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Road Trip 2009: Across the Rockies and Great Plains

For the fourth summer, CNET News' Daniel Terdiman will explore a region of the country, investigating its best destinations and road-testing the latest tech gear.

Hoover Dam was a big hit from Road Trip 2007. What will be the biggest surprises of Road Trip 2009? Daniel Terdiman/CNET Networks

In the United States, the major east-west Interstate highways are denominated by multiples of tens: I-10 goes from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla. I-40 goes from Barstow, Calif., to Wilmington, N.C. I-80 goes from San Francisco to New York.

The north-south Interstates, meanwhile, are denominated with fives. I-5 goes from the U.S.-Mexico border, through San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Seattle and ends at the U.S.-Canada border. I-15 goes from from San Diego to the Canadian border near Sweetgrass, Mont. And I-95 heads north from Miami all the way to northeast Maine.

Over the last three years, I've spent part of each summer doing a project called CNET Road Trip, and each time I've driven long distances through a specific region of the country. In 2006, it was the Pacific Northwest. In 2007, it was the Southwest. And in 2008, it was 4,593 miles through the Southeast.

All told, I've covered 12,853 miles and 17 states. But one of the little details about the three trips that I've enjoyed the most is that combined, I've driven at least a few miles on every one of those north-south divide-by-five interstates, except I-35. I spent a lot of time on I-5 on Road Trip 2006; I touched I-15 and I-25 on Road Trip 2007; and I actually hit I-45, I-55, I-65, I-75, I-85 and I-95 on Road Trip 2008.

On Sunday, I'll begin Road Trip 2009 in Denver. And looking back at that U.S. map, I realize that after this year's journey--which will take me through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming--I'll have also driven on each of the divide-by-ten Interstates except I-30. Looking at that map, clearly there's a hole in the country I need to think about for future Road Trips.

Nevertheless, this time around, it's the Rocky Mountain region and a bit of the Great Plains. It'll start off with a drive--in the Audi Q7 TDI I'll be road-testing--to Mount Evans, due west of Denver, which features the highest paved road in North America. And given that the Audi has a so-called "clean diesel" engine, I'll be writing a fair bit about that technology and what it means for fuel efficiency and the environment.

There will be three major themes this year: military and defense; energy and sustainable living research; and America's natural wonders. To be sure, there will likely be plenty of little meanderings off those themes, but they will be the major backbones of the project.

That means I'll be visiting places like North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD/Cheyenne Mountain); the Air Force Academy; the Department of Energy's Idaho National Lab; a series of locations in and near national parks in Utah that were first put on a list by the Bush administration for drilling to private interests and then taken off the list by the new Obama administration; a firefighting technology center in Missoula, Mont.; a maker of commuter train engines in Boise, Idaho; an innovative wind farm in Wyoming; Air Force Space Command, also in Wyoming; Yellowstone National Park, also in Wyoming; the Badlands in South Dakota; a nonprofit working to help Boulder, Colo., transition to a peak-oil environment; and much, much more.

But even though I've worked out a more complete itinerary this year than I have in the past, I've still got plenty of wiggle room for unexpected discoveries. And I hope that you, dear readers, will get in touch with me as I go with suggestions for places to go and things to see.

Among the many high-tech gadgets Terdiman will be road-testing will be the new iPhone 3G S. Apple

Along the way, I'll be blogging constantly, posting regular photo galleries and some video, Twittering like mad, organizing meet-ups through Facebook; and giving away a whole series of things, including DVD sets from Showtime, Halo: ODST game codes from Microsoft; lots of video games; and more.

As I have each of the three previous trips, I'll also be bringing a long a veritable Best Buy's worth of high-tech gadgetry to test out. Among the devices are Apple's brand-spanking-new 13-inch MacBook Pro and iPhone 3G S; Verizon's MiFi 2200 mobile hot-spot; Iridium's new 9555 satellite phone; Inmarsat's Explorer 500 mobile satellite modem; Amazon's Kindle 2; and LiveScribe's Pulse pen; and more.

Last year, I took thousands of pictures with Nikon's D60 digital SLR. This year, I'll have Nikon's new D5000 dSLR, which adds HD video capabilities. I'll also be shooting some HD video with Flip Video's UltraHD. And I hope to edit some of the photos and video with the applications in Adobe's Creative Suite 4 Master Collection, and will be printing photos on Hewlett-Packard's Officejet H470wbt, a fully mobile printer.

And when I need to chill out and watch a movie, I'll have a pair of Sony's MDR-NC22 noise-canceling headphones to listen with.

On Road Trip 2009, Terdiman will be taking thousands of pictures with the Nikon D5000, which can also take HD video. Nikon

I intend, during the trip, to blog about my experiences using each and every one of the products I'll have with me.

As in previous years, Road Trip 2009 will be both a great deal of fun and a tremendous challenge. I'll be working nearly nonstop, posting stories constantly, driving several hundred miles a day on average, and even trying to get a little food and sleep. And I'll be by myself most of the time.

But I will have plenty of good music to listen to, thousands of miles of beautiful country to look at, and the chance to visit some of the most interesting destinations this country has to offer.

It is a tough job. But as they say, somebody's got to do it.

Starting today, please check out the Road Trip 2009 page frequently, follow my Twitter feed, and join my Facebook fan page. I'll do my best to bring you along with me.