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Road Trip 2007: 4,000 miles to go

CNET News.com reporter Daniel Terdiman hits the highway with travel gadgets and an eye for the natural, scientific and quirky wonders of the Southwest. Photos: Road Trip gadget companions

SAN FRANCISCO--Three thousand two hundred seventy-nine miles, and almost as many fascinating discoveries.

That was my experience during last summer's Road Trip 2006, the 16-day voyage I took through the Pacific Northwest in my beloved 2001 Subaru Outback.

A mix of technology, science and airplane geekery, the journey took me to great man-made wonders like ; past the bittersweet contrast of Olympic National Park's sublime rain forests and nearby tragic clear-cutting; into the cockpit of Howard Hughes' world-class boondoggle, ; onto the architectural magic of and much more.

And all this while carting around and road-testing thousands of dollars' worth of the latest gadgets.

So this summer, I'm at it again.

On Monday, I'll be leaving on Road Trip 2007, a similar journey, except this time I'll be heading into the blasting furnace of the Southwest in summer: three-plus weeks carving out a route through California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and then home.

Last year's trip was an experiment. We had no idea if anyone would notice. But CNET News.com readers did and the stories and photos the trip generated proved to be among the most popular of 2006. So this year, the trip is a bit more polished.

Like last year, I will be , from a Hewlett-Packard portable printer to a Garmin StreetPilot car navigation system, the newest Altec Lansing iPod speakers, a Canon telephoto, ultra-wide angle lens and more. I'll also be carting around my own personal Canon camera, my video iPod and my MacBook Pro.

This year, however, instead of driving my own car, I'll be taking someone else's. Infiniti is advertising next to our trip coverage, and the company has provided the vehicle, a QX56, as I log what will surely be even more miles than last year. (Despite the sponsorship, our arrangement with Infiniti is no different than the one I have with the makers of the rest of the gadgets I'm taking: I have complete editorial control over what I write.)

As with Road Trip 2006, this journey will feature stories about a wide range of technological, scientific and natural sites I encounter along the way.

The route may change if circumstances dictate, but I decided to make a tentative itinerary because, while I appreciate spontaneity as much as anyone, it helps to make appointments for the kinds of places I'll be visiting.

To begin, I'll arrive in Las Vegas on Tuesday, and spend two days backstage and in the audience at the Cirque du Soleil shows Ka and Love.

While in Vegas, I'll also investigate the city's hidden underground tunnel system, escorted by Matt O'Brien, who recently published a book about them.

Next, I'll head off for a behind-the-scenes tour of Hoover Dam, and then to the , where I'll confront my fear of heights by walking onto the new glass bridge that juts out over the Grand Canyon. They say it can hold the equivalent weight of dozens of 747s, though, so I'm hoping it won't buckle under my weight.

From there, I plan to take a leisurely drive along Route 66 before heading to the near Winslow, Ariz.

Ideally, this itinerary will keep me away from cities most of the time, but there are certain things it would be hard to skip.

Among them are the Frank Lloyd Wright museum in Scottsdale, Ariz., and both the Pima Air and Space Museum and the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson, Ariz.

Seeking aliens, lightning storms
I hope to also hit Biosphere II in Tucson, but time may be tight, and I'll need to rush on to Las Cruces, N.M., where I'll be visiting the White Sands National Monument, as well as the White Sands Missile Range. In addition, the Virgin Spaceport is being built near White Sands, and I hope to see what's there, as well.

For fans of the Jodie Foster movie Contact, the Very Large Array near Socorro, N.M., will be very familiar. Others may not know about this collection of 27 huge radio antennas, but I hope to change that with my visit.

After that, it's going to be a little bit of catch as catch can. One of my editors, who I think believes in aliens, wants me to visit the alien capital of the U.S., Roswell, N.M. I expect to go to Los Alamos National Lab in Los Alamos, and then perhaps to Taos. I'll visit some of the national parks in southern Utah, and make a stop at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where I hope to see some of the amazing lightning storms that I've heard happen there each August.

Finally, I'll make my way home going all the way through Nevada via U.S. Route 50, the so-called "loneliest road in America."

Last summer, I ended my trip by visiting the Sundial Bridge in Redding, Calif., and I may well end this trip with a bridge visit, as well. I hope to drive back into San Francisco after a quick stop to photograph the construction of the Bay Bridge's new eastern span, but we'll have to see if that happens.

All told, I expect to drive about 4,000 miles and to go through several national parks, a number of cities, at least two military installations, three museums, several scientific research institutions and much more. Along the way, I will be posting regular blogs, feature stories and photo galleries, as well as sending in the occasional video clip and calling in for podcast reports. I'll even be jumping on the Twitter-wagon.

Basically, if you follow the package, you'll pretty much know what I'm doing the whole way. I hope you'll come along, and if you have any great suggestions of places to go that are on or near the itinerary I'm planning, by all means, let me know.