Desert Companion

Travel: Bluegrass, bazaars and the (actual!) London Bridge

Destination known

Bluegrass, bazaars and
the (actual!) London Bridge

The crisp, clear weather of the wintertime desert beckons road trippers all season long. Drive this 485-mile loop on the third weekend in January, and you can enjoy bluegrass music and a legendary RV encampment, in addition to all the glorious vistas and natural wonders.

From Las Vegas, take US-95 to Blythe, California for the town’s annual Bluegrass Festival ( and an impressive lineup of nationally known performers. Stay over to enjoy the spontaneous jam sessions that often break out in the campgrounds at night. From Blythe, head east on I-10 to Dome Rock Road. Take this slightly more scenic route to Quartzsite, Arizona ( As you near Quartzsite, you’ll begin to see the winter denizens of the area — thousands of RVers who gather to enjoy Quartzsite’s legendary “Main Event.” This annual super-bazaar features scores of vendors hawking everything from gemstones and RVs to vintage clothes and tomato slicers. Tired of shopping and gawking? Go rock hounding or visit nearby Palm Canyon, a lush desert oasis.

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From Quartzsite, travel north on Arizona Highway 95 through Parker and cross the river to Earp, California. Drive north through the area known as the Parker Strip — arguably the most scenic stretch of the river viewable from a car. Cross back to Arizona on Parker Dam, photogenic with its dramatic concrete columns and view of the river. Heading north, pass two state parks. Cattail Cove State Park hosts a geo-caching hunt in February.

At Lake Havasu, check out London Bridge. The little museum has photos illustrating the bridge’s relocation from England to the Sun Belt. Travel through Mohave Valley, then cross the river to Laughlin. Time permitting, take a short walk to the petroglyphs at Grapevine Canyon and enjoy a scenic drive along Christmas Tree Pass before heading home to Las Vegas.

(Cheat sheet: US-95 to Blythe, east along I-10 to Dome Rock Road to Quartzsite, north along Arizona Highway-95 to Parker Dam Road, north once more on AZ-95 through Lake Havasu, Mohave Valley, Bullhead City, crossing the river at Laughlin. West on Nevada Highway 163 to Christmas Tree Road and return to Las Vegas on US-Hwy 95). — Mark Sedenquist

Click here for an interactive map of this road trip.


Getting warmer

Just down river of the Hoover Dam, Gold Strike Hot Springs is an adventuresome hike with a trek through a wash and a few climbs that can be scary for a beginner. The payoff, however, is worth it. A couple miles down the canyon from the trailhead, you’ll find a series of pools bubbling with warm, clear water, perfect for a winter retreat. Bring a towel, your own drinking water, and keep an eye out for bighorn sheep — and occasional nudists. — Alan Gegax


Short films, small town

If you’re looking for an excuse to jaunt down to our quiet, quirky cousin known as Boulder City, here are 120 of them: The 8th Annual Dam Short Film Festival Feb. 8-12. This year, this veritable quick-flick institution expects to screen more than 120 ADD-friendly films that don’t require a nap and a pee break to get through. Before you take your seat in the historic Boulder Theatre, though, why not squeeze in some other stops? For a nosh and tipple before the show, we recommend Milo’s Cellar (538 Nevada Highway, 293-9540), the homey wine bar that serves a decent complement of soups and sandwiches. Whazzat? Too quaint? Well, you can always get a taste of Boulder City’s grittier side at the Back Stop Sports Pub (533 Ave. B, 294-8445). Known for its convivial atmosphere, there’s little wonder: with no video poker to distract, the focus is on drinking. Isn’t that what bars are for? — Andrew Kiraly 


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