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Las Vegas Moto Vacation: Beyond the Neon and Slot Machines

Steven M. GreenSeptember 08, 2015

We all know about Las Vegas, either from our own visits or from movies and television; a constant barrage of lights, dinging slot machines, erupting volcanoes, gargantuan fountains, big name shows and sleepless nights. But after the convention is over and your head clears, the Las Vegas area also has some great riding and awesome sights, whether you rent or ride your own. These two suggested routes are each about a day’s ride, allowing time for sightseeing or even a picnic lunch.

Our first day’s outing takes us east of the epicenter of Vegas, The Strip, with a quick run east on Interstate 215 and then south on Interstate 515, which becomes U.S. Route 93/95 as we follow the signs toward Boulder City. Turn south upon reaching U.S. Route 95 for a few miles, where you’ll begin to appreciate the vast Nevada desert. Continuing, you’ll pass an inviting dry lake bed on your right and soon come upon State Route 165 which, after turning east, seems to go nowhere, but soon winds its way into rugged mountains that are painted with a pallet of reds, oranges and tans. After several miles, you’ll reach Nelson, which means you’re approaching your goal: Eldorado Canyon Mine. This rustic assemblage of buildings, old cars and rusting equipment is a step back into its history as a gold and silver mining center. Tours are available, but walking around and wandering through the buildings is free.

After our sojourn through time, we head back out and return to Boulder City, taking the highway into town and visiting the quaint shops in the historic downtown area. The Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum is worth a stop. Grab lunch and gas up here, even if you want to picnic later, as fuel and food are scarce along our route for the rest of the day.

The new Harley-Davidson dealership building is at the south end of The Strip across from the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

The new Harley-Davidson dealership building is at the south end of The Strip across from the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

Back to U.S. 93, follow the signs to the Hoover Dam Visitor Center so you won’t get stuck going over the new bridge. The sinuous road descends down to the actual dam where you can ride over the vast concrete edifice. The first couple of parking lots on the Arizona side of the dam charge for parking; another couple of hundred feet farther and the parking is free. The dam tour is well worth it, but won’t leave much time to finish the day’s ride.

After taking in the enormity of the dam, head back toward Boulder City and turn north on Lakeshore Road toward Hemenway Beach. You’ll continue for about 12 miles, following the shoreline of Lake Mead. Upon reaching Northshore Road, turn right onto one of the most scenic byways in Nevada. As the road meanders along Lake Mead, Mother Nature begins to reveal some of her most artistic flourishes of color; the closer you get to the turnoff into the Valley of Fire, the more seductive the colors of the desert become.
Valley of Fire State Park is worth every penny of the $10 it dings motorcyclists via an honor system envelope. Awe-inspiring is an understatement. The park has a visitor center where you can get a cold drink and learn about the geology, petroglyphs, plant life, animals and early inhabitants of the area. The road away from the visitor center leads to more visual treasures and a ride through a narrow red rock canyon that you’ll remember forever.

Red Rock Canyon contains a 13-mile loop through some of the best the desert offers. Traffic can be slow on the weekends, but well worth it.

Red Rock Canyon contains a 13-mile loop through some of the best the desert offers. Traffic can be slow on the weekends, but well worth it.

Since the road from the visitor center dead ends, you’ll eventually return back to the main road, Valley of Fire Highway, and head west to the Moapa Travel Plaza at the junction with Interstate 15. The Moapa River Reservation is home to the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians. The travel plaza conveniently sells fireworks and even provides a place to set them off. From here, it is about 23 miles south to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then back to The Strip.

For our second day trip, a west loop leaves The Strip via I-15 and exits onto U.S. 95 for a freeway run of a half hour or so to Kyle Canyon Road (State Route 157), which is another of Nevada’s Scenic Byways. Starting from the desert floor at about 3,000 feet, you’ll wind your way up the Spring Mountains for a vertical gain of a mile to the village of Mount Charleston. On a weekend, you’ll join other riders for a beverage or brunch at the Mount Charleston Lodge. A short way down the hill is State Route 158, which scenically traverses the mountains to Lee Canyon. Reaching State Route 156, head uphill to visit the ski area. Headed down the hill, you’ll see how the vegetation changes quickly as your ears pop descending back to U.S. 95.

Bonnie Springs Ranch is on rural Blue Diamond Road; a true throwback landmark to the Old West, but complete with restaurant and petting zoo.

Bonnie Springs Ranch is on rural Blue Diamond Road; a true throwback landmark to the Old West, but complete with restaurant and petting zoo.

Back on U.S. 95, head south to the 215 Beltway, then it’s west and a swing south before exiting at Charleston Boulevard. Head west on Charleston and it quickly becomes rural State Route 159, Blue Diamond Road. Towering cliffs of layered red-hued rock announce your arrival at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. A 13-mile loop through the park is worth the ride, as is a stop at the visitor center after another modest fee. Use caution, especially on the weekends, as you’ll be sharing the curved hilly road with bicyclists, motor scooters and inattentive tourists.

Returning to Blue Diamond Road, the many signs warning not to feed the wild burros and horses are an alert that the creatures might come right up to you for a treat if you stop to photograph them. You can stop at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park or Bonnie Springs Ranch to learn about the area and its past. Farther south, the village of Blue Diamond has a small store stocked with cold beverages for the phalanx of bicyclists and motorcyclists that make this a destination. Continuing along Blue Diamond Road, you’ll end at State Route 160, which leads to Pahrump. Turning west on Route 160, the road begins an ever-steepening climb to the Mountain Springs Saloon, another go-to destination for the moto crowd.

A turnout on the return from Hoover Dam provides a view to the enormity of this structure along with the maintenance cranes and power-line towers.

A turnout on the return from Hoover Dam provides a view to the enormity of this structure along with the maintenance cranes and power-line towers.

After filling our lungs with pine-scented air, we’ll turn back and descend down the mountain, taking Route 160 to I-15 and heading back to The Strip.

The best time for your Vegas Moto Vacation is spring or fall; the summer months from mid-June to mid-September can be brutally hot, and Mount Charleston is not a good bet in the winter. Always keep water handy, as the desert is a giant dehydrator.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway offers opportunities to drive or ride along in real NASCAR race cars or various exotic sports cars. Speed shops abound in the adjacent industrial area.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway offers opportunities to drive or ride along in real NASCAR race cars or various exotic sports cars. Speed shops abound in the adjacent industrial area.

Of course, you’ll want to ride down The Strip at night at least once. Just watch for mad cabbies, party bus blind spots and gawking out-of-towners in rental cars. And remember, the slot machines will still be waiting for you at your hotel, but you will have seen the moto side of Vegas.

Map of the route by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com

Map of the route by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com

Be sure to stay hydrated in the desert, even in winter! Summer motorcycling is possible with a cooling vest.

Be sure to stay hydrated in the desert, even in winter! Summer motorcycling is possible with a cooling vest.

The Spring Mountains, west of Vegas, provide a cool getaway.

The Spring Mountains, west of Vegas, provide a cool getaway.

Parking areas in Red Rock Canyon let you get out and walk among the monoliths.

Parking areas in Red Rock Canyon let you get out and walk among the monoliths.

A motorcyclist’s favorite sign, through pine trees.

A motorcyclist’s favorite sign, through pine trees.

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