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Posted by on May 20, 2012

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

It’s 1,300 very interesting, often thrilling miles from the Silver Strand below San Diego to Whidbey Island in Puget Sound north of Seattle.   I picked those two spots because they are among our favorite places to camp and represent the north-south extremes of the western contiguous U.S.

After getting ourselves involved in putting an addition on the 1937 vintage Idyllwild cabin we bought last year, which had limited our days in the travel trailer to about four months, we finally had a chance to shake off cabin fever for a road trip from Southern California up to Washington State for my daughter’s college graduation.

I’ll save you the agony of reading about a father’s pride in his daughter’s day in cap-and-gown, focusing your attention on those marvelous snowcapped peaks that we passed on our 2,900-mile round-trip.

First, I want to assure any readers with “Eastside loyalties” that I have great respect for your chain of mountains, which we will travel along next spring.  Did you know that while the Rockies and Sierras get most of the ooohs and ahhs, going back in geologic time, it was the Appalachians and Blue Ridge Mountains that towered the highest above America for millions of years?  Matter of fact, in those days the San Jacinto Mountains were underwater as was most of the West.

Time, volcanic occurrences, weather and wind took its toll on the eastern chain, as it is doing on its cousins to the west.  And, incidentally, I’ll remind those who have forgotten, mountains with sharp peaks are youngsters; those with rounded tops have matured at the urging of weather for eons longer.

As we drove up California 395 in mid-May, we followed the flow of the eastern Sierras through a variety of scenery – farmlands and ranches, lakes and rivers, picturesque towns and miles of highways in varying degrees of comfort.  It could have gotten a bit boring, except for those mountains to our left, many topped with snow, some climbing until they disappeared into the clouds.

MT. WHITNEY — One of those peaks was Mt. Whitney, which, at 14,505 feet, is the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S. (and, incidentally, only 85 miles from the lowest spot in Death Valley).  Mt. Whitney is not, in itself, a beautiful mountain, even when the skies allow for a view of its jagged crest.  It is, at least to me, just another extremely impressive peak in a chain of monster mountains.   If it comes into view as you pass it, you’ll first see it at about Mile 250 of your drive.

I will point out that there are some incredible camping areas in the Bishop-Lone Pine area with the kinds of recreation that fill the pages of outdoor sporting magazines; e.g., fishing, kayaking, rafting, hiking and trail-riding on bikes and horses.

MT. SHASTA — You may quickly forget about Mt. Whitney when you see the incredible vista offered as Mt. Shasta gloriously appears at the southern end of the Cascade Range.  Now that is a magnificent sight!   At 14,179 feet above sea level, it is always a thrill to see this white pyramid shining in the early evening light.


An awesome sight -- Mt. Shasta

Allow me to insert some quotes from Wikipedia:

Said poet Joaquin Miller:  “Lonely as God, and white as a winter moon, Mount Shasta starts up sudden and solitary from the heart of the great black forests of Northern California.”

Naturalist and author John Muir said of Mount Shasta:  “When I first caught sight of it over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley, I was fifty miles away and afoot, alone and weary. Yet all my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since.”

Theodore Roosevelt said:  “I consider the evening twilight on Mt. Shasta one of the grandest sights I have ever witnessed.”  Right on, Teddy!  I agree.

Mt. Hood with its numerous glaciers

MT. HOOD – Our drive northward took us through the luscious hills and curvy roads of Oregon, beautiful in itself, rustic with its grazing livestock, all framed by the brightly colored spring wildflowers that line the roads.  Then, a glimpse of something special appears on the right.  It’s another snowcapped peak, home to 12 glaciers that keep Mt. Hood’s gown of white glowing year-round.  Like Shasta and the next two mountains I’ll mention, Mt. Hood is spectacular partly because it stands alone high above the Oregon terrain.

MOUNT ST. HELENS –This one is my favorite mountain.  You remember it from all the hoopla surrounding its eruption in 1980 (wow, can you believe that was 32 years ago?) .  We drove up

Washington State’s Mt. St. Helens a few years ago, going to where the road disappeared under the

My favorite Western peak -- Mt. St. Helens – as seen from I-5 in Portland

snow.  Then we got out and froze our little tootsies off cavorting in its beautiful whiteness.  I didn’t want to leave.  This trip we didn’t get a chance to visit my favorite, but just seeing it in the distance caused a bolt of electricity to surge through my veins.

MT. RAINIER — This massive mountain is not only “the most topographically prominent in the contiguous United States” (again, quoting from Wikipedia), it’s Monique’s favorite.  I remember one perfect autumn afternoon walking across the parade grounds at Fort Lewis by Tacoma and startled when Monique stopped suddenly, freezing like a statue at her first sighting of Mt. Rainier.  It is one of those rare sights that we in America are so blessed to have, one that truly takes your breath away.  It dominates central Washington State.

Mt. Rainier left Monique awe-struck.

And one more worth mentioning:  MT. OLYMPUS on the Olympic Peninsula.  It doesn’t dominate like its cousins to the south, but it is the highest glacier-covered mountain on this beautiful rainforest peninsula.

I hope you don’t do what I have done as you drive along California 395 or I-5 through the contiguous Pacific Rim states.  Don’t try to rate one mountain against the others.  Each has a

In Castle Rock, Washington, is a memorial to and film about Harry R. Truman, who refused to leave his beloved Mt. St. Helens before it erupted

splendor all its own.  Each provides visual excitement enhancing the pleasure of traveling the roads northward.

Each etches incredible memories on the brain, which is why we are always Happy RVers, but At Home on The Hill

Barry & Monique

We invite your comments below or you’ll welcome to email me at zanderontopoftheworld@gmail.com.


© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

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