Las Vegas is one of the most famous cities on the planet. Its casinos, nightlife and spectacular shows are legendary. That said, after exposure to what is probably one of earth’s greatest expositions of hedonism, a long weekend in open country might be in order.
The drive from Vegas to Santa Barbara offers some spectacular contrasts. The isolation of the Mojave Desert is soul-soothing and this road trip terminates in the Mediterranean-like city of Santa Barbara where the desert suddenly gives way to white beaches and Spanish-style architecture.
You are going to be cruising through Death Valley, but don’t let the name put you off. The desert offers shelter to unusual flora and fauna and as you stare at the breathtaking stars at night you will be surprised by the gentle cacophony of noises, screeches, and cries that you can hear in that wide-open expanse. A word of warning here; the desert is an addictive place and leaves you with an almost spiritual sense of awe that you might find hard to leave behind.
From the desert, the sudden contrast of the cool sophistication that Santa Barbara offers will help turn this into a weekend to remember for a long time.
From Red Rock Canyon to the final stop on your journey is a drive of 175 miles and if you don’t rush it will take you about two and a half hours. You won’t have any trouble finding an RV site. They are sprinkled all along the coast and you can easily locate a pitch at a sea side resort. Alternatively, you might like something a little more woodsy and Las Padres National Forest lies just inland from the city.
Santa Barbara is wine country and wine tours abound. One of the better-known ones, Jamie Slone Wines, offers tasting including a wine and chocolate pairing. They also won the best winery and best tasting room awards for 2019.
The Spanish Colonial architecture is very prominent and one classic example is the Superior Court of California, which is beautiful both inside and out. You can ascend the tower for stunning city views or enjoy the tranquil gardens.
Later in the day, you might want to enjoy a sunset walk along Stearns Wharf which dates back to 1872. It not only offers beautiful sunsets but also plenty of restaurants and wine bars, so why not combine some California wine with a light meal while the sun dips behind the ocean?
It takes only twenty-five minutes to get to this jaw-dropping park so you can decide for yourself how you want to divide up your time. The area was designated a park to celebrate and protect the rust and cream-colored rock formations. Many of these look very like a giant cake whose icing has melted.
The camp Ricardo campground is really primitive but what it lacks in amenities it more than makes up for with its stunning geography. Bring cash because you may need to self-register when you pay the entry fee. If you arrive after a wet winter you might find the desert floor covered in an extraordinary floral display. Roadrunners and a variety of lizards put in a more regular appearance. Hiking, photography, and star gazing will provide you with plenty to do and if you are really lucky, you might spot a meteorite shower.
Randsburg is a little more than two hours' drive to the south from the campsite. This abandoned mining town is the original ghost town and definitely is not one to be missed. There are now only seventy people remaining in the town, making the weekend the best time to visit as the town briefly comes back to life.
This haunting town is littered with abandoned houses, derelict mines, and rusty old cars. Together, they combine to create a photographer's dream. The old general store, founded in 1904, still contains its original working soda fountain that has been in continual operation since it was first installed.
The White House saloon offers meals and the town has live music and art galleries but still retains its Wild West feel. There are few places in America where you can still have such an authentic window into what was once a normal way of life.
Less than two and a half hours of easy driving will bring you from Las Vegas to Furnace Creek Visitor's Center, which will be your gateway to this National Park. Here you will be able to purchase your entry permit and pay your entrance fee.
Death Valley is the largest US park outside of Alaska. You can also do a ranger-guided tour and gain plenty of information about the alien world you are about to enter. The Furnace Creek campsite is basic but has water and fire pits which should be all you will want for this adventure.
If you need to cool down, for just a few dollars you can wander over to the neighboring Furnace Creek Ranch resort and make use of their pool and shower. Leave time to enjoy the vast and starry canopy you are going to be sleeping under. Those unpolluted skies are a free feature not to be missed.
If the desert has started to get its hooks into you, you might well want to do some further exploring before you leave. A short twenty-five minute hop up the road brings you to Mesquite Flat sand dunes. These are among the largest sand dunes in the park and they make for a fabulous hiking adventure. There are no designated trails so you are free to wander where your heart takes you.
If you are brave enough to make an early start you can be among the dunes in time to catch the sunrise which sets the surrounding hills on fire. Be sure to carry plenty of water and expect sharp contrasts between night and day time temperatures. As an added incentive to Star Wars fans, this is the location where some of the Star Wars scenes were shot.
For a couple looking for a weekend road trip with plenty of variety, this one has plenty going for it. The haunting desert landscapes, abandoned mining towns, and breathtaking scenery all followed by the cooling ocean and gentle sophistication of Santa Barbara. How much more of a combination could anyone ask for?
The desert is an environment that can be harsh in that it suffers from extremes of temperature both hot and cold. Your vehicle will not only cater to this, it will also allow you to explore in comfort areas that might have been difficult to stay in otherwise. What is more, it will give you the freedom to change your itinerary should the fancy take you. That is useful because those wide expanses offer so much to the weekend adventurer and yet they are so often overlooked by the road tripper.