Day 1 - Las Vegas to Needles, 190 miles:
South of Las Vegas
, I-15 soon enters empty desert, and an hour's drive reaches the north edge of the Mojave National Preserve
, a very scenic region of sand dunes, isolated mountains, old mines, lava flows and Joshua tree forests. The night is spent at Needles, a small town beside the Colorado River.
Day 2 - Needles to Twentynine Palms, 150 miles:
A brief journey back west on I-40 is followed by an atmospheric drive along the National Trails Highway - historic Route 66
- through more desert landscapes, also passing scattered volcanic relics including Amboy Crater
. Hwy 62 south leads to Twentynine Palms, gateway to Joshua Tree National Park
, and while most of the park is explored on the next day, one good trail (Fortynine Palms Oasis
) starts right from the town center.
Day 3 - Twentynine Palms to Indio, 120 miles:
All of the day is spent in Joshua Tree National Park, which has 100 miles of scenic roads but the landscape is best appreciated by hiking; suggested trails are Barker Dam
, Lost Horse Mine
and Ryan Mountain
. The night is spent in Indio, near the southern park entrance.
Day 4 - Indio to Borrego Springs, 190 miles:
Hwy 86 is the main road south from Indio but CA 111 is less traveled and more scenic, running close to the east shore of the Salton Sea
, near such unusual places as Bombay Beach and Slab City. South of the lake the land becomes temporarily irrigated and extensively farmed, but there is more empty scenery beyond - Jacumba Mountains and the Yuha Desert
. From here, more backroads lead through the southern
section of Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Day 5 - Borrego Springs to Palm Springs, 100 miles:
Photogenic places in the northwest
of Anza Borrego Desert SP include Borrego Palm Canyon
, Palm Wash slot canyons
, Split Mountain
and the Borrego Badlands
. The arid landscapes are in great contrast to Palm Springs
and the other upscale cities of the Coachella Valley, reached by a 70 mile drive north, partly along the west side of the Salton Sea.
Day 6 - Palm Springs to Barstow, 150 miles:
There is time in the morning to see a little of Palm Springs, before heading across the southern Mohave Desert to Barstow; two interesting sites nearby are the eroded ravines of Rainbow Basin
and the partly restored ghost town of Calico
Day 7 - Barstow to Ridgecrest, 180 miles:
Mojave Desert attractions west of Barstow include Saddleback Butte
, an isolated summit surrounded by Joshua trees, and the colorful, eroded cliffs of Red Rock Canyon
. The nearby town of Ridgecrest provides a good choice of lodging.
Day 8 - Ridgecrest to Furnace Creek, 150 miles:
The Trona Pinnacles
rise above a vast dry lake bed a short distance east of Ridgecrest, while the main road continues north towards Death Valley National Park
. Worthwhile destinations on this side (west
) of the park are Darwin Canyon
and Wildrose Point
Day 9 - Death Valley National Park (north), 130 miles:
Recommended locations in the north
section of Death Valley include Mosaic Canyon
, the Stovepipe Wells Dunes, Titus or Fall
canyons, Ubehebe Crater
and Scotty's Castle.
Day 10 - Death Valley National Park (south), 100 miles:
Most of the well known Death Valley locations are in the south
, especially Badwater
, Artists Drive, Dante's View
and Zabriskie Point
, but there are dozens of other sites, reachable by short paths, longer hikes or back roads.
Day 11 - Death Valley to Las Vegas, 180 miles:
The return journey to Las Vegas is via Death Valley Junction and Pahrump, with a visit en route to the clear springs and streams of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
. Just before entering the city, another short diversion passes Red Rock Canyon
, featuring huge sandstone cliffs and colorful eroded rocks.