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How to do the great American road trip: Nevada and Southern California

Simon Calder’s Travel

“You know the best thing about Nevada? No mosquitoes!” The elderly assistant at the Mesquite Welcome Center was full of useful titbits as we exchanged experiences at this roadside rest stop.

His mosquito comment was offered after he learned we had driven all the way from Florida in our RV, a distance of 6,200 miles to date. Originally from the Sunshine State himself, he and his wife had settled in north-east Nevada and were thrilled at the lack of biting insects.

The absence of mosquitoes was definitely noticeable, but it wasn’t why we had taken I-15 south from Utah. This was our route to Nevada’s famous Sin City, but also a wealth of national parks and preserves.

It had started with a stunning landscape transformation through the challenging Virgin River Gorge across north-west Arizona. This 30-mile stretch of twisting, tortured highway featured a 1,500ft elevation drop and a series of switchbacks and bridges through limestone cliffs that loomed 1,000ft above our RV, Indefatigable (or Fati for short).

It was the most expensive highway ever built when completed in 1973, at a cost of $1.63 million per mile, after a 17-year construction process. Today it still provides a riveting 45-minute montage of geological wonders through the main gorge, emerging at the final bend into the dramatic Mojave Desert, complete with cactus, Joshua trees and tumbleweed.

Our minds were suitably boggled even before we reached Mesquite and its mosquito-less environment. We took a picnic lunch up to the Foothills Trailhead, affording a commanding view of the Virgin River Valley and convergence of three immense ecosystems – Utah’s Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau and the Mojave.

The classic desert panorama spread out to the southern horizon, a deceptively benign vista that was to be our constant companion for the next month. Utah had provided plenty of rugged, arid wilderness, but Nevada’s desert profile was on a different scale, an entire state composed of seemingly barren wasteland.

It’s easy to see why the Valley of Fire has been chosen by film crews looking for offworld backdrops

As we continued south on I-15, the impression of bleak emptiness was quickly dispelled, thanks to our commanding view from Fati’s cab as, once again, our RV perspective proved invaluable.

Given the extra elevation, we could see definite signs of life amid the…

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