A Road Trip at the Edge of Seventeen

Father and son explore the desert landscapes of Nevada in a Ram Rebel G/T.

By Matthew Guy Wheels.ca

Aug 31, 2023 6 min. read

Article was updated a month ago

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Despite the presence of a jetbridge, the Nevada heat smacked us in the face like a frying pan the instant we stepped off the plane. “Now I know what you’ve been talking about,” grinned Lucas as he hitched up his carry-on backpack.

Flying to the American southwest in the middle of July may not rank too high on everyone’s Top 40, not with forecasted daily highs near 50 degrees Celsius and single-digit humidity. But it was that latter metric Lucas wanted to experience; after all, growing up on the far-flung reaches of Canada’s East Coast (his favourite way to describe to others where he lives is to say “go as far east as you can without getting wet”) ensures an intimate relationship with saltwater dampness and perpetual humidity levels that must be experienced to be believed. That a place like where we’d just landed exists on the same planet, let alone within reasonable flight distances on the same continent, beggars belief and puts an exclamation point on Earth’s diversity.

Besides, it’s good to spread one’s wings a bit before tackling the sophomore year of high school, especially after completing a few annums in which all hands were bundled up in masks and more than one exam was proctored via Zoom meetings. It’s easy to dismiss this era by saying kids are resilient – and, largely, most of them are – but to keep one’s grades up in such an environment is a task this old guy could not likely have accomplished 30 years ago. Exploration and travel, when possible, can make for an equally important education as what’s on offer by the hard-working teachers at Lucas' school, a crew doing the best they can with a frighteningly shrinking list of resources.

father and son road trip

Plans for the week were sketched out but nebulous, meaning we didn’t intend to twiddle our thumbs in a hotel lobby nor did we wish to spend seven days on a rigid timetable. This author learned a long time ago there’s a balance between those two extremes, though not after the appearance of numerous wrinkles and a sprinkling of grey hair at my temples. Typical tourist trap activities in the Vegas area were enjoyed, ranging from exploring the outrageous structures to being blinded by that jumbotron at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue.

So we hit the road after a couple of days, piling aboard Ram’s new half-ton Rebel G/T, and headed for the Valley of Fire. For those not in the know, this trim is an attempt to capitalize on interest surrounding the bonkers TRX which packs a Hellcat engine in addition to a hellacious price tag. The Rebel G/T deploys the standard 5.7L V8 engine that’s been around since Adam was an oakum picker but gifts it an exhaust which provides some of the best start-up and full-throttle noises in any half-ton truck on sale today. These auditory delights were unmuffled by the eTorque mild-hybrid system, gear which helps low-end torque and provides a small fuel economy boost.

Ram valley of fire
Ram valley of fire

Exterior styling cues like its handlebar mustache of a grille mimics the TRX to a point, while cabin gear such as a shift lever located on the centre console jazz up the interior. The latter addition should placate the dudebros who complained about Ram’s shifter dial, while any gearhead with a pulse will enjoy the snarling exhaust.

Driving to the Valley of Fire from Vegas is a simple matter, though it is wise to take ample amounts of sunscreen and drinking water no matter when you go, let alone in the middle of July. This time of year is decidedly off-peak tourist season thanks to the temps – abandoned interpretation centres and empty gated checkpoints were the norm – but that was fine by Lucas. The utter silence of the Mojave Desert played well to his introverted tendencies, silently speaking to him in a way little else ever could. The sudden appearance of a wild bighorn sheep family moved him to sudden and understandable emotional responses, borderline unspeakable magic at seeing wild desert creatures free to roam and at peace with the world. A good palate cleanser for the soul? You bet it was.

Ram valley of fire

Ram valley of fire

We hung around until well after dark, mindful of the posted admonishments to drink lots of water and not venture deep into the area’s hiking trails at this time of year for danger of perishing in the heat. It’s one thing to witness stars pop out at night but doing so in a spot utterly devoid of light pollution extends the experience to another level. Suddenly, it’s easy to find the Milky Way, and obscure star formations suddenly stick out like dandelions on a front lawn.

After learning the Hoover Dam can make one feel rather small, we pointed the Ram’s broad nose west, finding off-the-beaten-path places like historic Roy’s in Amboy on the old Route 66 and, further on, the remains of Bombay Beach at the Salton Sea. The latter was sizzling in mid-June and absolutely gobsmacking in terms of its art commentary and how we live in the world. Sitting 250 feet below sea level, this former playground once envisioned as a competitor to Palm Springs and even Vegas was created by an accidental release of water from the Colorado River but, with no natural outlet, has been slowly drying up for decades.

These days, locals welcome artists to the area, showcasing their skills by constructing and leaving installations on what used to be the water’s floor, all created from manners of items like old cars, television sets, subway entrances, phone booths, you name it. Lucas remarked how it gave him food for thought about life and relationships and the world. If any Salton Sea artists are reading this, consider your mission accomplished; getting a teenager to think deeply about such things tends not to be the most straightforward of tasks.

Bombay beach

There were a couple more stops as we traversed highways and byways back to the Nevada airport as our week wound down. Speaking of, there were occasions in which the Ram was pressed into continually running in brutally hot conditions, both below sea level and at more than 3,000 feet of elevation. Never once did it put a foot wrong or give any cause to not have confidence in the thing getting us into (and out) of the remote areas being explored. Modern, well-designed cooling tech is a wonderful thing – both under the hood and in the cab.

Here's looking forward to a good year ahead for ya, son. Like a bit of summertime exploration and travel through the sizzling southwest, I’m sure upcoming studies will provide lots of opportunities for exploration and growth – even if the humidity levels are a lot higher.


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