Experiencing nature in Pennsylvania

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We have spent a lot of time lately playing tourist – taking historical, chocolate, brewery and wine tours – so now it’s about time we experience the wild side of Pennsylvania.  Our home base on this stop was in the western part of PA at Woodland Campground.  Click here for Steve’s review if you’re interested.  Once settled in, we began researching things to do around the Woodland area.  Initially we didn’t find much, but we were happy to eventually find a few nearby activities.

Bilger’s Rocks

Located in Grampian, PABilger’s rocks was rescued and restored by a local non-profit group after teens in the area had used it for years as a party spot where they defaced the unusual boulders with graffiti.  Today, it has been cleaned up and promoted as the beautiful spot that it is.  Walking trails meander among the huge moss-covered sandstone blocks that average 20′ to 25′ thick.  This is the “greenest” spot we’ve ever seen!

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300 years ago, “Rock City” as they called it was formed by Frost Wedging.  Water seeped into cracks of the sandstone slab and as it froze the rock cracked and eventually broke into sections away from the main body. As water continued to enter the cracks it slowly eroded the soft sandy soil out from under the broken rock sections.  Gravity then slowly moved the large boulders down the hillside, which is what we witnessed.

There are several trails in the area and we covered 6 miles of them that lonely day, for we were the only ones on the trail – just the way we like it!

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Green, green everywhere!

Elk Country

We just learned that Pennsylvania is considered elk country, and to showcase that is the newly-built Elk Country Visitor Center located at Benzette, PA.  It was designed specifically to allow folks to experience these animals year-round and to learn more about them.  They even boast having the premier viewing location and home of the largest wild elk herd in the northeastern United States.  So off I went as Steve told me there would probably be no elk there this time of the year – he decided to stay home and clean Betsy.  Was he right?  Well, yes and no.  There were three viewing areas within the visitor center area and I did not see a single elk roaming around.

Elk country Visitor Center

One of the viewing areas at the Elk Country Visitor Center

During my visit I enjoyed an informative and interesting 30-minute 4-D show complete with a new level of sensory experience – smoke, snow, and crackling campfires.  An historical account of elk in Pennsylvania was presented, including their behavior during all four seasons.  The ongoing conservation efforts were also explained.  I learned that the current elk population came from Yellowstone, as all elk previously in PA were killed due to overhunting.

Although I learned a lot, the trip would be incomplete without seeing a single elk.  Luckily, on my way home and miles away from the visitor center, I caught a glimpse of these cow elk grazing quietly.  Getting proof that Steve was wrong after all brought a smile to my face!

Grazing Elk in Elk Country, PA
Cow elk (females) with their babies

Parker Dam and SB Elliott State Parks

Within 20 miles of our home base were two state parks, S B Elliot and Parker Dam State Parks at Penfield, PA,  where we found several trails to choose from.  The Old Horseman Trail at SB Elliott was a dud, muddy and not clearly marked.  We turned around after two miles of exasperation trying to follow the overgrown trail.  The park was very green, lush and quiet, however.

Parker Dam State Park, on the other hand, was a different story.  The Beaver Dam and Laurel Run trails were decent and well-marked, so we walked both of them.  There were some muddy and infrequently-traveled areas on these trails, and the gnats and other flying bugs were the worst we have encountered.

Beaver Dam Trail

Beaver Dam Trail

But despite those relentless critters we completed eight miles on the wildflower-laden trails, enjoying dense forest and the sounds of the gushing river as we trudged on.

Laurel Run Trail

Laurel Run Trail

Parker Dam State PArk

Just being stylish – not!  That white thing on my glasses is an insect repellent

Clearfield County Rails to Trails

On another day we found ourselves on a bike path in nearby Clearfield, PA, about 10 miles from our campground.  The crushed gravel path is fairly flat from Clearfield to Curwensville, and we chalked up a 15-mile ride there.  The trail initially parallels the PA879 highway, but after a mile and a half we rode in tranquility beside a river and more blooming wildflowers.

On our last day here we got up early and went back for a 6-mile walk on this path.  It was the day after a big storm hit the previous night, and there were several downed tress and branches blocking some sections.  But crews were already cleaning up and the path is well taken care of.

To regain all the calories we burned, off we went to Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub, home of some of the world’s largest burger challenges.  This place was a blast!  Steve loved it so much that we came here twice in one week!  Check out these burger challenges:

Denny's Beer Barrel Pub

Outrageous burger challenges

They have over 30 beers on tap, and 37 different sauces on their wing menu.  And for entertainment, how can you beat watching people trying to eat a 2+ pound burger in under an hour?  On the first day we were there, a man from NY was attempting to do just that.  We had to leave about 30 minutes into his challenge, but he was already about 2/3 finished.  However, we learned that although hundreds of people try it, this particular challenge is completed only once every few months.  And we find it hard to believe, but it’s true – one man completed a 15-pound burger in less than 5 hours, and another wolfed down a 3-pounder in 9 minutes and 3 seconds.  Wow!

And you know you’re living right when you get onto the freeway and see the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile just ahead of you!  Steve got up to 80 mph just to check it out, and of course I had my trusty camera at the ready.  How cool is that?  Check out the cute Wisconsin license plate.

I’m just realizing we were actually quite active during this one-week stop.  During our hikes and bikes I managed to get a glimpse of these very unusual and colorful mushrooms/fungi…

…and flowers with beautiful critters pollinating them…

…and some other notable critters.

Next up: Hanging out with friends in Warren, Ohio

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:

Niagara Falls

Toronto

Adirondack State Park, NY

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Road signs, chocolate and beer – PA

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Troegs Beer

On this exciting leg of our trip, we so much enjoyed the vast green vistas as we chugged along into Pennsylvania.  We were amazed as we appreciated the cornfields, the gorgeous farms with huge grain silos, the rolling hills and all of the blooming wildflowers. Just beautiful!

Pennsylvania Road

Cornfields

Cornfields on rolling hills

Then we came across these signs along the road.  They were spaced at fairly close intervals along PA147N  highway:

And how about this one:

Keep min 2 dots

A strange way to show vehicle spacing – tailgating is apparently a bit issue here!

Finally, on I-80W another reminder:

DUI arrests

DUI arrests

We met Steve’s friends from his old days at Lawrence Livermore National Lab (Mike and Sue) for dinner in Wilkes-Barre and had a great time with them.  Since they are long-time Pennsylvanians, we asked about all of those strange signs.  What’s up with that?

Ronnan

With Mike and Sue

They told us that Pennsylvania drivers are really bad!  That bad?  Maybe, so I asked our blogger friends from Oh the Places they go, who are also from PA, to comment about that.  We’ll see if we hear back from them.

If you’re a chocoholic traveling through Pennsylvania, then a stop at Hershey is in order.  Growing up in the Philippines, a bar of Hershey’s chocolate was like a manna from heaven.  This was another one of those “I’ve got to see it” places.  Well, we were not disappointed.  Hershey is not just a chocolate factory, it is a town, a school, a botanical garden, an arena, a theme park, a hotel, a spa, a theater and much more.  These and other accomplishments were all things Milton Hershey brought to the dairy region of Pennsylvania when he created Hershey, the chocolate center of America.

Milton Hershey School

Milton Hershey School

Hershey Theme Park

Hershey Theme Park

At the heart of the town was the chocolate factory, a huge brick building nestled in the shadows of two smokestacks, where cocoa goodness wafted out into streets and homes for many years.  However, we learned during our tour that the factory has been moved to a modern facility down the road which has doubled their output.

Hershey chocolate Factory

Hershey chocolate Factory

When Milton Hershey died in 1945 at the age of 88, a chocolate bar had carried his name around the world and made him a legend.  What struck us most is that he failed financially several times before he managed to build his empire.

Steve and I were jumpy and hyper from all the chocolate we had consumed during the various tours, and we were starving.  Searching for food, we stumbled upon a brewery along Hersheypark Drive and decided to check it out.  We were very glad we did, because the independent craft brewery called Troeg’s turned out to be a neat place with good food and a nice self-guided brewery tour.

On this stop we stayed at Western Village RV Campground at Carlisle, PA, and at Yogi Bear’s at Shangri-la in Milton, PA.  Check Steve’s camp reviews here if you are interested.

Next Up:
Hitting more trails in PA!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:

Niagra Falls, NY

Toronto, Canada

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Gettysburg, 150 years later

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Unknown to us, we arrived at Gettysburg, PA as the town was preparing for its 150th commemmoration of the Battle of Gettysburg, running June 28 to July 7.  I wanted to come here simply because of the famous Gettysburg address, which Abraham Lincoln delivered in two minutes on Nov 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ Military Cemetery.  In my Literature class (not History) many moons ago, memorizing and delivering this address was a requirement.  So I really wanted to experience where it was originally delivered.  The beginning iconic phrase of the address still rings in my ears and is stuck in my memory, but I now have a better perspective of the emotion and depth of the message of that historic speech.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Lincoln Address Memorial

Although the actual location is a couple of hundred yards away, this is the Lincoln Address Memorial inside the Soldiers’ Military Cemetery

On our visit, I got so much more than I came for.  I really didn’t know what to expect until I arrived.  We have been to some of the Civil War Trails in our journey, where I learned a lot about American history, particularly the Civil War era.  But on this stop I felt a profound understanding, education and realization about how pertinent the Gettysburg Address still is today.

New York State Monument

Soldiers’ National Cemetery; numbers represent unknown soldiers, and there are thousands of them

We learned that to get a good grasp and understanding of what happened here 150 years ago, one should go to the visitor’s center first.  Unfortunately, the center and its parking lot were already jam-packed full when we arrived on our first day, so instead we took the Guided Battlefield Bus Tour.  There are several ways to see the battlefield, but we opted for the Licensed Guide Bus Tour.  We felt that a self-guided auto tour might be a good option, but with so many people in town the traffic and parking situation was not looking good.  Had we known the significance of this weekend we would have arrived at dawn!

Battlefield at Gettysburg

Observation Tower, note the crowd

Another way to explore the battlefield is by bicycle, and we recommend this option.

Biking at the Gettysburg Battlefield

Look how these smart folks visited the Gettysburg Battlefield – no parking issues for them!

The 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg traces the three-day battle in chronological order.  The licensed guide offered us a unique perspective into the struggles of the battle.  The guide was engaging and knowledgeable, and we could sense his passion and love of his job.  Through his narration we visualized and imagined what it was like when he described significant actions during the fighting.  He gave us a few minutes to reflect and try to understand what happened here.  We highly recommend this bus tour; between it and several hours at the visitor’s center you can come away with quite an education.

View of Oak Ridge, Gettysburg Battlefield

View of Oak Ridge and a monument of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Many areas look much as they did in July 1863, though some are more densely covered by trees.  And of course now you will see the 1,320 monuments remembering the three-day battle’s 51,000 casualties; 23,000 Union Army and 28,000 Confederate Army.  These figures count the dead, injured and lost among them.  The peaceful rolling fields pay silent tribute to this tremendous sacrifice.

Devils Den

Devils Den as viewed from Little Round Hill

The well preserve Gettysburg battlefield, a sacred ground, was considered the turning point in the Civil War 150 years ago.  It is a very poignant reminder of the bravery of the soldiers on both sides.  Below are just a few of the 1,320 monuments, 410 cannon, and plaques within the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Gettysburg Battlefields Monument

Gettysburg Battlefield monuments

Cemetery Hill Attack

Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments

More monuments

Pennsylvania Memorial

Pennsylvania Memorial the largest memorial in the park.

Virginia Memorial

Virginia State Memorial

Gettysburg Battlefield

We came back again very early on July 1st, hoping to beat the crowd at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.  Even though we arrived before it opened, there was already a line ahead of us, which reminded me of the Black Friday shopping lines.

Gettysburg National Military Park  Museum and Visitor Center

Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center

We watched the 25-minute film “A New Birth of Freedom”, which was narrated by  Morgan Freeman.  It gave us an unforgettable perspective about the Civil War – in other words, I finally got it!  The Gettysburg Cyclorama is a sound and light show of the spectacular 377-foot painting by Paul Philippoteaux, depicting Picket’s charge, completed in 1884.  It was quite a unique experience, like an IMAX of the late 1880’s where  the vast circular painting put us in the middle of the battle.  Canon flash effects on the canvas and sounds of the battle all around gave the illusion of movement.  There were rocks, weapons and other objects in front of the painting that brought a sense of depth.  Very well done!

Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama

Visitors experiencing the Cyclorama presentation

Gettysburg Battlefield Cyclorama

Just a small section of 377′ Cyclorama

The movie, the Cyclorama and the museum is well worth the $12.50 entrance fee.  We highly recommend this historic park to everyone!

As we headed out of town we saw long lines of cars in the battlefield areas and living historian volunteers preparing for the reenactment of the battles by section.

Battlefield Reenactment Volunteers

Battlefield reenactment volunteers

Traffic at the Battlefield

Traffic and parking were tough at the Battlefield

Sally, the Union Mascot

Sally, the Union Mascot

 

Click here for photos and news of reenactment today in Gettysburg.

Happy 4th of July everyone!  Now lets go out and enjoy those fireworks!

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