Backroading It in a 2013 Volvo S60

We drive through Utah's national parks in search of the Valley Tan

By Jason Davis | Photos By Jason Davis | November 14, 2012

Arches National Park

The arches at Arches National Park are stone rainbows of mostly red, yellow and orange that geologists say were formed over millions of years by the compression, liquefaction, and thrustful repositioning of an underground salt bed. Water seeped into the fault-caused vertical cracks, joints, and folds, eventually freezing and expanding the bedrock, where wind and surface erosion would later uncover younger rock layers, leaving a series of free-standing fins thus exposed to more wind and water. It makes perfect sense to scientists, and to those who've seen the GIF, but it's impossible to comprehend just how many tens of millions of years it took for the more than 2000 arches to form, especially compared to the length of our own infinitesimal lifetimes, that the only discernible measurement man has recorded since discovery are their occasional destruction.
By definition, an arch must span a minimum of 3 feet; the longest, Landscape Arch, at 306 feet, would be my first destination, via the Devils Garden Trail. I wanted to touch an arch, to sit under it with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and to gaze at the blue behind its window, a calming and satisfying memory for the times I would later be stuck in my office cubicle
Temperatures hovered between 98 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't mind sand being blown onto your sweaty, sun-scorched cheeks and neck, it really wasn't that bad. The brochure describes the 0.8-mile trail to Landscape Arch as "moderately easy with some elevation gain." Unfortunately, the trail to the arch had been closed due to its delicate nature, and the only obstacle I found leading to the viewpoint was navigating perfumed throngs of vacationing French families who, despite the heat and sand, always looked as though they had just showered. Beyond Landscape Arch, I continued along the Devils Garden Trail to Partition Arch, a name that sounds exactly as it describes. That's where the trail, marked by piles of rock known as "cairns," routed hikers up the fins of a steep, slick rock, eventually leading to Double-O Arch, where I ate my PB&J and listened to the God of Thunder smashing his cymbals high overhead. Further on, to the end of the Devil's Garden Trail, I took incriminating photos of my fair-skinned better half at the base of a landscape-marking, phallic statue named, "Dark Angel," before turning onto the Primitive Trail, a "difficult low route through fins" with a "short section of smooth slickrock" that led back to the Devils Garden Trailhead. Fortunately, this did not prove stupid, or fatal, that with short, patchy bursts of rain and the sign of lightning in the not far distance, and the nature of the Primitive Trail being not really a trail at all, but an asinine rock-climbing adventure through narrow, flash-flood smoothed canyons, I came out, nearly eight miles from whence I started, unscathed and black on water.

Brews, Blues & BBQ

As luck would again have it, dinner was a few steps from the hotel, this time across the busy road to The Blu Pig, a "BBQ and Blues Joint" with, on paper, a healthy list of local Uinta brew on tap. It was an unspectacular and empty restaurant of good intentions failed by a lackluster menu and a statewide shortage of Uinta's good stuff. My server, Jess, a cheery blonde, watched the rain batter into the window beside me.
After dinner, when she brought the check, I asked if she had heard of the Valley Tan. "No, I don't really drink liquor," she said. "I mostly just stick to beer."
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