The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

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The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

Postby Rick F. » Mon Oct 08, 2007 6:12 pm

It was time for another Buzz & Rick motorcycle adventure. Perusing Backroads of Pennsylvania, I read about Pine Creek Gorge--more commonly known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Since it was near the midpoint between Wooster, Ohio and Catonsville, Maryland, it became the central feature of our trip. (And, no, I'd never heard of it before, either!) With my general suggestion that we ride Route 6 in North Central PA, Buzz laid out four days worth of intriguing routes, including one for me to get there from Catonsville and another for my return.

On Friday, September 28th, I optimistically set out for Saint Mary's, PA, hoping to dodge the showers shown on the weather radar along my route. That failed (of course), but I cleared the rain and rush-hour traffic after only an hour or so. Just in time for the first of many one-way construction zones:
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Buzz had laid out my route using Garmin's MapSource software, with a "shortest distance" specification. Soon enough, I was on back roads and doing what I like best: Taking pictures of Scenic Stuff, including this remote stone cottage...
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... and the mighty Juniata River, at Port Royal.
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During a stretch of divided, 4-lane highway (Booo! Hsssss!), I went by a resevoir and some early fall colors. Naturally, that prompted a quick pullover and a bit of a hike on foot to see if it was really as pretty as it had appeared. It was. Even better, in fact. And, fortunately, there was a sizable shoulder on the bridge, since traffic was zooming by at 60+ on the highway.
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In Potters Mills, which was established in 1788, I stopped at the historic Eutaw House for lunch. Edgar Allen Poe is reputed to have stayed here in 1840. The inn appeared to have a more modern facade, so it didn't look like much from the outside. But there was an authentic vintage look and feel inside, and the food was great.
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Outside the inn, I paused to get my bearings from their handy signpost:
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Back on the road, I went through the pleasant little town of Centre Hall, which included the pleasant little Trinity Church. Hmmm, note the sky in the background...
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I managed to dodge most of the dark clouds and their accompanying showers--with one exception that thankfully ended just as I decided I needed to put the rain gear back on.

The next picture is just to remind everyone that this is, indeed, a motorcycle trip report.
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In the distance behind the GS, more fall colors were lurking:
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Continuing right along, near Karthaus I crossed the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and the inevitable railroad tracks that have bordered almost every significant river for 150 years.
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As I got closer to Saint Mary's, Herr Zumo's Shortest Distance directed me to Buck Run, Billotte Road, and Caledonia Pike, which were all remote, unpaved, country paths. The surface was mostly hard-packed dirt, so it was possible to motor along reasonably quickly for the roughly 25 miles. And these roads proved to be quite scenic. For example, this large gate blocks what appears to have been a trail leading off into the forrest. (MapSource says this is "Gated Road." Stands to reason, I suppose...)
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Further on, I encountered this slightly eerie spot. Judging by all the dead trees, I figured this must be a fairly recent man-made lake. (I later learned that it's Shaggers Inn Waterfowl Dam, constructed in 1989.)
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I swear, the photo op's were just jumping out everywhere.
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Around 5:00 in the afternoon, I arrived at the Best Western Motel in Saint Mary's and found Buzz waiting on the front bench for me, having arrived 20 minutes earlier. After a quick dinner at Gunner's (which wasn't all that great, in case you're headed to that area), we set about fine-tuning the next day's journey along Route 6.
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In the morning, we found moderately dense fog but a promising forecast on the weather station. We set off to reach Route 6, which runs east and west across all of Pennsylvania (not to mention Ohio and possibly other states as well). On my Friday ride, I couldn't help noticing that virtually every other road I traveled was named something like "Deer Park," "Deer Run," "Bucktail," "Forest Rat," etc. (Okay, I made up the last one.) On the foggy back roads this morning, I rounded a bend and spotted an entire Deer Family on the road ahead--Dad, Mom, and Baby. I lit up the P3 LED lights for Buzz's benefit and honked the horn a couple of times to help encourage them to run off, which they did. Why they were "grazing" in the middle of a 2-lane road wasn't especially obvious. Fortunately, (i) they were the only deer we saw on the entire trip, and (ii) it wasn't even remotely a close call.

In Mount Jewett, we spotted the octagonal Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Nebo Church up on a hilltop. It was built in 1886 and was modeled after the Ersta Kyrka near Stockholm (just in case you were wondering).
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In the church's cemetary, I chatted with an old timer who told us about another cememtary with a view of an old railroad bridge that had been destroyed by a tornado a few years earlier. We quickly found the Bridgeview Cemetary, but we couldn't spot the bridge to save our lives. Here, as I recall, I'm saying to Buzz, "It's gotta be around here somewhere!" At least it was a scenic spot to be exploring.
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Finally, a young couple happened along and pointed it out to us--it wasn't at the bottom of the valley, as we'd assumed, it was at the top. It had gone from the top of one mountain to the top of another. Here is Buzz's picture of it off in the distance. (And in the interest of full disclosure, several of the other pictures shown in this report were taken by Buzz.)
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Immediately abandoning our carefully laid plans, we set off in search of the bridge itself. Several miles up the valley, we found the Kinzua Viaduct, which was originally built in 1882 and then reconstructed in 1900. After looking at a picture of the original structure, we understood why it had been rebuilt after a relatively short time. At 300' high, this spindly structure swayed in the breeze and trains were limited to 5 mph when crossing it.
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The 1900 bridge had stood tall and proud for over 100 years when it was destroyed by a tornado with winds in excess of 90 mph. Apparently many of the bolts securing it to sandstone footers on the floor of the valley had been taken from the original bridge. In the strong winds, they gave way and allowed the bridge to rise straight up--temporarily. A comprehensive report on what happened is available at http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/info/kinzuabridgereport/kinzua.html.
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Continuing on Route 6, we found a teeny covered bridge near Olmsted. It also boasted a veritable stream crossing, but we decided not to give it a try. (The temptation was strong, but the far side was private property.) (I know, it wouldn't have stopped WiredCur...)
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Buzz prepares to ride his V-Strom 650 in search of the remains of the Bayliss Dam...
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... which we duly located without difficulty. This dam was built by a lumber company in about 1900, and it failed catastrophically on September 30th, 1911--almost exactly 96 years ago. Imagine the long valley to the left of the dam filled with water to a depth of 50' and being held back by this crude dam. The dam failure leveled the town of Austin, killing nearly 80 of the 2,000 inhabitants. The lumber company, incidentally, had taken the precaution of relocating its inventory of lumber before the dam's collapse... (And you wonder why we have unions and government regulations!)
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A rocky trail led to a memorial park at the base of the dam. This was not the place to be 96 years earlier, but it made a scenic photo op that day. The story of the disaster--Pennsylvania's second-worst dam failure and now largely forgotten--is available at http://www.coudy.com/Austin/Austin-dam.htm.
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As we scrambled back up the rocky lane leading out of the state park, we passed this mute reminder of the area's past:
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By now, we were beginning to think that our pursuit of the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania was turning into a Tour of Scenic Disasters. Before long, however, we reached Ansonia and turned south to find the Colton Point State Park on the west rim of the Pine Creek Gorge. The PA Grand Canyon is about 47 miles long and is 1,000' deep in places. The most scenic areas are at the north end. And scenic it is...
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The west rim is considered more scenic, but the bigger, fancier Leonard Harrison State Park is on the east rim. So, we motored on over there, taking a typical Garmin "turnpike" along the way:
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The east rim also featured gorgeous views, even with shadows forming on the far wall of the canyon. And the east side even had Park Rangers and snacks!
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Traveling on, we arrived in the beautiful little town of Wellesboro, PA. Stopping to reconnoiter for dinner, we bumped into Terry Davis, a local resident with a passion for vintage Zundapp motorcycles and motorcrossing. Here's a shot of him (on the far right) when he participated in the ISDT Reunion last year:
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In addition to Zundapp affionados, Wellesboro had interesting old houses and a statue of Wynken, Blynken, & Nod.
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It also had a good Greek gyro dinner at George's (recommended by Terry). From there, we hightailed it to the Comfort Inn in Mansfield, arriving just as the sun was finally setting. There, we learned that Mansfield was celebrating "1890s Weekend." While we had missed most of it, we were in time for the 1890s fireworks display, which we could see from the motel parking lot. We were joined there by several dozen Corvette Z06 owners and a lot of townsfolk who migrated up the hill to our vantage point. To me, the fireworks looked pretty modern, but I wasn't going to quibble.
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After the 'works, only the moon remained. It easily passed for the 1890s version of itself...
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The next day, we waited out the worst of the morning fog while I answered some work e-mails and then we set off along Route 6 one more time, toward the town of Troy. Did I mention that virtually every section of Route 6 was eminently enjoyable? Smooth paving, long twisting curves, scenic vistas, and not a whole lot of traffic. Definitely recommended.

Troy offered a number of magnificent old houses, with this one being my favorite:
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From there we turned south, encountering no shortage of streams, ponds, twisty roads, and continuing outstanding weather.
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Before long, we arrived in Lock Haven, on the banks of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. It was founded in the late 1700s, originally as "Fort Reed." It eventually became home to the Piper Aircraft Company, before it was flooded out one too many times. After locating several interesting-sounding restaurants, all of which were either closed on this Sunday or were dilapidated wrecks, we gave up and had lunch at a McDonalds. But in the process of searching, we found some more neat old houses and other buildings...
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Back on the road again, we followed Route 120 along the West Branch for mile after scenic mile, alternately perched up on the side of the mountain and then down near water level. We stopped in Hyner briefly for a closer look at the river.
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Further on, I stopped for (yet) another river picture. Buzz put the time to good use by looking for fossils along the hillside. (Present company excepted) he found none...
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Periodically throughout the trip, we ran across signs of a Ford Model A club outing--this time near Sinnemahoning:
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As we headed back toward Saint Mary's, we kept a sharp eye out for elk. Pennsylvania has been repopulating this region with the mighty beasts, and many people told us it was not uncommon to see them off to the side of 120. After having failed to spot any, even at the official wildlife viewing area, we turned around and headed back to the "Triple Five"--Route 555, which is the very heart of elk country. Well, we didn't see any there, either. But there were lots of other things worth gawking at:
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After our elk-free tour, we ended up back in Saint Mary's and had an outstanding dinner of wings and cheese-filled breadsticks at Tailgaters--a true hole-in-the-wall sports bar. We were up early the next morning to head our separate ways back to Ohio and Maryland. The weather was perfect in Saint Mary's, but I quickly encountered more morning fog: In this case, a rather attractive variety:
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I had to make time for State College and a Hampton Inn where I could participate in a press call for work. (If there are any health industry types out there, e.g., Andi, October 1st was the day we announced the Medicare Part B premium for 2008.) As soon as the call was over, I tore off for my preferred destination--Penn's Cave, near Centre Hall. I'd spotted the signs on my Friday journey, and I recalled that this cavern has a river running through it, and you take the tour by boat. How could anyone pass up such an opportunity?

The Cave's headquarters used to be a hotel, and it still looks quite stately. The visitor center had an extensive souvenir shop plus a cafeteria that served bison burgers (good ones, at that!)
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Our intrepid guide Chris backed the skiff all the way through the cave, since it was too big to turn around inside the cave. There were many stalactites, stalagmites, flow stones, etc., not to mention a number of bats. The stream is fed by a large spring at the cave entrance, with a water temperature of 38 degrees and numerous large trout plainly visible in the crystal-clear water.
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Eventually, we emerged out the other side of the cave onto a lake. And there, on the banks, I got to see a male elk and two females--all of them lying down in the shade, conserving energy.
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After a loop of the lake, it was back into the cave. Yes, it was a tight fit in several places, and we were all ducking in the passages between chambers. Lots of fun.
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After the press call and the cave tour, it was 3:30 in the afternoon, and I was still a long way from home. Consequently, I pressed on quickly and didn't take any more pictures--except this one, at the Penn's Cave Farm, the apparent source of the tasty bison burger! (No wonder he was glaring at me...)
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All told, I covered just under 900 miles over the four days and had a terrific time. It was a great trip and with a great motorcycling buddy. As always, if anyone would like the specific routes that Buzz laid out, just let me know.

Rick F.
Last edited by Rick F. on Sun Sep 13, 2015 2:54 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby Ted » Mon Oct 08, 2007 6:36 pm

Yet another Outstanding report!

Thanks Rick - GREAT read, as usual :)

PS - the remnants of that Dam remind me of almost the exact same remnants I saw while zipping up Rt. 250 from Clarksburg to Moundsville a few weeks ago - just below the sad town of Littleton I believe. I thought it was the same until I saw "yours" was in PA.
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Postby Unity » Mon Oct 08, 2007 6:40 pm

Very nice tour, Rick. :D

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Postby Ben_Ricci » Mon Oct 08, 2007 6:42 pm

Another standout report Rick. I've been to most of those places over the years. Centre Hall is a picturesque little burg and I always thought the Bayliss Dam was a particularly interesting tidbit of history. Thanks for sharing.
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Postby Maria V » Mon Oct 08, 2007 6:49 pm

Nicup and photos. Thanks for taking us along.
I'll pass on that exciting Medicare info to Andi. :wink:
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Postby Graybeard » Mon Oct 08, 2007 10:08 pm

Great report, Rick! The colors in some of those shots are amazing!
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Postby Blaster229 » Mon Oct 08, 2007 10:55 pm

Bravo!
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Postby Rick F. » Thu Oct 11, 2007 10:23 pm

Ted wrote:Yet another Outstanding report!

Thanks Rick - GREAT read, as usual :)

PS - the remnants of that Dam remind me of almost the exact same remnants I saw while zipping up Rt. 250 from Clarksburg to Moundsville a few weeks ago - just below the sad town of Littleton I believe. I thought it was the same until I saw "yours" was in PA.

Ted,

Wow, that's interesting that there's such a similar ruin in Virginia. I wonder if there were late 1800s dam failures all over the country? The engineering knowledge back then might not have been too impressive.

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Postby Rick F. » Thu Oct 11, 2007 10:26 pm

Unity wrote:Very nice tour, Rick. :D

--John 8)
(You and Buzz have gotta keep doing this. :wink: )

John,

Thanks! We've had a lot of fun on our rides, and it helps to be so compatible regarding pace, timing of breaks, meal arrangements, etc. My wife and I have also traveled with Buzz and his wife to Europe several times, so we all know each other's preferences, tastes, foibles, etc.

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Postby Rick F. » Thu Oct 11, 2007 10:29 pm

Ben_Ricci wrote:Another standout report Rick. I've been to most of those places over the years. Centre Hall is a picturesque little burg and I always thought the Bayliss Dam was a particularly interesting tidbit of history. Thanks for sharing.

Ben,

It always amazes me that no matter where I manage to go, and no matter how obscure the place might be, that someone else from BMWBMW has also been there! Let me know if you've ever traveled the "Gated Road." I'm really curious as to where it goes, why it's gated, and why the road (really just a grassy path) appears not to have been traveled in a long time.

Also, have you seen any elk in PA (outside of a wildlife farm)?

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Postby Rick F. » Thu Oct 11, 2007 10:33 pm

Maria V wrote:Nicup and photos. Thanks for taking us along.
I'll pass on that exciting Medicare info to Andi. :wink:

Maria,

I'll bet that Andi had already seen the Medicare news (and paid attention to it) when it first came out. After all, for actuaries, insurance types, etc., it was exciting!

Rick F.

PS--I know, I know: Everyone repeat in unison, "Get a life, Rick! Get a life!"
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Postby Rick F. » Thu Oct 11, 2007 10:38 pm

Graybeard wrote:Great report, Rick! The colors in some of those shots are amazing!

Larry,

Thanks very much. When the light is just right, colors can shine through in wonderful ways. I can understand why pro photographers may spend an entire day at a site (or several) waiting for just the right lighting conditions.

I skipped a couple of very-late-in-the-afternoon pictures just because I was pretty tired by then and wanted to get to our destination. But the low-angle, bright sunshine was quite striking.

Of course, the picture I really regret not going back for was two young Amish girls, walking down a long lane to their farm, wearing plain dark dresses and bonnets--and carrying three or four very bright balloons! It was a wonderful scene--but once again I had to press on for my destination.

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Postby Rick F. » Thu Oct 11, 2007 10:43 pm

Blaster229 wrote:Bravo!

Blaster,

Thanks! (Did you know that Bravo spelled backwards is Ovarb?)

Rick F.

PS--Have you ever fired a black powder revolver? A buddy of mine and I have gotten Colt Navy replica's and will be giving them a try in the near future. I haven't fired a gun in roughly 30 years and was just curious what to expect. (Black powder skills are part of your marshal training, aren't they...?)
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Postby RocketMan » Fri Oct 12, 2007 9:44 am

Rick F. wrote:[snip snip..

Of course, the picture I really regret not going back for was two young Amish girls, walking down a long lane to their farm, wearing plain dark dresses and bonnets--and carrying three or four very bright balloons! It was a wonderful scene--but once again I had to press on for my destination.

Rick F.


Boo..... Hisss.....

and you call yourself a photographer! :lol: :lol:

Damn, yeah I bet that would have been a great shot with the contrasting of the bright ballons and dark clad girls

it would have been your ticket to fame, and you had to just roll on by
tisk tisk....

RM

(ain't that just plain furstrating? Like seeing the perfect shot and no place to pull over?? :evil: )
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Postby RocketMan » Fri Oct 12, 2007 9:53 am

So what's this "gated road" of which you speak?

RM

(curious minds want to know, and dullards, too! :lol: )
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