Castro family turns car into classroom with classic road trip


A lot of fun, but also a lot of lessons for La Center family who went to 37 states in 33 days

Jason Castro has a Master’s degree in Civil War history.

He is a movie buff, too.

Oh, and he is fascinated by oddities. 

Wait. The potato-shaped hotel is just a few miles out of the way? Let’s go!

That’s Jason Castro, the athletic director at Prairie High School. Or, the Clark Griswold of Clark County? 

Remember the Alamo? How about, remember that epic road trip of 2020? The Castro family of La Center, Jill and Jason, along with daughters Maddie and Bailey, went to 37 states in 33 days. Photo courtesy of the Castro family
Remember the Alamo? How about, remember that epic road trip of 2020? The Castro family of La Center, Jill and Jason, along with daughters Maddie and Bailey, went to 37 states in 33 days. Photo courtesy of the Castro family

He is a husband and father. His wife Jill and their daughters Bailey and Maddie, well, they were either born with similar passions, or their association with Jason just led them to the same spiritual plane. 

They absolutely love to get in their car and go. 

And go.

And go.

And go.

They went to the field from Field of Dreams in Iowa, and they watched the movie.

They watched Rocky, then Maddie ran up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

They watched Gone with the Wind while they were in Atlanta.

They have had some long road trips in the past, but this summer … well, as the Voice from Field of Dreams would whisper, “Go the distance.” 

The Castro family made it to 37 states in 33 days. Washington, Oregon, Idaho, then south through Utah and down to New Mexico. From Texas to the southeast. Then up the Atlantic states to Maine. They hit the Midwest on the way back.

They visited the home of A Christmas Story, where they did not shoot their eyes out, but with those eyes, they saw a very interesting lamp. 

Is this heaven? No, it’s the Castro family in Iowa. The Castros, movie buffs and historians, traveled the country to seek out locales of famous movies such as this baseball field in Iowa, home of Field of Dreams. Photo courtesy of the Castro family
Is this heaven? No, it’s the Castro family in Iowa. The Castros, movie buffs and historians, traveled the country to seek out locales of famous movies such as this baseball field in Iowa, home of Field of Dreams. Photo courtesy of the Castro family

In Illinois, while on a mission from God, they went to a prison, and for a few seconds thought maybe they’d wind up in prison, just like the Blues Brothers.

But in all seriousness, the Castro family did not go on this trek only for fun. Jill is an educator, too, working at Daybreak Primary in the Battle Ground School District. Mom and Dad became history professors on this journey, stopping at landmark civil rights locations and at battlefields from the Civil War. 

Jason and Jill ensured that their daughters would have an appreciation for what this country has fought for in its past, and how that history has shaped our present. 

The Castro family took off in the summer, during a pandemic, and after the death of George Floyd. They toured a nation, witnessing the various responses.

America became the classroom. Lesson plans were not on Zoom, but in real life. The car, in between their destinations, became their lecture hall. 

“With everything that was going on in the world … we had COVID, and all the political aspects of masks in the different areas, and then the protests and the anger,” Jason said. “To be able to be in those spots during the protests, and then the conversations we were able to have in the car based on what you just saw that day … that was the part I felt was life-changing.”

“It was very good to expose them to that,” Jill said.

The road trip was not just for fun. Jason and Jill, both educators, wanted the trip to be a learning experience for their daughters. They went to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, as well as other historical sites. Photo courtesy of the Castro family
The road trip was not just for fun. Jason and Jill, both educators, wanted the trip to be a learning experience for their daughters. They went to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, as well as other historical sites. Photo courtesy of the Castro family

Bailey is a freshman at La Center High School. Maddie is a seventh-grader at La Center Middle School. They were in Louisville, just a block or so away from a Black Lives Matter protest on behalf of Breonna Taylor. They saw the burned-out Wendy’s in Atlanta, just days after the police shooting in that parking lot. 

Atlanta and Louisville, a long, long way from La Center.

They also toured the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assasination.

“That was moving,” Jason said. “All the stuff we are going through today, we were able to go through it and see what happened back in the 60s.”

Jason likes to paraphrase a quote from Mark Twain. 

“Travel is the enemy of bigotry. You fear what you don’t know,” Jason said. “Being able to go experience different places you wouldn’t normally go and experience different people you wouldn’t normally meet, that has gone a long way in how we want to raise our kids, to be accepting of what we might not know.”

All good teachers know that students need to be engaged, too. Can’t be all serious all the time. Mom and Dad wanted to share some classic movies, and locations, with their daughters. And they were always in search of the odd.

“We find the corniest things and we take pictures. We are the true Griswolds,” Jason said, referring to the Griswold family of the Vacation movies. 

The family would often watch a movie, then go to the site. Here, Maddie and Bailey hang out with Rocky Balboa. Photo courtesy of the Castro family
The family would often watch a movie, then go to the site. Here, Maddie and Bailey hang out with Rocky Balboa. Photo courtesy of the Castro family

The Gris, er, the Castros used Atlas Obscura to find, yes, obscure travel destinations. 

Yes, there is a potato hotel in Idaho. No, they did not stay there. Just took a picture.

“It was booked!” Jason said.

They searched for aliens in New Mexico. They went to The Alamo in Texas but also went to the birthplace of Dr. Pepper and to Magnolia Silos, made famous on HGTV. 

They spent some time at the Louisiana State University baseball stadium and saw the world’s largest rocking chair in Mississippi. 

In Kentucky, they toured the Louisville Slugger factory. They got to pose with game-used bats. The family went with Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Johnny Bench. 

Next up was the Great Smoky Mountains. They walked on the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. Bailey even walked on the part with the glass floor, to see all the way down. 

“I like that type of stuff,” she said.

The Castros did not stay long, though. That happened to be the Fourth of July weekend, and they felt a bit uneasy with so many people there. As a family, they knew they could be together during the pandemic. They also made sure they were keeping their distance from others.

Jill said that no matter where they were, no matter the guidelines for whatever region they were in, the Castro family tried to maintain the guidelines set by Washington. Masks on inside, except for eating, and social distancing outside. 

The Castro family could not stay at the Potato Hotel in Idaho. It was booked, after all. But Jason Castro insisted on getting a photo with Bailey and Maddie. Photo courtesy of the Castro family
The Castro family could not stay at the Potato Hotel in Idaho. It was booked, after all. But Jason Castro insisted on getting a photo with Bailey and Maddie. Photo courtesy of the Castro family

Down to Georgia and then to South Carolina to visit Fort Sumter. Jason had been to dozens of Civil War sites but never Fort Sumter.

Next was up the Atlantic coastline to the northeast, all the way to the New England states, including a quick visit to Portland … in Maine.

They headed to the Midwest on the way home. 

They jammed at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and visited the home from A Christmas Story.

They visited Michigan, a milestone for the family. They had been to many states before this year’s road trip, and by getting to Michigan on this crazy trek, the Castro family had visited the contiguous United States. Maybe one day they will drive to Alaska. Gonna need a plane or a boat to get to Hawaii. But as far as the 48, the Castros have been to them all.

Maddie said Michigan was her favorite.

“I liked swimming in the lake, and the concept of Michigan. It seems calm,” she said.

They watched the movie Rudy. And they got to go on the football field at Notre Dame.

They had quite the misadventure in Illinois. It started innocently enough. Jason noticed that the prison used in the movie Blue Brothers was nearby. Bonus: There is a tour! He had to get there.

The Castros saw what appeared to be an old prison, they got off the road and drove closer to the walls in order to get a picture. They barely had time before a visitor arrived.

“You guys OK?,” they were asked. “You do know you cannot take a picture of the prison.” 

The Castros had accidentally driven to a working prison. Whoops.

“We were escorted off the premises,” Jason said. “We’re driving away. The kids are a little shaken. I’m trying to figure out what happened. We drove a few blocks, still confused … ‘Oh, that’s the old state pen.’ We finally found it. We were in the wrong place.”

They ran the bases in Iowa at the Field of Dreams. 

They visited Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse in South Dakota.

They passed the Great Divide and it was all downhill from there to home.

In all, 12,174 miles, 37 states, in 33 days.

And they are still talking to each other.

It was about “having fun with people I like and seeing cool things with them,” Maddie said.

Bailey said she did not like getting up early every day, but otherwise it was a great experience. 

It has been a few months since the epic Castro road trip. Bailey and Maddie are distance learning at La Center schools. Jason and Jill are back at work, trying to maneuver the obstacles of education in a pandemic. 

The family will always have special memories of the summer of 2020. A trying time in our nation’s history, but also a loving, memorable adventure for the Castros.

“All the stuff that was going on, all the stress, all the anxiety … it was kind of one of those moments we got to let go,” Jason said. “We got to be free.”

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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