Retreat to the Forest

After the decimation of the landscape by the lumber industry and wildfires, the lumber companies who owned the land were willing to sell at a low price.  A state act was passed in 1897 which authorized the purchase of any unseated land for the creation of Forest Preserves.  The object at that time was to preserve water supply at the sources and to protect people and property from destructive floods.  In 1898 the first tract in the state was purchased for the Forest Preservation and in 1899 the Commissioner of Forestry was authorized to purchase any suitable land offered at less than $5/acre.  Pennsylvania even created their own forestry school in the early 1900’s to train foresters to manage their expanding Forest Preservations.  It makes a person wonder what the land may look like today were it not for these actions by the state more than one hundred years ago.

With warm weather and the fall colors at their peak I drove to Asaph on Saturday afternoon of Columbus Day weekend 2013 to catch the setting sun and check out Asaph campground at the base of the Asaph Natural Area in the Tioga State Forest.  I turned on Marsh Creek Road in Wellsboro Junction, which parallels the Pine Creek Rail Trial to get to the turn onto Asaph Road.  When we last visited the Pine Creek Gorge area we drove past the US Geological Survey building in Asaph and this day I stopped for a photo as the building was beautiful against the blue sky.  The entire drive along Marsh Creek Road was enjoyable this afternoon – the marsh was noisy with birds and the Sassafras trees along the road were full of all the best of autumn’s colors. Once in the park I was surprised to see a number of tent campers set up in the campground.   There was also a family using the picnic pavilion.  I wandered around the park a little before being stopped by a young man conducting a survey on behalf of Penn State & PA DCNR.  After completing the survey I drove up Right Asaph Road with my state forest map in hand to find the setting sunlight.  I had never been to this area prior to today but I do have a fascination with maps.  If I know I am going somewhere you may find me pouring over the map recording its patterns in my mind for future recall. I own most of the PA State Forest maps and some of them I have studied long.  Tioga SF being the closest to my home, this map is the most worn and even has a hole thorough it in one place.  My path of choice this day was a road that dead-ended/became a trail where I was lucky enough to find a landscape bathed in the setting sun.  I also found these great large rock outcroppings like so many other places in Pennsylvania.  These rocks are large but lack the height of most others I have seen.  While exploring the rocks region I enjoyed hearing a pair of Barred Owls calling to one another close by. The discovery of the millstone and sign were just an added bonus to a great afternoon.


Tour #10 – Optimist or Pessimist, Halfway Mark

Forty-eight parks checked off is close to sixty which is half the parks in the Pennsylvania State Park system.  2013 has been a good year!  Matt’s birthday fell on a weekend and he was fortunate to be working a day job, with weekends off for the first time in ages.  We both scheduled Friday and Monday off and planned a trip to southern Pennsylvania.  As we got closer to our departure I added more stops along the way and suggested stops on the way home, hoping to reach a dozen parks on this tour.  We rented a room in an inexpensive national chain hotel that we used as home base.   The Quality Inn in Chambersburg was a clean hotel with nice bed linens, free wifi and a free hot breakfast buffet every morning.  I am getting ahead of myself…

We left home Friday morning around 9:30 on September 27, 2013 and headed south.  As we drove over Bloss Mountain on Route 15 (future I99) we were in awe at the brilliant fall colors. The day’s weather was very nice making it a good traveling day.  Our first park was Little Buffalo State Park, another historic park. After checking out the camp ground and park office we walked to the top of the dam and enjoyed the view for a while before walking around the rest of the park.  The covered bridge took us to the historic mill which fascinated us both as did the (privately owned) stately old brick mansion across the road from the mill.

The next leg of our drive took us over some very mountainous regions and into an area known as Doubling Gap to Colonel Denning State Park.  We also walked up to the top of the dam here and were taken with the calmness of the water and the stunning reflection.  We both took a lot of pictures around the end of this lake.  Fowlers Hollow State Park is a short drive from Colonel Denning and our third stop.  This large cooking oven reminds me of one I found when I was in the Tioga State Forest in April.  We finally found a Tuscarora Forest sign so snapped this picture to add to my state forest collection.  Big Spring State Park is a day use park in the Tuscarora Forest.  There is a spring with signage not to drink the water.  The beautiful stone and log picnic pavilion is one of the nicest and largest I have seen in the parks. At one of these parks as I exited the car I heard katydids in the trees and was delighted with the reminder of summer I am no longer hearing at home.  This was the last park on the list for the day so we drove up and over mountains, through valleys with rich fertile farmland, past the enormous Letterkenny Army Depot to our hotel.    We had dinner at an Applebee’s near the hotel and had a nice conversation with our server Michelle who told us about a couple of cool places we checked out later in the weekend.

Saturday morning, Matt’s birthday:  After breakfast at the hotel we left for another four-park day, first stop Kings Gap Environmental Education Center.  Before driving up the long driveway to the mansion on top of the hill, we stopped at the smaller pines area below to use the bathrooms and agreed they were the nicest damn outhouses we had ever used, seriously!  We found a parking place near the mansion caretaker’s house and walked the grounds of this magnificent place.  We did not go inside the mansion but roamed the patio and garden with our cameras for much longer than I had expected.  The view from the mansion’s patio/porch was extraordinary even though it was not a warm day.  All our parks this day are in the Michaux State Forest and although we never drove past the actual forestry office we did pass a sign and took a photo to add to my collection.  Our second park was the one I was looking forward to the most, Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  Another park built by the Civilian Conservation Corps that used to be an iron town, this one celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2013.  Pine Grove is also the mid-point on the Appalachian Trail and has THE very cool AT Museum.  There are a number of original buildings still here including the AT Museum, Park Office,  Ironmasters Mansion (all decked out for an afternoon wedding), and Paymasters Cabin (you can rent this.)  The furnace stack is similar to Greenwood Furnace but you cannot stand inside this one.  We liked the old stone foundations evident in the hillside behind the stack.  Pine Grove Furnace hosts two lakes.  The third park of the day was a nice drive and along the way an historical marker caught our eyes and caused me to turn around.  A WWII POW Interrogation Camp piqued my curiosity and occupied my Google searches that evening back at the hotel.  Our third park, Caledonia State Park has the oldest state park office in the system, now used as a Forestry Museum.  The Park manager, Dwight was volunteering in the museum when we were there and was a pleasure to talk with.  Caledonia has an eighteen-hole golf course in addition to camping, picnic areas & theater for performing arts.  We ended up driving through Caledonia two more times on this trip and found more to the park each time.  There is a scale model of the Caledonia Furnace at the park’s entrance on the Lincoln Highway (Route 30) that we never noticed until our third time through.  South of Caledonia is the first Pennsylvania State Forest Park, now called Mont Alto State Park adjacent to Penn State University’s Forestry School.  This is day use only park famous for its carousel style picnic pavilion.  The man in the photo made us feel too uncomfortable to linger.  He was all alone, had two large grills going with food cooking on each one and was singing at the top of his lungs “Take Me Home Country Road” in the most awful, off-pitch, out of tune voice. This night we walked to dinner, stopping in a camera store first (yes, really… a camera store!) and finding new bags for each of us before walking to Red Lobster for a wonderful dinner & drinks.

On morning two we had a leisurely breakfast and entertained ourselves by people watching in the hotel dining room.  There were only two parks on my list for the day and the forecast was for clear skies and sunshine.  The first stop was Cowans Gap State Park which proved to be much nicer than I expected and a beautiful day.  We enjoyed a hike around the lake and saw a number of people picnicking, boating and hiking.  Not far from Cowans Gap was our second park, Buchanan’s Birthplace State Park where President James Buchanan was born.  The cottage his father built is gone but the location is marked with this cool stone pyramid.  This day use only park is a tranquil place.  I had hoped to get a photo with the Buchanan State Forest sign but never passed one where it was safe to pullover.  Had we driven not much further we would have found the forest office so I will leave this state forest on my list for another trip.

We did a lot of driving along Route 30, The Lincoln Highway, a very historic roadway.  When roads were first bring built they had names rather than numbers and this road was an integral part of the national Good Roads movement.  Outside of Caledonia SP is a sign detailing the grand celebration held for the opening of the newly paved section from Gettysburg to Chambersburg in 1921.

I knew the GPS wasn’t going to help me so I had researched online the two locations our server Michelle had told us about and had a fair idea of how to reach each place.  I first took Matt to where I thought to find a water tower and a trail to some locally famous climbing rocks called White Rocks.  He was skeptical of my directions and instincts, I listened to him, he was wrong and we ended up back on the same road (White Rocks Rd) to find a water tower about two tenths of a mile from where I had turned around initially.  Now you know why I am the driver.  The trail is pretty clear as it leads up through small boulders littering the forest floor up to large white rock outcroppings.  Although there were other cars where we parked, we could hear voices. It was not until we got right up to the rock face did we realize there was a couple rappelling. We stopped and spoke to them for some time, getting advice on the best way to reach the top and opinions on other places I had researched online.  Coincidentally the woman was planning on running in the Wineglass Marathon Half Marathon the following weekend in our home town.  We hope she was happy with her time that day.  We chose to scramble up the almost vertical hill, goat-style, and kept climbing higher and higher but never did reach the top of the rocks we had stood below.  When we did have a clear view it was outstanding.  This was some of the toughest hiking either of us has ever done and we were not equipped properly.  Near the point we decided to stop and figure out how to get back down, with Matt ahead of me I noticed a movement close to my feet. A rather fat rattle snake was slithering into a crack between the rocks.  This made me move faster for the moment but made the both of us far more aware and cautious for the rest of the trip.  We have had some very cold nights at home so snakes were not on our radar until this encounter.  We never did reach what we could call the top of this ridge and finding our way back down was difficult and near impossible at a few points but we made it down, safely.  The climbers were gone but we did see a young Mennonite couple with cameras in hand in the parking area, preparing to hike to the base for photos.  The second location Michelle told us about she called Tumbling Run and I had found some information that made it easy to find a trailhead of sorts.  We walked down the stream, which turned out to be the wrong direction on a clear but unblazed trail.  It was peaceful and a nice walk in the woods.  When we reached the car, all of the other cars that had been in the parking lot were gone and nightfall was an hour away.

What better time to visit the former WWI POW Interrogation Camp than nightfall?  At the top of Michaux Road we found the AT crossing the road and Matt got out to make it look as though he was hiking it.  Back down the road from the AT, Camp Michaux is another of those places that has filled my mind with history and nostalgia and become the subject of hours of Internet time.  The site was a farm, then a CCC camp, then the army moved in with their secret interrogation camp, then a church group used it as a summer camp until 1972 when the only winterized building burned down. No one wanted to rebuild, the lease was not renewed and the land reverted to the forestry district.   This night we walked around near the old stone barn wall and a little bit into the camp on what was the main road.  We noticed numbered posts and were intrigued by the idea of exploring it with a guide so planned a return trip on Monday on our way home.  The GPS refused to turn on when we left the camp and I had trouble getting to the hotel from Route 30 so we drove around aimlessly until we got to where we needed to be.  We were so exhausted we went directly to Applebee’s where Michelle was again our server and we shared our day’s stories with her.

Morning three began with breakfast again in the hotel dining room, packed up the car and headed out – Camp Michaux was waiting and we had the guided walking tour downloaded to Matt’s Nook tablet.  We did the walking tour out of order, which I would not recommend, and found we were missing the updated version when we got home so missed three markers.  We both found the guide well written and enjoyed walking around the place.  We saw no snakes but a lot of poison ivy as warned in the guide.   My favorite spot is the swimming pool that was built by the church group.  It is obviously the bullfrog’s favorite spot too.  I could not help but think about the campers, some probably around my own age now, and what they would feel too see how the forest is reclaiming this once thriving summer camp.  As we were leaving we encountered a large group of Road Scholar hikers who were headed to Pine Grove Furnace State Park four miles away.

Somewhere north of Harrisburg, with my GPS working again, I allowed her voice to guide me to a fairly new state park called Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area.  The land was donated to the state to be preserved and made into this day use only park.  I was happy to find an experimental chestnut forest growing here.  Over the next hill is the next park and a treacherous drive I would prefer to never do again.  My GPS took me over Peters Mountain Road, a narrow winding road leading far up a mountain, through one (or maybe more) precarious switchback and apparently an appropriate road for people to drive 55-60 miles per hour.  By the time I reached the turn off for the next park I knew I could not go back the same way I came.  Joseph E Ibberson Conservation Area is another tract of land that was donated to the state.  The AT passes through this park that has a lot of hiking trails.  Leaving here I made sure my GPS was set to “most use of freeways” in order to avoid that awful road and we were guided back to Route 15.  Just north of Lewisburg I honored the GPS by listening to her (or trying to, as her volume was set too low) and taking a different route that made me feel lost and disoriented even though I knew why/where.  If you have ever travelled Route 15 from Williamsport to Lewisburg then you know how it snakes through South Williamsport and other towns and it’s not what your GPS would call “freeway.”  It took me to I180 and up toward Muncy then westward to Williamsport where I met up with Route 15.  It seemed as though it took me twenty miles out of the way but it was probably just my irritation with it all!

Another trip ending at Yorkholo in Mansfield for dinner before coming home with half of the Pennsylvania State Parks seen/visited.  Yes, 2013 has been a good year for my travels!

Loyalsock Trail Hike #1

The Loyalsock Trail is a 60-mile footpath in the Loyalsock Forest that runs through Worlds End State Park.  When we first began camping at WESP in 1998 I became interested in the challenge of hiking the trail but over the years to follow I came to terms with the fact that I really did not want to do any back-pack camping.  For the past few summers when camping at WESP we have hiked the same portion of the LT to a site on the Loyalsock Creek known as The Haystacks.  This year (2013) when we camped at WESP the park hosted a local woman’s presentation of her hike alone on the LT.  She convinced me not to give up the trail and to do it in sections rather than conquer it whole.  This trail has probably the best trail guide & map available and it divides the hike into eight sections with easily accessible trail heads.

I’ve talked about The Haystacks enough to make Diane want to see this place regardless of my descriptions of the rough terrain.  The last section of the LT begins at Sones Pond, ends at the trailhead along Route 220 in Ringdale and is 5.8 miles.  Diane was up for the hike but try as we might; neither of us was successful at recruiting anyone other than Matt to join us.  It was a cold morning when we left NYS but the weather forecast had promised sunshine and warmer temps.  We left one vehicle at the trailhead in Ringdale and drove to Sones Pond where we started our trek.  Finding the trail from the parking area proved impossible so we headed down the road where the trail crossed the road and encountered four men backpack hiking.  They had lost the trail and walked up the road we drove on and said they had camped the night before at The Haystacks.  We walked along with them for a while until we parted ways when we turned off the road and entered the woods.  This section of the trail was quite nice and we thought it was too bad they had missed it. One section required us to clamber down over large rocky outcropping but it was nothing more than I had expected.  We crossed the Loyalsock Creek on the historic iron bridge made by the Horseheads Bridge Company in Horseheads, NY.  There was once a CCC camp in this area & we encountered some other campers here.  The trail from here takes you over old logging roads and railroad grade before you take a sharp right down a steep grade to a trail register & The Haystacks.  If you’ve never heard about, read about The Haystacks mad of Burgoon Sandstone and you have an ounce of curiosity I encourage you to check it out.  From the Haystacks to the trailhead parking is only two miles and there are more than one way to get to the trailhead parking lot.  We kept true to the LT where part of the trail is enjoyable and part of it is just plain grueling because all the climbs are at the end when you’re already tired.  We saw thirty-four people and two dogs on our 5.8 mile hike which was thirty-four more people and two more dogs than Diane and I had encountered on our hike to Sand Run Falls earlier this summer.

We showed Diane around the camp ground and park before performing the ritual of visiting the Forskville General Store.  We had dinner at Highknob Inn where Matt and I had found our favorite beer while camping this year.  A drive up to High Knob Overlook then over the hill to Canyon Vista Overlook were a perfect end to our day and we all returned home worn out.

A Day In Canyon Country

I don’t recall wanting to hang out with my own parents when I was 20 but my daughter has a great relationship with us and suggested we do something on Sunday of Labor Day Weekend 2013.  Matt & I, along with Corinne and her boyfriend Travis hoped to take a horse-drawn wagon tour down Pine Creek Gorge near Wellsboro.  My sister and her family had taken this tour a few years ago and had a good time. We learned when we got there that the wagon tour was called off (I suggest you make reservations!) so we decided to enjoy the parks instead.  We visited Leonard Harrison SP first and Matt was impressed as I was with the upgrades since we visited in the late 1980’s.  We hiked a short trail to an overlook before visiting the Grand Canyon Lookout Tower which was moved from Valley Forge years ago.  Note the three people in the tower and me on the ground below.  Are you seeing a trend here?

We had driven by a trail head for the Pine Creek Rail Trail on our way up to Leonard Harrison so we parked here at Darling Run and walked along the trail for a mile or more.  I really enjoyed the trail although we did not get into the gorge before turning back to the car.  Matt liked the trail so well he returned the following weekend and rode his bicycle 22 miles.  I find it difficult to visit the Pine Creek Gorge without visiting both parks and against Corinne’s protests, I drove to the other side of the canyon to Colton Point SP.  Travis had never been to either park so he was happy with everywhere we took him.  Upon leaving the gorge area I drove along Marsh Creek Road which parallels the Pine Creek Rail Trail from Wellsboro Junction and remembered another place I wanted to check out in the Tioga Forest but kept it to myself for another day trip in the future.

Tour #11 – Solitary Travel and Some Old Familiar Places

Labor Day weekend 2013 and again I had a four-day weekend and could not plan a trip due to a previous commitment.  Out came the map to see what I may have missed close by and I left Friday morning alone for PA State Park Tour #9.

Since I was driving through my old stomping grounds, a visit to Marie Antoinette Lookout on Route 6 was a must to test out my new camera.  When I arrived the fog was still lifting from the river valley below and the view was better than I had remembered it to be.  My father took us to this site many times a year on our Sunday afternoon drives and I still recall when Route 6 went directly past the lookout and between the narrow rock cuts.  The beautiful stonework has been refurbished within the past five years and was extremely well done.  If you’re a local Marie Antoinette Lookout is nice but the real thrill of excitement comes at Wyalusing Rocks just east of here along Route 6.  There was a group of motorcyclists just preparing to leave when I arrived and a few other people still on the rocks but by the time I left I was alone on these ledges high above the Susquehanna River.

I had my GPS programmed for “least use of highways” and allowed her voice to guide me through places I have never been to a park north of Wilkes-Barre named for a little girl who was kidnapped from her home by Delaware Indians in 1778.  She spent her first night in captivity under a rock ledge in what is now Frances Slocum State Park.  It was a beautiful day with sunshine, blue sky and large white clouds and the views around the lake were spectacular.  I did not know the man and his son in my photos but I liked the contrast of their red clothing with the background.  I began a short hike to the rock ledge and before I reached the area, my camera battery died.  Rather than walk back to the car, I completed the hike sans camera, returned to my car for my older camera then hiked the loop in the opposite direction.

For years I have used a Canon Powershot S3 6.0 Mp 12x zoom and can’t say enough good things about it.  It uses AA batteries and takes great photos.  The only drawback is its size – a great camera to wear around your neck but at times it can be too bulky.  I began to have problems with the camera during Tour #7.  Sometimes when I use the zoom, the camera immediately shuts off.  In July I decided to buy myself a Nikon camera.  I plan to keep my Canon and continue to use it and will be interested in comparing the two.  My father was extremely interested in photography.  When we were growing up he always had his camera (or two) wherever we went, his favorite media begin slide photography.  I still remember sitting in front of the large projection screen, viewing his pictures or home movies.  He would have loved the digital age as I do.  You know immediately if you “got the shot”, there’s no cost to develop so you can take thousands of photos (and maybe get a few good ones!), and let us not forget we can easily use software on our personal computers to make our photos better.  It took me a while to get accustomed to the smaller size of my new Nikon Coolpix S9500 (18Mp 22x zoom) but I am very happy with it and am sure I have not even skimmed the surface of its capabilities.  That said we all need to have reliable back-ups of our digital photos.  I recently lost a relatively new external hard drive that contained the only copies of all my digital photos for approximately 10 years.  The verdict on the drive is not yet in so I can only hope.

After I completed Frances Slocum Trail a second time I checked out the rest of the park.  There is a beautiful swimming pool that was unfortunately not open due to no lifeguard for the day.   I left the park and headed west toward my next stop using my GPS to guide me.  When I passed a Lackawanna State Forest sign, I found a place to turn around and went back to take my photo.  I had never entered Ricketts Glen State Park from the bottom of the glen before so it was a treat to stop here and see the last of the twenty-two named waterfalls in the glen.  At the top of the park I drove through the day use area parking to see how many people were out enjoying the day (quite a few) and was not surprised to find the park office closed for the day.  When I tell people about my travels to state parks I am sometimes asked which my favorite is.  I can never give a concise answer because I have many favorites for different reasons.  Ricketts Glen is the park most others name as their favorite.  It gets placed on my must-see list, along with a few others I have seen (and probably many I have yet to see.)

From Ricketts Glen to home is a very familiar route as most of it is the same road to Worlds End and through my hometown of Towanda.  After stopping to harvest some wild catnip in an old familiar place I surprised my mother with a short visit before returning home with forty-eight parks check off my list.

Hike to Sand Run Falls

My friend Diane has wanted to go for a hike since she bought herself a nice walking stick last fall and in July 2013 we agreed to hike a 7.5 mile loop as described in a book I own. We left early in the morning and drove through a lot of low clouds and rain before getting to the trailhead for Sand Run Falls Trail in the Tioga State Forest near Arnot.  The trail took us to Sand Run Falls over rocky terrain with exposed roots and wet areas.   Our shoes and socks were soaked by the time we got to the falls due to the morning rain.  Sand Run Falls is on the Mid-State trail and is a beautiful waterfall with really nice, camp sites for hikers.   It is well worth the three mile hike to reach this spot.  After leaving the falls we back tracked a little to join a cross country ski trail the rest of the way. This part of the trail was covered with knee-high grasses and not well-described in the book but the blue blazes were obvious so we trudged on along a deer fence forever and felt we had accomplished something BIG when we finally reached my VW.  If I ever return I will stick to walking to the falls and back and avoid the blue-blazed ski trail (unless I am on my skis.)

Tour #8 – Touring Center State

Matt must have enjoyed our weekend in Elk Country because he agreed to go away for another two night mini-vacation.  We left home on the morning of July 4th, 2013 after having been to see Dave Matthews Band the night before more than two hours away (in the opposite direction.)  We had a room reserved at The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park and would be touring a few other parks in the region while there.  We arrived at the Inn prior to check-in time but thankfully our room was ready.  Matt was equally impressed as I had been on my first visit as this is really a beautiful LEED Certified building in a gorgeous setting and an outstanding place to stay.  After we settled in we changed into hiking clothes and drove around the end of the lake to the other part of the park to hike a loop trail that was printed as being 4.5 miles long.  It was a really hot, humid summer afternoon and we were glad to be in the woods for the majority of the hike.  The trail passes the eagle nesting area in two locations and is clearly marked with warning signs.  We heard an eagle and I saw it take flight from a tree branch but my view was not clear.  On this trip the eagles were no longer in their nesting phase.  We finally finished the hike after what seemed like much longer than 4.5 miles only to find the trail loop printed as 5.5 miles in another location.

The first morning at the Inn we enjoyed the breakfast buffet before leaving for our park tour.  All the parks we were visiting that day are in the Rothrock State Forest which we entered somewhere near State College.  I wanted to stop at an overlook on this road but, as usual, I had someone on my bumper so could not signal in time and had to miss it.  When we took the photo with the Rothrock State Forest sign it was on a rather dangerous hill and it was safer for me to sit on the “Leaving” side than it was on the “Entering” side.  Whipple Dam State Park was the first park for the day.  It was a gorgeous day and this park was a beautiful place to spend some time.  There were not a lot of people in the park and those there were quiet.  In a pavilion on the far side of the lake was a woman tutoring a young girl.  She told us they went there every day in the summer and pointed out a swallows nest in the rafters of the pavilion they were using that day.  The park was so idyllic that morning I hated to leave but my main destination of the day was our next stop.  Greenwood Furnace State Park is a National Historical Landmark and the site of a former iron furnace around the turn of the last century.  After all the trees had been cut down and no more charcoal could be made, the iron industry moved out and years later the CCC moved in and built many of the features in the park today including the dam.  The CCC had a large part in creating many of the state parks I have visited thus far and the quality of their workmanship is proven by the endurance of their contributions.  Matt and I had never seen an iron furnace nor knew how one operated but after viewing the displays in the park office/visitor center and watching a video presentation we were much better informed.  It is really cool that you can stand inside the reconstructed furnace stack.  Within the park are a few original buildings still standing such as the blacksmith’s shop and stone Ironmaster’s mansion which is a remarkable large stone house.  With one last park on my list for the day, we left Greenwood Furnace and got a glimpse of the beautiful dam that was built by the CCC but I did not get a chance to take a photo.  We drove for what seemed like a really long time through the Rothrock State Forest and stopped at the Alan Seeger Natural Area where there is picnic areas and hiking trails available. The next destination, Penn-Roosevelt State Park, was also a Civilian Conservation Corp Camp and the camp S-62-PA is commemorated with a plaque on the back of a remaining stone fireplace.  This is a day-use only park and likely not utilized much any longer.  The dam here is a beautiful center spillway dam but needs repair and the state does not have it in their budget to fix it so the lake is drained.  I was disappointed that we did not find a traditional wooden DCNR sign for the park but at least there was a sign.  This park is in the middle of nowhere and I did not relish having to return for a photo after I’ve visited most of the regional parks.

After leaving Penn-Roosevelt we drove down out of the hills and forest to Bellefonte, PA where my parents had lived in the early 1950’s while my father attended Penn State University for graduate school.  I had found Bonnfatto’s Restaurant online, it was easy to find  so we had our dinner there and were both disappointed we had no room left for their famous homemade ice cream.  I had wanted to drive through the town to locate the house my parents lived in but my passenger had lost his patience with being in the car so instead we drove back the Nature Inn for the night.  I have since discovered that I own photos my father took of the inside and outside of the small stone house they rented so one day I will return with photos in hand as I am told the building still stands.

The second morning at the Nature Inn we again enjoyed a great breakfast buffet then went for a hike around the park similar to the hike I had done on my first visit.  After we checked out we drove to the last park on my list for this tour.  Black Moshannon State Park was a park I had identified years ago as one I really wanted to see, before I even made this goal of mine.  After spending the afternoon there exploring the park, hiking the bog trail then swimming in the tea-colored water, I want to go back again.  One of the oddest things to happen on this tour happened in the Snack Shop while we were waiting for our food.  I was looking at T-shirts and heard Matt speaking to someone.  Now, I’m the one from Pennsylvania, I’m the one who spends so much time in Pennsylvania with all my touring yet HE’S the one who runs into someone he knows when we are in the center of the state!

We left Black Moshannon albeit reluctantly and headed for the Interstate to take us home.  And speaking of Interstate, I hated it and wanted to be driving on forest roads again.  I made it as far as the Jersey Shore exit where I got off and headed north toward Waterville.  For some unexplainable reason I took a route that brought us out far west of where we should have been by the time we got to the northern tier of the state but the drive was notable.  Notable first because I drove past the Tiadaghton SF office and Upper Pine SP where I had visited on Tour #7 earlier this year; second because we took a quick detour so Matt could see the awesome view from Hyner View State Park; notable third because we drove through thick forest state forest land with Sproul to our left and Tiadaghton to our right for miles and miles; notable fourth to the fact that I failed to get gas when we were anywhere near civilization and it was a very tense drive with the gas light on until we finally reached the tiny town of Germania where there is a single gas pump Matt knew about from snowmobiling; and notable due to the fact that we had to drive through & beyond Galeton on the evening of their annual fireworks display.  I did not get pulled over by the Galeton police officer on this trip, much to my relief.

A Weekend in The Wilds

I said I would return to Pennsylvania Elk Country so I chose Fathers Day 2013 weekend to take Matt for a weekend away.  Matt enjoyed the drive, passing by Austin Dam, Sinnemahoning State Park and the Bucktail statue in Driftwood on our way to Elk Country.  I rented a small inexpensive cabin that I was not impressed with at all – it was sufficient and I will leave it at that.  We stayed in Friday night and planned our activities for the next day.  Saturday morning we drove to Parker Dam State Park where we further investigated the park and hiked two different trails.  It was a beautiful time of year; the forest was verdant and the mountain laurel in full bloom.  The park office was open and we got some great, inexpensive T-shirts and some walking stick medallions.  Since SB Elliott State Park is so close we drove to the park and checked it out more thoroughly than I had the month before.

After leaving SB Elliott we headed to the Marion Brooks Natural Area in the Quehanna Wild Area.  I had read about this 975 acres of white birch trees in an almost pure stand but it was amazing to see.  There are no trails but we wandered just inside the area and it was spectacular.  White birch indicates a young forest and eventually, these trees will die out and mixed hardwoods will take their place.  For now, it is an incredible natural wonder.

Next I took Matt to the PA Elk Country Visitors Center and we were excited to see elk grazing so close to the parking area.  The only elk I had seen on my last trip were in the distance.  Inside the visitor’s center I spent more time with the displays than I had previously & enjoyed the gift shop with all the items made in the US.  We ate at the Benezette Hotel and on our way back to our cabin we saw a few elk in the Benezette Campground so we just had to turn around and get some photos.  We see deer all the time where we live but to see these huge animals roaming about like deer was very strange!  It was getting to be shortly before sun down and the elk usually graze at this time of the day so I took Matt to Hicks Run Wildlife Viewing Area where I had stopped briefly in May.  Before even reaching the parking area we saw a bull elk, in full velvet, in a field near the meadow.  I should have turned off my digital zoom and I would have had at least a few good photos!  From the viewing platform we saw a group of deer in the distance but no more elk.

The following morning we returned to the Quehanna Wild Area.  This area has fascinated me since I got my hands on the state forest maps for this region.  The Quehanna Wild Area is a perfect sixteen-sided polygon and the maps show a small octagonal area within marked “restricted.”  On one map, the road leading to this restricted area is named Reactor Road.  Piques one’s curiosity, does it not?  The landscape in Quehanna is unlike any have ever seen and difficult to describe.  This area was once known as Pennsylvania’s desert after the destruction caused by the lumber boom and subsequent wild fires.  At a later date, during the “Atoms for Peace” push, the land was leased by Curtiss Wright Corporation for jet engine & nuclear research (and subjected to a lot of chemical waste.)  We had hopes of hiking to the remains of the Curtiss Wright Corporation buildings & parking lot but found the trail not well marked and decided we needed a more detailed map.  We drove to the barricade on Reactor Road but did not venture any further on foot.  There was a nuclear reactor here and it cost the state millions of dollars to clean it up.   The shape of the wild area is the original fence line for the Curtiss Wright Corporation which was guarded by guard towers.  I spent hours online learning about the history of Quehanna Wild once I returned home.  I now own a detailed map so will return in the future for some hiking trips.

I had promised Matt that we would visit Kinzua Bridge State Park on the way home so we drove through Saint Marys and Johnsonburg (A.K.A. Godfart, but it wasn’t stinky this day) and north on Route 219. Once we got there, Matt was in awe with the damage done to the bridge & trees.  The sky walk has now been completed so he trekked out to the end while I gladly stayed behind and walked around on the viewing decks.

We drove home along Route 6 and I was reminded of our trip on that road in 1999.  There is a once lovely stone building built into the rock cliffs outside of Port Allegany called Lynn Hall that never fails to interest me and one more thing I can (and did) spend hours learning about online.  We stopped at the Black Forest Trading Post because I have always wanted to … a touristy kind of thing.  Matt bought a really high quality Guinness T-shirt as the shop has an Irish section… go figure!

We stopped in Mansfield and had dinner at Yorkholo where Matt sampled some of their brew.  When we were done we still had a considerable amount of daylight left so we drove east on Route 6 to Armenia then up the mountain road to see the wind turbines up close.  I am continually in awe of these giant things whenever I see them and this was the closest I have ever been.  I continued along the road we were on and eventually it turned into the kind of dirt forestry road I have driven so many times.  I turned on my GPS and surprised myself to actually know where I was and where I would come out.  The road became the Fallbrook Road and ends up near Fallbrook Falls in the Tioga State Forest where I had visited in April.  I was anxious to show Matt this cool place but disappointed that there was a group of younger people in a Jeep illegally entering the old park and apparently preparing for a party.  We did walk in and check out the falls but did not linger.

Home again with no new parks to add to the list but a lot of photos, great memories and desire to return.

Hiking at Parker Dam Mountain Laurel at Park Office Mountain Laurel More Mountain Laurel Matt and a Large Fern Birch Trees at Marion Brooks NA Moshannon SF A08_ElkAreaSign A09_YoungBull A10_CampgroundElk A11_ElkBullInVelvet A12_ReactorRoadBarricade A13_Kinzua A14_MattAtKinzua A15_WindTurbines

A Return to My “Home” Park

On Memorial Day 2013 I had nothing to do with a PA State Park close by still on my list.  Having been there many times before, I decided to drive there on an unfamiliar route and along the way snapped some wonderful photos of a red fox and found Easy Street.  Mt Pisgah State Park opened in the late 1970’s and became the state park closest to my childhood home.  My father brought us here in 1979 for a day outing but I cannot orient myself using the photos taken more than thirty years ago.  On this day the weather was nice but I could not help but wish I were in a park with NO cell phone service as I listened to a woman having a very loud and obnoxious argument on the other end of her phone.  There were a lot of people enjoying the park and once the woman left, I enjoyed the peace and serenity.  I have kayaked on Stephen Foster Lake before and on this day there were a number of anglers in boats on the water.  I stayed until sunset and returned home with forty-two parks checked off.

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Tour #7 – Solitary Travel

Prior to my leaving for Tour #7 we had a death in my husband’s family with the memorial services planned for Saturday of Memorial Day 2013 weekend so my trip had to be cut short.  Saturday was “A Day in the Life of a Park” event and I had hoped to spend the entire day with my camera after a long day of touring on Friday.

I left home early in the morning on Friday to get to the Lindley Post Office as it opened in order to mail the NYS EMS exam materials from the course I had proctored the evening before. I hit Route 15 about 9:15 and drove through low clouds, misty rain and cool temperatures to Route 6 then proceeded westward.  As I turned off Route 6 in Sweden Valley, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds and bathed the wet landscape in a warm glow.  It didn’t last long but it lifted my spirit.

My first stop of the day was Patterson State Park and I was happy to find the sign has been replaced.  So happy, in fact, that I bounced out the VW to trek across the lawn toward the sign before remembering to change my shoes thus my shoes AND socks were soaked.  My next stop , Prouty Place State Park is another small park with rustic camping.  I sat next to the stream here and changed into dry socks and shoes, placing my wet socks on the car’s dashboard in hopes they may dry.  Leaving Prouty Place, I detoured to visit the remains of Austin Dam in Austin, PA.  This place had been written up in Mountain Home Magazine last year as they celebrated an anniversary and I wanted to see it.  The dam and the remains of the Bayless Paper Mill are both interesting places worth a boondoggle!

After turning in the wrong direction and having an argument with my GPS, I finally made my way to Sizerville State Park where I visited the Nature Center, got a free box of Grape Nuts and ate a snack.  The camp ground was beginning to fill up even though the forecast for the entire weekend did not call for warm weather.  After being extirpated in the state, a pair of beavers was reintroduced in Pennsylvania near this park in 1917 and beavers are still found in the area.  After leaving Sinnemahoning I drove through Bucktail State Park Natural Area where I was fortunate to find a sign next to a safe pull-off where I could snap the photo.  In the photo I am kneeling in attempt to cover some graffiti on the guiderail.  In Emporium I stopped at the Elk State Forest office and gathered some park & forest maps I was missing.  After leaving Emporium I stopped at beautiful Wayside CCC Memorial picnic area then later at an interesting coal display outside the Little Museum of Cameron County.  I enjoy traveling alone as I can stop when I feel like it, turn around whenever I miss something I don’t want to and I don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone but myself (no one heavy sighing in the passenger seat when I pull off the road unexpectedly is nice too!)

My next stop was Sinnemahoning State Park and I entered the park near the George B Stevenson dam.  Some time prior to this trip it dawned on me that I had seen a lot of dam parks so I’ve been keeping a log as to who built the dam, who owns & operates the dam and any historical significance of the dam.  Sinnemahoning has a gorgeous Wildlife Center where I was surprised to learn that the Monarch butterflies flock to this valley every fall and coat the trees with their orange & black prior to their long flight to Mexico.  I walked around a bit near the park office and discovered evidence of a recent wedding.  It seems like weddings in PA state parks are the thing to do!  On my way toward my next park I drove through Driftwood and stopped to look at the statue commemorating the Pennsylvania Bucktails.

When I entered Pennsylvania’s Elk Country I stopped at Hicks Run Wildlife viewing area but saw no elk or any other wildlife for that matter.  Sun set was about two hours away but I hadn’t time to wait – this stop was not on my list and I was losing daylight. Regardless of the timing issue, I drove up to the PA Elk Country Visitor Center and once there, I knew I would have to return to this area with Matt – there was just too much to see and do in the short amount of time left in the day.  From the Elk Visitor Center, Parker Dam State Park was a short drive and in the Moshannon State Forest.  Multiple tornadoes tore through this region of the state in 1985 and the interpretive displays near the octagonal CCC cabin are very interesting.  The CCC Museum near the dam was closed, much to my disappointment.  Again, I wanted to linger here longer but nightfall was approaching but I had miles to go before I sleep…

Simon B Elliott State Park is a few miles from Parker Dam and not far from I80.  When I stopped at SB Elliott I had very little day light remaining but enough to drive through the small camp ground and around the day use area.  By the time I hit I80 a few minutes later I had to turn on my headlights.  I stopped at the very next exit to grab a quick bite in a drive-through then got back onto I80 heading east.  I had a room waiting for me at my last park of the day and the only park in the system with a bed and breakfast.

The sign for Bald Eagle State Park was easy to miss in the dark and I ended up driving the length of Foster Joseph Sayers Lake before phoning the Nature Inn for directions (and to assure them I was on my way) and turning around.  After unloading the VW and carting all my stuff into the Inn, I was anxious to relax. And again, I knew I had to return to this beautiful place for one night would surely never be enough.  The building is LEED Certified Green and I could write an entire journal about the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle and everything I liked.  The following morning I enjoyed a great breakfast buffet before taking a hike. It was cold and I wore a wool jacket over a sweater & long sleeved shirt!  It was a gorgeous morning and a vast difference from the overcast, rainy day before.  When I returned from my hike it was time to check out so I loaded the VW and just before leaving an Inn employee helped me to spot the nesting bald eagles across the lake.  I hit the road once again with only one more stop before coming home.

I had missed Upper Pine Bottom State Park on Tour #4 and this trip offered the perfect opportunity to add this park to my ever-growing list.  Before reaching this small day-use park I stopped at the Tiadaghton Forest Office in Waterville and was blown away with their interpretive displays, their building and the view of Pine Creek Gorge it offers.  My main reason for stopping was to use the toilet so all this was an added bonus!  Just up the hill from the forest office is Upper Pine Bottom, bringing my total number of parks to forty-one.  I drove through Little Pine SP and was fortunate to see more nesting eagles.  Further up Route 287 in English Center is a very interesting bridge that I was asked to answer questions pertaining to by a State Highway Department worker on one side of the bridge and I got out on the other side to take photos.  By the time I reached home I had just enough time to unload the car, shower & dress quickly for the memorial service.  Tour done!

a1_YellowThroatPatterson 2013_05_24Prouty Place 2013_05_24a4_ProutyIMG_0391 a6_Baylessa7_AustinDamSizerville 2013_05_24IMG_0414 MOD IMG_0417Bucktail 2013_05_24a10_WaysideCCCIMG_0430 moda12_CamCtyCoalIMG_0435Sinnemahoning 2013_05_24IMG_0440 modIMG_0448a13_WildlifeCtrIMG_0450IMG_0454  a15_BucktailElk State Forest 2013_05_24a16_HicksRunPlatformIMG_0456IMG_0458a18_ElkVisitorCtra19_ElkBronzeIMG_0471 modParker Dam 2013_05_24IMG_0477Moshannon State Forest 2013_05_24a20_ParkerDam  IMG_0482                    SB Elliott 2013_05_24Bald Eagle 2013_05_25          a_Bird1  a_BumbleBee a_SwallowTail1 a_SwampOak a_TreeGroup  IMG_0533 IMG_0562 IMG_0579 IMG_0591IMG_0586 IMG_0589 Upper Pine Bottom 2013_05_25a_UPBSP IMG_0595 IMG_0597 IMG_0599