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MOUNTAINAIRE, Ariz. — Heading north out of Sedona, Route 89 runs up Oak Creek Canyon toward Flagstaff until it butts against bluffs of the Mogollon Rim, sheer escarpments stretching for hundreds of miles across Arizona. A ribbon of asphalt threads like a twisted serpent up those cliffs, scaling thousands of vertical feet in a course littered with tricky chicanes and blind hairpin curves.
Drive this road on a Saturday in July, and your progress will be impeded by a slow line of tourists stacking up behind humongous recreational vehicles, with drivers intimidated by their closeness to so many cliffs. Drive it early on an off-season weekday morning, when the tourists have gone home, and you'll be alone to play.
My romp up the cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon turned into an exercise in sure-footed but plush motoring, as I was ensconced in a deluxe edition of the full-size Yukon sport-utility vehicle from GMC.
Dubbed the Denali — a name drawn from native Alaskan Athabascan people to describe "the High One" of Mount McKinley, tallest peak on the continent — this sport-ute represents the top of the Yukon line in a leather-trimmed environment charged with serious horsepower.
The Denali stands out, with sophisticated monochromatic dark color schemes on an exterior form accented by a bold front hood with a rectangular center port grille, flanked by jewellike lenses of sparkling halogen headlamps.
The Denali rides high on special Firestone 16-inch tires and carries front tow hooks and plenty of protective cladding around the lower body, plus side integrated body-color running boards and, at the rear, a functional step bumper that hides a trailer hitch.
The power beneath the hood
Beneath that muscular hood, the Denali conceals a V-8 powerplant that pulses with the strength of 255 horses to charge a hill route like the bluffs of Oak Creek Canyon.