The mighty Colorado, what the Laughlin River Run is all about
No matter the route you take for this, the journey is going to be about 250 miles from the Orange County Line. For getting there fast, I-15N to I-40E can’t be beat. But this is definitely the path more traveled. A daytime departure means you’ll be battling big rigs and Vegas-bound SUVs, and you’d better be doing at least 70 mph at all times. But the biggest drag is the lack of scenery—unless you’re into scrub brush and long stretches of mostly flat freeway for as far as the eye can see.
Don’t get me wrong; the desert is obviously unavoidable, but for a much more diverse ride, take Twentynine Palms Highway and on up Amboy Road. While it will add some time to your trip, it’s much better scenery and way less stress than I-15N to I-40E. In terms of travel time, realistically, we’re looking at about four to five hours. For me, it’s about five and a half, but I tend to take it easy and stop often.
My ride at the rest stop on Hwy 10 just before catching Hwy 62
Heading out of OC on SR-91, take the I-10E to SR-62, which is the Twentynine Palms Highway. The SR-62 turnoff is just about five miles past Palm Springs Highway 111, right around where all the windmills are. This will have you skirting around Joshua Tree State Park. Heading due north and eventually east will take you through Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, and then Twentynine Palms, which is where you’ll cut north (take either Utah Trail or Godwin Road) to catch Amboy Road. Check your fuel before you depart Twentynine Palms! From here there are no services for close to 50 miles.
For the next 100 miles, the road is almost all two-lane (much of it undivided), and the posted speed limit is 50 mph for much of that. It’s possible to get stuck behind a big rig for a spell, but there are plenty of passing opportunities if you’re so inclined. Thing is, I’ve taken this route many times, and while it is still mostly desert, in certain spots you’ll wind your way through awesome rock formations, see stretches of salt flats, and can even view a volcano. It’s a lot more fun than the I-15 to I-40 route, in my opinion, and most of the time I’ve got the whole road to myself for as far as I can see in both directions—which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your outlook. Many of the dilapidated old buildings scattered around the area look straight out of a movie; in fact this stretch of road is the location for several films.
About 45 miles mostly north up Amboy Road, you’ll wind up in the tiny town of Amboy, which is where you’ll catch up with the National Trails Highway and head east. Amboy basically consists of Roy’s Motel and cafe (I don’t think the motel is operational), a great rest stop even if you don’t need to fuel up (again, check your fuel here! It’s 50-plus miles to the nearest services). The giant “Roy’s” sign stands out like a beacon. The place is pretty busy during the River Run, so you’ll see all sorts of riders relaxing here, fueling up, or getting snacks.
You can't miss the iconic Roy's motel sign
Nearby, a short side trip west about two miles will take you to Amboy Crater, an extinct 1,000-foot volcanic cinder cone. Personally, however, I believe Amboy Crater is on par with such roadside landmarks as the Cabazon dinosaurs or the world’s second largest ball of twine.
Around this point (just a few miles beyond the town of Amboy/Roy’s) you could cut north up Kelbaker road and connect with I-40, but I like to continue on National Trails Highway, which runs nearly parallel to I-40 for another 50 miles. This is actually Old Route 66, and as I cruise leisurely along, I like to imagine the guys riding on I-40, white-knuckling it as they get blown about by big-rigs, looking over at me and thinking, why didn’t I think of that?!
National Trails Highway eventually dumps you onto I-40, but from here it’s only about 20 miles until you exit the interstate near Needles, CA. I suggest getting off at the River Road Cutoff exit, and heading north along the Needles Highway. At this point it’s just 26 more miles to Laughlin, but try to take it easy because it’s all twisty, winding road full of ups and downs and the pavement is pretty torn up in spots. Once in Laughlin, look for Casino Drive and you’re ready to rally.
Rush hour along Casino Drive in Laughlin, Nevada