Across the Mojave

Across the Mojave: Las Vegas to San Diego

by Bob McCormac

Las Vegas is usually a final destination for most people landing at McCarran International Airport. While it’s worth a couple days to take in the glitz of Las Vegas, the approximately 335-mile drive through the Mojave Desert to San Diego is really a segue that should not be missed.

The Mojave Desert is almost 48,000 square miles in area and takes its name from the Mojave Tribe that roamed this expanse from early times.  The Mojave also contains the lowest point in the United States, Death Valley at 279 feet below sea level.  Additionally, there are many points in the Mojave considered “high desert” (2000 feet and above).  The highest point is Charleston Peak at 11,219 feet. There’s not a lot vegetation in the Mojave with the Joshua being the dominant and most distinctive of what you will see on your way.

If you make the trip across the Mojave, make an early start as temperatures can rise quickly in the desert making for an uncomfortable trip that will take at least five hours.  Temperatures can range from 15 – 120 Fahrenheit with the highest recorded temperature of 134 Fahrenheit at Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

Hop on Interstate 15 out of Las Vegas and just keep driving!  The early part of the drive shows Las Vegas’ extended influence including Primm, Nevada.  Primm has a couple casinos, hotels, shopping outlets and other attractions and is the final stop before crossing into California.

Moon setting behind the mountains early in the morning

Moon setting behind the mountains early in the morning

The drive along I-15 is interesting especially for anyone that loves nature.  As the road winds through the desert, a short 20 minutes of driving can bring dramatic changes in scenery.

Rising sun illuminating the valley floor of the Mojave

Rising sun illuminating the valley floor of the Mojave

Another good reason to start out early on your trip is to make sure you catch the sun rising over the mountain tops in the desert.  It’s an unbelievable sight that can be seen comfortably from one of the few rest areas along I-15.

In the Mojave

In the Mojave

Even as the sun is rising over the mountains, the moon takes its time receding from your sight and can often be seen in full daylight against the majestic landscape.

Moon in the Sky

Moon in the Sky

If you’re of the mind to extend your trip a bit, there are several cities in California along the way that might entice you to stop, including: Barstow, Victorville, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Escondido.  If you’re interested in a longer side trip, Big Bear Lake east of San Bernardino is a worthy excursion.

Continuing on, I-15 turns into I-215 and back again to I-15 which runs straight into San Diego.  San Diego has a huge US Navy presence for the Pacific fleet, so some areas will be off limits unless you are with an active or retired naval personnel which fortunately we were during this trip.

Be patient while driving in around San Diego as the auto traffic can be quite heavy at any time of day. If you have a particular place you’re intending to stop be sure to map it out ahead of time so you know what Interstate exit you will getting off.

One of the most picturesque areas of San Diego is La Jolla Cove. La Jolla is a town within San Diego’s city limits to the north that has about seven miles of rocky coastline that draws hundreds of visitors daily for its expansive views and the wildlife that inhabits the coast.

Waves crashing at La Jolla Cove

Waves crashing at La Jolla Cove

Be sure to spend time enjoying the wildlife while at La Jolla Cove

Seals sunning themselves on one of the many rocks

Seals sunning themselves on one of the many rocks

Pelicans waiting for their next meal

Pelicans waiting for their next meal

If you are fortunate enough to be able to access the North Beach area in San Diego, the views can keep you mesmerized for hours.

Looking up North Beach toward the Del Coronado Hotel in the distance

Lifeguard Box on North Beach

Lifeguard Box on North Beach

Point Loma at sunset seen from North Beach

Point Loma at sunset seen from North Beach

There’s a lot to see on the drive from Las Vegas to San Diego and you can easily stretch your trip to 10 or more hours if you so choose with stops in the desert and side trips to some cities along the way.  Enjoy it!

About the Author

Bob McCormacBob McCormac is primarily a landscape and travel photographer from New Jersey in the USA.  Bob spent forty years as an information technology professional before deciding to pursue a long held passion for photography. Bob considers his style as simple and direct; trying not to over complicate the shot while still conveying the feeling.

You can follow Bob at his portfolio site, MAC Photography and on Facebook.

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