On a long road trip, I start to think of my car like a second skin. Maybe I’m parked at a rest area outside of Barstow, or maybe I share brief eye contact with another driver as I pass somewhere between Flagstaff and Cameron, and there develops an inescapable feeling that my fellow motorist is gathering a first impression — not based on me, but only on what I drive and how I drive it.
So it was on a recent four-day, 1,746-mile trip, towing a 22-foot Airstream Sport ($53,900) behind a 2017 GMC Yukon Denali, that I often witnessed a stranger falling in love at first sight. The French motorcyclists, gawking at my travel trailer, offering breathless praise in broken English while I filled up off Route 66 in Arizona. The campsite gadfly in Sedona, eagerly quizzing me on the Denali’s performance while I readied a fire. The Airstreamer passing by in southern Colorado with a honk, wave, and friendly flash of the lights, pleased to see a comrade. In the ecosystem of the highway — with its flora of truck stops, fauna of motels, predators on four wheels, and prey on 18 — I was often the most intriguing rig.
This trip was somewhat born of hubris, a desire to tame the American West quickly in the best car and trailer combo I could possibly assemble. I ended up securing my chariots and driving Los Angeles to Telluride round trip, via the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on the way there and Sedona, Arizona, on the way back.
The sprawl of LA gave way to the arid flats of the Mojave, which slowly transformed into the dramatic timber-dotted Grand Canyon, and I never once wanted for power. I pushed up grades leaving Kingman, burdened the brakes down mountain passes approaching Sedona, and carved two-lane highways into Telluride. It’s hard to convey just how reliable the 6.2-liter V8 in the Denali felt over the course of drive. Even towing, I accelerated to pass with ease and surged through summer monsoons unphased.
It’s hard to convey just how reliable the 6.2-liter V8 in the Denali felt over the course of drive. The Airstream itself was about 4,000 pounds of gleaming aluminum that felt light behind the vehicle.
The Denali ($78,090) manages to mesh the features of a family hauler (rear-seat entertainment, power-folding seats, wi-fi, and a wealth of USB outlets) with the bonafides of a road-trip workhorse (auto load-leveling suspension in the rear, trailer sway control, and fully automatic locking rear differential). It also has the full slate of driver-comfort features, like a heads-up display, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and a backup camera to guide your hitch. Alas, the Denali can’t all be a sweet dream, and my unofficial tally for the trip had me at 13 MPG (the Denali gets 17 MPG unladen). Still, it’s hard to think of a better overall American hauler for the journey — especially measured up against the GMC’s 420 horsepower, 460 lb-ft, 6.2-liter V8.
The Airstream itself was about 4,000 pounds of gleaming aluminum that felt light behind the vehicle. There was a manageable but pesky yaw above 70 mph, though the sway bars, which I elected to forego, likely would have solved that problem. Inside, the 22-footer is modern and comfortable, with enough space for two to cook, sleep, and bathe without wrestling. The battery and propane are handy for keeping the trailer mostly functional while off the grid, powering the stove, refrigerator, fans, and stereo.
Colorado gave me rain in sheets so thick I could hardly see, and Arizona blew wind that made a lane feel like a tightrope. I dodged scrap metal in California and deer in Utah. I swerved for distracted drivers everywhere. But the road never did humble that hubris that got me out there in the first place. The truck and trailer only served to make me feel stronger, more mobile, and more wide-eyed for the next state. This is an adventure rig, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t make me King of the West for a weekend.