With style, aplomb and a lot less fuel, the 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel takes on the red dirt of canyon country
Author David Page
UTAH—In 1934, a young artist named Everett Ruess left the town of Escalante and walked into the desert, never to be seen again. In the years that followed, he would become a kind of folk legend, as much for the mystery of his disappearance as for being a romantic symbol of the landscape that swallowed him whole.
My plan—somewhat to the chagrin of my wife and children—is to follow in his footsteps and make an off-pavement traverse of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a wilderness of high-desert plateaus and slickrock canyons that’s slightly larger than Delaware. But where Ruess had two burros, we have a new Porsche Cayenne, a German sport-utility crossover vehicle with four-wheel drive, high clearance, steel springs, leather interior, satellite radio and 23.7 cubic feet of supplies strategically packed into the luggage compartment. We have five gallons of water, a tepee, a table, a cookstove, freeze-dried pad thai, fresh gourmet sandwiches on focaccia (with side salads), books, paper and colored pencils. and even so laden, thanks to self-leveling air suspension the rear end shows not a hint of sagging.
We begin our journey in eastern California, maintaining an average velocity somewhere below the Cayenne’s top track speed of 135 mph, and cross Nevada in a single bound. Given the car’s range of more than 700 miles on a 26-gallon tank, fuel is an afterthought. I do have to pull over on occasion, out of deference to my passengers—for a bathroom break, a snack or a leg stretch to see some petrified wood—but otherwise, with my 18-way seat dialed for comfort, I could go on like this forever.
We spend our first night in Utah at the 1920s-vintage Lodge at Bryce Canyon, a masterpiece of National Park Service rustic architecture designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood (who also designed the old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone and the Ahwahnee in Yosemite). In the grand old dining room, beneath massive pine beams, we slake our thirst with local craft beers and Shirley Temples. We feast on locally caught trout, stuffed cod and baked chicken tenders. After a stroll along the canyon rim in the starlight, we go to sleep with windows open to the smell of pines.
The next morning, we take on the slaloming curves and brief straightaways of Utah’s Highway 12: a 124-mile stretch of well-canted asphalt, officially designated by the Department of Transportation as one of the nation’s most scenic byways, that runs from the rosy sandstone spires of Bryce Canyon to the white and vermilion cliffs of Capitol Reef National Park. Through the panoramic moonroof the boys watch passing rock battlements for knights and saber-toothed tigers, while the Cayenne’s variable torque delivery and speed-sensitive power steering guard against even the suggestion of carsickness.