I must admit I had never thought of the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as particularly exciting, given that the entire drive is through desert.
That’s until I did a little research.
On my TrekAmerica trip 10 years ago, we had driven the other way from Vegas to LA, and literally the only thing I remember about the drive was our excitement at seeing this HUGE rollercoaster looming out of the Nevadan desert at a casino resort, followed abruptly by our disappointment that it was shut.
Little did I know that we would end up making quite a few stops this time around – and none of them were for the rollercoaster. Enough fun stops, in fact, to warrant this entire blog post about a day’s drive between two cities.
The drive alone takes roughly four hours, and we had opted to stay the right side of LA to get a good start on the route. Handily, I had found a totally awesome place to stay, too.
IT’S A WIG WAM MOTEL!
This was actually by far the most expensive place we stayed on the whole trip (you can get 10% off with this link!), but for novelty value and quirkiness, it was SO worth it! There is another one in Holbrook, Arizona, which for the location and history might have been much cooler, but from what I gather the actual motels are carbon copies of each other.
This one is in San Bernardino; not one of LA’s best areas by some stretch. But we weren’t there to explore; we were there to stay in a wig wam and then drive to Vegas. In fact, we’d arrived pretty late after our jaunt in San Diego, and went straight to bed. It was only in the morning when we weren’t in any rush that we explored the “motel” – but we didn’t go anywhere in San Bernardino except to leave.
We swiftly bypassed Victorville, apparently one of the most dangerous places in the US, and turned off highway 15 onto a small road that runs pretty much parallel with the highway towards Barstow – but with much more interesting sights! It’s part of the historic route 66, which instantly makes it infinitely more interesting than the highway anyway.
We passed the craziest looking antique store I’ve ever seen but we didn’t stop. We could have stopped at so many old-looking places along here (gas stations etc), but while it was fun to see them, I didn’t find them “photo-worthy” enough to pull over – because we had so many other places to stop on the route!
Our number one priority on this road was Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Surprisingly, it’s fairly unassuming from the roadside – we pulled into an unpaved side road and parked the car there, but it turned out we probably could have parked in something a little more akin to a car park the other side of the… ranch. I don’t know what else to even call it. Ranch is probably the best word for it.
The bottle tree ranch is probably an Instagrammer’s dream, but despite that I was thrilled to see we were almost the only people there. A couple were already there when we arrived and left soon after, and two guys, after struggling to figure out where to park (that’s their car by the side of the road, opposite the ranch), came in shortly after the couple left.
I had a lot of fun photographing this place, but Ash also got some great photos of me, too!
While that was the only stop we made along that road, we stopped at quite a few places in nearby Barstow, where we rejoined the 15.
The first was this unique McDonald’s – which was actually much more than McDonald’s! There were several shops and arcades and eateries inside this old train station, but the biggest draw is the fact the McDonald’s is inside a train carriage!
It was a funky stop, and as we weren’t going to have lunch there, I took advantage and got a cup of tea for my flask. She stared at my flask.
“I can’t take that from you.”
She turned away without an explanation, filled up a bloody paper cup with hot water, handed me a teabag and charged me for tea!!!
My mind turned back to my friend Jeremy’s outburst in the McDonald’s in Victoria. “WHADDAYA MEAN YOU DON’T *RECYCLE*?!?!” he’d shouted. This was even worse. They not only didn’t recycle, but they wouldn’t take my metal flask, in case what? There’s a bomb in there? They cut themselves on the fucking lid?
Either way, I haven’t been to a McDonald’s since. If they want to be so petty and screw the environment, then go for it, but I won’t be part of it. If they want to charge someone for a cup of tea without even putting the bloody teabag in the cup, then I’ll go somewhere that knows how to make a cup of tea. Jesus Christ, McDonald’s, it’s not difficult.
Anyway, I poured my tea into my flask and off we went to the outskirts of Barstow, where we decided to grab lunch at the much nicer (and iconic) Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner.
It felt touristy as hell, to be honest, but we persevered and had a very decent meal in there; a 50’s themed burger with curly fries and potato salad, complete with milkshakes. All the burgers were named after people – you could have the Marlon Brando burger (which I had!), or a John Wayne roll, or a Patti Page Patty Melt, or a Tina Turner Tuna Sandwich!
It was also huge in there. We passed through two full rooms – a typical diner setting and a larger room with a fireplace (if I remember right?) – before being seated in a big room full of pictures and fun things to look at! There was one more room beyond ours, plus one that had a pizza counter and looked like a typical old pizza parlour, and finally a huge conservatory!
In the end, it felt delightfully touristy. The shop was fun to look around (they had some really cool metal signs and one had the Wig Wam Motel on it!!! We bought one that had a map of the States with each state represented by a car number plate), they have dinosaurs out the back (or diner-saurs!), and there are a few fun photo opportunities, too.
With our bellies full, we were off to another nearby attraction: Calico ghost town!
I had been determined to visit a ghost town on our trip, and we had missed out on going to Brodie State Park, which is supposed to be really cool. There were a couple in Montana that I thought we might get to, but to be sure of patching one in to our itinerary, Calico ghost town was the most accessible.
Calico ghost town is cool!
…except it’s not.
It honestly could be really, really cool. All the buildings are excellently preserved, to the point that you don’t REALLY mind paying the $8 fee to get in. I thought that the entry was pretty steep, but I was just excited to be visiting a real mining ghost town out in the American desert!
The problem was, it was Hallowe’en.
Which meant that the entire place was ruined by ghosts and sheets and stupid decorations that really didn’t need to be there.
It was such a shame, because I enjoyed the things that had been preserved properly. But it was so commercialised. The old general store was awesome inside, but had signs up saying you’ll have to pay to take photos, and then at the back they’ve tacked on an extension with an actual shop. Nothing really felt authentic; it was like a poor Disneyland.
You even have to pay extra to go on a little mining train for five minutes. I’m sure it would be fun, but it’s already expensive to visit and we weren’t about to throw MORE money at something that had turned out to be such an anti-climax.
This was one of the biggest disappointments of the whole trip, I think!
We swiftly moved on towards Baker.
Baker was delightfully tacky.
It sounds funny after complaining about how tacky somewhere is, but at least Baker doesn’t pretend to be authentic. It’s just outlandishly brilliant.
The main stop in the tiny town was this crazy alien-themed store, housed in a wacky alien building. We couldn’t resist buying some alien jerky – we did NOT buy the “invisible jerky”, though!
There was even a car parked outside with aliens in!
It was a bit like Roswell, except not quite as full on. It was just this one place that was crazy.
Baker is also home to the world’s largest thermometer, but I was too distracted by aliens to really care about that.
It was time to get to Nevada – we had two more stops on our list.
The first was just inside Nevada, and it’s probably one you’ve seen around the internet. Just past Primm’s massive casino and rollercoaster, you can turn off the highway and find this colourful collection of rocks that someone’s put together in the middle of the desert and called art.
I was actually really excited to see the Seven Magic Mountains, and they did not disappoint! They were colourful and magic and really funky.
We got there just before sunset, which was a perfect time to snap them. Unfortunately, plenty of people think the same thing. We were sort of lucky in that lots of people were leaving just as we arrived, and we had about ten minutes of it being fairly quiet before the sunset rush turned up.
It was still hard to get photos without people in. However, I was just glad to have seen them at all! They were talking about taking the installation down over the summer as it was going to be a two-year exhibit, but decided to extend it to the end of this year.
I still had lots of fun photographing them!
By the time we got to our final stop, it was getting dark.
But that’s fine, because it was a pub!
And not just any old pub. This is the Pioneer Saloon! A historic saloon bar in the middle of the American desert!
It looked and felt like it had been plucked straight out of a Western movie – and it held the authenticity that Calico had been missing.
Not only that, but we got chatting to the barmaid and she took us to the next room where there’s a memorial to Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. She told us the history of Lombard’s ill-fated flight, which crashed nearby. Clark Gable reportedly spent three days in the bar, waiting for news of his wife.
But the most fun fact of all that we learned there?
Ash hadn’t made the connection, but we were in Goodsprings; the town from Fallout: New Vegas. And the Pioneer Saloon is the ACTUAL starting point in the game!
We had been contemplating grabbing dinner here before we made our way into Vegas, but we wanted to make the most of our first evening in the city, so we begrudgingly said our goodbyes (although not before the barmaid added us on Facebook! She was so fun!).
It had been a surprisingly fun day. There were bound to be tacky stops and dud stops, but that didn’t stop us having a lot of fun, and I think we absolutely made the most of it! We could have just driven straight to Vegas and had a couple of extra hours there, but where’s the fun and adventure in that?
Which of these would you like to stop at the most?! (Don’t say Calico. Just don’t!)
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