Weekend escapes from Las Vegas: 8 reasons to hit the road

Pie! Cowboys! Flintstones photo ops! And so much more …

At Bedrock City in Williams, Arizona, the Stone-Age cartoon comes to life.

Flintstone’s Bedrock City, Arizona

There comes that unfortunate moment in life when the line between entertainment and reality is solidified and you’re left swallowing the bitter truth that Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty are mere cast members in a television cartoon produced by a studio in California. Worse yet is the fact that the cutting-edge and eye-grabbing Bedrock architecture (Stone Age meets mid-mod, so chic!) exists only on celluloid sheets, as does the mountainous-yet-barren landscape trodden by the barefoot Flintstones family.

Bedrock City

Don’t despair. You can still visit Bedrock City, an outpost in Williams, Arizona, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Bedrock of TV. Against the desert backdrop are the homes, buildings and characters you once believed real.

Created in 1971, Bedrock’s assortment of buildings made from rebar, mesh and gunite have the same flat-line roofs and circular windows of the modern Stone-Age family’s hometown. A Stone-Age cinema blares from the PA system, the dialogue, laugh-tracks and jazzy orchestral music serving as a 1960s soundtrack reuniting visitors with the temperamental working-class Fred and his crazy antics.

Fiberglass statuary of the Rubbles and Flintstones is placed throughout the park/town, as is Dino, the original purple dinosaur. Visit their homes and stroll the tiny town—a barbershop, police station, medical center, school, grocery store and post office. Each comes with the proper prehistoric furnishings and accoutrements. Marking the skyline is a 30-foot volcano and a massive green dinosaur/slide that looks much like the T. rex Fred operated on his job site. The word kitschy is often used to describe Bedrock City, adjacent to a campground, and that’s not entirely inaccurate. But this aging roadside attraction, which draws floods of tourists en route to the Grand Canyon, is more than simple imitation. –Kristen Peterson

Drive: 3-4 hours

See: Flintstone home.

Do: Ponder.

Snap: Everything. You need a picture with Betty, Dino, Fred, the house, the sign …

Contact: 332 State Route 64, Williams, Arizona, 928-635-2600

China Ranch Date Farm, California

China Ranch Date Farm

In addition to breathtaking vistas and Mars-style landscapes, Death Valley holds the title of the hottest place in the country. And so, when the woman behind the gift shop counter at the China Ranch Date Farm, just outside the southern entrance to Death Valley National Park, tells us that it’s 119 degrees, we don’t argue. We’re too weak to even discuss it after strolling the working family farm near the Old Spanish Trail. Yes, it’s hot out here in August, but that’s part of the draw. Not everyone gets (or wants) the chance to experience an extreme climate, but for those who do, this is the perfect time of year to head out to China Ranch for a date shake, date muffin, date cookie or just a daytime date.

Named for Ah Foo, a Chinese man who farmed livestock and produce on the property for nearby miners in the 1890s, the ranch is lush with willow, mesquite and cottonwood trees. An original date grove was planted in the 1920s, and in 1990 new owners Brian and Bonnie Brown planted new date palms, opening it to the public six years later. Make it an overnighter and stay in one of Cynthia’s three teepees in this remote oasis, where you can spend the night watching shooting stars and other space debris falling into the atmosphere. –Kristen Peterson

Drive: 90 minutes

See: Date groves shimmering in the heat.

Do: Drink date shakes made to order with ice cream and scoops of fresh dates harvested on the property.

Snap: Photos of the surrounding barren landscape.

Contact: 8 China Ranch Road, Tecopa, California, 760-852-4415, chinaranch.com. Teepees: discovercynthias.com.

Desert Wranglers Jeep Club

Never off-road alone—especially when there are so many Jeep-owners who want to hit the trail with you.

Never off-road alone—especially when there are so many Jeep-owners who want to hit the trail with you.

“Never travel off road alone,” warns Audrey Byrd, proud owner of Black-N-Blue, a 2010 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. And thanks to Byrd, you don’t have to. The off-road enthusiast organizes two local Meetup groups devoted to leaving pavement in the dust: the Jeep Fanatics and the Desert Wranglers Jeep Club. I don’t own a Jeep myself, but I joined the Fanatics recently on a daylong ride just outside of Pioche—a trip Byrd says is representative of most of the club’s outings.

“The majority of the time, it’s going and checking out ghost towns and having fun, but not just driving down a straight dirt road to get there.”

It took us around six hours to ascend and descend the mountain situated next to Lincoln County’s storied ghost town, where we had a cookout and checked out the local nightlife at a bar called the Bank Club that’s housed in a former bank.

Founded by Byrd just last fall, the Jeep Fanatics group now has about 90 members, and their family-friendly rides range from day trips to the Colorado River to overnighters in places like Moab, Utah (roughly seven hours away). Members pay a $5 donation to maintain the operation of the Meetup page, with any extra money going toward materials for future rides.

Byrd says the club’s next run should be this Saturday, though interested parties should consult the Meetup page to join the Jeeps. –Mark Adams

Drive: Wherever sedans fear to tread.

See: Nevada and the Southwest (until mud and dirt cover your windows).

Do: Buckle up, listen to some jams (something hardcore, bro!) and enjoy the bumpy ride.

Snap: Your Jeep doing things a Honda Civic just can’t do.

Contact: meetup.com/jeep-fanatics-so-nv

Julian, California

The way mama makes them: Fresh apple pies from Mom's Pies in Julian, California.

Julian, a former gold-mining town that thrived in the 1870s and an official California Historical Landmark in the Cuyamaca Mountains, is where San Diego residents go to escape the tourists at the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld and the beaches. The mountain hamlet has an estimated population of 300 full- and part-time residents and is widely known for its apple pies and apple orchards (there are pears, too), where you can pick your own to make apple sauce, cider, butter and pie.

Speaking of pie, it’s as synonymous with Julian as it is with America in general. Apple Alley Bakery, Julian Pie Co. and Mom’s Pies all have a wide assortment to enjoy by the slice or at home later on.

After a casual hike or a horseback trail ride, stroll Julian’s Main Street (think Little House on the Prairie, A River Runs Through It and Legends of the Fall), and its antique shops, cafés, art galleries and confectionaries. Julian also is home to more than a dozen wineries, which remain undiscovered to this journalist. For now. And since Julian is the B&B capital of Southern California, you’ll probably want to book a room and spend the night. Turn off your phone and have another slice of pie. –Don Chareunsy

Drive: About 5 hours

See: Main Street in the 1870s gold-mining town.

Do: Pick your own apples at a local orchard, then settle into a local bakery for coffee and a slice of pie.

Snap: You and your friends pigging out on apple pie.

Contact: julianca.com

Big Bear Lake, California

It snowed so much my dad had to ski into the village and hike back with a pizza. That’s my oldest memory of Big Bear, circa 1986. My newest happened in January. We hit the 15 after lunch and arrived at a friend’s cabin by dinner. The next morning, through sleet and hangovers, we ventured into town for Big Bear’s breakfast “castle,” also known as Nottinghams Tavern. The house machaca had what average scrambles lack—slow-cooked shredded pork and a short stack of corn tortillas. And the triple-rainbow (take that, YouTube guy) over the water when we left was unforgettable dessert.

As getaways go, this mountain lake cupped by the San Bernardino National Forest is a total gimme for Californians and Nevadans. It’s close and far enough, wild beauty and city comfort, homey quirks and luxury. From golf and theater to trout fishing and silent movies under the stars, the recreation options are as thick as the pine trees. And the food … let’s just say the Himalayan joint gets top marks on Yelp. If the cost of gas gives you pause, get in on Big Bear’s gas card promo, with participating lodges swapping gallons for booked nights. Now that’s Western hospitality. –Erin Ryan

The Big Bear Solar Observatory is only open to the public in July and August, Saturdays from 4 to 6 p.m.

Drive: 3-4 hours

See: Big Bear Solar Observatory—If Luke Skywalker’s family had lakefront property, it would look like this. Operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, it studies the physics of the sun and is open to the public only in July and August (4-6 p.m. Saturdays). Moonridge Animal Park—half sanctuary, half rescue, Moonridge is all about honoring alpine wildlife. It’s your chance to see a family of Yellowstone grizzlies without becoming a cautionary tale.

Do: Big Bear Cowboy Gathering—It’s the 13th annual, and on Sunday, August 19, enjoy breakfast under the trees, cowboy church and a demo by Paul Ortuno, “Big Bear’s own horse whisperer.” Pine Knot Village—The capital of quaint Americana, where even the most sullen teenager on a family trip can find solace, fudge and handicrafts.

Snap: Yourself, holding a giant pumpkin seed (it’s a fish).

Contact: 800-424-4232, bigbearinfo.com

Amangiri, Utah


You don’t stroll by Amangiri and think, ooh, that looks nice. You don’t drive by it on the way to somewhere else, or spot it while you’re out running errands. You find Amangiri because you’re looking for it—or because you’re very lost and very lucky.

Set in the Southern Utah desert 25 minutes from the nearest town (Page, Arizona) and 15 minutes from the waters of Lake Powell, Amangiri is a world unto itself—a tranquil resort that blends into the stone and scrub of a stunning landscape that used to be national park land.

This is nature meets nurture: There are trails to hike, nearby boat trips and horseback rides, as well as private plunge pools, a 25,000-square-foot spa, a fine-dining restaurant, two staff members for every guest and a flotation therapy tank with just enough warm salt water to let you experience space-like weightlessness while immersed in space-like darkness.

You could fill your days with activities—the resort is equidistant from Bryce Canyon, Grand Escalante, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks—but time at Amangiri is equally well spent doing nothing at all—staring into the unadulterated beauty of the desert, having a cocktail, taking it in. –Sarah Feldberg

Drive: 4-5 hours

Do: Swim. The resort’s centerpiece is a crystalline pool built around a natural rock formation.

See: The view from your suite. Expertly integrated into its environs and set on 600 acres, the resort’s 34 suites (starting at $1,050 per night) all have the same interior footprint. It’s the outdoor spaces that differ, with epic views, private pools and candle-lit courtyards.

Snap: Nothing. Amangiri is like a secret; keep it that way.

Contact: 435-675-3999, amanresorts.com/amangiri

52 Peak Club

Branch Whitney estimates that he’s hiked more than 6,000 miles around Las Vegas—farther than the distance from Las Vegas to New York City and back again. A walking encyclopedia of the local wilderness, Whitney’s also the leader of a motley crew who spend their spare moments trekking to the top of Southern Nevada’s highest mountains: the 52 Peak Club.

52 Peak Club

Born on March 6 last year with a trip to Pine Creek Peak, the club’s mission is simple: Hike 52 peaks in Southern Nevada with other 52ers, as Whitney calls his hiking acolytes, receiving a playing card with a photo of the route at the top of each ascent. Easier hikes have lower card values; tougher climbs rank as kings and aces, and the routes vary from Red Rock scrambles to Charleston slogs and Lake Mead strolls—all under the watchful eye of leaders Branch personally selects and equips with route maps. In the last 18 months, seven people have completed a full deck, logging hundreds of miles in the process and likely sculpting their quads and calves into things of beauty.

Beyond the epic calorie burn, Whitney says the 52 Peak Club (membership is $20) is about building confidence and the bonding that occurs when you talk someone across a knee-weakening ledge or share a snack at the end of a particularly gnarly climb. “The biggest thing that the club does is help them climb the mountains in their minds,” Whitney says. There’s no card for that peak; it’s rewarding enough in itself. –Sarah Feldberg

Drive: Varies

See: White Pinnacle Peak (the king of diamonds). “It’s everyone’s favorite,” Whitney says. “It’s not super long, but it just looks insane,” thanks to a trail that drops 400 feet on one side and 1,000 feet on the other. Curious? YouTube it.

Do: Hike. Whitney’s Hiking Las Vegas Meetup group offered upwards of 80 hikes in July—and that’s a slow month. All hikes are eligible for 52 Peak cards.

Snap: A photo holding a well-earned ace at the top of Mummy Mountain’s intimidating 11,542 feet. Like a boss.

Contact: 52peakclub.com

Snow Canyon, Utah

Don’t let the name fool you—this state park situated in Utah’s Red Cliffs Desert Reserve rarely experiences snowfall. The park, located eight miles outside St. George, was actually named for Utah pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, and closely resembles Red Rock National Conservation Area in both landscape and climate. Sandstone cliffs tower above the park’s lush, rocky terrain, criss-crossed by 18 miles of hiking trails as well as numerous campgrounds and specialized trails for equestrian and bike rides (both mountain and road varieties). But it’s the park’s tubes that landed it on our list of worthy weekenders.

Snow Canyon doesn't get much snow, which makes it easier to explore its "lava tubes" ... or take in a musical.

Snow Canyon doesn't get much snow, which makes it easier to explore its "lava tubes" ... or take in a musical.

Adventurous outdoorsy types hit Snow Canyon for caving in numerous “lava tubes” along the park’s Lava Flow Trail. According to George Deuel, assistant park manager and chief of law enforcement, tubes can be found just three-quarters of a mile from the trail’s start point.

“You’re climbing down over lava rock basically into a hole in the ground,” says Deuel. “Depending on your skill level, it could be dangerous to try to climb down in there.”

I can vouch for Deuel’s warning. I ventured into one of the tubes on a recent trip, and some parts of the descent required lots of careful maneuvering. While my friends made it to the bottom, I turned around about halfway down. (Take note, claustrophobes: Don’t watch the movie Sanctum days before you jump into a cave.)

If venturing into the dark doesn’t sound like fun, camp meets camp at Snow Canyon’s Tuacahn Amphitheatre. Visitors can complement more physical activities with musical theater and performances by both bands and ballet troupes, all while taking in Snow Canyon’s majestic beauty. –Mark Adams

Drive: About 2 hours

See: Natural desert beauty and a Sondheim favorite.

Do: Hike! Bike! Camp! Cave!

Snap: Photos of the soaring sandstone cliffs.

Contact: 435-628-2255, stateparks.utah.gov/parks/snow-canyon


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