Monday, September 13, 2010

Family RV Trip - Summer 2011

Hey Road Trip --

Jamie, I enjoy reading your blog. I am in the early stages of planning a 14 trip from Cleveland, Oh next summer. My family, 4 of us, two between 15 and 20 years old, are going to rent an class A RV and spend two weeks together on the road. I’ve been studying the various road trip websites and now am confused because there are so many things I want my family to see in our great country. Down to basics. I was thinking about heading on a southern course, making our way up the coast of California from San Diego and then heading north through the Rockies on our way back home. In between we’d like to see Route 66, Mt. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yellowstone, a desert, and as much of the icons of America in between as possible. Any suggestions on how to proceed? Would really appreciate it.

Thanks, Ray


Hey Ray --

Thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA, and I hope I can help you work your way thru all the possibilities a cross-country road trip offers. I'll try not to add to your confusion -- but there are indeed just _ too many things _ you might do. The trick is, to enjoy the things you do, rather than worry about what you might be missing. Easier said than done, I know...

The first thing I might suggest suggest is that you try a shorter trip sooner, to "get the hang" of RV-ing. Maybe a long weekend RV camping -- in one of the state parks near that Cuyahoga Valley industrial heritage area just south of Cleveland ??-- in September or October, so you know exactly what you want to bring on your bigger trip next summer. (Not so much BBQ grills and first aid kits -- both crucial!. But I'm thinking of the more spiritually important things -- like inner-tubes for floating down rivers, bicycles for touring along canal tow-paths and around middle-of-nowhere towns, footballs or Frisbees. All sorts of road trip essentials!)

OK, your trip: Cleveland to California and back again, on a sort of clockwise loop. I think you meant to say "14-day" trip, so I'll go with that. Coming from the Great Lakes, Route 66 is a natural road west, though if you want to avoid dealing with Chicago in an RV, you might want to think about starting off across the more rural reaches of Ohio and Indiana -- I really like the "mound cities" around Chillicothe and the Ohio River, which with their 1000-year-old history give an eye-opening sense of American history and culture. I cover this area in my "Loneliest Road" chapter, along the US50 highway.

Then, from St Louis?, head west on Route 66, which is pretty well documented and developed -- in my books, and a few hundred others. The thing about Route 66 is that it is a state of mind more than a series of specific sights to see -- but it gives a good introduction to the art of road tripping, since you have to look beyond the surface to see what makes these places so compelling. And the good thing about RT66 is that "heritage tourism" has kept alive a lot of attractions that might otherwise have gone under, financially. Like Meramec Caverns west of St Louis, and countless 1950s-style diners the whole way west to Los Angeles.

RT66 also takes you right past the Grand Canyon, and allows some well worth-while detours thru the Native American lands of the Four Corners region -- I highly recommend Mesa Verde National Park, where you can clamber thru ancient, gorgeous stone "cliff places" carved out of desert plateaus. There is endless scope for adventure around here, and an RV is really the best way to experience the region, allowing you to camp out miles from motels and cafes and experience the wild beauty -- seeing the stars at night, and enjoying amazing sunrises and sunsets. Fantastic -- it'll be a highlight of you trip, for sure. Well worth 3 or 4 days to see Canyon de Chelley, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, and all the other great sights.

Heading onwards, if you really want to make it to San Diego -- for the zoo? or for family connections? -- I'd suggest you turn south from Rt 66 before you hit LA, heading down via the Colorado River (after seeing London Bridge at Lake Havasu!). But unless you have your heart set on Southern California, I'm tempted to recommend you save this for another trip -- you don't have a HUGE amount of time, and you're not really getting maximum value out of your RV here. Instead, how about seeing more RV-friendly, absolutely amazing places in California. Like Death Valley -- by way of Las Vegas, after the Grand Canyon? And definitely Yosemite National Park, which is an absolutely unforgettable place (even though I don't really cover it in Road Trip USA...)

As far as the California coast, the best stretch is between Santa Barbara and Monterey -- palm-tree backed surfing beaches like Refugio State Beach are quintessential California scenes, and there's a lot less traffic than you'll have in the sprawling LA-to-SD conurbation.

San Francisco is definitely fun -- though if you go I would suggest parking the RV rig out at a suburban train station and riding BART into the lovely "City by the Bay." You definitely don't want to try to find (and pay for!) a parking place in SF (though you can park out by the beach in the western edge of the city, and there are good RV-friendly campgrounds around Mount Tamalpais just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Well, I've enjoyed thinking of your trip west -- let me know what you think of my ideas, and I'll have some thoughts about your route to Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore, and home again.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

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Hey Jamie,

I was really surprised that you took the time to answer my email. I figured my email would just fall into the abyss of digitalness. Anyway, thank you very much for taking the time to point out some important information for our family to consider. We are keeping your email with us for reference and also planning on getting a copy of Road Trip USA.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration. We really appreciate it. You're a true American! God Bless




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