A road trip through southern Nevada and southern California was in store for my mother, brother, and me this past summer. I planned our itinerary and driving routes with specific emphasis on experiencing a variety of landscapes. Famous for sprawling metropolises, a mirage of interstates, and pop culture, this area of America also offers pristine natural surroundings and plenty of outdoor activities. Take advantage of a hike if you are headed west this fall! Temperatures cooling down and summer crowds subsiding makes autumn an ideal time for exploring the desert.
Your trip will be most successful here by planning ahead, researching available trails, and creating a feasible driving outline. Note that most rental car companies only allow drivers over 25 years old. (My mother was our only legal driver; despite a few instances of hyperventilation on 18-lane Los Angeles freeways, I am proud of her stamina.) Enjoy!
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Keystone Thrust Trail
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area; Las Vegas, Nevada
Found midway on the area’s one-way 13-mile scenic loop road, this is an awesome hike to experience several fascinating desert landscapes. The Keystone Thrust is an amazing geological feature that exposes both the Pacific and North American continental plates. Vivid rock colors and textures are on full display from centuries of tectonic plate movement. The most common type of rock featured is Aztec sandstone, the foundation of the area’s dramatic mountain vistas. The expansive valley, filled with interesting stones and brush less than 2 feet high, seems to stretch endlessly to the horizon. The trail winds up a gradual ascent with stunning scenery in all directions. The Las Vegas skyline can also be seen in the distance on a clear day. Red Rock Canyon is located approximately 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip and is easily accessible from the city. Red Rock Canyon’s official website provides ample information for visitors – http://www.redrockcanyonlv.org.
Desert View Trail
Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness; Palm Springs, California
Mount San Jacinto majestically rises above the desert floor reminiscent of an ancient Egyptian sphinx. The enormous land mass is plainly visible from Palm Springs and surrounding areas. A hiker’s dream awaits in the pristine 14,000-acre wilderness atop the mountain. A forty-degree temperature drop is a glorious respite from the desert heat. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway transports guests along Chino Canyon to the 8,516 feet-elevated Mountain Station, which houses a few shops, restaurants, theatres, and observation decks. From there, endless trails are readily accessible. The Desert View Trail loops through the wilderness and offers five “notches” with jaw-dropping vistas of the San Jacinto mountain range, Palm Springs, and the wide Coachella Valley far below. Towering trees, huge rocks, and vivid greenery contribute to Mount San Jacinto’s common reference as “an island in the sky”. Visit www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=636 for seasonal hikes and further state park information.
Painted Canyon Hike
This unique hike is well off the beaten path, but worth every second once found. Located near the small town of Mecca east of Palm Springs, the last four and a half miles of Painted Canyon’s access road is total sand. A reliable vehicle is a necessity to find this hike’s trailhead! The Painted Canyon trail is also desert sand, which makes for a memorable hiking experience. Stones positioned in the shape of arrows in the sand guide hikers along the way. Towering red rocks occupy both sides of the trail, with some passages so narrow one must turn sideways to pass through! How the earth formed these natural passes and crevices is amazing. Ladders installed by the Palm Springs Hiking Association make steep sections more manageable. The end reward is a sweeping view of the Coachella Valley with the Salton Sea in the distance. Find more details about Painted Canyon’s location at www.hiking-in-ps.com/mecca-hills-painted-canyon-ladder-canyon-hike.
Razor Point Trail and Beach Trail
Torrey Pines State Reserve; San Diego, California
Between San Diego and Del Mar, Torrey Pines State Reserve offers several hiking trails winding along dramatic sandstone cliffs with views of the Pacific Ocean. The spot is named for the distinct pines dotting the ocean in this area of the state. 1,500 acres of land are protected here with several species of seabirds using the lagoons and beaches as a refuge. There is a nominal fee for the reserve’s numerous parking lots, which are located at sea level and at higher elevations for cliff access. The Razor Point Trail’s highlight is the Yucca Point Overlook with views of extensive sage brush, native yucca flowers, and striking sandstone erosion. A descent of 300 feet is found on the Beach Trail, offering access to the Pacific waters. A recommended plan is to park at the reserve’s northern entrance, take advantage of a cliffside trail, descend to the beach, and walk back to the parking lot with the waves hitting your feet. This unique location is a pleasant break from the busyness of southern California’s coastal communities. Next door is the famous PGA-related Torrey Pines Golf Course for any golf enthusiasts who may be traveling through the area. Trail maps and area information are located at torreypine.org.
Catalina Garden to Sky Trail
Catalina Island is shrouded with intrigue because of its history as an escape for celebrities and locals alike. Getting to the most famous of California’s Channel Islands is half the fun. Located approximately 25 miles from Los Angeles’ coastline, Catalina is only accessible by ferry. The island’s appearance on the horizon from the morning fog signals an awesome experience for a traveler. Avalon, Catalina’s principle town, is likened to those along the Mediterranean Sea because of its interesting architecture, structures built into the steep cliffs, and large harbor filled with boats of all shapes and sizes. The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens is located at the opposite end of Avalon Valley from Avalon. Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. worked to conserve Catalina in the early 20th century and a large, aggregate stone memorial was built here in his honor. Access is included to the Garden to Sky Trail, which winds through Catalina’s hills and culminates with a 360-degree view of the island and deep blue ocean waters. Visit Catalina’s official visitor site for more information – www.visitcatalinaisland.com.