the burning town

It was cold, the kind of bright icy cold that takes your breath away as soon as you step outside.  We had not felt cold like that yet this season, but the bright early morning sun pushed us to get out of the car and explore.  After all, we had driven well out of our way, twisting and turning through the mountains to get to here.  To…really nothing, at least not anymore.

Anthracite coal.  It’s discovery is how it all started and is the reason why there are so many towns tucked into the Appalachian Mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania.  These are small towns, difficult to get to, and far from major highways.  Towns where time seems to move forward at a slower pace.  Towns where you have to have a reason to go to.  It was here where we found ourselves on that icy winter morning, traveling through the deep dark hills to a town that was on fire.    Continue reading “the burning town”

what do totem poles and cat statues and dragons have to do with the amish?

“I am not a tourist”.  This is my main statement in the About section of this blog.  I prefer to dig deep and really get to know a location.  Look beyond the chain restaurants and gift shops that pop up in well traveled places.  Travel to any natural wonder in America and next to it you’ll find mini golf and go carts and ice cream stands.  It’s as if the beauty of the Grand Canyon is not enough.  We need man-made forced fun to truly be entertained.

Yet no place is more bizarre to me in its relationship with tourism than Lancaster, PA…Amish Country. 
Continue reading “what do totem poles and cat statues and dragons have to do with the amish?”

amish country lessons

Lancaster County PA, aka Amish Country.  This summer we went on a long weekend to visit the area.  I have to say I struggled with planning for this trip and struggled with our activities while we were there.  It was just not my normal vacation.  But, I do feel like the trip taught me some lessons about myself and how I operate! Continue reading “amish country lessons”

thousand steps

It was late in the day, just a few hours before sunset, but we wanted one last adventure.  Early April is fickle and this day was no exception.  The day had dawned warm and bright, warm enough to wear shorts, but clouds had moved in, filtering the sun along with a stiff wind.  We drove on, passing small town after small town, joking “don’t blink…”, seemingly always following one train track or another.  Soon we reached our destination, Jacks Narrows. The Juniata River cuts the mountain, Jacks Mountain,  in two creating a rugged and wild looking area.  The highway and numerous train tracks join the river, all three rushing through the narrows. But we stopped and, looking up at the two mountains that rose almost 2000 feet above us on either side, we could feel the timelessness of the location.  We knew that we were about to embark on a unique hike! Continue reading “thousand steps”

into the wilds

Spring Break in New Jersey; where to go?  Literally every one of my friends has gone to Florida (aka Jersey South).  But no, not us.  We decided to go to Pennsylvania.  Yes, Pennsylvania!  What, PA is not your first choice as a spring break destination?  Okay, maybe not ours either, but we had an amazing time and discovered a beautiful, unique part of the state that we did not know existed!

It’s known as the Pennsylvania Wilds.  The area consists of 2 million acres covering 12 different counties in what I would consider north central PA.  The area is full of state parks, rivers, bucolic green valleys, and hidden dirt roads crisscrossing the Allegheny Mountains.  I love to explore areas that I have never been to; it really doesn’t matter where as long as it’s a new area.  This year we knew we could not travel far, but did want to get away.  So, after some research I came across the PA wilds, just 3 and a half hours from our home.  I began to plan what we would do each day and stumbled across what became the best find of the trip.  While looking at the various state parks in the area, I came across a page that listed the various places to stay in the parks.  I saw the word “yurt” and immediately searched for availability.  One of my dreams is to stay in a yurt, don’t judge!  Well, the yurt was a no go (someday…), but I found something better, The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle This is a 16 room “green” resort located overlooking a lake flanked by mountains in Bald Eagle State Park.  The Inn opened just a year and a half ago and  is the first of its kind in PA.  Our room was a small suite with a balcony overlooking the lake.  The room was spotless!  My husband and I even had privacy, which usually never happens on a trip, because the queen sized bed was in a separate room (the kids slept on a pullout couch).  The Inn is bird themed and has a lot of great extra touches such as binoculars in every room, various bird foot prints stamped into the walkways, neat displays of bird eggs and local finds, and a computer to log bird sightings.  There are also great outside areas like the large covered porch with chairs overlooking the lake, multilevel patios with interconnecting walkways, picnic tables, and a fire pit.  My husband’s eyes rolled when he learned that the hotel is promoted as “green”, envisioning  stinky waterless toilets, cold showers, scratchy hemp bed sheets, compost barrels, and toilet paper made from recycled cardboard.  Not to mention the degrading looks he thought we would get from all the hybrid car owners when we roll up in our 12 mpg Yukon.  But none of that turned out to be true.  Okay, he did say that the parking lot  looked like a used Subaru dealer, but the green aspects were mostly behind the scenes and pretty interesting to learn about.  We highly recommend staying here if you are ever in the area; it is such a unique spot!

Despite how nice the Inn was, we are not the type to hang out at a hotel all day.  We spent our days exploring the area.  One day we drove into the Allegheny Mountains on a road that followed the meandering Susquehanna River though small towns and wild looking forests.  Driving and hiking to the tops of these mountains provided amazing views of mountain after mountain sharply receding down to meet the crystal clear shallow river.  The tiny towns interested us as well,  it is difficult to imagine living in a town that  isolated!

Later that day we decided that we were finished with touristy overlooks on paved roads, it was time to do some real exploring!  We headed into the “black forest”, as this part of the forest is referred, due to its wild untouched quality on a dirt road.  Yes, we were only two hours from sunset, but we couldn’t resist!  The drive was a bit wild (you need a 4 wheel drive!) but so beautiful.  The road traveled up the mountains with nothing but a sharp drop off on one side of you then down into valleys with rhododendron lined creeks rushing into the Susquehanna somewhere far below!

As we headed further and further from the main road and climbed up to the top the mountain, we started to pass camp after camp after camp!  Little cabins, hunting lodges, and weekend getaways nestled deep in the forest.  It was work to get back here!  These were true retreats.  We finally stopped near one such camp to hike to our destination.  Our hike would not be far, but we were nearing sunset.  Of course, this did not stop us!  We piled out of the truck and began a quick hike down into a valley, following a little stream the entire way.  The hike was beautiful!  Large pines mixed with rhododendrons bordered the moss and stone covered path.  The creek flowed down over boulder after boulder creating numerous mini waterfalls and a delightful noise.  We reached our destination, 3 Falls, a beautiful three-tired waterfall!

My husband got to taking pictures while the kids climbed all over the falls, including behind it!  Soon we noticed that darkness was quickly falling, so I gathered the kids and began to head back up the trail through the now murky woods.  My husband stayed behind to take more pictures.  Time stands still when he photographs, so I really wasn’t sure when we would see him!  We made it back to the truck and waited ten minutes or so, straining our eyes into the darkness to look for him.  Soon, he came running out of the woods.  He had lost track of time!

Thanks to our gps, we drove off the mountain without incident, back to our hotel.  Dirty and tired, we knew we had managed to squeeze everything we could out of the day!