We generally think of driving our four-wheeled pride and joy on long, straight and almost deserted U.S. highways. In cool, clear weather, of course. I’m very fortunate to have done quite a lot of that in my 1969 Porsche 912 Coupe’.
The photo below is but one of many similar photos, some of which I’ve used in the books and articles I’ve written. Urban Porsche owners, or urban owners of other sports cars, tend to fantasize about such things.
Above: The 912 on an empty stretch of Dillon Road north of Palm Desert, California on a perfect day.
But current and former U.S. highways don’t always stay down in the flatlands. Few people today know, or care, that U.S. Route 6 crosses the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass, Colorado at an altitude of 11,990 feet above sea level.
Being another ten feet above Loveland Pass would, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, require the pilot of a small airplane to don an Oxygen mask!
Above: Long Creek Summit, (elev. 5,075 ft.), on southbound U.S. Route 395 in east-central Oregon.
One of the nice things about traversing a mountain pass in a high-performance sports car is that either side of the summit usually features road surfaces that seem built with sports cars in mind.
See the distant valley just over the roof of the 912 in the photo above? You can bet that the highway between where I took the photo and down to the valley is neither straight nor flat. It was the same getting up to the summit.
High mountain passes, unfortunately, also mean thin air. Cars with exhaust driven turbo-chargers or belt driven superchargers usually don’t suffer from high altitude driving.
But my small (1,750 cc), normally aspirated 912 does. Even lightly loaded on my solo book trips, I often downshift to 3d gear, or even 2nd for short distances in some situations, to let the car pull itself easily up and over a high mountain pass.
Further south on U.S. Route 395, in California, there are three high mountain passes adjacent to the picturesque Eastern Sierras. They are different from Long Creek Summit in the sense that they are actually the rims of ancient mega-volcanoes that helped form (and are still forming) the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
Above: Devil’s Gate Summit, (elev. 7,519) southbound on U.S. Route 395, north of Bridgeport, California.
Just a few miles further south, another high mountain pass with a spectacular view awaited me just north of Mono Lake.
Above: Conway Summit (elev. 8,143 ft.) above the north shore of Mono Lake on U.S. Route 395 in California. This is the highest point on U.S. Route 395.
This photo from the Conway Summit scenic viewpoint shows two views of Calfornia’s Mono Lake – the photo itself and the map in the photo foreground. We’re actually looking across the caldera (crater) of an ancient volcano.
The “Long Valley Event” made a real mess of the area about 760,000 years ago when the mountain that used to be here exploded with a force we can only imagine. Ash from the mountain has been found by modern Geologists as far east as Nebraska!
So the volcano is extinct now, right? Nope. Look at the black island in the white lake on the map and on the extreme right of the photo. That’s a new lava dome that has built up over the last few thousand years and, when it gets big enough in a few million years, things around Lee Vining, California could get really exciting again.
Like the pitchmen say so loudly on TV these days, “But wait. There’s more!” Conway Summit is on the north rim of the ancient Long Valley Caldera. There’s a south rim, too.
Above: U.S. Route 395 traverses the south rim of the Long Valley Caldera over Deadman Summit (elev. 8,041 ft) between Lee Vining and Mammoth Lakes
I took this photo in April and, yes, that’s snow in the shady areas to the right of the car. The sky was clear but the daytime temperature was still cold
If you look closely at the photo, you can see a cardboard-colored shadow beneath the engine compartment deck lid grille on the 912. It’s a piece of cardboard!
When I drive in cold (under 40 degrees F) weather, I put it between the external oil cooler and the deck lid grille to help the 912’s engine oil to reach, and maintain, a proper engine oil operating temperature.
In summary, a well maintained and properly driven automobile can be a joy on the open road and an “armchair to adventure” if we just take the time to stop and smell the roses along the way.