A Family Afar: The Pros and Cons of 'Reverse Zonies'
Road tripping through the Great Southwest, or, a study in air conditioning
Illustration by Daniel Zalkus
“But it’s a dry heat,” said the locals as we ventured from our cool, crisp, air-conditioned hotel rooms into the blistering furnace they call “outside.” We have now been there to prove it: Arizona is dang hot, and there is a reason Zonies retreat to San Diego in the summer. We had planned the reverse, reasoning that these places would be less crowded—and we were right. We should have known something was up as we freewheeled uninterrupted down the 8 toward Phoenix in our cargo-laden Kia Sorento, passing lanes packed with cars heading the other way.
When the subject of our pending Southwest road trip came up at a cocktail party last spring, some friends suggested we rent an RV. “Gay men do not RV,” I sniffed, only half joking. Later, amid nightmares of bleached cow skulls and “No Services 70 Miles” signs, we madly over-packed extra supplies and water like the pioneers and wondered if that RV hadn’t been such a bad idea.
Still, we soldiered on into the heat of the Arizona desert, determined to enjoy our family vacation. We hit up some of the “hot spots” along the way, like Jacumba and Yuma, with an overnight stop in Phoenix. The good news? It wasn’t crowded anywhere we went. The bad news? It was the dead of summer, with temperatures topping 110 degrees. By the time we arrived in Sedona, we had adjusted to the temperatures enough to venture out into Boynton Canyon from our casita at the Enchantment Resort. Making our way up the path, we marveled at the famous red rocks and glimpsed the occasional hiker along the trail in hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and proper footwear. Without these essentials, our family wore flip-flops, tank tops, and board shorts—like true San Diegans. But all it took was a pleading look from the girls, and we scurried back to the luxury of the resort to soak in the pool and chill at the spa. It was heaven.
The Grand Canyon was another adventure. As we prepared to board our Papillon helicopter for an amazing bird’s-eye view of the gorgeous landmark, we were surrounded by other visitors from Holland, China, Germany, and Brazil. Except for the flight crew and the concessions team, no one was from Arizona (believe me, I asked). Clearly, locals know better than to stick around for summer.
Call us crazy, but we learned to embrace the heat. The only instance when it really slayed us was at the Hoover Dam, one of the great wonders of the world and a must-see on any Southwest loop. Emboldened by our newfound heat resistance, we bolted from the parking lot toward the visitors’ center. By the time we reached the top of the dam, Sophia and Ava were wilted like sad, sweaty flowers in a heat that out-blazed the sun. Our selfies were so unflattering we deleted them immediately.
Rolling down the hill into Las Vegas, the sight of the Strip was like Dorothy’s first glimpse of Oz. Angels sang amid visions of crisp, air-conditioned rooms at the Paris Hotel, poolside umbrella drinks, and a ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. As we pulled into the valet with anticipation, the girls ran for our luxurious rooms to drink in the frigid air and be pampered with room service.
At that point we knew. Our road trip had been a wonderful adventure full of gorgeous vistas, colorful rock formations, cactus-filled deserts, dreamy hotel rooms, and delicious meals, all perhaps better taken at times other than summer.
There is a reason we live in the cooling ocean breezes of San Diego, a yearlong resort where you can walk barefoot on the sidewalk without fear of frying like an egg. Yes, Dorothy, there is no place like home.
Jon Bailey writes the travel blog 2dadswithbaggage.com.