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Desert and Mountains - A Family Trip through the Heat

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Jan 2016; updated May 2023.

This trip took us through some of the hottest desert in the world and then up into the Sierra Mountains.

Our first stop on our USA adventure was to Las Vegas.

Now Vegas is known for a few things. A family holiday destination is not the first thing that springs to mind. So why did we fly into Las Vegas?

One big reason: the desert!

From Desert to Mountains

Las Vegas with Kids

People can and do take their kids to Vegas.

You'll not be doing many things that Vegas has a reputation for, but there's enough to fill a few days.

And that's exactly what we did, spending a few days in Vegas to get over the jet lag.

Las Vegas with Kids

Starting the Holiday in Style

Our flight was delayed by hours, so when we eventually arrived in Vegas, it was already late at night. To our body clocks, it was 5 am!

Right outside the airport were the limousines.

These are like cabs in Vegas; since we were in Vegas, we just had to take one to our hotel.

Instead of staying in one of the Casino hotels on the 'Las Vegas Strip' (the main road through Vegas), we stayed at a Holiday Inn Grand Vacations hotel just off the 'Strip'.

the screen then rose to reveal the Las Vegas Strip all lit up below

Our Travel Agent suggested this, and was a great place to stay, as we didn't have all the usual Casino traffic and noise.

We had two very impressive rooms connected to make a big suite.

A welcome message was projected on a screen when we first entered our hotel room. After a few moments, the screen rose to reveal the Las Vegas Strip lit below.

Very different to our usual family adventures!

Out and About in Vegas

Staying up so late helped to reset our body clocks, so we weren't up too early (which can happen when you travel to the US from the UK), and we decided to get out and about.

Being August, Las Vegas was very hot, even early in the morning.

This was our kid's first visit to the USA, and Vegas provided many things to see.

New York in Las Vegas

New York in Las Vegas

Shell and I had been before many years ago, so we decided to work down the Strip to the family attractions.

We particularly liked the food court area in New York New York, which is styled like New York streets, and the impressive Luxor hotel.

New York New York best food court

New York New York best food court

While we were there, the Titanic exhibition was in town. The entrance was quite expensive, but the replicated Titanic Deck, complete with real ice mini-iceberg, made a welcome change to the heat outside.

Other attractions we liked were the Bellagio fountain display at night.

Bellagio Fountains

Bellagio Fountains

We didn't manage to fit all that Vegas had to offer the family, but after a few days, we picked up our hire car and headed out into the desert.

It's called Death Valley for a Reason

One of the days in Vegas, it was extremely hot, and we had to sit in the shade by the fountains outside Ceasar's Palace.

Vegas wasn't as hot as Death Valley, though!

Death Valley is just a few hours' drive outside Vegas.

Once you leave the city, you are in the desert that you see in so many movies.

The Desert Road

The Desert Road

The landscape of Death Valley is something else, though. And so is the temperature!

If you have a fan-assisted oven, let it heat up to its hottest temperature, then open the oven door and put your head in front of it (ONLY KIDDING!). That's what it was like in Death Valley in August.

We stopped off at Zabriskie Point and climbed the hill to take in the views.  

It was a windy and short hill walk, but unlike the hill climbs we usually do in Wales, the wind was scorching hot.

the temperature read 120F. In other words: HOT!

You could not stay out in the heat for long.

Further along the desert, you get to the Death Valley visitor centre.

Here, the temperature read 120F (about 49C). In other words: H O T!

120F / 49C in Death Valley

The visitor centre was quite interesting, but what caught my eye was that someone was camping there!

That little tent must have been roasting inside.

Camping in Death Valley

Camping in Death Valley, in August!

Heading out of the desert

On the way out of the desert, we stopped off at the sand dunes. Again, this was scorching.

Sand Dunes in Death Valley

Sand Dunes in Death Valley

Closed shoes with socks are recommended to avoid the sand burning your feet.

Death Valley is the lowest place on Earth

Death Valley is the lowest place on Earth, so naturally, the journey out involved a climb.

I was surprised at how high up we'd climb before leaving the desert behind.

The big US people carrier we had struggled on the hills in the heat. Breaking down in the desert isn't something you want to do!

The Long Drive out of the Desert

The Long Drive out of the Desert

After many hours, the Sierra Mountains came into view, and we passed through towns in the valley on the eastern side of California.

Up into the Mountains

We were heading for the ski resort called Mammoth Lakes, which is up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The Sierra Mountains come into view

The Sierra Mountains come into view

This was our longest drive of the trip, and it was getting late at night when we arrived.

a bear raiding the rubbish bin at the hotel entrance

There was no snow in August, and as it was dark, we didn't see any of the amazing scenery. That would come the next day.

What we did see when we checked into the hotel was a picture taken of a bear raiding the rubbish bin at the hotel entrance right behind us.

We were definitely out of the desert and in the mountains!

We were definitely out of the desert and in the mountains!