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Summer road trip stories: A volcano's not your average mountain

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Published: January 10, 2011 at 12:23 PM

Stuck at work or home and daydreaming about the fun of a summer vacation? Then come with us over the next few weeks as we relive an epic family road trip.

Google map of the Niles family 2010 summer road trip

On TPI here, we'll be re-hitting the road from Los Angeles up to Vancouver, then into the Rocky Mountains to visit Salt Lake City. From Utah, we'll cut across the country to Chicago and Cleveland, before turning south. We'll visit Cincinnati on our way to Orlando, where we'll turn back west for a final cross-country leg, returning us to Los Angeles.

In all, we traveled six weeks and more than 8,000 miles on our trip.

Along the way on the blog, I'll point out some of the interesting sights from that road trip last summer, and talk about what makes travel so special and rewarding. And I'll invite you to share your road trip stories, too.

The Niles family always begins its road trips before dawn. A pre-dawn start allows you to beat the morning rush hour out of town and spend the day on the road thinking "wow, we're making great time" instead of "oh, no, we have to speed up or we'll never get anywhere." Plus, who can sleep in the day of exciting road trip? Not us.

And so we piled into the Prius for our trip up Interstate 5 last summer. The sun had just began to peek over the San Gabriel Mountains as we passed the roller coasters of Six Flags Magic Mountain on our way north. Once you're past the Grapevine, I-5 provides the least scenic route up California, but allows you to make wicked fast time without all that coastal scenery, mountain views or even towns to slow you. What better time to drive this road that the first morning of a road trip, when adrenaline and an iPod filled with new songs you're not sick of yet can carry you along the way?

After lunch outside of Sacramento (365 miles north of home), we pushed on, into the Cascades.

Laurie and I adore mountains. We can't imagine living back east again, where we wouldn't be able to see our beloved western mountains on a daily basis. But the Rocky Mountains Laurie grew up with are a very different mountain range than the Cascades. Save for a trip to Hawaii, Laurie had never seen a volcano in person before.

In Hawaii, the volcano is the island. It's hard to get far enough away from the mountain to appreciate its mass and height, unless you set sail into the ocean or grab the correct window seat for your flight. But on Interstate 5, driving north, Mount Shasta grabs your attention like a James Harrison hit on a Cleveland wide receiver.

Mount Shasta

Laurie couldn't stop taking pictures of this mountain, though she'd seen so many others so many times before. A volcano is an awesome thing - standing above and beyond other mountains, hogging attention for itself. Farther up the coast we'd see Mount Hood and Mount Ranier, and we'd eagerly point our cameras and cell phones at those, too.

Looking at the map you might think "Meh, mountains. We've seen those." But the mountains we'd seen were nothing like the mountains that the Pacific Northwest has in store for us.

That's one reason why we keep hitting the road - to find those sights we've not seen before.

Tomorrow we'll continue up the 5 for our first trip into Oregon - foodie paradise.

Readers' Opinions

From Daniel Etcheberry on January 10, 2011 at 1:10 PM
Here in Florida the only mountain we have is the one at Animal Kingdom, and it is fake!

Oregon, Washington and British Columbia all have gorgeous mountains with snow.

At least we have better beaches :) + theme parks

Robert, how come you drove nearby Yellowstone and didn't go there? It's the perfect family destination.

From Brian Emery on January 10, 2011 at 1:31 PM
8,000 miles in a Pruis… Yikes… I do not know but that might be cruel and unusual punishment for your children. Does DCYF know about this…..? hahaha
From Robert Niles on January 10, 2011 at 2:07 PM
Yellowstone was the final cut from this trip. It seems amazing, but even our 8,000-mile trips start as 12,000-mile trips when we're dreaming "blue sky." But then we have to get real, and some stops have to wait for another trip.

While it looks relatively close on the map, Yellowstone was still a few hundred miles away from our course, and would have required an extra four days to cover just superficially. We're hoping to swing by on a future trip when we can see the park right.

From Nick Markham on January 10, 2011 at 4:09 PM
I CANT BELIEVE YOU ARE COMING TO SALT LAKE CITY! Are you doing this now or in the summer? If in the summer, make sure you visit Lagoon. It features 9 roller coasters, including North America's first Mauer Sohne spinning coaster, the last Laser (Dorney Park)clone, a nice woodie from 1921, and a 110 foot tall coaster that launches you straight up and back down into twists and an inversion, named Wicked!

If you are doing this trip now, you probably want to visit a ski resort or something, but I dont find that all exciting (then again, I can do it all the time). Just be prepared for below zero temperatures if you are visiting around now and 100 degree temperatures if visiting in the summer. And lastly, WE ARENT ALL MORMONS!

From Nick Markham on January 10, 2011 at 4:11 PM
Wait, is this a former road trip?

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