Crossing the Country in a 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris
It’s like being on another planet. The land crumbles into itself, each layer of earth dropping hundreds of feet into the next, stretching out endless toward the horizon. Sky meets land, canyons meet mountains, muted grays and tans mix with vivid purples and blues, and we stand in awe of it all inside Canyonlands National Park, just southwest of Moab, Utah’s famous off-road playground.
I’d set off east from Los Angeles a few days prior, kicking off a cross-country move back to Michigan. Joining me for the ride with all of my worldly possessions, which are tightly packed into this red Mercedes-Benz Metris cargo van, is my girlfriend, Ellie. To make this trip as interesting as possible, we set three simple rules: no fast food would be eaten, no hotels rooms would be booked, and every scenic vista detour we could find would be taken.
Our first destination is Zion National Park, but first, we had to get through LA’s infamous traffic, which the Metris had no trouble navigating even while loaded to the ceiling. I’d spot a gap, hit the throttle, and once the turbo attached to the 208-horsepower I-4 spooled, the Metris scooted along with ease.
The sun gave us a proper welcome to Zion in the morning, casting long shadows down the red rock. Fueled by coffee and oatmeal, we hike up a steep, narrow trail up towards the top of the park. Neither words nor photos can substitute the feeling of looking out over Zion Canyon, its vast nothingness squeezed between immense, monolithic red walls.
After climbing down, we depart Zion and head up the freeway to our next stop. As we pushed its tires off the pavement and onto Moab’s gravel roads, the Metris soaked up bumps well, keeping the Tetris game I played with my personal belongings from falling apart as we made our way to Moab Under Canvas. We’d stayed in one the quaint canvas tents before, but not beneath a clear, moonless sky.
When, the sun broke over the horizon once again, we started our short drive here, to Canyonlands. Mesa Arch is a mere half-mile hike off the park’s main road. The midday sun casts an orange glow on the underside of the arch, through which you can see miles upon miles of crumbling plateaus fading into the faint blue distance.
Canyonlands seemingly has an infinite number of spectacular vistas, our favorite being Grand View Point Overlook. Standing atop the plateau, toes dangle inches from the edge. It’s strange to feel as though you’re standing atop the highest point, looking down in every direction, yet on the horizon mountain tops taunt with still taller peaks.
Our next detour takes us to Snowmass, Colorado. As we enter the town, pigmentation shifts from “Ansel Adams photograph” to “Disney Animation.” The rich blues of the mountains and sky filling our panorama highlight the vibrant greens and yellows of the trees. We stop for the night at an Airstream trailer Ellie found on Air Bnb, a cozy spot to relax and make tacos.
When it’s time to depart Snowmass, we follow a detour south on 82 that’s better known as Independence Pass. The Metris stays glued to the road as we wind our way up through dense forests, its 258 lb-ft of torque keeping our climb steady as we break from the tree line and crest 12,000 feet of elevation. As we cross the continental divide, I’m thankful that the Metris’ steering wheel–mounted paddle shifters allow me to click down through the seven-speed automatic as we descend the steep switchbacks.
Our meandering path leads us north and east to Lyons, Colorado, where we turn off pavement onto a steep dirt road. As the road crests we see a tiny house tucked in a tree. Tonight we’re staying in the same treehouse Ellie and I stayed at during our previous cross-country trip. While Ellie admires the view, I setup my tripod to capture the surprise I had prepared. Lens ready, I join her on the porch, reach into my back pocket, get down on one knee, and say the only words a man says in this position — “will you marry me?” Her eyes fill with tears as she says “yes,” and we celebrate in typical fashion — with beers and Mexican food at the local brewery.
The following morning, my now-fiancée and I decide its best hurry up and get home to celebrate with our loved ones, so we take the direct route to Omaha, Nebraska. After long day of cornfields and straight roads, we make it to our stop, a tiny house on a goat farm. We get a few hours sleep before being woken up by a mouse rustling through our belongings, which we pack back into the Metris for last time.
We spend several hours driving through the cornfields of Iowa and Nebraska before we see the faint outline of the Chicago skyline through the clouds. Traffic builds but the Metris cuts through it quickly. Before we know it, we’re back in the dense forests of our home state, where we would be greeted by Ellie’s parents with hugs and congratulations a short time later.
The Metris remained the constant variable on our trip, comfortably cruising down the freeway and capably handling every detour we came across. This little cargo van took us on a journey we’ll always remember, our last trip as a dating couple. And when Ellie asks me what we’ll do for our honeymoon, all I can say is that we’ll aim to keep it interesting by following three simple rules: no fast food would be eaten, no hotels rooms would be booked, and every scenic vista detour we could find would be taken.
2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris Specifications
|Price:||$ 28,950 (base)|
|Engine:||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/208 hp, 258 lb-ft|
|Layout:||2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD van|
|EPA Mileage:||21/24 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||202.4 x 75.9 x 75.2 in|