To the Hoover Dam and beyond?
February 15, 2012 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Roadtrip from the Bay Area to Hoover Dam and beyond at the end of winter... help us connect the dots!

My partner and I want to get out of town Feb 28-March 5, leaving from Berkeley, CA. We're not really sure where to visit other than the Hoover Dam. We'd like to visit other places, but aren't really sure of wear to go. Souther Utah? Northern Arizona? To New Mexico? Back into California?

We'd like to do some hiking/exploring. Ghost towns, roadside oddities, and other regional attractions are appreciated.

Right now we're sort of worried about weather. Will it be an issue? I'm thinking about keeping our options open and playing by ear, but we're not sure what those are yet. I've read previous questions about roadtrips in this area, but it seems like most people roadtrip in the Summer and don't address any seasonal issues.

Other data points: No Vegas. We're vegans so any special veg recommendations are appreciated. Any tips about local coffee roasters or record stores are also appreciated. (Man, that sounds cliched.)

posted by kendrak to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We did a trip that included the Rhyolite ghost town, and Death Valley. Great trip.
posted by Melismata at 12:21 PM on February 15, 2012

*pulls up chair and sits down*

The Valley of Fire State Park is pretty near Hoover Dam, and worth a visit. It is the most surreal, alien landscape I've ever seen -- a big patch of red sandstone that's surrounded by plain blah-looking hills, and then the wind patterns in that area carved everything into these weird freakish shapes; and then there are ancient petroglyphs on top of that. It honestly looks like you're in the middle of freakin' Mars.

Both Zion Canyon and Lake Powell straddle the Arizona/Utah border. I hit both on a family vacation at age 17, one that included the Grand Canyon, and I liked Zion and Lake Powell better; so much so that I made a return stop at one little-visited part of Zion 15 years later on a road trip. There are places to stay at both sites, but they're also very amenable to day-trips with hiking. I admit that Lake Powell is, by its very existance, an environmental nightmare, but they are taking steps to alleviate the environmental impact.

There is a coffee house in Moab, Utah that I suspect would be likely to have vegan fare. I'm an omnivore, and I still liked it for the atmosphere alone; when I stopped in, there was a jug band playing on the front porch, and the tip jar was labeled "Julie's Therapy Fund." They also sold handcrafts there, and I bought one of the latte mugs they were offering as a souvenir - the barista applauded my choice, saying that "everyone should have a coffee mug that's got heft to it."

I recommend the Road Trip USA books in all the threads like this, and link to their web site -- however, I know the author has a more specified book devoted to road trips in California and the Southwest. It may be out of print in the big-box stores, but looks like it's still available on Amazon; this book is your Bible.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 PM on February 15, 2012

Southern Utah is great. Five of the best National Parks right near each other. Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

One of the greatest hikes in the world, the Narrows trail, is in Zion National Park.
Do it.
posted by Flood at 12:27 PM on February 15, 2012

Anniversary Narrows is a really neat slot canyon close to Hoover Dam. Also going to the lovely beach and river just below the dam is fun, very very cold water.
posted by H. Roark at 12:40 PM on February 15, 2012

If you go Reno then South via Mono lake, the Whoa Nellie Deli in the Exxon station is a totally awesome locals spot for food. Its really good (and vegan friendly).
posted by H. Roark at 12:48 PM on February 15, 2012

No specific recommendations here for places, but if you want to sort of play it by ear but also have "nearby me" info available on the road, I'd strongly recommend getting the Roadside America app on your phone (if you have that capability). BF and I had a "no plan is the best plan" trip for a week up to northern California and across Nevada, and this thing pointed out some fantastic things to see. Not just "quirky" junk stuff either; some really interesting art and nature. You can also sort by city, by type of attraction, etc. and also get reviews and photos. Connects to Google maps too. I'm using it for all road trips from now on.
posted by queensissy at 1:22 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll remind you that even though its been a pretty dry season so far in the Sierras/Great Basin, that can change very very quickly, especially in spring. Get chains for your vehicle (if you dont have them already) and bring appropriate clothing, extra water etc.

Red Rock Canyon is outside of Vegas (barely) and is pretty neat too. Has wild burros that will try and bite you if you get too close, and very very very ponderous desert tortoises.

Scenic driving-wise, if you get to Hoover Dam by a southern route, then head north along 395 to Reno and back over 80 to home. You'll find all kinds of weird places to stop along the way.
posted by elendil71 at 1:23 PM on February 15, 2012

Seconding Bodie and Valley of Fire. (I think Valley of Fire is much more impressive than Red Rock, personally. It's gorgeous, and has petroglyphs that you can walk right up to.)

There's really no way to know ahead of time about the weather. If I were you, I'd plan two trips -- the first and preferable being taking 80 to Reno, then 395 to Bridgeport (with a stop in Bodie), then through or to Death Valley. However, if there's a storm those days, 80 and 395 will both be miserable drives. If that's the case, you can take 99 down to Bakersfield, then cut over to NV. It's a less interesting drive, but is pretty weatherproof and you could still stop in Death Valley.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:56 PM on February 15, 2012

Beware of the weather that time of year at the higher elevations (above about 4000 feet.) The snowiest months of the year in flagstaff are march and april. The high parts of southern Utah are the same and the northern part is even worse. If you catch it on a good weekend it is good, but on a bad weekend it is miserable. I would try a tour of death valley (which will be warm but nice that time of year). Buy all the candy in the world at Beatty, about an hour outside of vegas on 95 and start your tour of death valley from there. If the roads are clear keep going north and see the seqouias and Yosemite (but the same weather iffiness applies). If you want to go south there are lots of ghost towns in Arizona and the desert is usually abloom that time of year. Prescott (old AZ state capital), Crown King, Beatty, Globe and lots and lots of neat stuff. It is also a good time of year to visit Sedona if you like wonky (read full of fruits and nuts) but also really beautiful scenery. There are lots of neat state parks in the Verde Valley of Arizona and that is the best time of year to go, warm, not hot and everything is green. There is a really great train that goes up the Verde River from Cottonwood. The old mining town of Jerome above Cottonwood is worth spending a day in. I think the grand canyon is at is best in the late fall/early winter (between halloween and christmas), and that time of year is usually the worst, dirty, icy snow everywhere, really cold at night and not warm during the day, the wildlife is gaunt due to winter and the park services are all under repair as it is the off season. The whole area is chock full of great things to see. Playing it by ear will work great that time of year as no hotels will be booked up (unless they have great snow at the ski area in Flagstaff and clear weather-than the whole population of phoenix goes skiing).
posted by bartonlong at 4:37 PM on February 15, 2012

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