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1.26.2020

Hiking at Butler County's Todd Nature Reserve of the Audobon Society of Western PA

We recently had the chance to check out the Todd Nature Reserve of the Audobon Society of Western Pennsylvania, in Buffalo Township near Sarver and Freeport in Butler County. It is a wonderful place to do some hiking. There are 6 miles of trails spread out over the 334 acre property, which has a beautifully varied landscape. Small, hemlock and rhododendron filled gorges contain three streams with little cascades throughout. There is a small pond with a bench to sit and reflect. In the middle of the property, there is a mini rock city, with large boulders and small caves. Fallen tree limbs and rocks are covered with bright green moss and ferns. 
The care taken to preserve the natural integrity of this property has ensured that it remains a great habitat for bird species.
W. E. Clyde Todd was a pioneering ornithologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and held the position of Curator of Birds at the museum from 1899 to 1945 and then was Curator Emeritus until he died in 1969. This property was owned by his grandfather and operated as a farm. In 1942, Mr. Todd approached the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania with an offer of the land to be preserved as a nature sanctuary. As a child, Mr. Todd gained an appreciation for birding off of his grandfather's farm and wanted to ensure that this could be achieved for future generations as well.
A typical scene within the small gorges at the reserve. Beautiful hemlocks fill the gorges.
This is one of the many bucolic spots throughout the reserve. The wooden footbridge leads to a deck from an old cottage where information is posted, and a nice table and chairs are set up to relax, possibly have a picnic lunch, and just take in the sounds of the babbling creek and the birds. 
The concrete walls of the cottage remain, though the rest seems to have gone away with the passage of time. A lovely covered wooden deck remains off of what was the front of the cottage.
Looking back down towards the footbridge. The other trail crossings of the creek go right through the creek.
The hillsides are filled with lovely second growth hemlocks.
The trails are all marked nicely at intersection and termini.
I love the designs that Mother Nature makes when water freezes.
The pond is just lovely. In the summer you will certainly see and hear frogs, see salamanders, and lots of birds in this spot. In this time of the year, it is just lovely with how quiet and serene it is. It had just a light layer of ice on it, and fog was hanging out near the surface.
Scenes like this are one reason why I actually prefer hiking in the winter. Even with no snow on the ground in this location on this day, the green moss, ferns, and conifers make a lovely contrast to the brown leaves on the ground. There is also nothing quite as invigorating as hiking in the crisp air.
Now we are approaching Polypody Rocks. This little rock city is just awesome.
I love the green contrast of moss in the winter.
Polypody Rocks. 


I would rate the trails from easy to moderate. All of the trails are rigorous enough (with elevation change) that they would not be handicap accessible. Most of the trails are gentle enough to hike with small children. I rate the Ravine Trail with its in creek crossings, and the Polypody Trail, which has a decent amount of elevation change through a small rock city as moderate hikes.

Overall, this is a fantastic place for some short hikes and taking in nature.

1.12.2020

A View of Scranton from the Route 307 Lookout Overlook

Today we visit a pretty overlook that gives a view of Scranton, the Electric City, from the east on Moosic Mountain. It consists of beautiful stone work done by the WPA during the Great Depression in 1938. While the overlook area could really use some cleaning, since it is riddled with refuse and graffiti the beauty still shines through. Fortunately though, the elegant stone work and the fantastic view more than make up for the vandalism. The sounds of steam trains echo across the valley and up to the overlook from Steamtown
The cornerstone from the WPA. So many of the nice Public Works projects that we enjoy today came from Great Depression era WPA and CCC projects, including places like this, state parks, state forests, and more. It is amazing how much of an impact these investments in our communities made upon our quality of life. They served a dual purpose in putting to work the legions of unemployed young men in the Great Depression, in addition to bettering the quality of life in our communities. Many of these workers would go on to lead us to victory in World War II.
The view from the overlook is so beautiful. As mentioned earlier, in addition to the views, you can hear the trains from down at Steamtown. One can only imagine how much sound you would hear when this was the buzzing hub of the Lackawanna Railroad.

In an interesting twist to this spot, if you know the folk singer Harry Chapin, the song "30,000 Pounds of Bananas" was about the story of a truck's brakes or clutch failing on the hill while carrying a load of 30,000 pounds of bananas. With a heroic effort he was able to flip his truck and prevent the deaths of bystanders at the bottom of the hill. The truck driver heroically saved many lives, and sacrificed himself to do so, and the rest is memorialized forever by Harry Chapin. 
The scenic overlook sits on Route 307, on the edge of Scranton. This route is known as the Scranton - Pocono Highway. The overlook and improvements to the highway were completed by the WPA. The route is extremely scenic, passing by places such as Lake Scranton, and the rolling landscapes and forests of the area. 

Coordinates:

41.395895, -75.638809


1.05.2020

The Stunning Big Mountain Overlook, Tower Road Vista, Fort Loudon, PA

Today we take a look at the stunning Big Mountain Overlook, just off of the historic Lincoln Highway, on the edge of Franklin and Fulton Counties in Buchanan State Forest. This is easily one of the finest overlooks in the state. Perched on the ridge of Tuscarora Mountain around its summit, you get breathtaking views of the surrounding ridges both to the east, and western views as you head up to the overlook. As with many overlooks in the state, a worn away rock outcropping is the perch for the overlook at an elevation of 2458 feet. The lowest points in Path Valley are around 700 feet in elevation, giving views of roughly 1700 feet down into the valley, making this one of the biggest, if not the biggest, elevation differences between a summit overlook and the valley below within the state. On clear days, you can see about 100 miles out to Maryland, West Virginia, and Northern Virginia since this is gives a view beyond the end of the next ridges. 

The 252 mile long Tuscarora Trail, a spur route off of the Appalachian Trail, goes along the ridge. Just north of the overlook, you can get access to Cowans Gap State Park, home to a beautiful mountain lake, beach, and more scenic overlooks.  
Basically the entire road heading up to the overlook is filled with stunning westward scenic views. I was thinking that this was the scenic overlook as we went down the road. The views are pretty awesome.
Note the multiple ridges out in the distance. 
The road leads up to a loop. At this point you park and then walk about 100 feet to the main overlook.
CeCe was all excited by the snow!
My first glimpse of the overlook immediately blew me away. It is easily one of the finest scenic overlooks in the state, and frankly one of the coolest that I have ever seen. This is up there with Hyner View, High Knob near Worlds End, Canyon Vista at Worlds End, and the views at the PA Grand Canyon. The day that we visited was the start of a warming trend after days of freezing temperatures. This lent itself to neat foggy views down in the valley, with pretty clouds in the sky and great brightness coming off of the remaining snow. It was an incredible sight.
Views to the northeast show Path Valley, the giant valley between the mountain and the next ridge.
Note the rugged topography of the area thanks to this view from Google Earth.
The views to the Southeast show an abrupt drop in the next mountain, Hogback Mountain, and the valley between that ridge and the next few ridges. The valley was still filled with frosty fog.
I love the contrast between the white snow and the trees in the winter. It adds so much to scenic views like this. 
The rugged notches in the adjacent mountains are just incredible.
On the clearest days, you are able to see roughly a hundred miles to Maryland, West Virginia, and Northern Virginia, since no ranges are immediately visible from this direction after Hogback Mountain. This sightline is one of the longest, if not the longest, within the state. The view is absolutely breathtaking. 
Kittatiny and Little Mountains are visible behind Hogback Mountain. Cococheague Creek drains Path Valley and leads to the Potomac River.
CeCe absolutely loved the view!
Note the icy fog hanging out in the valley. It was just beautiful.
Big Mountain Overlook really blew us away. We highly recommend checking it out. For more awesome scenic overlooks, check out our list of many of the state's awesome scenic overlooks.  

The drive to the overlook is really easy. Turn onto Aughwick Road on Route 30/Lincoln Highway at the Mountain House Inn. Follow Aughwick Road and then bear right onto Tower Road. It is about 2.8 miles from the Mountain House Inn. The state forest roads can be a little dicey in the winter weather, so take care as you drive. You may have to pull over and walk the rest of the way if it gets too treacherous. 

Coordinates: 

39.950243, -77.936541

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