Sunday, August 01, 2010

South Carolina to the Pacific Northwest -- Mom + Kids!

Hi Jamie,

I'm so glad I ran across your website! What cross country route would you recommend for a one-way trip to Mukilteo, WA from Greenville, SC ? I will be traveling alone with my 7 year old daughter and 9 year old son. We plan to stop in Houston and Austin to see family. We have made two cross country trips before, but my husband was always with me. We relocated from Houston to Mukilteo, WA three years ago via I-40 and I-5. We took about three weeks and had some great side trips. Last summer we relocated to Greenville and took two and half weeks hitting Glacier, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, etc. I would really love to make this a great learning experience for the kids. I plan to take 3-4 weeks for the journey. We have never traveled through Utah, Oklahoma, or Colorado. Nor have we experienced Alabama or Mississippi. I would love to visit Moab, Zion, the Grand Teton's, and the Crater's of the Moon National Monument. What places would you recommend as "Do Not Miss" locations.

All my best,


Hi Amanda (and family!) --

Thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA, and sorry it took me a while to write back. I hope I can still help, so if you haven't made the trip, write back and I'll do what I can.

Or if you already on the road (and still checking email), I hope you're having fun in all those "don't miss" locales -- Moab, Zion, Grand Tetons, Mount Rushmore -- all the way to Mukilteo.

Let me know if I can still help -- and sorry again for being so slow to reply to your message.

Happy traveling,



Hi Jamie,

We've had a great trip from Greenville to Austin so far! We hope to depart in about a week for Mukilteo. I would love some assistance on this part of the trip.

I've considered going through Oklahoma City to break up Texas some. I would also love some help on the best route to take through Utah and the Columbia River area in Oregon. We have never been to either place. We did visit Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone last summer, but we missed the Grand Tetons. Any advice would be much appreciated!

Thank you so much!!!



Hi again Amanda --

Glad you're having a good trip, and good to hear back from you. Oklahoma City is nice enough (especially if you like minor league baseball!), but scenery-wise I'm not sure it offers a huge change from the plains of Texas. From Austin, I think you'd have more fun, and the kids could learn a lot more, by taking a trip on to San Antonio -- to see The Alamo, which is a real American icon. Even though the tales of Texas heroism can be a little overwrought, The Alamo is a truly historic site. Plus there's a great old hotel right across the street, and some surprisingly fun (car-free, kid-friendly!) walks along downtown San Antonio's leafy and cool "Riverwalk".

To my mind the nicest part of Texas is west, rather than north --- the Hill Country, especially the area around the wonderfully named town of Utopia. I really like Lost Maples State Park, where there are some nice hilly hikes (manageable for 7 - 9 year olds, I'm sure), and great swimming holes, ideal for hot afternoons. There's also a nice drive along US-83, what I call "The Road to Nowhere" in my book -- the Frio River and Garner State Park has great swimming, lots of shade, and some pretty scenery.

I cover this in the Road Trip USA book, around pages 209-213, and there's a slightly older version on the website in the "Road to Nowhere" section.

Heading north, just before you leave Texas, think about stopping at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park right across the border in New Mexico. Carlsbad is perfect for kids -- the huge caves are totally cool (literally and figuratively!), with lovely limestone formations and every evening, a free "Bat Flight" with thousands of bats swirling up into the sky. Unforgettable, for sure.

Across Utah, it is hard to find a bad drive, but my favorite route for your trip would probably include a stop at the Four Corners monument (where AZ, NM, Utah and Colorado all come together), and maybe a trip over to the ancient cliff palaces at Mesa Verde National Park (in Colorado) and/or Canyon de Chelley National Park (in Arizona). In my experience (and I have twin boys who are now 11, but who used to be 9, and 7...), kids love the mystique and mystery of these amazing, 1000-year-old palaces, some of which you can walk through.

The whole Four Corners region is pretty , and offers some great star-gazing, too (no city lights for miles).

A little ways west of Four Corners is Monument Valley, which is also worth thinking about -- to me, it looks like a life-sized Roadrunner cartoon, with all those huge red sandstone towers. North from here, I'd suggest you follow US-191 past Canyonlands National Park (huge but amazing -- the "Needles" section is the most accessible, but even this may be a little bit much for young kids (the desert around here is genuinely harsh and unforgiving, so carry lots of water, even if you are planning to stay in your car.) Nearby Arches National Park is, to me, even more amazing -- lots of bright red sandstone arches, reaching hundreds of feet across the high desert landscape). The town of Moab makes a very good base for this area -- I cover Moab, Canyonlands and Arches in my Road Trip USA book, in the US50 Loneliest Road chapter (around page 676).

Continuing on, Salt Lake City and Boise are both big, pleasant cities, along the I-84 freeway which takes you on through Columbia Gorge. Before you get there, I'd recommend at least one more stop, at the national Oregon Trail visitor center, in Baker City Oregon. This center tells all about the families who crossed the continent nearly 200 years ago -- on foot, without the comforts of cars and air-conditioning. Kids can walk along actual wagon ruts , and it's a pretty memorable experience.

Another great experience awaits you in the Columbia Gorge, which is cool and green and full of water -- a nice change after your last few days of desert landscapes. There are many beautiful waterfalls within a quick walk of the road -- Multnomah Falls is the biggest and most beautiful -- just make sure you take the scenic route, not the freeway! I cover Mount Hood and Columbia Gorge in my "Oregon Trail" chapter, around page 549, but It's all very well signed and hard to miss -- the best sections run west from Hood River toward Portland (which is also very nice, with a great big science museum along the riverfront.)

From Portland you can probably find your way north to Mukilteo -- hope you all have a great time!

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

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Blogger TheElegantVagrant said...

Embarking on a perpetual road trip starting September 1st! Sold and donated all my personal belongings, and my girlfriend and I will be camping, couch surfing, volunteering, and sleeping in the car all over the US! We plan to post a lot of pictures, videos, thoughts, stories, blurbs, etc. We hope to interview locals on environmental and social issues to raise awareness. Please check out my blog and give us your thoughts, recommendations, or whatever!

10:56 PM  

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