Upon leaving Joshua Tree for Las Vegas we found ourselves almost immediately in the middle of nowhere. This drive is one of our favourite memories from California. The open desert roads, mountains looming above us, and the remote crossroad towns felt like something from a Wild West movie. We went miles and miles without seeing another car, mail boxes lined the road with no sign of who they belonged to, and the California playlist we’d waited months to listen to was the perfect background to the perfect drive.
This drive goes right through the middle of the Mojave national preserve, a wonderfully diverse area of desert spanning 1.6 million acres. When I say diverse I mean it- we saw rolling Sand dunes, extinct volcanic cones, and towering mountains. The whole journey is relatively short- just over three hours- but for those who like to move at a more leisurely pace there are campsites in the preserve. There is also a historic trail which was once used for trading by native Americans! It’s recommended you use a four wheel drive for this trail but if you’re unsure there is a visitors centre where you can ask any questions.
Another great thing about this drive is that you get to go through a small section of Route 66! It is a very small section but you still get to grab a photo with the sign and tell all your friends you drove on the famous mother road! The town of Amboy here once boomed due to traffic on Route 66 but since the town was bypassed by the interstate it is now basically a ghost town. It’s definitely an interesting stop!
As we got closer to Vegas Alex insisted we stop at Good Springs- a tiny town between Primm and Las Vegas that also happens to be the starting point for Fallout: New Vegas. If you’re a video game fan I’d say this place is a must visit. It’s just a short side trip from the highway and Alex was thrilled to be able to get a picture with the sign, buy a t-shirt, and see the old fashioned saloon. It’s also a nice place to stop and pee!
Finally, we decided to head to the Hoover dam as we couldn’t check in to our hotel till three and we’d made good time. From the highway we could see Lake Mead, the huge man made lake created by the Hoover dam. We decided we’d take a quick look at the visitors centre before heading on to the dam. However, it turns out there’s some great hikes around lake mead and I think our quick look turned into a two hour exploration. That’s what road trips are all about though, right?!
There are many interesting hikes around the lake with beautiful views. We did part of the historic railroad trail. This trail goes along the path of the old railroad which carried materials to the site of the Hoover dam! You go through the old tunnels which are now home to bats. Along the way you can see the original concrete plugs used in building the dam- when they were removed they were simply tossed off the train. There are also information plaques telling you about the surrounding area and the building of the dam. This trail is 7.5 miles (12 km) return and is an easy well laid out walk. We didn’t have time to go the whole thing but it’s worth just walking as far as the first tunnel- it’s a beautiful walk and a very interesting one too.
Next we went to the legendary Hoover dam. Built in 1936 this monstrous dam changed life in the area surrounding the Colorado river forever. It’s effects are controversial- it tamed the river, flooded towns, powered cities, and killed wildlife. But regardless of your opinion, it’s an amazing site to visit and ponder the achievements of man.
Parking here is a $10 fee. There’s a visitor centre, shop and cafe. You can walk across the dam or the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge- and when you get to the other side you’ll be in Arizona! It’s a great way to fit another state into your itinerary 😉
So that was how we spent our third day with the camper van! After we left the dam we headed straight to the city lights of Vegas…but that’s a story for another blog post.