Only 30 minutes west of the casinos in Las Vegas, Rocky Gap Road will take you on an adrenaline-charged, heart-pumping ride over one of the most beautiful snow-capped mountains to rise out of the Mojave Desert.
We'd heard this part of the BLM's Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area off Highway 159 is a good place to see wild burros, desert bighorn sheep, and wild horses, so we stopped at the visitor center, looking for a 4x4 route. We found Rocky Gap Road. A yellow road sign read: "Not a maintained road. Travel at own risk." I shifted into four-wheel drive.
The air became cooler as we started up the mountain, and we saw a greater variety of plants. The gray, limestone formation of White Rock Mountain was directly ahead of us and yellow sandstone mountains were on our left. We passed the sign for the White Rock Trail as it started north toward the mountain. While White Rock is rumored to be the best place to see desert bighorn sheep in the area, today we wanted to see where Rocky Gap Road would lead.
After about 10 minutes, the peace and solitude of the area started to do its work. We were alone. The road got narrow and rougher as we climbed higher and the sand on the side of the road and the road surface changed from yellow to red and then brown. It has snow-capped peaks, beautiful red rock cliffs covered with juniper and pinion pine, and comes complete with switchbacks that forced us to back and fill. A Jeep or other short-wheelbase vehicle can sometimes make the sharp turns found in most switchbacks, but our F-350 couldn't turn quickly enough. I had to steer into the curve as far as I could and then back up to complete the turn.
About three miles into the trip, we met a BLM Ranger named Julie in a white 4x4 work truck, who was mapping part of the area. I asked her about road conditions, and she said, "It puckers up after the next switchback about half a mile ahead." She had never been beyond the snowfield. We thanked her and drove on.
As we continued to climb higher, the vegetation increased, and we began to see more juniper and pinion pines along the edge of the road and on the rocky slopes. We also began to notice places where the cliff face was wet, either from springs or water from the melting snow on the slopes above. The road did "pucker up," and we folded in the passenger-side mirror. That gave us just enough room to get around a curve where the edge of the road had been washed away. There were times when the road was quite smooth, but then we would come to an area of large rocks and ravines where washouts slowed us down to a crawl.
A Jeep had passed us when we stopped to talk to the ranger. Now, an hour later, we saw it coming toward us on its return down the mountain. We pulled over into one of the few places wide enough for two vehicles to pass. They had been to the snowfield and had a small snowman packed onto the hood and windshield. I shouted, "How far is it to the snow?"
The Jeep's driver replied, "In about 10 minutes, you'll see it. The road gets much worse after that. You'll know when it's time to turn around." He waved goodbye and disappeared around the curve.
We got to the beginning of the snowfield and saw small patches of white on the banks along the road edge, but I wanted to go higher to see more snow and get pictures. Suddenly, the road took a downward plunge, which I mistook to be a brief drop before another increase in elevation. By the time I realized my error, we were already starting down the opposite side of the mountain.
A motorcyclist came up behind us and told us the road was good after a tough 100-yard stretch, and then it was just two miles to paved road. He got back on his bike and left us standing there as we decided what to do.
I steered onto the left-hand bank, with a steep angle toward the washed-out roadside on the right. Twenty yards down the wash, the front passenger-side tire went up over a large rock, which blocked my view of water and mud on the opposite side. I shifted into reverse and, to my relief, our big Ford climbed back up out of the mud and rock.
Alternating between riding the brake and modulating the throttle, I bounced over the remaining obstacles and washouts. At the end of it, I was able to stop on a level spot in the road beyond the washout. Our truck did it.
The remaining two miles were simple. The road got wider and smoother as we drove down the mountain to the paved road in Lovell Canyon. Although the scenery was spectacular, we'd recommend checking with all the proper authorities about road conditions ahead of time.
Editor's Note: Mud or snow on your windshield give you chills? Four-wheeling your weekends away? Got a good story to tell about it? Send us all the gear-popping seatbelt-tightening dust-kicking details in 500 words or less, along with your best photos (color slides, preferably), and we'll pay $300. Send to Truck Trend, c/o "On the Road," 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. We'll publish your adventures.