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Making memories as they go

Travel: The Tilles family, of Stevenson Ranch, shares highlights from cross-country tour of landmark

Posted: July 22, 2010 7:59 p.m.
Updated: July 23, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The Tilles family relaxes outside their recreational vehicle at Thousand Trails Preserve campground at Bend/Sunriver, Oregon. The RV trailer is 30 feet and has all the amenities for an extended road trip, including a bath/shower, microwave, refrigerator and freezer, bunk beds for the kids, queen bed, sofa bed, dinette, air conditioner and heater...

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The Tilles family walked by mud pots as the sulfuric stench surrounded them at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Days later, booms rattled the windows as their recreational vehicle plowed through the middle of a mock Civil War battle scene.

For the Tilleses, reading about U.S. landmarks and geology just isn’t enough.

Hearing, seeing, touching — and even smelling — brings iconic American locations and its history to life for the Stevenson Ranch family.

Robert Tilles, his wife, three kids and dog set off on June 11 for a seven-week journey across the western U.S.

At the end of the 7,500 mile-plus trip, Tilles, a William S. Hart High School teacher, will have shown his kids dozens of sites such as Mount St. Helens, Old Faithful Geyser and the home of the World’s Largest Potato Chip.

Long road trips are nothing new for the family. Last year the Tilles travelled across America, touring the White House, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and much more. This year, they wanted to explore western national parks.

As they embark on the final leg of their summer journey, the Tilles family will visit Crater Lake, Mount Shasta, Lassen National Park, Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

“There’s so much to see in this country,” Tilles said last week over the phone as he crossed over the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon. “That’s really what I want to show my kids — to get out and see it.”

Go and see
A spontaneous decision to purchase an RV a couple of years back has resulted in invaluable history lessons for the Tilles family. As a Hart High School history and Spanish teacher, Tilles has seen firsthand the enriching impact the road trips have had on his teaching and the education of his children. 

The family has often found themselves traveling along the Lewis and Clark Trail and stopping at several history museums along the way. “We’re headed out towards the last place Lewis and Clark stopped at when they found the Pacific Ocean — before they headed back,” Tilles said.

They family spent five days in Yellowstone. In addition to scores of wild bears, moose, deer and bison, the Tilleses delved deep into the park’s volcanic activity.

“We really taught the kids about all the geothermal activities that were taking place throughout the park,” Tilles said. “They learned some new vocabulary in relation to volcanoes, and they were exposed to the mud pots.”

The stench of the mud pots might have curbed any future cravings for eggs, Tilles added. But watching Old Faithful Geyser spew water made up for the odorous experience.

“Seeing Old Faithful was quite a treat, having heard about it for so long,” he said. 

The trip took about two and a half months to plan, Tilles said. But not all experiences have been a part of the agenda.

The family pulled up to their campground near Spokane, Wash., several weeks ago. They found themselves surrounded by a mock Civil War battle as the North and South shot at each other from opposite sides of their RV.

“Through the smoke of the loud guns and cannon, the soldiers, I thought, were waving at me,” Tilles said. “It turns out they were waving me off the road.”

But Tilles wasn’t thrown off. There’s bound to be some wrong turns on every trip, he said.

“I rolled down the window and I happened to yell, ‘Go North!’” he said.

Once the Tilleses moved out of the line of fire, they were able to experience the men and women in historical garb, the tents and military men.

“It looked like it could have been a location of the Civil War even though it was in Washington,” Tilles said. “It was very historical for (my kids).”

Family closeness
The trip has provided a plethora of exciting new experiences for Tilles’ three kids.

“They got to go to a real rodeo for the first time in Cody, Wyo.,” Tilles said. “They were invited to go into the arena. They learned a little bit about Buffalo Bill Cody.”

“We actually went into the hotel that Buffalo Bill once owned and stayed in,” he added. 

Tilles’ has a 4-year-old daughter, Abigail, and 7-year-old, boy-and-girl twins, Ari and Shayna. Though they are young, Tilles is confident his children are able to appreciate their experiences and will be able to apply them to lessons in school.

“They read about it, they see it and then they read about it again,” he said. “It means a lot more to them.”

The most meaningful aspect for Tilles has been sharing the journey with his family. “It brings us closer,” he said. “We bond together more.”

You only get to raise your kids once, Tilles said. Eventually, they’ll grow up and move out, but memories of family road trips across the U.S. will be long-lasting.

Time spent with the family is “the greatest reward in the world,” he said.

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