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2017 Pennsylvania Calendar and Book Buying Options

1.29.2017

Tunkhannock Viaduct, Nicholson Bridge, Wyoming County, Nicholson, PA

In a small town north of Scranton is one of the most incredible rail bridges ever construction. It was considered the 9th Wonder of the World upon completion 101 years ago, and still stakes a convincing claim to that today. The Nicholson Bridge, also known as the Tunkhannock Viaduct measures in at 2375 feet long, and 240 feet tall from the bottom of the creek, with an effective height of 300 feet when you measure the structure to bedrock. It was created as part of the Nicholson Cutoff, an engineering solution to the brutally rugged landscape in this region of Northeastern PA. As the anthracite coal industry, once the energy backbone of this nation, ramped up, the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad needed a rail line that could quickly and safely carry this product to market in New York City, and other major industrial centers. Their previous line was not fast enough in bringing this product to market, in addition to carrying passengers more efficiently. The Nicholson Cutoff was a much straighter and shorter route, removing curves that the trains had to switch engines and slow down to a crawl in order to safely traverse the rails. The line removed the bulk of the huge curves of the previous alignment, in the journey between Scranton, PA and Binghamton, New York. An hour of freight time was cut, in addition to cutting 21 minutes from passenger trips. As they say, time is money, and in the midst of a coal boom and a highly competitive rail market, the Lackawanna Railroad utilized implementing one of the most ambitious engineering projects that the world has ever seen. The Nicholson Viaduct is the centerpiece of this ambitious project and 101 years later, it is still thought to be the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world. This construction was not without sacrifice though, for at least four, and with some estimates into the double digits of workers that died on the job due to falls or in getting hurt by unexploded dynamite. 


You can see the bridge for what seems like miles upon approach. My jaw dropped when I saw the magnitude of this bridge. The drive to get to the bridge is spectacular in itself, and it also demonstrates why such a huge undertaking needed to be made to straighten the rail route. It makes for a thrilling drive, but it would certainly be a huge logistical challenge to move goods in and out of the area with any sort of efficiency.

Great views of the bridge can be seen from all angles, but especially from the overlook on Route 11. This is easy to find, for it is well marked and a distinct pull off with a parking lot. 

The Lackawanna Railroad plastered their name on the arches of the bridge, a pretty neat detail.
Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford all went out of their way to see this wonder. You should as well! It is jaw dropping to say the least. The Kingsley Bridge and Starucca Viaduct within this region in nearby Susquehanna County are also a must see for those who love to see spectacular old bridges.

1.26.2017

7 Great Things to Do in Elk Country in the PA Great Outdoors Region


As far as natural beauty goes, the PA Great Outdoor Region is one of the best places to go and have a great time. The area around Benezette, PA is my favorite place to observe majestic wildlife within the state, with the elk being reminiscent of the herds of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park, and the moose, in Alaska's Denali National Park. Simply magnificent beauty. In addition to the elk, there are lots of other great things to see and do in the area. Here are seven of our favorites.

1) Watching the elk:

This one should be on your bucket list. The elk herd is spectacular to check out. This area is home to a stunning elk herd. The elk are majestic creatures that once roamed large swaths of the state, but due to a flagrant disregard for the species, they were hunted to extinction in the 1800s. Thanks to an effort in the days of Teddy Roosevelt, some elk were brought in from Yellowstone to help repopulate the state with these stately creatures. The efforts were successful and we now have a thriving elk herd within the state once again. The elk can be seen anywhere throughout the area, but nearby Winslow Hill in the area of the Visitors Center has the greatest concentration of them. 
The following articles have a number of hotspot locations to watch the elk. This is not the end all list, these are the areas that have specifically been set aside to watch the elk. Even in the absence of elk, these areas have enough natural beauty alone to warrant a visit. The best thing about this area is that you are likely to see elk almost everywhere you go, and in some of the least expected areas. 
Elk Country Visitors Center at Winslow Hill
Elk Scenic Drive
This elk was waiting for the church doors to open on a Sunday morning right in the center of the village of Benezette.
In addition to elk viewing opportunities, the Elk Country Visitors Center has a cozy fireplace area, displays of most of the wildlife that lives within the region, a gift shop, and an interactive film that gives a terrific overview of the history of elk, and the present state of the herd.
2) Having some delicious eats and drinks:


The Benezette Hotel has what is some of the most delicious and affordable food that we have ever come across. 


Benezette Wines has a great collection of wines that is sure to please any wine lover as well, perfect to savor after a relaxing day watching the elk.

3) Sinnemahoning State Park:
You are certain to find elk a good distance from Benezette, and regardless of this, the mountains, and valleys are as stunning as any within the state. Pretty much anywhere within an hour of the area consists of largely pristine land. 42 minutes north east of the town brings you to Sinnemahoning State Park. The drive up to Sinnemahoning is spectacular and takes you through the landscape that brought us Tom Mix, the original blockbuster cowboy actor and inspiration to John Wayne. 
Sinnemahoning State Park has spectacular scenery, wildlife, vistas, and more, including this awesome arched tree. 

4) Straub Brewery:
Half an hour northwest of Benezette is the small city of St. Mary's, PA, home to Straub Beer, America's third oldest brewery in its nineteenth century and pre-prohibition original brewery. This is a terrific family organization that creates excellent beers that are done the right way. The excellence of the beer is only eclipsed by the hospitality of the family. 
Straub is home to the famed "Eternal Tap" that you can get a fresh draught of some of the brewery's fantastic offerings.  Their brews, especially their lager and amber beers, are phenomenal. Straub does not take any shortcuts. They've been in this business for close to 150 years, and that is not by accident. You can learn more about the brewery and how to visit it in this article.

5) Seeing the spectacular white birch grove at the Marion Brooks Natural Area

Located near Benezette is the spectacular Marion Brooks Natural Area, home to one of the finest stands of white birch trees in this part of the country. More commonly found in the cooler weather regions of Canada, White Birches are seldom found in this large of a number this far south. This grove is visually stunning and is awesome enough to be a destination of its own.
Additionally, staying at night leaves you the chance to take in everything that the region has to offer, in addition to a chance to simply look up at the stars at night. This region is known to have some of the darkest skies on the East Coast.


6) Kayaking the Clarion River, Fishing, and Other Outdoor Recreational Opportunities
Close to Straub and only forty minutes northwest of Benezette is Ridgway, a beautiful village that is a hub for beautiful old buildings, a classic small town business district, eclectic celebrations, a bicycle trail, and access to the wild and scenic Clarion River, one of the finest trout fisheries in the state.

The Clarion River flows through the region and you can go on a kayaking excursion or simply take in the natural beauty. This area is filled with protected public lands that are excellent for exploration and sightseeing. 
Country Squirrel Outfitters is the perfect outdoor recreation guide to this region, offering supplies, gear, and guide services. Their kayak and canoe rentals are excellent and we had the pleasure of going on an adventure with them on the Clarion River.
While on our tour, we got to enjoy this fantastic river and we even saw this bald eagle!

7) Staying the Night:
There are many cabins and inns in this area, including the brand new Antler Shed Cabins, a place that we highly recommend. The elk are known to come right up to the cabins. The cabins and village of Benezette are surrounded by woods and large grassy rolling hills and adjoining forests in which the elk frolic and graze. The accommodations are wonderful, with a porch and fireplace outside each cabin, and a full kitchen, dining area, TV and living room, a spacious bathroom, and bedrooms. The places have rustic charm with modern amenities at the same time. 
If you visit in the spring time, you just may see an elk calf. Once the summer comes around, you start to see the antlers grow, and come fall you may hear the elk bugling during their rut when they seek mates. You are likely to see the elk duke it out over a mate, bugling, charging each other, locking antlers, and winning over a mate who is likely watching the fight from nearby. Seeing the elk throughout their different stages of life should certainly be on your bucket list. These majestic animals are exhilarating to watch as they graze all over the area. 

In addition to seeing the elk, the many attractions throughout this region make it an excellent place to visit any time of the year. All in all, the elk area region has the makings of a fantastic weekend trip or extended vacation. 

For more information about visiting the region, be sure to check out the website for the PA Great Outdoors Region at www.visitpago.com

1.22.2017

Garlic Trail and Sweet Root Natural Area: Buchanan State Forest, Bedford County, PA

Today we do a little exploration on the Garlic Trail, a spur trail of the Mid State Trail in Buchanan State Forest's Sweet Root Natural Area. This area once had an old growth forest area, though most of the old growth has succumbed to disease and weather damage. The area is still gorgeous and remote. While I did go on a day in which sleet and freezing rain were ruling, the temperatures were not too bad. It was surprising not to see many hikers or anyone in the area. I did not see a single soul for the entire time I was hiking. There is something so inspiring about these kinds of hikes. The seclusion and quiet reinvigorates me to the core.
This is the view from PA 326. These remote drives through the woods are so fun
I parked at the Garlic Trail Trailhead. There is only room for a few cars in this spot. There is a much larger parking lot available at the Sweet Root Natural Area picnic area and this trail is accessible through the trail network over there.
Trail map, courtesy of the PA DCNR

This photo gives you the gist of what this serene hike is about. It follows along a small mountain creek heading down a gorge in the heart of the rugged Allegheny Mountains. There is some nice elevation change up this gorge, and you zig-zag along the little creek, crossing on stepping stones and slowly weaving your way up the mountain.
I personally rate this trail as the easier end of moderate. There is constant elevation change without breaks. The wet stepping stones that would normally be slick in regular conditions, were really slippery in their frozen state. This just made things more fun for me, but they were the only hazard I really had to deal with. 
Here you can see the scope of this gorge, a small break in the mountain that allows you to head up the Allegheny Front. 
The entire way is filled with these rhododendrons. You can always tell what the weather is like by looking at their leaves. You can see that it was a little cold, but not terribly cold, for the leaves were not tucked in too far. 
The sweeps of lichen and moss covered rocks and boulders are absolutely beautiful. The surroundings of this trail are gorgeous.
Looking up what we are about to ascend. The funky weather brought about a stunning fog. This fog would block out the vista at the top of the mountain, but the beauty of hike more than made up for that.
Here you can see a tree that fell into the area of the trail and was cut to clear the way. The rings tell us that this was a pretty old tree.
The hike heads through groves of rhododendrons and stately hemlocks.
There was cooler weather and freezing rain approaching during the hike. You can see that it was a little colder in how the leaves are pulled in.
This is the kind of view that most dominates throughout the hike.
The climb gets steeper as you go. Since the steepness change is not abrupt, you do not end up really noticing it. 
A seemingly endless grove of Rhododendrons.
Getting close to the top!
At the junction of the Garlic Trail and the Mid State Trail. It is roughly 1.2 miles each way on the Garlic Trail. From here you could hike to Maryland or New York if you had the time and supplies to do so.


Registration point for the Mid State Trail. Log shows that it seems there have only been visitors every few days. Granted many people do not write in the log, but in the summer there were at least a few visitors daily. This is a nice, secluded and quiet place with an excellent moderate level hike. With about 600 feet elevation change in just over a mile, this is a fun hike.
At this point in the mountain we are practically in the clouds.
I mean, this place was a real hive of activity.
Time to head back!

Back into the impressive grove of Rhododendrons

Back to the bottom!
The Sweet Root Natural Area picnic grounds are just down the road. This area was home to an old growth forest, though most of the trees have succumbed to disease and weather damage. There are still some seriously impressive trees in this area, so I do not suggest omitting a visit to this place. 

Garlic Trail trailhead coordinates: 
39.866784, -78.512872


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