Hello and Ack Ack Ack!
As already mentioned in the description of our blog, we do not want to limit ourselves to road trips in areas where we have been ourselves. So, in order to introduce you to unknown routes, I do a lot of research and combine this information to new road trip suggestions. Most importantly, it allows me to focus on specific topics and to work out routes that combine classic sights on the one hand and special interests on the other.
This is exactly what I did for the road trip I want to present here: a journey through California and Nevada – on the trail of aliens!
This idea was inspired by the movie “Paul“, which is a homage to both classic alien movies (Steven Spielberg sends his regards by phone in the movie) and to geeks. In this movie, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost go on an alien road trip and, unexpectedly, meet Paul, a real alien. Both the route they planned and the one they actually took are nicely presented in the blog Haulin’ Balls Winnebago, as well as a route along the filming locations.
So I took some ideas from the movie and added a few more alien aspects to it and introduced them into a classic road trip through the southwest of the USA! Since you often do not have as many vacation days at your disposal as you would like, I limited myself to a trip of two weeks for now. In a later article, I will present a variant of this trip which will be designed for three weeks. Those who come from Europe like us often underestimate the distances in countries like the USA, Canada or Australia. A road trip in these countries should include enough stops along the way so that the travel time per day is not too long. In order to shorten the overall journey, I have chose to draft a one-way road trip that starts in Los Angeles and ends in San Francisco. If you have two nights more time, you can of course take the beautiful Pacific Highway 1 back to Los Angeles. Altogether, two weeks are the absolute minimum for such a trip, the distances are just too long for a shorter trip and already like this, the programme is really tight.
- Duration: 13 days plus arrival and homeward journey, hence 14 nights
- Start: Los Angeles
- End: San Francisco
- Distance in total: 1.751 km = 1.088 mi, plus the day trip to the Valley of Fire and the alien day trip as well as the visits in the national parks
- Themes: aliens, desert, nature, city
View the route on Google Maps.
Since you can only enter a maximum of ten stops on Google Maps, I did not include the two day trips from Las Vegas in this map. Also the detours to Carmel-by-the-Sea and to the Point Lobos State Reserve unfortunately did not fit on it anymore.
During the planning I made sure that the overnight stays in Las Vegas do not fall on weekend nights, because the hotel prices multiply on weekends. If possible, you should also avoid visiting Sequoia National Park at the weekend.
Since much of the route runs through the desert, you should be prepared to get up early. Sightseeing and even more so hiking should be done early in the morning. It is best to get up before sunrise and then start the hike with the very first dawn. During the day, the temperature is often around 40°C, so sightseeings are no fun and hiking is indeed dangerous. Thus, it is better to use the lunch time for the drives in an air-conditioned car.
Saturday: Arrival in Los Angeles
The first day is for the journey to Los Angeles. If you are travelling from Europe, you will hardly lose any time due to the time difference and may already be able to use the day to get a first impression of the city.
For this purpose, I suggest a bus trip to the Griffith Observatory, which you have probably already seen in one or the other movie (and in Star Trek: Voyager, S3E8). If you go there in daylight, you will have a wonderful view of the Hollywood sign and the city. When it is dark, the observatory provides telescopes outside. Of course, you can also visit the observatory during the day and in the evening and get in the mood for the alien road trip. Did I mention that the event room there is named after its donor Leonard Nimoy?
Sunday: Los Angeles
Then you have a whole day to visit Los Angeles. Obvious choices are Hollywood with its Walk of Fame and Hollywood Boulevard as well as a studio tour.
You can also make a side trip to the beach.
Also Pasadena is said to be very beautiful, as you can sit in cafés and stroll through the streets there.
Those who already want to go in search of aliens can also look out for space invaders! The street art artist Invader has already made 10 invasions in Los Angeles, the last one in 2018, during which he attached his famous mosaics to buildings in the city.
Monday: Start of the road trip with the drive from Los Angeles to Barstow (281 km = 174 mi, including the detours described)
On Monday, the real journey starts! In the morning you have to pick up your rental car first, then you drive towards Barstow. There are several possible stops along the way.
If you did not get around to it the day before, you can now stop in Pasadena and have a second breakfast, if you feel at ease crossing a big city with a new rental car.
Further stops along the way are, for example, the Vasquez Rocks near Agua Dulce, where Simon Pegg and Nick Frost also stop in “Paul”. The Vasquez Rocks have already served as a backdrop in countless movies, including the first Star Trek series: With an acting masterpiece, Captain Kirk fights a Gorn (E19).
Towards the end of the route, you can make a small detour by changing to the famous Route 66 in Victorville and driving on it until Barstow. On Route 66, you can stop at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch.
Tuesday: Drive from Barstow to Las Vegas (253 km = 157 mi, not including the detour to the Soda Springs Healing Center)
Barstow only serves to divide the route, so that the next day, the journey continues directly to Las Vegas. During this drive, you can stop at various diners along the way, especially Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner or Whiskey Pete’s.
At the very beginning of the Mojave National Preserve you can also make a detour of about 8 km = 5 mi (plus 8 km = 5 mi back) along Zzyzx Road to the Soda Springs Healing Center, an empty and almost eerie looking complex.
Also a short detour to the Mojave National Preserve itself may be worth the trip, for example towards Teutonia Peak Trail. There, you can see the Joshua Trees, which only grow in this area, without having to make the detour via Joshua Tree National Park. You will find a helpful discription of the different stops (in English) at the blog California through my lens.
In the evening you can get a first impression of Las Vegas and its famous strip. You can stay there for three nights and make day trips from Las Vegas to save a few moves.
Wednesday: Valley of Fire (169 km = 105 mi, including way back, but not including the visits in the park, Google maps)
The first day trip leads into the Valley of Fire. Since it is usually very hot here, you should start very early in the morning and also take into account the one hour drive from Las Vegas. The most important hiking trails in the park (Fire Wave, White Domes, Rainbow Vista and Fire Canyon) are all quite short, 1 to 2 km, so that they can be done even in the heat. Many other sights are located directly next to the road (Beehives, Elephant Rock, Seven Sisters, Petroglyphs). Since there is not always someone there at the entrance, you should take a $10 bill for the entrance and an envelope and pen with you (thanks to the (German) website USA Reisetipps for this helpful advice).
Back in Las Vegas it is worth a walk along Fremont Street and its side streets to the Container Park with its cafés and boutiques. I came across this through the beautiful (German) blog Black Dots White Spots.
Thursday: Alien-Trip (478 km = 296 mi, including way back, Google maps)
The second day trip is all about the alien search! Unfortunately, the drive is rather long and you cannot design it as a round trip, so you have to go there and back on the same street. Go north, the destination is Rachel, Nevada.
The first stop is in Crystal Springs, where the Extraterrestrial (ET) Highway 375 begins. Here, you will also find the Alien Research Center, which you can recognise by its huge alien. Actually, this is just a souvenir shop. I could not find out, however, whether and when it is open, as the information on the different blogs and websites contradict each other.
After about 31 km = 19 mi you come to the Black Mailbox at an intersection, even if the mailbox is white by now. Again, the information on the internet is not quite clear, but in all the reports I read, they did find the mailbox.
At this intersection, you could theoretically turn left and drive to Area 51, but I would not recommend it. Apparently, there is nothing to see except a fence, and the drive is boring and not suitable for every rental car. However, if you want to go there, I recommend to read the blog article of theshellmeisterblog, even if it is already from 2012.
Without the detour to Area 51, we continue from the Black Mailbox on the ET Highway to Rachel, where the Little A’Le’Inn Café is located, our last destination for today. Here you can eat Alien Burgers or, like Simon Pegg, drink a Malt with a Sparkler, although I could not find the latter on the pictures of the menu.
Friday: Drive from Las Vegas to Stovepipe Wells in the Death Valley National Park (243 km = 151 mi, not including the visits in the park)
Now we continue our journey to the Death Valley National Park, I suggest Stovepipe Wells to spend the night. Actually, it is apparently a little unusual to stay overnight in the Death Valley itself, but personally, I think the driving time for one day would be too long otherwise and this way you can also admire the sunrise in the desert the next morning.
Shortly before the entrance to the national park you can make a stop at the ghost town Rhyolite.
The Death Valley rightly bears its name because it is a desert with extraordinarily high temperatures. The deepest point is 86 m below sea level and it is a very inhospitable, but unique region. I suggest to visit the most important view points of the park in the late afternoon, as the light is supposed to be very good at this time. The Badwater Basin, the Zabriskie Point and the Devil’s Golf Course are the places to visit. You will find a good overview of the different sights (in English) at the blog Smiles from abroad.
Saturday: Drive from Stovepipe Wells to Wofford Heights (264 km = 164 mi, not including the drive to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes)
As said before, the sunrise in the Death Valley is supposed to be worthwhile, for example in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells. Afterwards, one leaves the national park in western direction and drives to Lake Isabella.
There are several places where you can stay overnight, for example in Wofford Heights. After the barren desert it will do you good to see some green again. The end of the track already passes through the Sequoia National Forest, but is not yet part of the Sequoia National Park. The road is said to be a bit twisty, but much more scenic than the alternative route via Bakersfield.
Sunday: Drive from Wofford Heights to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park (167 km = 104 mi, not including drives in the park)
The next day, we continue to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, which actually consists of two parts, namely Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. Here, two nights are a good idea to relax a little from the days in the desert and the many trips. Upon arrival, you can go to one of the Visitor Centers to get information and choose a hike for the next day!
In the afternoon you can of course get a first impression of the parks and their huge trees and do a first small hike. You could for example do the Congress Trail, which also leads you to the General Sherman Tree, the biggest tree in the world.
Monday: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Now you have a full day for the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. A small or big hike is certainly worthwhile here, you can also go by car to various sights. Among the highlights of the parks are the Tunnel Log, which is a tunnel through a fallen tree, Crescent Meadow, Crystal Cave, Moro Rock and several waterfalls.
Tuesday: Drive from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park to Fresno (126 km = 78 mi)
The journey continues, this time to Fresno. Admittedly, the stop in Fresno serves primarily to divide the route. But I think it will be nice to get back to civilisation and see people and business.
Wednesday: Drive from Fresno to Monterey (246 km = 153 mi, not including detour to Carmel-by-the-Sea and Point Lobos State Reserve)
After desert and forest, next stop at the sea! From Fresno we drive to the coast, partly on the Pacific Highway, and visit the beautiful towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea and stay overnight in one of them.
If there is still time left, you can also make a detour to the Point Lobos State Reserve and admire the beautiful coastal nature as well as sea lions and sea otters and, with a little luck, whales.
Thursday: Drive from Monterey to San Francisco (171 km = 106 mi, not including detour to Point Lobos State Reserve)
If you did not have enough time the day before, you can still visit the Point Lobos State Reserve before heading to San Francisco.
Depending on your taste, you can make stops along the way, for example in San Jose or Palo Alto, or drive through to have more time in San Francisco.
There, you return your rental car and check into your hotel, hopefully there is still time to explore the city.
Friday: San Francisco
The last day is for San Francisco. Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, China Town and the Cable Cars are certainly the city’s landmarks, and the Fisherman’s Wharf is also said to be worth a visit. At its Pier 39, you can see sea lions again. Around Union Square, you can also just drift around and explore the city centre.
Saturday: Homeward journey from von San Francisco
For the journey home one should again take into account the time difference. For Europeans this means that you should allow for two days.
Live long, and prosper.
Have you ever thought about an alien vacation? Which other movie road trip would you like to take?
Do you have photos of the places described here and would like to share them with us? Send them to us and we will be happy to publish them (with or without mentioning your name, depending on your preference)!
The main picture above is taken from pixabay with the rights to use it. We only do that for the road trips that are still on our bucket list (something we clearly state in the text) and we choose a picture we could (= quality) and would (= motive) have taken ourselves.