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Desert Companion

The scenic route(just up the street)

Get away — without going too far — on these one-tank trips


Old West VillageSouthern Utah jaunt
Wild West kitsch and pink sand dunes

Don’t use up all your camera memory on the Virgin River Gorge — it’s just the warm-up on this road trip of photogenic delights. Pause at the Virgin Trading Post in Fort Zion to check out the Old West Village. Swallow any aversion you might have to tacky tourist traps and have your picture taken at the “Wild Ass Saloon” or “Miss Molly’s House of Negotiable Affection.” Continuing east, prepare to marvel at the intense natural color at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. The vivid salmon hues of the dunes against an azure sky make for ridiculously gorgeous photos. If you have time for an overnight stay, consider the Parry Lodge in nearby Kanab. This was the motel of choice for dozens of film crews over the past eight decades. You can stay in a room once occupied by Frank Sinatra, Jane Russell, Ronald Reagan and a host of other icons of the silver screen. (I-15 to UT-9, UT-59, AZ-389 to Coral Pink Sand Dunes Road)

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Mt Charleston - Lake Harriet

The Mount Charleston Loop
Scenic awesome in your own backyard

For a 360-degree view of our beautiful local mountains, get an early start on this 220-mile loop. At the end of the road up the east side of Mt. Charleston, pause for a bite to eat at the Mt. Charleston Lodge. Further north at Lee Canyon, ponder vistas of the Nevada Test site from under a canopy of pines. As you continue the loop down to Cactus Springs, admire Mt. Charleston’s craggy northern slope. If your timing is perfect, you’ll drive past Blue Diamond, Spring Mountain State Park and Calico Basin as the last raking rays of daylight light up those gorgeous red and white sandstone formations. (US 95 to Kyle Canyon Road, NV-160 to NV-159)

Tehachapi Loop

The Tehachapi Loop
Borax-hauling mules, German pretzels and a railroad wonder

Apple ShedHead south on I-15 as though you’re heading to Los Angeles or San Diego. On this trip, you’re on the path to some truly extraordinary sights instead, beginning with Zzyzx Springs. How many times have you driven past the sign? This time, take the exit and discover this place of erstwhile crazy dreams and current scientific study. After you leave the Interstate on Highway 58, pause for a look at the Rio Tinto Borax mine, California’s largest open-pit mine. The Borax Visitor Center boasts a genuine 20-mule team rig and informative interpretive exhibits. Farther west near the tiny hamlet of Walong, watch fully-laden 100-car trains circle over themselves as they pull the grade around the world-famous Tehachapi Loop. As you head back home, stop in Tehachapi for some freshly baked artisan bread or pastries at The Apple Shed. (I-15 to CA-58 to Broome Road and return on CA-58)

Scotty's Castle

Death Valley Run
Relive history at Scotty’s Castle and Rhyolite

Rhyolite.jpgEnter Death Valley National Park along NV-267 north of Beatty on the first leg of this 247-mile trek. Descend into Grapevine Canyon to Death Valley Ranch. Better known as Scotty’s Castle, this unique stone edifice offers a fascinating glimpse into privileged desert life in the 1920s and 30s. Make reservations in advance for the two available tours. Led by docents in period dress and character, the first tour includes a walk through the house and gardens. The second tour provides access to the structure’s subterranean tunnels and reveals some of its remarkably advanced technological features. From Scotty’s Castle, travel south through the park to Daylight Pass Road. Head northeast out of the valley to catch a photogenic sunset at Rhyolite ghost town before heading home. (US-Hwy 95 to NV-257 to Scotty’s Castle Road to Daylight Pass Road to US-Hwy 95)

Whitney Portal

Whitney Portal
Highs, lows and wildflowers

Death ValleyRoll through some of the best wildflower viewing areas of the Eastern Mojave on this 285-mile route to the Sierra Nevada by way of Death Valley National Park. Even in late spring, you may still find blooming fields of purple mat and yellow pepperweed just south of Pahrump on the way to Shoshone. Inside the park, Ashford Junction is a likely place to see desert gold, purple sand verbena and, if you’re very lucky, some of the more fragile and fleeting spring flowers. Continuing north through Death Valley, look for yellow-crowned brittle bush on the sides of the road. From Badwater, at 262 feet below sea level the lowest spot in North America, traverse the valley floor, the Panamint Mountains and the Owens Valley before ascending to the trailhead at Whitney Portal. Enjoy the crisp air and lofty views at nearly 8,000 feet before winding down the steep road back to US Highway 395. (NV-160 to CA-178 to CA-190 to Whitney Portal Road

Badwater Basin

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