which he delivered this year which was excellent timing as last year marked the 100th anniversary of the national park system.
In his first presentation, he shared some history about the national parks and discussed and showed pictures of the first half of the parks in alphabetical order. The upcoming second presentation will cover the remaining parks.
"I have pictures of them all and thought it would be nice to share that information," he says. "And so many residents have been to national parks, so everyone can relate. They can say, 'Oh, I've been there,' or, 'We did that with our kids.'"