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

To Springdale

The Volvo's quiet execution alarmed me. Even when it told me it was going to fail (the fuel light thing -- clearly my own fault), it continued to work. I pushed it through heat, elevation, a river, a monsoon, and thoroughly examined the hold gravity exerted on it. I played with the key-sensing door locks, perfected the audio system's equalizer, and filled the trunk and backseat with more luggage and food and gear than any person has a right to travel with. And it still looked great in photos as dust and mud clung to the windshield and trunk lid, never obscuring the lines of its conservative elegance.
Through and through, the S60 T5 AWD did as I asked, and in that manner, it was mine -- the kind of car that, after a string of non-keepers, you're proud to take home: "She's clean, Mom, I swear! She gets 29 miles per gallon!" And later on, "Dad, she's fantastic under the hood, and she handles great."

ThunderBird Restaurant

At the Thunderbird Restaurant in Mt. Carmel, the sign at the front of the parking lot really says "Home of the Ho-Made Pies." Mt. Carmel is one of those drive-by towns between destinations, the kind dominated by truckers and bikers and runaways. It's kitsch but cute, exactly what one would expect on a journey like this, and often, as I've found, where some of the more memorable food and interactions take place.
Inside, I was shown to a well-worn spring booth and met by a cheery runaway type named "Sunshine." She was short and curvy, not altogether dissimilar from the caricature on the neon sign glowing outside the window. She made small talk and then pointed out the varietal standouts on the menu, and I settled on another burger and a draft of Uinta's finest. When Sunshine returned with my food, I asked her if she'd heard of the mythical Valley Tan. But namedropping "Mark Twain" and "nonfiction memoir" didn't seem to alleviate her confusion. Finally, I asked if she was local, and whether she or anyone she knew had heard it under a different name -- Mormon whiskey? "Oh, I'm not a local," she smirked. "I don't even really like whiskey. I just like Jack Daniels. But I'll go ask the kitchen. Someone in there should know." When she returned, she said what everyone else had said, in every place and every restaurant I had visited, adding, "I thought Mormons don't drink?"
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