So the story is that I had to get from Las Vegas to San Francisco over the weekend of May 3-4. Frankly, it's an easy drive that can be dispatched with little effort using major state roads and/or interstates. After all, as the ICBM flies, the trip is less than 400 miles.
However ... good road trips always have a however ... in case you didn't know, there are mountains in between Vegas and SFO, thus making the route somewhat longer even by the most direct route. Given that your author avoids doing anything directly, I picked the most circuitous possible.
If you ever have the chance, you should drive my route. It delivered some of the best driving I've ever experienced. Plan on two days.
Here's the route: Leave Las Vegas headed west for Pahrump on #160. I couldn't pass up the chance to hit the track at Spring Mountain. This upscale and beautifully maintained country club type race track facility hosts plenty of media events. Running hard at Spring Mountain let me get to know the limits of the Elise SC so I wouldn't be tempted to push on public roads.
After some track time, I continued north on #160 until I hit #372 west out of Pahrump (and Nevada) to California's Shoshone. When you hit #127, head north to #178, then turn east directly into the center of Death Valley. Be forewarned, stretches of #178 are rough (as in paved, but bumpy asphalt). (The shot below looks south as #178 stretches to the horizon just below Furnace Creek.)
Drive nearly forever on #178, until you reach #190 and turn left (west). Run this road until it hits #136 and go North. At this point, you've got time for a breather, and you may want to bed down in a nice place like Mammouth Lakes.
As you relax over a nice meal, you'll reflect on a day of driving through some of most foreboding land in all the world. Some stretches of road are so long, straight and open that you'll be tempted to break all known speed limits. Other sections provide mile after mile of corners. If you have someone riding shotgun, they better not be prone to motion sickness; they'll be ready to walk back to Vegas before you're 30 miles into Death Valley. Highway #190 is especially spectacular in terms of being a classic driver's road. The switchbacks just keep coming. Enjoy, but stay sharp, because one wrong move could get you killed. (The shot below is taken at the dunes that run parallel to #190 at the western edge of Death Valley.)
Keep in mind that doing this in the summer represents a risk due to heat ... it is the hottest place in North America. My springtime run proved nearly perfect; not too hot and not too cold.
The second part of the drive is equally exciting. Take #395 north to #120 through Yosemite National Park. Even at a walking pace you'll find the roads enjoyable. I had driven them last fall, and when I came through this time, snow drifts had the roads closed. My second choice was SR#89. It was closed because of snow too. My third choice was SR#108, also closed. So that left SR#88 as my last hope before hooking up with Highway 50 out of Carson City.
Given my recollection of #120, take that road if you can. SR#88 wasn't terrible, but compared to the going through Yosemite, well, there was no comparison.
These mountain passes take you from an arid climate to a lush forest setting. The mountain vistas will figurative order you to stop and enjoy them. I would have, but it was snowing. I did take a photo out my windshield, and in the high-resolution version, you can see a wolf on the left side of the road about 100 yards ahead of the car. He darted off into the wilderness before I could get any closer.
After you're through the mountains, it really doesn't matter where you go ... you could drive to Los Angeles or San Francisco. Both are easily accessable on completely forgattable roads. Be careful or you'll want to turn around and head back the exact same way to Las Vegas.
Stay tuned for another installment where I talk about what it's like to road trip in a Lotus Elise.