Where to take "me" during "me" time.
January 14, 2010 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in four days: what sights would you recommend?

Taking a need-a-break vacation by myself, four days driving the southwest United States and five days in Chicago visiting friends and family.

The driving portion starts in Los Angeles, with the ultimate destination (four days later) of Las Vegas to catch my flight to Chicago. My intention is to drive between six and twelve hours a day, stopping whenever it amuses me to do so and seeing whatever sights I can see.

My concrete goals are limited to:

1. Making it to Las Vegas the night before my flight;
2. Being in an extremely low-light-pollution area one evening to see if I can finally see the milky way in the fashion nature intended it.

Beyond that, I'm totally open. My car has no off-road capabilities, but is large enough to sleep in if the need arises. If you were me, where would you go?
posted by davejay to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
well the drive from LA to Vegas is a pretty straight shot 5-6 hours depending on traffic if you are driving straight through. So it seems like you've got plenty of time to kill. I suggest headin down towards Joshua Tree first and maybe staying for a couple of days near Pioneer Town. I can attest to the great quality of Rimrock Ranch Cabins (warning autoplay music) near Pioneer Town. From there, you can spend some time at Pappy & Harriet's, which may have great live music depending on your travel dates.

Aside from that, i must reiterate that it really only takes 5-6 hours to drive from LA to Vegas. That opens you up to all sorts of detours along the way. With that amount of time, you can honestly focus on a much broader area than just between LA and Vegas. Maybe head up to Lake Arrowhead, or Big Bear?
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 2:14 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If it was me, I would do something like this.

That is 43 hours drive time, which is pushing it, but some beautiful sites. Note I have you going up the coast on the 1, not the hellish I-5. The 1 on the coast in Sonoma County is really an amazing, special place.

The 80 across NV is also known as the "loneliest road in America."
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2010

(If you are going tomorrow, there could possibly be snow issues in Utah, so keep that in mind.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:24 PM on January 14, 2010

There is nothing between LA and Las Vegas on I-15 except god-forsaken desert and a couple of forgettable two-bit towns.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:29 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

(by "tomorrow" I mean "soon," in the winter. Geez.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:32 PM on January 14, 2010

Chocolate Pickle is right . . . but you could head from LA to the Grand Canyon and then from there to Vegas.
posted by donovan at 2:38 PM on January 14, 2010

In four days you could drive to Chicago.
posted by notyou at 2:40 PM on January 14, 2010

World's Largest Thermometer!

Despite what the signs say, the gyros in Baker are not that good.
posted by j1950 at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: I would head for Williams, AZ, on I-40 (taking I-15) or CA14 to get to get there. I-40 between Barstow and Needles is one of the most starkly beautiful drives I have ever taken (and I did it in mid-summer).

Once at Williams at a motel (book ahead), you can go over to the Grand Canyon, 50 miles to the North, and maybe another day in Flagstaff and Meteor Crater, about the same distance to the East. Sedona is close to that also.

Then back west on 40, turning off at Kingman, AZ towards Vegas.

You will see more stars ever night than you will see in a lifetime, living in a city.
posted by Danf at 2:59 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: Death Valley-- If you want to sleep in your car then there's a free campground a Emigrants Pass. Cheap showers and a pay campground or rooms at Stovepipe Wells. The park will probably want $20.
posted by notned at 3:00 PM on January 14, 2010

I like drjimmy11's route alot. You could spend significantly more time out of the car by taking back roads out to the San Bernadino National Forest, then camp in Joshua Tree for a day or two, then I-95 north to Vegas. Wildflowers and stargazing will be fantastic in the desert.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:02 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: I once camped at a campground in Mojave National Preserve and the stars were like nothing I had ever seen. If you stayed there overnight you could be at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon by early/mid-afternoon the next day, go for a brief hike a bit of the way down and back and stay overnight in Tusayan in a motel. The next day, drive east and north up into Utah and maybe go see Zion National Park. Day four you drive straight back west to Vegas. Something like that. Alternatively you could stay on the north side and of the canyon and save yourself some driving to have more time at Zion.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:03 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've done most of drjimmy11's route, and there's some lovely scenery. I recommend driving through the redwoods just after dawn, and ending up in southern Utah well after dark on a clear night.

I used to think it was dark if I could make out the milky way. Then I spent a night out on the Olympic Penninsula in the back of my pickup truck and realized there were so many more stars I had trouble finding the constellations.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:03 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: Another option - take the 1 up the coast to San Francisco, cut inland then head back south slightly on the 395, stop in Yosemite. Take the 95 southeast through Nevada to Vegas.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:08 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For a fabulous night-sky view I suggest Natural Bridges National Monument in southern Utah; the first "Dark Sky Park" named by the International Dark-Sky Association.

You can read more about this at the Nat'l Geo article on Our Vanishing Night: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/light-pollution/klinkenborg-text

Monument Valley is another location for night sky viewing that's unparalled in the West due to the fact that there are not many mountains to block your view. You could also choose Death Valley as a fabulous night-sky viewing location.

In fact, you could visit all 3 locations in the time you mention you have.

I suggest staying in southern Utah and Arizona to avoid bad weather.
posted by PixieS at 3:13 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have driven LA - Vegas - Zion Canyon NP - Bryce Canyon NP - North Rim of the Grand Canyon - Vegas - LA again, in a 4 day weekend shared between two drivers. So you could do that, esp since you would leave off the last Vegas - LA leg. You could also forgo the North Rim if the driving is too insane. Lots of spectacular scenery, plenty of stargazing in Southern Utah.

Drjimmys route sounds awesome, but I question the sanity of doing that in 4 days!
posted by Joh at 3:15 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's a map of it. The North Rim is further than Jacob Lake, but I couldn't find a closer town name to enter. Also note that the North Rim is closed during winter, so factor that in depending when you plant o travel.
posted by Joh at 3:19 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: The 80 across NV is also known as the "loneliest road in America."

Actually US50 is the loneliest road in America. It covers the same territory and gets a lot less traffic after I80 opened.

I've lived in the AZ/NV/CA part of the country for a good part of my life and have seen almost every paved piece of road in the region. I think a variant of Joh's idea if the best.

LA (the 10 to the 15 to the 40) Flagstaff/S. Rim of Grand Canyon
Then, from Flag drive north toward Page, AZ and cruise around Zion and Bryce Canyon
From there, cut over to the 15 and into Vegas.

This time of year the weather is unpredictable in the mountains, but they keep the roads to Grand Canyon, the highway up to the national parks in Southern UT and the interstates clear and so it is n't a concern unless you get a once in a quarter century type storm, which is unlikely. If you're lucky you'll see some of the red rock deserts of N.AZ and S.UT with a light dusting of snow which is gorgeous.
posted by birdherder at 3:51 PM on January 14, 2010

Chocolatepickle is partly wrong - the towns along I15 are pretty grim (there's not a motel I'd stay at in Baker for instance) but the Mojave NP is beautiful and well worth some time. You can get off the beaten track very quickly out there and though it suffered badly in a fire a few years back, it is still an isolated and attractive place, especially now the Park Service have restored Kelso. Incidentally, you might want to detour to visit Zzyzx and the Desert Research Center (exit just up from Baker.)
posted by A189Nut at 4:08 PM on January 14, 2010

Road to North Rim of Grand Canyon is closed until April
posted by A189Nut at 4:09 PM on January 14, 2010

The most exciting thing on I-15 between LA and Las Vegas is the exit marked "Zzyzx".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:37 PM on January 14, 2010

Despite what the signs say, the gyros in Baker are not that good.

True, but the restaurant (The Mad Greek) is worth a stop for the kitsch/people watching factor. And the food isn't terrible or anything.
posted by something something at 5:18 PM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: Ah, allow me to alleviate some confusion caused by my wording: the point isn't that I thought it would take four days to get from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, but that I have four days to drive anywhere I want to entertain myself and have a good time, so long as at the end of the four days I'm in Vegas to catch my flight to Chicago.
posted by davejay at 5:27 PM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: Also, I marked some best answers -- thanks for 'em, I'll work them out on a map tonight! -- and I'm still open to other suggestions (or reaffirmations of the existing suggestions) right up until I leave Saturday morning.
posted by davejay at 5:29 PM on January 14, 2010

Note I have you going up the coast on the 1

Note that that is the most beautiful drive on the planet.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:10 PM on January 14, 2010

Just an FYI the weather in southern California is suppose to be crazy starting Sunday night. I live within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve and we are getting emails from meteorologists to be prepared.

If I were you I would definitely spend a day or two in Joshua Tree go to Pappy and Harriets, Crossroads Cafe, stop at Coyote Corner (if you are lucky the owner Ethan will be working - he is hysterical) and drive through the park.

As far as stars go the Western portion of the Mojave Preserve has low light pollution and amazing stars as long as the weather cooperates. If you are interested in staying here send me an email and I can tell you some great spots to car camp.
posted by a22lamia at 11:06 PM on January 14, 2010

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