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

Capitol Reef National Park

And it came to pass that Capitol Reef National Park next appeared on the travel itinerary. Wherefore National Parks are concerned, be it known that the scenery of Utah, in the areas comprising the Colorado Plateau, an expanse of desert in which contains domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, narrows, and bridges, all formed by the forces of water and wind and time by compression, erosion, liquefaction, thrusting, and stretching of collected sediments from more than 300 million years of encroaching and retreating seas, is a national asset.
But the sky had loosed its drawers and silvery couplets of wet had begun to pool on the road -- first black and then brown-black, and finally blue. It became apparent that prudent exploration of the great Reef's 100-mile long buckle in the earth's crust, the Water Pocket Fold, would prove unsafe, for no great calm lingered in the forecast. Instead of wandering the slopes of rain-slicked canyons, I drove to the Historic Fruita District, a one-time hideout for polygamist stow-a-way, Calvin Pendleton, and which later became a Mormon agricultural settlement.
The community contained a period-specific house with turn-of-the-century innards and a sales outlet with jams and pies and breads; a schoolhouse; a large barn; a blacksmithing shop; a smokehouse; many orchards of apple, peach, cherry, pear, and apricot; and a twelve-mile self-guided driving tour. Park literature warned of the two slot-canyons bookending the tour road as "narrow, steep-walled canyon subject to dangerous flash floods that often arrive with little warning," and that park patrons would best "AVOID THIS ROAD WHEN A STORM IS THREATENING!" "What could go wrong?" I thought. "I've got all-wheel drive!" In the end, though, I determined to leave. Capitol Reef National Park is best avoided during the monsoons of August.

Utah has Mountains

Utah has mountains, mountains in the sense that I am familiar: great, snowy peaks of more than 9,000 feet, not the rolling hills glorified by flatter regions of the country. I left Capitol Reef early afternoon with the clouds rolling in and merged onto the Scenic Byway 12 (U.S. State Route), a two-laner that eventually led through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and finally, to Bryce Canyon National Park. The road quickly ascended to the Homestead Overlook, a road so immaculate, winding, steep, and exposed, it is closed in winter.
Down the pass, and beyond the great Aspen forest, I cruised through Boulder, Calf Creek (It's got all-wheel drive, it'll be fine!), and the Hogback, which was like driving down the back of a giant, scaly lizard. On each side of me, the shoulder disappeared to reveal winding creeks, canyons, and cottonwoods, and an impressive view of the Escalante Canyons of the "Grand Staircase." I was not yet tired of driving the Volvo, or of looking out, but I realized then the problem with this road is that the small-town streams and creeks in which I wanted to immerse all led to larger rivers, faster currents, and finally, to the Pacific Ocean. One way or another, the Scenic Byway would meander to the 15, then the 40, and then to Los Angeles and my office cubicle. Thus I drove the S60 T5 AWD ever closer home, ever closer to our impending departure.
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