CAR CULTURE PILGRIMAGE
1300 MILES, 4 DAYS, 3 STATES, 2 NUMPTIES AND 1 EPIC ROAD TRIP
1,300 miles, four days, three states, two numpties. One epic road trip!
The thing about the USA is that it’s fookin’ massive. I mean, just think about it, to fly from the UK to New York takes about 6-hours, but nearly the same again to get from there to the Southwest. It’s bloody huge and, to fit it all in, all the maps have to be tiny.
It really messes you up that, especially after a few heavy nights in Vegas. You start looking at routes and they seem reasonably short. Suddenly the automotive Mecca that is the Bonneville Salt Flats starts looking closer than you thought… and surely LA can’t be all that far off either. After all it’s only a couple of little lines on the map, and American petrol is dirt cheap, right?
Well, yeah and that’s exactly how it starts…
The Start - SEMA
Last month we showed you SEMA, the world’s biggest, baddest and most important modified car show. The question here then is what happens after that? Well normally we pack up, go home and get our chubby arses back to work - but therein lies the problem. I’ll be honest, we weren’t exactly relishing the prospect of sitting in the office, and there really is only so much Vegas anyone can take. So, with a few days to go, and after a cheeky flight transfer to LAX, we hatched a plan. As fully paid-up speed freaks we convinced ourselves that it was our journalistic duty to at least check out one of the places ingrained in the automotive zeitgeist. A bit of a car culture pilgrimage if you will.
Seeing the Salt Flats up north in Utah has been a life-long dream for Jules. The Pacific Coast Highway down south in sunny California is more my bag. So who gets their own way? We’re both stubborn bastards so it looked like we were gonna have to do both!
Las Vegas, Nevada
When you go to SEMA, you stay on the Las Vegas Strip, it’s the law. I think. Anyway, Vegas is epic, it almost goes without saying that, but there’s only so long your finances will hold out, especially if you (rightly) decide to hit it hard. It’s Sin City, The Entertainment Capital of the World, the City of Lights, Las freakin’ Vegas - and it’s 100-percent guaranteed to do your noodle in. They made a movie about this inevitable fact once; it’s called Leaving Las Vegas. And that’s exactly what we did next…
Weapon of Choice
So what mental muscle car would we be rocking for our American adventure? Although you can literally rent anything in Nevada for the right price, it’s not quite as easy as that. For once we had to be sensible, we were going north and had no idea where and when we’d be finding a petrol station. As it turns out it was a good shout, you can drain a V8 Camero in about 3.6-seconds if you’re not careful, and being stuck in the arse end of nowhere would, to use an American term, suck serious ass dude! Instead the nice people at Alamo recommended a big ol’ Nissan Rogue (X-Trail) and, while we’re not the biggest 4x4 fans, it made perfect sense. What with all the 18-wheel ‘semis’ and stupidly large pickups tooling about, you really don’t want to do this journey in a MINI.
The Extra Terrestrial Highway
Vegas is in the middle of the Mojave Desert and that means, once you eventually get out of town, YOU are in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It really is hard to explain the scale of this place, the landscape seems to go on forever.
We were on our way to Utah of course, but we couldn’t resist a detour to drive up the famous Extra Terrestrial Highway, the site of numerous UFO sightings. Apparently it’s also the closest you can get to Area 51 without being shot by angry soldiers who don’t realise you can see it on Google Earth. State Route 375, to give it its proper name, is a 98mile road that stretches between Crystal Springs and Warm Springs in south-central Nevada. These sound like big towns that may have shops and petrol stations but there’s nothing there, literally nothing, except for an ET Highway sign.
The actual road is the same; it’s weird. We didn’t see another car the whole way along it. It’s a pretty place though, seriously pretty.
About 45 miles in, you’ll find a diner, but that’s it - nothing else except a stupidly straight piece of tarmac and an 80mph speed limit that means absolutely nothing. The nearest copper is in Tonopah, about 90 miles away, and he won’t be coming out just to give you a 30-dollar ticket!
The Little A’LE’INN
Welcome to the weirdest diner in the world, and we’re guessing they don’t get too much passing trade here. It’s a cool place though, all four people in the ‘town’ of Rachel are friendly. A proper pilgrimage sight to UFO hunters the Little A’LE’INN is the only place on the ET Highway that has any petrol at all, and it’s all out back in Jerry Cans. They keep this ‘emergency gas’ for the more stupid tourists (the ones in muscle cars) but it’ll cost you around 8-quid a gallon, and you’ll need plenty of it to get to the nearest fill-up in Ely, 160 miles away. If we’re honest, we barely made it ourselves. It was an arseclenching few hours to say the least!
Route To Wendover
From the end of the ET Highway, it’s another 239 miles along Route 6 and Route 93 to Wendover, Utah. This is the nearest big town to Bonneville and right on the Nevada border. When you get there you also cross an international time zone and, apparently, ‘Mountain Time’ is an hour later - which is far more confusing than it sounds after a 9-hour drive.
The route up to Wendover is eerie, especially at night. You tend to forget the roads are chiefly in Nevada, as you go through the mountains it gets bloody cold… not good for us, we were still wearing shorts!
You drive through a few small towns on the way giving a good opportunity to stock up on donuts and fags (and water you goof – Jules), but what’s interesting, if a little scary, are the ghost towns you see along the route. Some of these were mining settlements as little as 15 years ago, and everyone just ‘upped-sticks’ and left ‘em be. It feels a bit like that horror flick Cabin Fever, so we certainly wasn’t stopping to take a closer look!
Bonneville International Speedway
After grabbing some kip in Wendover, we headed just a few miles to one of the most legendary places in the automotive world, the Bonneville Salt Flats. Now, it’s hard for me to describe the feeling you get peering out across the salt but, as it’s my job, I’ll have a go. Awesome would be the word. Just absolutely fucking awesome.
It’s a breath-taking sight for any petrolhead, even in the winter when it’s a little wet, and it’s made all the better when you think of all the land speed records that have been broken on the part they call the Bonneville Speedway. From Sir Malcolm Campbell razzing Blue Bird to 301mph in 1938 and Mickey Thompson breaking 400mph barrier in 1960. To Gary Gabelich blasting to 622mph (that’s over 1000kph), in his rocket-powered car Blue Flame. There’s many more of course, in all sorts of vehicles. Bonneville really is the home of straight-line speed, a place where heroes are born.
Most famously it’s also the place where they hold the Festival of Speed. Every summer all sorts of weird and wonderful creations turn up and hit the salt, an institution in its own right. Bonneville is clearly vast when empty, but you can’t help imagining all these wacky racers blasting up the 10-mile long straight. Here’s a few pics from this year’s event to help you out….
Down To LA
Now it was time for a fair old slog, it’s a 9-10 hour drive to LA, and that’s if you’re lucky. You’ll see some stunning scenery of course, the only trouble is you’ve already seen it! Because of the lack of roads you have to go back the way you came until you can pick up Route 318 and bypass the ET Highway. It’s a main road, albeit a very straight single lane carriageway, and you’ll find yourself mostly overtaking 18-wheelers which are all doing at least 80mph. Just look out for those hidden dips! Eventually you’ll get to Interstate 15 which takes you back through Las Vegas and on to Los Angeles. Prepare yourself for 16-lane madness. It’s properly mental!
You simply haven’t experienced traffic until you’ve been to LA. Sure the M25 or the M6 may make your blood boil but very often here you’ll have 10-lanes either side and it’ll either be gridlocked or, even worse, everyone is whizzing around like a bunch of loonies.
The Santa Monica Interstate for example, has 26 lanes in some places and, as you can overtake on either side in the US, you certainly have to keep your wits about you. It’s no wonder they all drive automatics, a manual would be just another bloody thing to think about. Statistically Angelinos spend an average of 3-days a year just stuck in traffic too. Unless you love seeing brakelights you wouldn’t wanna live there.
The Wider City
As for the LA itself, it’s absolutely massive, you can drive for hours and still be in the same city. For this reason it’s broken up into over 80 districts and neighbourhoods, places like Compton, Harbor city, and San Pedro. These are all linked by a spaghetti of winding motorways and there’s places you’ll want to go to, and others that you definitely won’t. If you’ve ever heard about a particular area on an N.W.A. record, or if Ross Kemp has been there, it’s probably best to steer clear.
The wider LA Metropolitan Area, while not strictly part of the City of LA, is normally spoken in the same breath. It contains a number of famous cities like Malibu, Burbank and Santa Monica. You’re still in LA, but you’re not ‘officially’ in the City of LA.
As for us, after a quick mooch around Hollywood, Beverly Hills and shooting a certain Slant Nose Porsche in Irwindale, we were off to the beach.
For our last night we stayed just south of LA in Huntington Beach, Orange County. Nicknamed Surf City, it’s right on the Pacific Ocean and one of the coolest places in the whole of California. It’s also known for its surf culture, mild climate and whopping 10-mile stretch of sandy beach.
Huntington is by no means the only famous seaside resort in the area though, just to the south is Newport Beach and head up the coast and you’ll find Seal Beach, Long Beach, Redondo Beach, Venice, Santa Monica and, the home of many a Hollywood movie star, Malibu. These are basically all the places they filmed Baywatch in the 90s and, as we were both teenagers in the 90s, that’s plenty good enough for us. Unfortunately Pamela Anderson was unavailable for comment. Shame.
Pacific Coast Highway
Having already been a part of the death-defying central LA freeway experience, we were keen to check out the Pacific Coast Highway which, as it turns out, has some pretty hefty traffic of its own. Luckily though this was only through the more urban (and distinctly non costal) bits like Sunset, Santa Monica and Oakwood. Eventually this opens out into a stunning scenic route, which many of you will recognise from the odd movie.
California State Route 1, as it’s officially titled, is renowned for its beauty and actually stretches 656-miles all the way up to Legget, which is just over 180 miles North of San Francisco. Unfortunately though, we only had time to travel up to Malibu before we had to head back to LAX for the flight home. Not before a spot of lunch at Neptune’s Net though, one of the most special locations on our trip, and a fitting end to any car culture pilgrimage. RIP Paul Walker, we got the shrimp mate!
Miles: 654 Time: 10hr Bonneville, UT – Beverly Hills, CA
Day 4 Miles: 50 Time: 1hr Beverly Hills, CA - Huntington Beach, CA
Miles: 62 Time: 2hr 30 Huntington Beach, CA – Malibu, CA