“Fall colors? What is this, ‘Marth Stewart Living?”
No, this is yet another excuse for you to fire up that heap out in the garage and drive! This week’s excuse is the annual celebration of the end of chlorophyll production in leaves across America and the takeover of xanthophylls, carotenoids and anthocyanins, the chemical pigments making leaves turn yellow, orange and red, in that order.
Here’s how this idea came about: I was assigned to get to Lake Tahoe to drive the new Ram TRX rock-stomper truck (driving impressions embargoed, sorry). They wanted me to fly there. I balked. I asked FCA – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – if they had something left in the press fleet in which I could drive the 500 miles up there.
“I’ll take anything, you got any Le Barons?”
They gave me instead a 2020 Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4×4. The thing was loaded. The $3995 Black Appearance Package had 22-inch wheels wrapped in 285/45 tires, 19-speaker Harmon Kardon Premium Sound and a few other black items for that sinister look the kids love; Another package offered things like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist; and for $4995 I got the 3.0-liter turbocharged EcoDiesel V6 making 260 hp, 480 lb ft of torque and was rated at 12,560 pounds of towing capability.
While the base Tradesman Ram 1500 cost only $32,145, my fully loaded, top-of-the-line Limited Crew Cab 4×4 was $75,305 out the door. Don’t scratch it.
Now, the idea of fall colors wasn’t the reason for the trip, but as long as we were on it, why not? So we drove up Hwy. 395 to just north of Bishop, Calif. the first day and pulled off onto some BLM land between Crowley Lake and Benton Hot Springs. That’s one thing to love about the American West, there is still land spreadin’ out so far and wide and so much is open to “dispersed camping.” So we found a dirt road and drove until we found a flat spot between the trees and voila – free lodging! The smoke from the long-burning Creek Fire just over the crest of the Sierra Nevada shifted a little and there above us was the Milky Way, wheeling across the sky like some kind of star-studded carnival ride. Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn all took their turns on stage as the night progressed, too.
The next day we fired up the Ram Limited and headed north, after breakfast with some American Lancia Club friends in Bishop, cutting east off Hwy. 395 whenever it looked like there was some color. Those 480 pounds of torque meant the steepest approaches were a breeze. If you go, and you can still go because when we went up last week most of the place hadn’t peaked yet, I recommend the following side trips for anthocyanins:
Rock Creek Rd. to Rock Creek Lodge where they’re still serving breakfast and lunch
Crowley Lake Dr. to McGee Creek Rd. and back to 395
Hwy. 203 to Mammoth to Mammoth Scenic Loop, which puts you back on Hwy. 395
June Lake Loop
Virginia Lakes Rd. to Dunderberg Meadow Rd (dirt) back to 395
By then we had to make time to Tahoe, so we took 395 to 89 to 50 to Truckee, where we stayed at the Ritz Carlton. What a change, from sleeping in the dirt like common marsupials to sleeping on the Ritz’s 600-count sheets. On the way back we took Hwy. 88 through an explosion of still more color, then down into the massive San Juaquin Valley, which John Muir once described as “…dead and dry and crisp.” It made us wish for some Aspens.
“Fine,” you say. “But where am I supposed to find fall colors near me?”
A quick check of the Fall Foilage Prediction Map shows there are still vast swaths of fall colors across America. While Da Yoop in Michigan has already peaked, the lower half of the Mitten is still changing to gold. Likewise, big stretches of the Northwest, the eastern Cascades, northern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and northeastern Pennsylvania are still popping, as is, according to the map, Cape Cod and two great stretches of Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks up and down North Carolina and Virginia, as well as the northern end of West Virginia and a patch of eastern Kentucky. All those leaves out there giving their lives for your enjoyment. Don’t let them die in vain. Pack up the Duetto, or the Cobra or maybe the Corvette Convertible and head out there, while there’s still time. Send me some photos.
Post up your fall foliage fun-drive photos below.
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