Out West: An Unforgettable Road Trip Through Six States and Several National Parks

by Jason Heidemann
Out West Road Trip Opening Photo

I’m on an ambitious Wild West road trip that will swing through six states and include visits to several National Parks, three big cities, and a plethora of small towns and roadside attractions.

As I slide my rental car into the parking garage at Park MGM (my favorite Las Vegas resort thanks to its excellent location and phenomenal restaurant collection), my heart throbs with excitement. This is my town. I throw down my bags and sidle up to the bar at Bavette’s Steakhouse, a carnivorous Chicago import that sits right off the casino floor. I’m not much of a red meat eater, but that’s not why I come here. Dinner for me is a slice of chocolate cream pie washed down with a Bulleit old fashioned. (What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.)

I’m not one to miss the stench of cigarette smoke, but the fact that it’s wafting through the air as I cradle a vodka soda means I’m once again in a gay bar. This time it’s Garage, a strip mall hangout with a body shop vibe. Maybe I shouldn’t be in a bar at all (though we are all seated six feet apart), but the hubcaps décor, fenders, and vintage service stations signs are too much to resist. I half expect to see grease monkey porn on the TV, but no such luck.

Out West Road Trip: Horseshoe Bend at the Colorado River in Arizona

Horseshoe Bend
Photo: Lucky-photographer

The following afternoon I’m poolside at the Park MGM where seating is at half capacity. With elbowroom for all, it’s the best Vegas pool experience I’ve ever had (a trend worth keeping post-pandemic). As I wade into the water in my burgundy Aussie Bum swimsuit, a group of women commends my Speedo bravery. “My people are comfortable in brief-cut swimwear,” I assure this gaggle of gals. Their response: “Oh, we didn’t realize you were European.” I laugh to myself and paddle back to the cocktail that’s waiting for me at the pool’s edge.

It’s Saturday night in a partially subdued, but still swinging Vegas, and my warm-up for one final evening on the town is cocktails poolside with my friend Christopher Kenney, aka Edie the Entertainer. Showing off more leg than Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago,” Christopher plays the mistress of ceremonies at Cirque du Soleil’s long-running “Zumanity,” the adults-only showcase for the Montreal-based troupe. Meanwhile, his husband Jamie is one half of the full-frontal fellas in the Vegas rendition of “Puppetry of the Penis.” Christopher first charmed me when he agreed to be interviewed for the Pride episode of my travel podcast “Wish You Were HEAR” and it’s a privilege to hang out on his patio as both he and his partner await their return to the Vegas stage. [Note: Sadly, Cirque du Soleil announced that “Zumanity” would close permanently in Las Vegas.]

Of course, the best part of hanging out with two Vegas locals is their insider knowledge. For dinner, they send me to the 18b Arts District, a neighborhood nestled in between downtown and the Strip that is famous for its art galleries, murals, hipster bars, and patio eateries. At Esther’s Kitchen, Christopher has me on the lookout for bisexual bartender Dave, a cutie I warm to instantly and who buys me a shot. Pro Tip: Everything at Esther’s is excellent, but definitely order a slab of their specialty sourdough and share it with your crew.

There is no better way to end a Vegas night on the town than at The Garden, a queer nightclub that recently opened in the Arts District. This place is crazy fun. A slice of pre-gentrified Manhattan transplanted to Vegas, I am shown to my seat by a host in mesh shorts and a crop top and greeted by a mulleted bartender wearing a shirt that reads: “I shaved my balls for this?” A quick scan of the half capacity and socially distant room reveals servers in hot pink workout onesies, a duo of trans women dressed as Vegas showgirls, and a diverse crowd of thirsty locals wearing glittery masks to match their streetwear. I can only imagine how fun this place will be post-pandemic.

I’m so bad at endings. I’m definitely bad at writing them, but even worse, I hate acknowledging a vacation’s end. But here I am, trudging past other mask-wearing holiday makers and fortune seekers as I make my way to the parking garage. How did it all zoom by so fast? That can happen when you’re driving 80 mph. Now it’s back to LA to await the return of indoor dining, being fully vaccinated, and crafting another epic road trip.

Out West Resources

Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, 608 Death Valley Jct, Death Valley, CA. Historic roadside hotel near Death Valley National Park. www.amargosaoperahouse.org.

Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, 880 Haul Rd, Page, AZ. Chain hotel with an outpost near Horseshoe Bend. www.radissonhotels.com/enus/hotels/country-inn-page-az.

Curtis Park Club, 2500 Arapahoe St, Denver. Hybrid small inn and B&B featuring themed rooms and just a stone’s throw from bustling Larimer Street in RiNO. www.thecpcdenver.com.

Desert Paradise Resort Hotel, 615 S Warm Sands Dr, Palm Springs, CA. Lowkey and affordable clothing-optional men only hotel located in the heart of the Warm Sands area. www.desertparadise.com.

Mitzpah Hotel, 100 N Main St, Tonopah, NV. Historic hotel and landmark with an allegedly haunted hotel located on the fifth floor. www.themitzpahhotel.com.

Park MGM, 3770 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas. Strip revamp of the former Monte Carlo featuring a park-like vibe and an excellent restaurant collection. www.parkmgm.com.

World Famous Clown Hotel, 521 N Main St, Tonopah, NV. Cheap and cheerful roadside motel famous for its clown motif and memorabilia. www.tonopahnevada.com/clown-motel.

Out West Road Trip: Zion National Park in Utah

Zion National Park
Photo: Jason A. Heidemann

Ash Meadows Wildlife Preserve, 610 Spring Meadows Rd, Amargosa Valley, NV. Wildlife preserve and home to a critically endangered fish species. www.fws.gov/refuge/ash_meadows.

Bonneville Salt Flats, Northwest Utah at the Nevada border. Expansive salt pan for off-roading, scenery chewing and cool photo ops. www.utah.com/bonneville-salt-flats.

Utah State Capitol Building, 350 State St, Salt Lake City. Beautiful state capitol situated on a hill overlooking downtown and featuring lovely grounds. www.utahstatecapitol.utah.gov.

Cheesman Park, Humboldt St between 8th and 13th Aves. Centrally located park popular with runners and sunbathers and home to the Denver Botanical Garden and numerous LGBTQ events. www.denver.org.

Dairy Block, 1800 Wazee St, Denver, CO. Downtown market featuring food stalls, indie shops and even a boutique hotel. www.dairyblock.com.

Great Sand Dunes National Park. Two hours from Pueblo off Hwy 150. Towering sand dunes great for hiking, sledding, and photos. www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm.

Horseshoe Bend. Off Hwy 89 one mile south of downtown Page, AZ. Mega popular tourist attraction featuring a giant slab or rock surrounded by the Colorado River. www.horseshoebend.com.

International Car Forest of the Last Church, 1111 East, Crystal Ave, Goldfield, NV. Collection of vintage automobiles covered in graffiti and artfully strewn across the desert. www.travelnevada.com/art-galleries/international-car-forest-ofthe-last-church.

Liberty Park, 600 900 S, Salt Lake City. Vibrant city park in the heart of the 9th and 9th “gayborhood.” www.visitsaltlake.com/listing/liberty-park/55159.

The Living Room, 383 Colorow Rd, Salt Lake City. Elevated SLC hike leading to panoramic city views. www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/cities-and-towns/salt-lake-city/trails/the-living-room.

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