California Road Trip I: From Las Vegas to Joshua Tree

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Three states in one day

On our road trip around California, we actually started in Nevada. From Las Vegas, we drove 2.000 miles along the amazing coast, through beautiful national parks, and exciting cities. Follow our journey and get inspired for your trip.

Leaving Vegas

One night in Vegas after our international flight was more than enough.

Las Vegas Eiffel Tower

Leaving the mecca of western consumerism behind was the easiest thing on our US road trip. The distastefully decorated hotel resort lobbies full of cigarette smoke, and the infinite clinking of slot machines with sad faces sitting behind them didn’t quite agree with us.

The next morning, we stopped by the famous Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, took a couple of pictures and headed out to the desert.

Good to know: The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign is a national landmark. Since 2008, you can park your car in a small parking area by the sign and then wait in the photo queue. We encountered only a short line in the morning (10 am) and waited for around 15 minutes.

Hoover Dam

The structure on the border between Nevada and Arizona on the Colorado River attracted many Hollywood producers throughout its lifetime. The 1978’s Superman even made the Earth spin in the wrong direction to save Hoover Dam from total distraction. The engineering masterpiece of its time is worth the hour-long detour from Las Vegas.

Hoover Dam wide shot from the top to the dridge

It was constructed during the Great Depression. A memorial on the site remembers the death toll of many workers who lost their lives during the construction.

Hoover Dam fron the back

On the dam, you can walk between Nevada and Arizona. The stylish Art Deco turrets with their clock face set to Arizona and Nevada time remind visitors on which side they are. Although the states are in different time zones, the clocks show the same time for more than half the year. Most parts of Arizona don’t follow the daylight saving time.

Useful tip: Count in some time for car check-up before entering the dam zone. The parking lot on the Nevada side, as well as the closest lot to the dam on the Arizona side, ask for 10 $ parking fee. There are 4 other parking lots further up the road on the Arizona side without any charges. From there, you can easily walk across the dam using the stairs to the Nevada side (around 800 meters one way). In the summer, it gets excruciatingly hot. Don’t underestimate it. Sunscreen, hat and plenty of water are a must even for short distances.

Driving through the desert

We spent around an hour and a half strolling across the dam. After that, we continued west to the deserts of California with Mojave National Preserve and its vast lunar landscapes to our right.

Mojave Landscape with mountains in the background

For lunch, we stopped in Needles, one of the oldest communities on the Colorado River and one of the towns located on the original Route 66. There, we experienced the highest temperature on our trip, when our car thermometer showed 114 °F (45°C).

Mojave landscape with train and cloudy sky

Did you know: Snoopy’s brother Spike lived in a cactus in the middle of a desert just outside Needles.

Rice Shoe old pit stop and palm tree

From there, we cruised the Routes 92 and 62 and stopped every now and then. We had a little photoshoot at the shoe fence close to the ghost town of Rice and caught a magnificent sunset high above the Sheephole Valley.

Mojave desert sunset

We arrived in Twentynine Palms – the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park – right after sunset.

Continue the trip with us

Part 1: From Las Vegas to Joshua Tree (You are here)
Part 2: Joshua Tree National Park
Part 3: Venice Beach
Part 4: On the Road in the Sierra Nevada
Part 5: Yosemite
Part 6: San Francisco and the Bay area

Also, check out our road trip tips for Europe as well as the US.

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