Riding the US395

December 2017

San Francisco

San Francisco

1200 Miles

7 Days


Getting stuck in the middle of a huge sandstorm? We surely didn’t expect that during a winter trip through the Eastern Sierra! But it surely was another unforeseen experience to learn from, during our tiny road trip riding the US395 (Dec 18-23 2017).

What we did was a loop starting from and ending in San Francisco:

  • Lake Isabella – strategic first leg to head towards our exploration of the Eastern Sierra.
  • Lone Pine – the reason we called this trip “Lone Ranger” and (fun fact) a huge Hollywood set. You’ll find the lovely Film History Museum and not too far the Manzanar National Historic Site.
  • Death Valley – where we encountered the sand storm! It took us a whole (but too short) day to explore the main sites of the Park. We suggest you pick a motel in Lone Pine for the night before and after. As lodging in the park is really expensive (except for campsites of course)
  • Mono Lake – a truly spectacular site with its natural limestone tufa tower formations! The whole area, called the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, is protected and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. We slept in the nearby Lee Vining.
  • Lake Tahoe – strategic stop along the way, too bad it was freezing cold and we couldn’t enjoy much of it!
  • Sacramento – our last stop for the last night before heading back to San Francisco.

Preparing the journey

A few words about Riding US395 and Preparing our Trip

While preparing our trip, we had to consider a few non-variables, like the fact that we were traveling with 2 kids under 10 and it was going to be pretty cold. 

The main idea for this trip was to explore the backcountry and some small little towns (of which Lone Pine turned out to be a wonderful surprise), to go a bit off the beaten path – at least for us Europeans!

Most of the preparation – as always – consisted in studying the map and the route, picking the sights, parks, attractions to stop for, and finding where to sleep. We did this while scattered between Italy (where we live), France (where Kevin’s parents live), and California (where Kevin’s brother and his family relocated to). 

To coordinate travel prep and all the arrangements that must be done, we always use a “roadbook”. We set up a shared excel file, and write for each day: starting and ending points, activities for the day (with prices if it’s a pay-per), accommodation for the night (with prices per room), and miles to drive during the leg. This way, the whole group was always updated and could contribute.

The US395 is a 2100 km (1300 mi) Route that connects the Mojave Desert in Southern California to the US-Canada border near Laurier in the State of Washington.

US395 Road Sign
US395 Map

We only did a small part of the whole Route, in the Sierra Nevada, going from desert, to below sea level, to high passes. The sights are mesmerizing, you can see, feel and understand the greatness and power of nature.

The vessel

For this trip we rented Chevrolet Express from Sixt, so that the whole party of 8 could travel together.

Although it worked perfectly from that point of view, we can’t say the same in terms of comfort 😬 – the Chevrolet Express is a rough American van, quite bumpy for the last 2 rows of seats.

But considering the convenient price, and how fun it was to be all together – 3 generations – it was definitely the best option. 

That’s why we chose the same vehicle for our next trip all together: Sunshine State 2019!

our chevrolet express


Being winter and moving every day, we decided not to camp but to sleep in some practical motels along the way. Road tripping can become quite expensive between gas, car rental, food (if you’re planning on not just making yourself sandwiches every day) and other possible unexpected expenses that may occur.

For this kind of trip it turned out to be a really good decision, as in the US you can find some affordable motels in lovely little towns. Most of them will have a water boiler in the room with complimentary coffee filters and tea bags, and a parking spot in front of your room. Some will have a laundromat on site, some others a small diner or dining area where you can have breakfast.

For the list of the motels we slept at, go back to the map above and click on the icons.


Regarding resources for that trip, you can have a look at Westworld 2017 report and/or dedicated section in Resources about planning an American Trip.

But!.. Don’t forget Benchmark Atlas, the californian one was really usefull on the tiny roads.

A stormy day in the Death Valley

The day started out great when we got to the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. But the Ranger warned us that a tempest would eventually occur.

Tip: always ask for weather information to Park Rangers, even on sunny days. The first thing we do when we get to a Park or Forest is going to the Visitor Center: there, we can get specific maps and gather precious information from Rangers and volunteers.

We were about to finish up a nice day in the Death Valley when the sandstorm hit. It started with some clouds, then it got darker and darker.

Stopping to the first shelter was necessary to not obstruct the air filter. Well, that wasn’t easy with all that sand! We proceeded slowly, headlights on, sometimes almost stopping due to total no visibility. We finally reached the Stovepipe Wells area where we stopped in a saloon.

Once there, why not having a beer and some chips? Turns out we weren’t the only ones who decided to wait it out and enjoy the show from behind sealed windows 🙂

Eventually the storm calmed down and we were able to pick up the van and head back to our motel in Lone Pine as it became dark.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.