Baja to British Columbia: 1,500 Miles on Interstate 5

We get hit by rocks, visit volcanoes, and perform a burnout or two from behind the wheel of a 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8

By Keith Buglewicz | Photos By Keith Buglewicz | April 05, 2013

Day Two: Sacramento to Grants Pass

My alarm went off promptly at 5 a.m. as it does every day, and I groggily made a mental note to shut it off before going to bed that night. I promptly forgot all about that and went upstairs for breakfast at the hotel's other restaurant, the Pilothouse, for a three-egg omelet and my traditional infusion of coffee. Overlooking the river, watching the city come to life, it was easy to put myself back in time 100 years when the Sacramento River was the fastest way from its namesake city to San Francisco.
I checked out, had the Challenger valeted to the docks, loaded my gear, and trundled through Old Sacramento, snapping a few last minute pictures, and promising myself to come back in time for Gold Rush days eventually. But for now, it was time to hit the nearby Interstate. A few minutes later, I unleashed the fury of the Challenger's Hemi engine and blasted up the onramp, headed north again.
The crop selection changes north of Sacramento, thanks to easier access to water, and the oppressive brownness of the southern part of the valley gives way to more verdant fields. But on this day it also gave way to wildfire smoke; the areas around Redding were ablaze thanks to a combination of dry weather, winds, and lightning. I was still able to press on and enjoy a pleasant lunch with an old friend and colleague living in Redding. North of Redding, Interstate 5's character changes for the better. The flat, straight road so many know--and mostly dislike--gives way to a narrower, winding route as it climbs up through the mountains in the northern part of the state. The name changes from West Side Highway to the Cascade Wonderland Highway, far more poetic, and more fitting. The road climbs up a long, steady grade to Lake Shasta, then through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, a stunning combination of rivers, granite, redwoods and other pine trees. Interstate 5 sheds its straight-and-boring persona, taking on a lively twisting and turning character befitting a favorite back road, not a major thoroughfare. Anybody who thinks Interstate 5 is uniformly boring just hasn't driven far enough. Then, as the road passes over the Sacramento River for the umpteenth time, you see the Castle Crags. These stunning bare rock formations thrust up over the surrounding forest, forcing your attention. The granite rock peaks aren't as famous or expansive as Yosemite's valleys, yet the cliffs are no less striking. If you're passing through, it's worth the 25-mile detour from Interstate 5 to go to Castle Crags State Park; just be sure to bring your hiking shoes. North of the Crags, the Interstate once again straightens as it heads into the valley west of Mt. Shasta, second only to Washington's Mt. Rainier as the tallest of the Cascades. Viewed from the air, ancient lava flows are obvious, but from the ground, all one sees is fertile dark soil and the nearly perfect cone of Black Butte. A little farther north, still in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, is the small town of Weed. No, not that, it's named after Abner Weed, a lumberman who helped establish the town 100 years ago. However, the town's residents obviously love the modern take on its name with signs encouraging visitors to "Enjoy Weed" abound. For the record, I only used a gas station bathroom before continuing my journey. Before long, I came upon the town of Yreka, the last wide spot in the road before crossing the Oregon border. Yet another quaint small town nestled in the foothills of the local mountains, Yreka--pronounced "why-reek-a"--was once home to the Yreka Bakery, a palindrome-lover's favorite hangout. However, despite Mark Twain's assertion that the town was named after the bakery's sign, it's actually a mangled version of the local Indian word for Mt. Shasta, "Ieka." I had hoped to get a photo of the Challenger in front of the Yreka Bakery sign itself, but sadly, the bakery is long gone, replaced by an Italian restaurant named Strings, which isn't a palindrome of anything.
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The open road. It beckons some of us, compels others, and maybe even scares off a few. But for most, one of the great joys of owning a car is enjoying it on a road trip, whether it's blasting down an Interstate, exploring the wilderness, or driving to your favorite annual hoedown. We love road trips, and we love telling you all about them in words and pictures, so come ride along with us as we hit the road and discover what's out there.
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