With style, aplomb and a lot less fuel, the 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel takes on the red dirt of canyon country
Author David Page
In Escalante—Everett Ruess’ point of departure—I mention my off-roading plan to the proprietor at Escalante Outfitters, a modern-day log-cabin mercantile offering everything from topographical maps and nesting cookpots to organic fair-trade lattes, pesto pizza and the only free Wi-Fi within a day’s walk. “You want to be prepared to stay out there for a few days if you have to,” he says. “What kind of vehicle are you in?”
When I answer him, abashed and almost under my breath, I’m surprised to see him give a half nod. “It hasn’t rained in a while,” he says. “You’ll probably be fine.”
Off we go. Establishing a primitive base camp beneath a stately cottonwood alongside the Burr Trail road, we make our first foray onto dirt. I set the drive to “off-road mode” and the suspension to “sport,” and with a slight finger motion I bring the chassis up to more than 10 inches of ground clearance. Tentatively at first—concerned mostly about the off-road resilience of racing tires on 21-inch sport wheels—I build confidence in the Porsche’s ability to crawl over loose shale, to churn through soft sand, to float smoothly over washboard at rally speeds, and to hold a graceful skid on gravel. We venture across rivers and sand and slickrock; at one point we pause on the edge of the Kaiparowits Plateau, more than half a dozen switchbacks above the shores of Lake Powell. then we go back for more.
Having bathed the Porsche in dirt, we feel our way back to pavement and head north to Capitol Reef National Park. Outside the visitors center, a Swiss-German woman elbows her husband and gapes in horror at the defilement we’ve wrought upon this particular specimen of what she calls “ze most beautiful car in ze world,” its piscine front end now splattered with insect paste, its elegant spokes and grillwork coated with fine red dust. To compound the insult, our 7-year-old had used his finger to write, “See ya!” across the grimy back window.
In 1934, before he set off to meet his fate in the wild, Everett Ruess wrote the last letter he’d ever send to his brother Waldo. “I prefer the saddle to the streetcar, and star-sprinkled sky to a roof,” he declared, “The obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway.” Ultimately, though, and thankfully, our journey leads not to eternity but to pavement, and the long, smooth road home.
David Page has finally found a vehicle for which he would be willing to trade his 1983 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60.