Jeff Fox: Delights and disappointments on the long trail

The Examiner

It’s mid-October in Missouri, so a fall colors drive is just what one does, right? 

Well, add that to the list of assumptions that could stand to be challenged.

Jeff Fox

Just Google “Missouri fall colors,” and there’s the Missouri Department of Conservation seemingly laying out all you would need to know, region by region. 

To be fair, the department says “Predicting the peak of fall color can be difficult” but also adds, “The peak of fall color in Missouri is usually around mid-October.” I suspect this is like fishing. You pull up at the resort and the guide always says you should have been here last week.

Still, the tantalizing hints were there.

The Department of Conservation listed Kansas City and several other regions as “in progress,” which I take to be bureaucratic PR for “ain’t happening.” But central Missouri and the Ozark were listed as “peak,” adding “The weather is beautiful, and most of the tree species are at or near peak color” in central Missouri.

There is a crucial difference between a service and a sales pitch. I pay my taxes for services. I can get all the sales pitches I want for free. This state website was using my money to lead me down the primrose path – not the fiery red and bright gold one either – to the conclusion that fall colors were just down the road, just around the next bend.

If there’s one sad defining trait of my life, it’s the insatiable need to know what’s around the next bend. So let’s roll.

We chose a route that seemed simple enough. Pick up U.S. 50 in Lee’s Summit and head east to Jefferson City, then 63 south to Vienna, then noodle back west to the Lake of the Ozarks, then north, then home.

Here’s the thing: You can drive the interstate from New York to L.A. and never get a full picture of America. It’s more than QuikTrip, Denny’s and Holiday Inn. Get on the secondary highways and backroads, the roads that go through towns, not around them. I highly recommend this, and our day trip – a break in the routine – was worth it just on those terms, with or without bright colors.

We saw the fields and woods, we saw roadside pumpkins and campaign signs, and we got stuck behind large, slow farm implements. And we saw a lot of dull yellow trees, and others of green fading to brown. The only real red was some sumac we saw during a pit stop at a state park.

All in all, it seemed fitting. This year has been a train wreck since about two minutes after Patrick Mahomes joyously lifted the Super Bowl trophy. Some years the fall colors just don’t seem to come together. It’s OK.

It pays not to invest too much hope in any one thing. Try again next year – but do better research first.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or @FoxEJC.