Ready for a beautiful ride through the desert, followed by a relaxing dip in the pool? Ready for stargazing outside the hotel in the warm October night? Ready to catch a glimpse of a wild burro in the ghost town ruins? Well hold your horses, we aren't headed to Italy or France, we're off to the old American West - California's Death Valley to be exact!
Did you know that Backroads has a short biking trip to Death Valley? Or that Death Valley was the FIRST Backroads trip led by company founder Tom Hale 40 years ago? Read on for an overview of the ins and outs of this sunny desert getaway to see if it's right for you.
This Backroads trip is shorter than most - but that's a good thing! I took this trip while we were in the middle of a big project at work, so I couldn't get away for a whole week. But even though I was only out of the office three days, I felt like I had a full adventure.
I flew to Las Vegas Friday night, had Saturday to explore this famous city before the trip, met the Backroads group on Sunday and was heading home Wednesday night. This is a great trip for those with family or work commitments, or anyone who may just be looking for a quick taste of the Southwest and a speedy getaway to truly get outside the routine and reset.
Although it's only a four-day, three-night trip, we made the most of each day by having a big activity every afternoon and evening. The three amazing bike rides and one hike kept us active even on travel days, and I felt like we managed to fit a satisfying amount of fun experiences into our trip.
¡Viva Las Vegas!
Beginning and ending in Las Vegas makes this trip easy to get to, which is key to making this a quick getaway. The trip starts and finishes at a major hotel on the Strip, which also makes getting to the meet location a simple walk or cab ride. Some of my fellow travelers had some big plans in Vegas after our Backroads trip (tickets to see Cher in concert!) and really made the most of this wild and crazy city.
But if the neon and noise put you off, there are alternatives. Renting a car or getting a lift to nearby town of Henderson, for example, will give you a quieter, more authentic Nevadan atmosphere. Here you can stay at the Westin Lake Las Vegas, where President Obama has stayed when visiting the area. Instead of shopping and strolling the Strip, state parks like Red Rock Canyon and Spring Mountain Ranch are just an hour's drive away. I personally enjoyed seeing this side of Nevada.
You will be in awe of the desolation and silence, the vastness, the color of the rock. It is such a cool (well, hot) place. I honestly had no idea beforehand - it just was not on my radar - but I am so grateful that this trip fell into place for me and that I got to see it with Backroads. Riding a bike through that terrain, through the openness of the valley, was an incredible sensation. I've never seen or felt anything like it.
It was a total contrast from my life in the Bay Area and I loved exploring something so new to me, so harsh, yet stunning in its own way. While the landscape on this trip is varied and wondrous, it is all desert. So make sure your expectations are set and you come ready to appreciate this formidable ecosystem.
Usually I hate riding in the heat, but Death Valley was different. I hardly noticed it was an unseasonably warm 95 degrees outside. While the heat affects everyone differently, I found that I didn't seem to sweat in the dry heat (or rather, the heat quickly dried the sweat before I could notice) which made the bike rides more bearable. Many other guests made similar observations.
More than I expected, I valued having the Backroads van support in this region (after all, it is called Death Valley) and knowing someone was coming by with water and an offer of escape from the heat. While the emptiness is part of the appeal of spending time in the desert, it's important that someone is watching out for you while you are out cycling in this kind of heat and terrain.
On this trip we stayed at the aptly named Oasis at Death Valley all three nights - there's not really anything else in the area - and it really was an oasis. I was actually happy about only having one hotel because it meant I could settle into my room and get to know the property. While most Backroads trips have you moving from hotel to hotel, which is great for scenic variety, I spend so much time on the go that I liked standing still for a moment and just being. And by "being" I mean being in the pool, on my balcony watching the sunset, at the rooftop wine reception, walking on the dunes and salt flats, and riding past mountains made of dusty pink, purple and peach hues. Unpacking my bag let me fully relax and take in my surroundings.
A bit about dining at the hotel restaurant: the ingredients were fresh and their menu was creative and modern, but it was simple compared to the elaborate food on other Backroads experiences. I still enjoyed the meal thoroughly, but if eating well is your top priority when you travel, you may want to dive into the five-star restaurants in Vegas before heading out to Death Valley.
Remembering Death Valley
This was a trip that I never knew I needed to take. I am so glad that everything came together as it did to get me to the middle of the desert with my Backroads leaders and fellow guests. I love knowing that I visited a location that is not only part of California's unique history, but also part of Backroads' history as our company rides on into its next 40 years.