Deserts, Oceans, and Snow… Oh my!

7 years ago
5 March 2012

It was just another day and another trip for me as I headed off to camp in the desert southwest of the United States. For this trip I did not really leave with any certain goal in mind, minus that I had to be in Las Vegas on both Saturdays to get Erin from the airport. The first day was pretty simple after loading up the car, as I spent it driving to central Utah to visit Annalisa again for a night of YouTube watching (and mooching a bed off her). It was the second time in as many months that I had done that drive, and I promise you, it didn’t get any more exciting.

The next day I slept in before timing my departure to try and arrive in Las Vegas at 4pm. Somewhere between the 80mph speed limits and quicker gas stops, I made it to Vegas just early enough to bum around the mall near the airport before picking Erin up. After waiting (forever) for her bag, we headed straight for Lake Mead for the night so we could set the tent up in the twilight. That is always one thing I forget about spring/fall camping, is how early the sun sets.

The following morning it was time to head south to the desert as we traversed the Mojave National Preserve just over the California border. There we took a break from the drive to hike the dunes before continuing south towards Joshua Tree. In Joshua Tree, we cris-crossed the park going on a few little hikes, including my favourite which took us back to a random damed pond in the middle of the desert. After that hike we had a decision to make, we could stay the Joshua Tree and do another hike or two in the morning, or try to get across the LA basin on a Sunday night instead of Monday mid-morning.

As much as the trip was about going slow and enjoying the desert, I took my typical path and we headed for LA right around sunset. After stopping to get gas and a minor detour when the express lanes made me miss my exit, we ended up on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) just after 8pm and made camp just outside Malibu in the middle of the night.

Monday morning we headed down to the beach to relax for a bit before we spent the entire rest of the day driving up the PCH. If you have never done the drive from LA to San Francisco (and beyond) you are really missing out on something. After a few delays on the road due to parts of the road falling into the ocean (and stupid drivers that did not know how to go over 5mph on the curves) we decided to call it an early night and stay on Monterey Bay. While the sunset was beautiful, the rest of the night was not as I got only a few hours of freezing sleep at most. Clearly we had gotten too far north for camping in late February.

After realising at 6am that we were both not sleeping, we quickly packed up and headed north into San Jose for a real breakfast before sneaking past rush hour traffic and into the central valley of California. After a quick gas stop and glance at the map, we decided to take the scenic route over the Sierras via US-50 through Lake Tahoe. It was a beautiful drive up through the snow covered tree and blue skies, before we descended down into Reno, Nevada to stay with my friend Dave for the night.

The next morning, in the howling wind, Erin and I suited up to head skiing in the Sierras in an all out blizzard. Thankfully coming from the east side, we missed the worse of the snow and wind, however, Northstar was still swimming in over a foot of new snow. It was an epic day of skiing as the snow did not let up all day, even getting a bit heavier as the day went along. On some of the backside trails, there was nearing two feet of fresh powder by the time my body decided to call it quits. After getting down from the mountain and a burger and beer filled dinner at a local pub in Reno, it was a very early night for both of us.

Following the ski day, we spent the next day heading down the lee side of the Sierras on US-395, another very pretty drive. There you pass by most of the highest peaks in the southern Sierras including Mt. Whitney (highest peak in the lower 48 states). After a small break in Mammoth Lakes to fix a few issues at work, we headed up and over the mountain ranges to the east and into Death Valley. There we hiked the dunes and headed to Badwater, the lowest point in North America to watch the sunset over Telescope Peak. We decided to do the drive to Las Vegas through the night rather than camp, at least giving me a day off from driving. Stopping over in a small town, we stole some wi-fi and ended up scoring an awesome deal for the Mandalay Bay hotel in Vegas.

After an amazing shower in the bathroom larger than my living room, we headed to Red Rock National Conservation area outside Vegas for a few hikes, a place I was just at this past December when I celebrated my friend Ginie’s birthday. After the hikes, we made a requisite stop at my favourite chocolate factory before spend the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering the Strip. And if you must ask, I did play $5 in slots and doubled my money.

Very early next morning, I dropped Erin off at the Las Vegas airport and made the decision to make the long and tedious 716 mile drive back to Boulder that day. Nothing exciting happened the entire time, which is probably a good thing. And with the exception of a two stops for a beer in Glenwood Springs and coffee in Vail, I made it home in just under 12 hours.

In the end, the trip was typical Andrew. Lots of place, lots of miles, lots of fun. And with a few friends coming to visit me in the coming weeks, probably my last long distance trip, at least for a few months.