Link to full photo article is HERE…
There are two types of experience in Las Vegas: that of a tourist and that of a local. Few tourists venture off the Strip, as there truly is no need. Likewise, you won’t find locals spending free time in tourist central. These are different worlds. But if you love great food and know some local mountain bikers, you can take a trip to Vegas that explores the best of both.
Jared Fisher is a local. He’s the founder and CEO of Escape Adventures, one of the premier mountain bike outfitters in North America. While he doesn’t live in Las Vegas proper, his log-cabin home is just a 20-minute drive west of the Strip in Blue Diamond, Nevada. This desert hamlet of a few hundred residents is gateway to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and a network of trails that numbers in the hundreds of miles. Indeed, Fisher himself has built many of them over the 30-plus years he’s lived here. This will be our mountain biking playground for a couple days in March, when most of North America’s trails are soaked in mud or covered in snow.
Back in the world of tourists, we’re staying at the newly renovated Park MGM. This was previously the Monte Carlo, but the aging casino was quickly becoming that rundown house in the neighborhood that depresses home values. After a billion-dollar upgrade, it now stands as one of the premier Las Vegas resort destinations alongside the ARIA and the Waldorf Astoria. Plus, it features a 5,000-seat theater and enough restaurants for a small city (more on that later).
First, however, we had to get to Vegas, which is typically a six-hour drive from Park City. My friend Jon volunteered to drive. I wasn’t sure he was serious because he drives a Tesla Model X. With three guys (Jon, Matt, and me) and three bikes on the rack, surely we’d have to stop to recharge at least once. But it’s not a major inconvenience because there is a supercharger in St. George, Utah, which is located next to a Starbucks. It’s also close to the Zen Trail, one of the classic rides in the area. So while the car filled up on kilowatt hours, we set out on our first dirt ride of the year and a warmup for what was to come in Vegas.
After checking-in to the Park MGM and getting settled, which included bringing the bikes to our rooms, we jumped on the monorail to the Bellagio for the first of our culinary adventures. We’d kick off the trip at Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills export, Spago. In securing one of the restaurant’s three premier tables, we dined on the patio along the famed Ballagio Fountains. Every 15 minutes we were treated to a different aquatic display, each choreographed to music ranging from Bach to The Beatles and Beyonce.
The menu leans Italian with a selection of signature pastas and pizzas, but it’s also California inspired through a mix of distinctive salads, seafood and meats. The Spanish Octopus “A La Plancha” is perhaps the most tender octopus I’ve tried. We also shared the Spicy Lamb Bolognese and the black truffle spaghetti. For a main course, the New York Strip with a bearnaise sauce was all the protein and fat I’d need for tomorrow’s ride.
Red Rock Canyon Part I
Like a typical day tour with Escape Adventures, one of Jared’s guides picked us up at the hotel in one the company’s 15-passenger vans and shuttled us to Blue Diamond for the day’s ride. However, this wasn’t a typical day tour. Firstly, we’d start and end the ride from Jared’s house as opposed to a public trailhead. Secondly, Jared.
I’ve known Jared for more than 25 years, having toured with him in the first years of starting his company. As CEO and “Director of Everything” for Escape Adventures, he no longer leads day tours. This, in fact, was really just old friends getting together for a ride, and we were privileged that Jared made time to show us his home turf. My friends Jon and Matt also had the opportunity to meet one of mountain biking’s more eccentric characters.
Jared has been doing this a long time. He’s made a living riding bikes and leading tours for more than three decades, which adds up to hundreds of thousands of miles in the saddle. To say he’s a strong rider would be quite the understatement. But he’s not your typical fast guy on a bike. First, Jared rides a custom Foes full-suspension aluminum bike with a massive dual-crown fork and monster-truck-like tires (26 x 4.8″). It weighs 60 pounds or more and completely contradicts the cutting-edge bikes that Jon, Matt and I are riding. Jared also rides flat pedals with Teva-like sandals, often powering out of the saddle over any terrain. To the outside observer, it doesn’t make any sense. Especially since Jared also owns Las Vegas Cyclery, one of the premier shops in the region. He could ride any bike he wants but chooses the Franken-Foes (it’s scary on many levels).
It also didn’t quite make sense that Jared made a serious run for governor of Nevada in the last election cycle…as a Republican on a platform of health and sustainability…and, as part of the campaign, rode his bike across every county in the state. But that’s Jared Fisher. He’s passionate, dedicated, unpredictable and certainly one of the nicest dudes you’ll ever meet.
Blue Diamond is at the center of the Red Rock trail system and an ideal place to start and finish rides. Our first loop headed south and explored some of the older trails in the area. Within the first 30 minutes, we’d ridden deep enough into the desert that any sign of Sin City was completely out of sight. The terrain was typical desert singletrack with loose gravel and chunky rocks, but a very wet winter made it moist and tacky. Trails like Dead Horse to Satan’s Escalator took us to the high point, and the highlight of the descent back to Blue Diamond was a trail called Techno followed by the appropriately named Desert Slalom, where you’re pedaling at 25 mph down a false flat while trying to clip the apex of each corner without clipping the cholla cactus that’s crowding said apex.
After riding nearly 30 miles of singletrack with 3,200 feet of climbing over three-and-a-half hours, Jared got us back to Blue Diamond for lunch at Cottonwood Station Eatery. Given the town’s population, a cafe and eatery of this quality clearly relies on tourist traffic to survive. Indeed, it’s the only restaurant in town and has been widely celebrated in the local press. The menu of wood-oven pizzas, paninis and a selection of salads is everything you need after a big ride. And the espresso bar has everything you’d
When you walk from the Park MGM casino into Chef Roi Choi’s latest restaurant, Best Friend, there’s a stark sense of entering a new reality. Starting in the bar area, there’s the initial visual shock. It’s neon-bright and a bit over the top, so it’s not unfamiliar to Vegas, but it’s also fresh and new. Your appetite is wetted with anticipation for what this culinary exploration might have in store. Because the bar area is just the first phase. Then you step into the more subdued dining room, inspired by a Korean spa, en route to a truly shared Korean BBQ experience.
Indeed, the family-style menu lends itself to a “bring us whatever the chef recommends” approach. Then it’s just about how much hot and spicy you can tolerate. For those who try to stick to a keto diet, there are endless options: BBQ spicy pork, shrimp, short rib (Kalbi) and chicken for starters. There are also some LA favorites: slippery shrimp with chili mayo and walnuts; A-Frame OG ribs with hoisin chili, green onions and sesame seeds; and Shaking Beef Saltado with onions, peppers and cilantro (hold the fries).
Red Rock Canyon Part II
Our second ride started from Jared’s shop, Las Vegas Cyclery, on the far west side of town. This is a great place to park if you’re self guiding, as it’s located at the entrance to the Red Rock trail system and offers a free bike wash when you’re done. Incidentally, the building is Platinum LEED Certified and the first of its kind in all of Las Vegas.
Unlike the rolling profile of yesterday’s ride, the north region of the trail system offers a long climb and descent. These are some of the newer trails in the area, many of which were built by Jared and his cohorts. The big ascent is called Kibbles ‘n Bits and Goat Roper, which climbs about 1,000 (hard-fought) vertical feet. There are some technical rock gardens to navigate, which are interspersed with cactus waiting for you to dab in the wrong place. The summit offers a panoramic view of Red Rock Canyon to the west and the five-mile descent called Flow Job that drops 1,000 vertical into the canyon directly below us. This ripping downhill, which is traverses the hillside, ultimately lead us back to Cottonwood Station Eatery in Blue Diamond, where we stopped for lunch. We finished off the ride and the trip with 15 miles of rolling singletrack into a blasting headwind to get back to the shop. All told, it was a 35-mile ride with 3,300 feet of climbing and an elapsed time of 4:25.
Our celebratory final dinner was at the Italian steakhouse, Manzo, which is a hidden gem within the Eataly complex. You can access this Italian marketplace concept directly off the Strip. Or, if you’re coming from the Park MGM casino, Manzo is the first door on the left as you enter Eataly. It’s easy to miss.
The first thing you notice is the tiered, wood-burning grill and selection of meats hanging in front of it. Manzo was a welcome departure from traditional American steakhouses, where the main course was preceded by antipasti dishes like roasted bone marrow or the Prosciutto e Gnocco Frittoand i.e. prosciutto with fried pillows of dough. This was followed by a pasta course, where the highlight was a pork and veal filled pasta with bone marrow and winter black truffle. The signature entree, however, was the dry-aged Ribeye “Appesa.” It was cooked to perfection over white oak and applewood coals and then carved tableside for sharing.
Whether it’s a boy’s trip, bachelor party or just a winter getaway, the nexus of these two worlds — mountain biking in Red Rock Canyon by day and dining at the many restaurants of Park MGM by night — is the rare exercise in hedonism that only Las Vegas can offer.