Next time you’re thinking of going to Vegas for a few days of drinking, gambling, or feeding any of your vices, consider taking a few days extra and doing a road trip. The Southwest region of the USA, offers so many unique natural attractions, that after the novelty of Vegas wears off, you’ll wish you had gone sooner.
Here’s a suggested road trip route through some of the best sites of the Southwest through three states – California, Nevada and Arizona.
Las Vegas, NV – Base Camp
Not a bad base camp if you ask me! Right smack in the middle of this road trip, is the city of lights. This is perfect because you can do some one-day road trips to the following locations during the day, and then be back in the evening to grab a nice dinner and head out to enjoy the nightlife or to try your luck at the casinos.
Red Rock Canyon, NV (30 mins, 16 miles)
Located in Vegas, this canyon is a cool site for its red and yellow coloured rock. Take the 13-mile scenic drive and see different types of sandstone, limestone, red rock and dinosaur tracks. There are also more than 30 miles of hiking trails.
Death Valley National Park, CA – 2 hrs (125 miles)
You might not have realized how close this desert landscape is from Vegas, but being only a 2 hour drive, it’s worth getting up early and spending the whole day there. Drive east towards Furnace Creek and you’ll find the entrance to the park. As a note of caution, if you are travelling here during the summer months, it’s advisable to bring a supply of water and food in the car in case you have car trouble. After all, it’s only the hottest place on earth! The temperature can get as high as 120°F (49°C) in the shade.
If you’re not tired of the dry, hot desert just yet, then take a detour from Death Valley, or another trip, to Mohave Desert for it’s vegetation – including the popular Joshua Tree. These short funny looking trees are actually “yuccas” and only grow in this desert. It’s worth getting a few shots of these and if you’re luck, you might just see a road-runner – yes it’s a real thing, and it lives here!
Hoover Dam, NV – 40 mins (57kms)
Probably everyone has made the trip to see Hoover Dam when in Vegas. But if you haven’t, it’s only a short drive out of the city, and a perfect stop on your way to the Grand Canyon.
Visit the museum to learn about the history of its build and the many lives of workers it took. This concrete arch-gravity dam over the Colorado River is impressive, and only truly comprehensible if you lean slightly over the railing and look down (make sure you remove your sunglasses first and when I say lean, I mean stay on the ground!) Also, take the time to walk over the dam – but remember you’re in the desert, it gets hot and dry, so drink plenty of water.
Another relatively new attraction here is the Hoover Dam Bypass, the highest and longest arched concrete bridge in the Western Hemisphere, that sits 890 feet the Colorado River. If you dare, park at the visitor’s centre and walk out to the middle of the bridge to get an impressive view of the dam. From there, the Hoover Dam looks like peanuts!
Kingman, AZ – Route 66 1.5 hrs (104 miles)
On route to the Grand Canyon, don’t miss Kingman. This small unassuming town is a starting point of the Historical Route 66. Stop for lunch at a local nostalgic diner or restaurant like Mr. D’z Route 66, Rutherford’s 66 Family Diner or Redneck’s Southern Pit BBQ.
You may notice signs here for the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon West. This is a major tourist attraction built mainly for Vegas tourists that don’t want to travel too far to see the true canyon. Although this is beautiful site, it is only a side canyon coming out of the main canyon that you are seeing. If you want to see the true vastness of the Grand Canyon (as you see in every picture), you have to travel farther to the South Rim.
Grand Canyon – South Rim, AZ (4.25 hrs, 276 miles)
From Kingman travelling east, you still have 3 hours to reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. For the last stretch, you will be in the remote desert, so again, bring water in case you have car trouble. There are areas where you won’t find any service amenities anywhere, let alone electricity. Turn up 64 and finish at Grand Canyon Village. Here you can opt to stay in this small town, or go right into the park and camp or lodge there.
Ideally, you spend at least two days at the Grand Canyon, depending on if you are there to hike, or just to have a look. I suggest you pick one to two hiking trails and start off first thing in the morning (it’ll take you a full day to do one). Remember, it’s a mile deep, but several miles zig-zagging down by foot, and in this case – what goes down, must come up. You enter at your own risk, so be smart and bring good gear. The nights get very cold compared to the hot days and you don’t want to get stuck with no supplies in the canyon. More tips here .
Want a better view? Take a helicopter tour over the canyon to really appreciate its immensity and beauty. This is a must-do in my books. A 30 minute tour is more than enough to capture some great photos and memories.