Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Took a brief trip to the city today. Our agenda wasn't necessarily very long, but it saw us in the city for more than seven hours. Sam, Caroline, and I arrived around 10 am, scored with a lucky parking spot, met friends, and traveled the historic section of the city for the day.

So, what did we see?

1) Benjamin Franklin Museum
2) Bourse (lunch)
3) National Liberty Museum
4) Independence NHS - story telling and mustering
5) Franklin Fountain

My photographing wasn't very earnest today. I let the phone take a rest, mostly. But I did capture some shameless selfies.

Important to my last iteration as a teacher: Carpenter's Hall.

Importanter to my current iteration: Second Bank of the U.S.

Prices were relatively high but portions were generous. 
Independence National Historic Site could be really dull if the National Park Service and the city allowed it to be. This is my third consecutive summer taking kids down there, and I'm impressed at the efforts those organizations make to create a kid-friendly experience. The Franklin Museum is more engaging than most NHS sites. Rangers offer trading cards for q-and-a sessions. Historic Philadelphia offers a great number of story-telling and living history experiences to make the experience stand out. They make it easy to take kids down there.

One of the boys on the trip suggested we get admission to a hop-on-hop-off bus to see the city. Not today. But I think that's a brilliant idea for a future trip. It's important that my kids get to know their city. Two weeks ago I was in Pittsburgh and couldn't help but be a little jealous of that city's natives. They've got a cool little town of which to be proud. We've got an excellent city to be proud of. Ten years from now, I hope Sam and Caroline know what goes where down there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Worlds End (Another summer trip, not an apocalyptic statement)

We checked another state park off the list. Worlds End. Here's my review, Sam style. 

I drink from my souvenir as I write this blog.
Perhaps I should explain what I mean by Sam style. Sam told me he evaluates a state park camping trip on three categories: campsite quality, sleeping comfort, and hiking opportunities.

Campsite Quality

The campground at this park is relatively small. In fact, the park is relatively small. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The park does a creative job in some places putting sites up against ridges. There were a few sites we saw that featured a huge staircase leading to the tent pad from the parking spot. All the sites were nicely shaded.

We reserved sites 58-61, a cluster of four sites that were termed walk-in. Really, walk-in meant one couldn't park the car right next to your tent. Our sites were situated along what had been the canyon vista trail: blazes for that trail were blacked out on trees through the middle of our sites. These four sites seemed bigger than the sites we passed by as we drove in and out of the campground.

We did turn site 60 into a kitchen / common area, leaving 58, 59, and 61 as family camping areas. The kids turned the whole site into an arena for their play, which made me happy. We didn't have to worry much at all about them disturbing adjacent campers. And the kids did a remarkably good job going up and down the hill to site 61 without falls.

Johnsons' tents at site 59. I got relegated to the two-man because, really, it's a one-man. And I got relegated to it because, really, the four-man is a three-person.

Looking at site 60 from site 59.

The commanding position of site 61. Candidly, it was my favorite. The kids preferred 59, though.
The only drawback to the site was our close location to route 154, but there was little traffic on the road. The bathroom nearby was small but much nicer than the one to which we're accustomed at Hickory Run.

Sleeping Comfort

The sound from nearby Loyalsock Creek was soothing. The traffic on adjacent route 154 was minimal. The new sleeping back I purchased was aggravating, but I won't hold that against Worlds End. We did encounter rain in the middle of our second night, and I was surprised again at how loud raindrops are when they hit the tent. It was warmer than I expected at night. 

The above photographs show our equipment being aired out at Lansdale's Site 412 after the late-night rain. 

Hiking Opportunities 

The group's verdict on this would likely be mixed. I, however, really liked the hiking available at Hickory Run. 

The above photos are from a four-mile walk in the morning on Canyon Vista Trail, a hike that proved to be pretty challenging. It climbs dramatically up the site of the canyon, and then proceeds for about two miles atop the ridge. There are some excellent rock formations along the top. It begins and ends at the campground, so I appreciated the lack of a need for automobile transport. 

But the big drawback to this trail: It wore the group out. All the adults figured out some way to take a nap upon returning for a late lunch. 

Sherry, Sam, Caroline, and I squeezed in one more hike that afternoon. 

In hindsight, I wish we had taken the whole group on this one in the morning. It was relatively short, quite scenic, and considerably less challenging. 

There was a vista that we could have hiked to in the adjacent state forest land but we drove to it instead. 

A failed attempt to catch sunset at High Knob Overlook on Friday.

A more successful attempt to catch it on Saturday.
It's possible to hike through the forest land to that overlook, which might be a fun thing to do in the future without kids (or with older kids). 

The small size of Worlds End is offset by the fact that there's a lot adjacent forest land suitable for hiking. It's also offset by the challenge level of the hikes. There are four overlooks and we only had a chance to get to one in the park. 

One other outdoor activity: swimming. I was surprised by how much I liked the 80-year-old CCC-built swimming hole along the creek.
I shamelessly stole this from a Google Image search and therefore have no idea who's pictured in it. 
Good trip. I hope I get to go back. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Month in PA

Ironically, I bought this atlas on a trip to Maine last summer.
So, it's gimmicky, but I've been in something of a mood to challenge the family to have as much fun in Pennsylvania as possible in July. After all, come August 1 we'll be in England for a few weeks. So far, so good: an excellent Fourth-of-July weekend with family, a fun road trip to Pittsburgh, plans to camp at World's End this weekend. I wonder, though, if we can ignore the approximately 90 minutes spent on U.S. 40 and I-68 in Maryland returning from Pittsburgh. We never got out of the car.

During our trip home, Sherry decided to explore the state atlas we had in the car. As a way to pass the time, she color-coded the recommended destinations found in the atlas. We were a little surprised at how many we have seen.

One of the pages Sherry coded. 
On our most recent weekend trip alone we hit some real highlights.

Each member of the family is represented by a different color.
Yup. Check this one off.
Our camping and other outdoor adventures the past few years has led to quite a few other sites visited.

Still our favorite park.
A one-day trip to Delaware Water Gap is responsible for a few of these checked off.
Three of these sites were visited on two of our trips back in 2015. 
Pennsylvania isn't the largest or most impressive state in the Union in regards to its scenery, but it is varied. And I think few states compare in regards to blending great places to live and great outdoors to see so close by.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Roadtrip #1 Complete

Sherry and I referred to it a few times as our practice vacation. It was a three-day jaunt to Pittsburgh. We left Friday around 10 am and returned last evening around 9 pm.

Our 700-mile weekend trip
Pittsburgh itself is a neat city. For a town as small as it is, it offers a great deal. In fact, the Zoo itself had so much to see we were there for nearly four hours, so long we had to scuttle our plans for an afternoon trip to the Carnegie Science Center.

Our trip home helped make the weekend sojourn complete. For a long time I've wanted to revisit Fallingwater and was eager for Sam and Caroline to become old enough to go there with us. It didn't disappoint. I could tell Sam enjoyed it quite a bit and Caroline said it was her favorite part of the weekend.

An architectural historian took this photo for us. It was her first visit. 

I don't know why this pose became Caroline's favorite. 
During the car ride Friday I was studying my road atlas of the state and realized that Fallingwater drew us further south than I expected, and had us tantalizingly close to Mt. Davis, Pennsyvlania's highest point. Then I found out my grandmother was visiting Uncle Larry at his house in Warfordsburg and I knew I had my opportunity to drag the family out to that trivial spot.

Mt. Davis is located near the Maryland border in State Forest land. One must follow a 2 1/2-mile gravel road to get to it. The site is inviting for visitors: parking lot, good signage, a relatively tall (and narrow) observation tower.

I was excited that there was more than just a tower there.

Sherry gives a geology lesson. 

It's a little scary to be honest.

View to the northwest.

View to the northeast.

Sherry and the kids at the southwest corner.
The kids helped make this worthwhile. Sam, for instance found something I had overlooked: the bronze marker placed by the USGS indicating it was indeed Pennsylvania's highest spot. The medallion was atop a boulder near the base of the tower: I guess the top of that bolder was the exact location. Of course, we all had to pose at it.

Again, had Sam decided not to scale that boulder, we wouldn't have known the medallion was there.

The intrepid explorer relaxes after his discovery. 
Caroline also gets credit for finding some neat stuff up there. She insisted on taking a trail a short way around the corner where there were some really good interpretive panels over there. Interpretive panels that were so good I didn't get photos of them on my phone (they're on my camera, I swear). Some of those panels told tales of the people who lived in that area, and those tales showed how rural and wilderness-y that area of the state truly is.

Okay, I used wilderness-y and "interpretive panel" in the same blog post. Obviously I'm at the end of my span for writing tonight. See you again soon.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

October 27, 2082

Philadelphia will celebrate its 400th birthday in 2082. I probably won't be around for that one. It's a shame. We accidentally stumbled on Pittsburgh celebrating its 200th. We went to the fireworks show down at Point State Park. It was stunning.

The fountain after sunset.

Caroline and I being goofy with the fountain.

It really was an outstanding show, one that made me a little envious I won't get to see Philly do a show like this in the near future. The second-most difficult part of the show was listening to the tributes to the city's sports teams and their titles. A little tough to stomach.

We had a few neat views on the way back to our hotel.

Our hotel lit up for the celebration.
The lighting of the bridge under which one must pass to get to the park was quite lovely. My camera didn't do a great job capturing it. 
Where's Sam? He/s our photographer.
On my next trip here I need to spend more time at the Fort Pitt site and museum. There are few places I've visited where my memory has come as alive with how the site has changed over time. When I'm down there, I can't help but think of three transitions at that site: from wilderness to strategic fort, from a town into an industrial titan, and then from a city that manufactured to one that reinvented itself as an education, medicine, and services hub. It's very easy to picture those different eras when standing at that location.