Dunmore Pine Barrens/Gravity RR Preserve (High Rocks)

DSC_0548.JPG

View from High Rocks, Dunmore Pine Barrens/Gravity RR Preserve

I awoke before 5 am and was soon out the door.  The clear morning skies motivated me as I drove to the trailhead.  My goal was to see the sunrise at a vista I had never been to before.

Dunmore Reservoir No. 1 before sunrise

I parked off the street, next to a gate at the Dunmore Reservoir No. 1 and took a quick photo of the still water with its veil of mist, providing a perfect reflection.  With the help of my cell phone as I navigated my way to the vista, I followed a gated, paved road up the hill with views of Scranton.  Light began to grow across the sky with shades of red and orange.  The gated, paved road ended and I hurried across a meadow speckled with wildflowers, not to mention some deer, and more views.

Moon

I mistakenly took a trail to the right, instead of the official trail to the left, and climbed through the forest until I reached a ridge with stunted oak and bedrock slabs.  The moon rose overhead, beginning its descent to the west.  I reached the barrens and enjoyed views just as the sun crested the horizon.  I found a trail that descended to the right and my phone confirmed it was the proper route.  I descended and barely circumvented a massive mud puddle, and soon reached a stunning vista from a towering cliff above Roaring Brook.  According to Google Earth, this place is called High Rocks.  Layers of mist and slow moving clouds hung in the valleys below.  The tops of the plateaus rose just above the mist.  The sunrise cast the cliff in hues of amber and orange.  I could see for about 20 miles across the Pocono plateau.  Off to my right was I-84, a ribbon of concrete through the green forests.  Far below was the silver thread of Roaring Brook.  I could see some rock climbing bolts in the cliff.  As the sun rose, the mist dissipated and the clouds slowly moved across the ridge.  I could feel the heat of the day.  I followed a trail along the crest of the cliff with non-stop views.  This trail descended to an old vista, now grown over, and I followed another trail that looped back to High Rocks.  I did more exploration of the trail along the cliff to the east, to see more vistas.  I was amazed by the beauty of this place.

I returned to the huge mud puddle and climbed to the ridge.  I hiked northeast along the ridge and it was spectacular with incredible views off both sides of the ridge.  In places, there were almost 360 degree views.  Meadows and dwarf oak trees surrounded the trail.   These views easily rivaled those at the nearby Eales Preserve. The trail began to descend and I turned around retracing my steps.

I plan to return to follow the “official” trail to see remnants of the gravity railroad grades and stone bridges.

Non-stop views

Another place of great beauty within miles of Scranton.

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskGXJxJg

***********************************

This hike is pretty easy to navigate.  Keep in mind I did not follow the “official” hiking route, which I’ll attempt to describe below.  Coordinates are from Google maps.

  1. I parked here:  41.414494, -75.598228.  This is at the gate.  Parking is very limited here, space for only two cars.  Otherwise park at the lot for the trail around the reservoir, located here:  41.416882, -75.599199.  Hike the loop counterclockwise (right), below the dam, and to Tigue St.
  2. Follow gated Tigue Street to its end, at a meadow with views and wildflowers. 41.410386, -75.596232.
  3. In the meadow, the trail bends left here: 41.409262, -75.592827
  4. Enter the woods with a preserve and trail sign.
  5. Climb through the woods along an old grade, passing other intersecting trails.
  6. Hike to the ridge at 41.410813, -75.573643.
  7. Turn right and hike along the ridge with excellent, non-stop views.
  8. Leave the ridgetop trail to the left. 41.406457, -75.576815.
  9. Descend and hike around a large mud puddle.
  10. Turn right at the next trail intersection, more views.  41.405449, -75.575928.
  11. The High Rocks cliff and vista are located here:  41.404856, -75.575889.
  12. The views are spectacular, rising 600 vertical feet over Roaring Brook.  These are huge cliffs, so be careful at the edge.  I-84 can be seen.  Views are for about 20 miles.
  13. Retrace your steps.
  14. This appears to be a part of the Lost Trails, an ATV trail system.  Hiking is permitted based upon the signs I saw.  I do not know the extent of the Gravity RR Preserve’s boundary. Regardless, this is private land, so treat it with respect. Traffic can be heard from I-84.  The views are best at sunrise or sunset.  Enjoy.

Coudersport Ice Mine and PA Wilds Roadtrip

20160813_183928.jpg

Tamarack Fire Tower, Sproul State Forest.  See the funnel cloud on the horizon?

We recently drove out to the PA Wilds along Route 6 with the goal of seeing the Coudersport Ice Mine.  We couldn’t have chosen a more perfect day with the heat and humidity.  I love driving out to the PA Wilds, one of my favorite places.  It is one of the largest forestlands in the east, with countless trails, parks, and places to explore.

We reached the scenic town of Coudersport and got a bite to eat.  The Ice Mine was a few miles away, where we drove up what appeared to be a driveway and a small parking area.  The office was a quaint cottage tucked into the woods, making it look like something from Snow White.  Right next to it was a wooden door and sign that said “Ice Mine”.  We paid our $5.00 and the guide told us the mine was dug by someone looking for silver.  Silver was never found, but the mine had the odd habit of filling with ice in the summer.  The digging stopped and the mine was used for refrigeration thereafter.

Coudersport Ice Mine

It is not a mine, but a 30 foot deep pit into fractured rock.  It was remarkably cold for such a warm day, as to be expected.  A wooden platform with an opening offers views of the ice below.  It is believed the rocks freeze over winter, and are still cold in the Spring and Summer.  The air flows between the rocks, settles in the pit, and freezes the humidity.  By Fall, the ice will melt.  This is the only place I know of where ice will form in the summer.  Other places, like Trough Creek State Park’s ice mine and the ice cave in the Shawangunks will only hold ice until late in the year.  The tour is quick and there is not much to see other than the ice below your feet, but it is a unique little spot.  The Ice Mine had been closed for several years, so it is nice to see that it has re-opened.

We then drove south through Susquehannock State Forest, seeing Cherry Springs and the beautiful views from the forest roads.  What a special area.  We drove around the the Hammersley Wild Area, which took a while, but I was also scouting to see if there were any trails.  I noticed several signs for trails going into the wild area.

My next goal was the Tamarack Fire Tower in the Sproul State Forest, one of the few fire towers that can be climbed in PA.  We drove to the top of the mountain just as a fierce thunderstorm shredded the skies.  We sat in the car as lightning blasted around us, with bolts that rippled across the sky and torrents of rain.  The storm eventually passed and we walked to the fire tower.  I climbed it to see amazing views of mist and clouds rising from the valleys and hollows below.  It was breathtaking.  To the south I saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud.  Heavenly light pushed against the dark mass of the storm, illuminating the western horizon.

I inched back down the fire tower and we drove home, ending a wonderful day in the PA Wilds, the best-kept secret in the eastern US.

More photos:

https://www.flickr.com/gp/49239558@N04/62W6a9

Hammersley Wild Area

Lehigh Gorge, Mt. Pisgah, and Jim Thorpe Vistas

20160807_162924.jpg

View from Mt. Pisgah, Jim Thorpe, PA. 

I recently met up with my friend Mike to hike the Lehigh Gorge.  Our first stop was to see Tank Hollow Vista, which I had been to in the Spring.  The hike this time seemed to go a lot more quickly and we were soon at the vista.  There was a dam release on the river, as the sounds of the rapids filled the gorge.  We saw rafters and kayakers paddling through the rapids far below.  This really is an impressive view, and the hike is easy.  The metallic shades of bare trees and cliffs from my Spring hike were replaced with deep green forests.  We hung out at the vista and thought about going down to Stony Creek falls, but the heat of the day convinced us otherwise.

I had wanted to see another vista on the gorge’s rim, but I couldn’t find a way to access it, so we drove down to Jim Thorpe to climb Mt. Pisgah.  Jim Thorpe is a beautiful town, and was busy as usual, but we soon found the trail up to Mt. Pisgah which offered great views of the Lehigh and the plateaus.  We could also see Glen Onoko and Jeans Run’s glen.  It had been nearly 20 years since I had last been to Mt. Pisgah.  Mt. Pisgah was home to inclined planes and railroads decades ago, and several old grades still exist.

View of Jim Thorpe

We then checked out another view south of Jim Thorpe from a closed bar, and then we saw a sign for one hundred mile views.  We drove up and there was an impressive 100 mile panorama showing Blue Mountain and the Kittatinny Ridge in New Jesey.  The view was from land being sold for a housing development and the view was a marketing ploy.  Regardless, the view was worth it.

 

More photos:

https://www.flickr.com/gp/49239558@N04/881F96

 

Sunset Hike at the Eales Preserve (Moosic Mountain)

20160806_201131.jpg

Sunset on the Blueberry Trail

I recently did something I don’t normally do- start a hike in the early evening.  I decided to find a hike with a sunset and walk the trails through twilight, or what hikers call the “magic hour”.  I soon decided on the Eales Preserve at Moosic Mountain, which protects part of a vast heath barren- some of the largest in the northeastern US.  Heath barrens are not barren at all, but harbor stunted or low vegetation due to the soil, climatic conditions, and prescribed burns, which in turn provides habitat for rare species, including two globally rare moths.  The preserve has an extensive network of trails and is famous for its non-stop views.  The perfect choice for a sunset hike.

The View Loop

I’ve been to, and described, the Eales Preserve before.  On this hike I took a different route, and it is the best choice if you want views.  I hiked the following trails:  Bruised Ego, Conglomerate, Stonehenge, The View, Stonehenge, Waterfall, and Blueberry.  For views, the only other trail you’ll want to take is the impressive High Voltage Trail, but that was out of the way for this hike.  The trails aren’t blazed, but are fairly well established.  Most trail junctures have signs, and the trails are also marked with cairns.

Elk Mtn in distance

This route was beautiful and diverse.  There were meadows of ferns and lowbush blueberries, forest of stunted oak and birch, and mature forests with understories of ferns.  My hike also crossed three small streams.  By the time I reached the Blueberry Trail, the sun began to set with swirls of red, yellow, and orange.  I watched the sun melt into the horizon as the birds and crickets called across the vast meadows.  I was surrounded by views.  The clouds were illuminated by the last of the sunlight as the horizon became inflamed with deep reds and oranges.  The moon soon arrived, as well as the stars, as the lights began to glow from the valley below.  A warm breeze swept over the ridge as I hiked alone, into the darkness of night.  A deer leapt across the meadows and I could smell the musky scent of a bear, but I never saw it.  A beautiful hike in a beautiful place. Go there.

Blueberry Trail

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskBqx3y9

Trail map:

http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/pennsylvania/explore/trail-map-of-the-eales-nature-preserve-at-moosic-mountain-2015.pdf

 

 

Indian Caverns, Tytoona Cave, and Fort Roberdeau

20160724_124643.jpg

Indian Caverns

We recently went on a daytrip to central Pennsylvania to check out a few caves and a Revolutionary War fort. Due to the 90 degree heat, hiking was out of the question, so we headed underground.

Indian Caverns

Our first stop was at Indian Caverns, one of the longest limestone caves in PA, with over four miles of passageways. The caves were fascinating, with a nice combination of tight corridors, and larger rooms.  We saw flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites, and columns.  Native Americans had used parts of the cave to smoke meat, and store food.  Some stones were covered with soot from their fires, and many arrowheads and other tools were found in the cave.  The most scenic room was the Garden of the Gods with many formations in colored lights.  There were also some mineral deposits that glowed with the help of a black light.  The cave is still forming, with dripping water a common presence.  The tour covered almost a mile of the cave.  This will be the last year the cave will be open to tours since it is being bought by the state and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to become a bat preserve.

Arch Spring and Tytoona Cave

Our trip brought us into beautiful Sinking Valley where we stopped to see Arch Spring from the road. No trespassing signs prevented us from getting closer.  Part of a collapsed cave, the arch is the only natural bridge in Pennsylvania.  Here, Sinking Creek returns to the surface as a large spring.  Arch Spring is a part of the same cave system as Tytoona Cave.

Arch Spring, PA's only natural bridge

We turned onto Morrow Road and drove to a pull off on the left. A trail led down to Tytoona Cave and its impressive entrance located in a sink where streams disappear into the ground.  In high water, a waterfall forms on the side of the cave entrance.  The sink is a collapsed portion of an ancient cave.  The streambed was dry, and it emerged from the base of a ledge.  We entered the cave and soon heard the sound of running water, which was the underground stream of Sinking Creek.    There were some small side passageways, and a few formations.  It became very dark as I went deeper into the cave and I wished I brought a stronger light.  The sound of water was everywhere and I just walked in the creek.   The walls glistened with moisture.  After walking into the cave for about 500 feet, I turned around.  Apparently, it is possible to hike 400 feet further until the cave ends at a sump, where the cave goes underwater.  Cave divers have explored more of the cave, which has additional chambers, including one with incredible formations, such as the very rare soda straw formations.  These formations have been protected because it is completely inaccessible.  Even cave diving is no longer permitted.

Tytoona Cave

Tytoona Cave is a special place because it is open to the public, accessible, and not commercialized. It offers a superb illustration of karst topography and the worlds that exist beneath our feet.  Please treat it with respect.

Fort Roberdeau 

Our final stop was the re-creation of this Revolutionary War fort, built to protect local lead smelting operations.  It never saw a battle. It is now a county park.  I was impressed.  The fort was quite large, with the logs stacked horizontally since the bedrock was too close to the surface to drive the logs vertically.  The fort held over forty cabins.  It is hard to imagine just how hard life was back then.  The tour guides wore period dress and taught us about the fort and way of life.  There was a reconstructed squared log home that represented the typical home found in the valley generations ago.  A guide in her 80s explained the home to us, saying that it would be a family’s second home after establishing themselves after a few years in the valley.  Despite being dressed in layers of linens and cotton, and a petticoat, she apologized for being underdressed.  Summers must have been hellish for frontier families.

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskAWa7o4

Location of Tytoona Cave:

https://www.bing.com/mapspreview?&cp=40.602067~-78.217388&lvl=19&v=2&sV=1&form=S00027

 

 

The Hook Natural Area

20160710_124629.jpg

Hook Tram Trail

The Hook Natural Area is in the Bald Eagle State Forest and is one of the largest natural areas in the state, covering 5,119 acres. The Hook has long attracted the attention of hikers with its deep, wooded valleys, streams, and rhododendron tunnels.  A few weekends ago, I finally had a chance to explore The Hook to see for myself what this hidden place was all about.

I parked at the Mifflinburg Reservoir and hiked the Hook Tram Trail. This level trail follows an old grade through thickets of rhodos and occasional views of the stream.  I hoped to see the blooms of the rhodos, but there weren’t as many as I’d hoped, and the blooms were small in size.  Regardless, the blooms I did see were nice.  Hiking on the Hook Tram Trail became a little monotonous due to its rocky nature and I began to question what was so special about The Hook.  Then, the trail went through impressive tunnels of rhodos as hidden streams tumbled in the deep shade of the forest.  I climbed a little to a beautiful forest with small glades of ferns where the faint, unmarked Molasses Gap Trail joined from the left.

The trail twisted through a beautiful forest of pine, hemlocks, rhodo, and laurel before crossing Buffalo Creek on a wooden bridge. I was entering The Hook itself, and it became apparent what was so special about this place.  The trail tunneled through more rhodo and laurel, crossing fern glades and blooming rhodos covered the mountainsides.  While the display was not as epic as the ones along Round Island Run in the Sproul State Forest, it was still scenic.  This mountain valley had a primeval, isolated feel filled with the sounds of babbling creeks.  The hemlocks were fairly healthy as hardwood trees towered overhead.  The trail then meandered into a tight rhodo tunnel that would’ve been better suited for a gnome.     I returned to the open stream valley with more fern meadows.  I reached a place where some streams met, and a sign for the Middle Ridge Trail.  I continued on the Molasses Gap Trail and then veered left onto the Mule Shanty Trail.  This trail was brushy and rocky, but still a nice hike with some ledges and rock outcrops along a tumbling stream.   Talus slopes covered the sides of the valley.  As usual, rhodos and mountain laurel were prevalent along the trail.

I then encountered a box turtle, taking its time crossing the rocky trail, unsure whether to keep its head out, or in its shell. I soon turned around, retracing my steps through The Hook Natural Area.  I now see why The Hook is so well-regarded, it is a beautiful, little-known place that feels secluded and wild.  It is well worth the visit.

After reaching my car, I drove up Old Shingle Road to scout some trails for a future adventure- an exploration of The Goosenecks Gorge.

I then drove through the incredibly beautiful countryside outside of Mifflinburg and stopped at the Rusty Rail Brewery in town.  The food and beer were good, and the building itself was impressive.  A great place to stop by after hiking.

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskExHc41

************************************

  1.  Most people begin at the small Mifflinburg Reservoir.  40.958918, -77.130927
  2. The trails are blazed yellow, with old blue blazes.  The trails can be followed fairly easy, but are brushy in places and tight through the rhododendrons.
  3. Hook Tram Trail is level, but rocky.
  4. The highlight is The Hook itself, a beautiful, serene mountain valley with fern meadows, streams, hemlock, pine, laurel, and rhodos.
  5. I did an out and back hike, but this loop is also popular: http://pahikes.com/trails/bald-eagle-state-forest/75-trails-of-the-hook-natural-area

 

Bear Creek Preserve: Grey and Red Trails Loop

20160709_184958.jpg

Shades Creek

The Bear Creek Preserve is one of my favorite places to hike in the Wilkes-Barre area. It has over thirty miles of trails that feature streams, wetlands, waterfalls, big rocks, views, and rhododendron tunnels.  My favorite loop at the preserve is about 8 miles long and explores Shades Creek.

I began at the parking area and followed the red trail near a kiosk. The trail featured green forests and fern meadows.  I then turned left onto the grey trail as it crossed Shades Creek on a footbridge.  The grey trail continued on a bank above the creek with extensive rhododendron tunnels and some large pine and hemlock trees.  There was also a seasonal stream with a waterfall.  I had hoped to see all the rhodo blooms.  While I saw several flowers, this year’s blooms appeared to be small and not very common.  Some blooms were past peak, others were just beginning.  Regardless, this is a very beautiful section of trail.  I dropped to Shades Creek, where there is another seasonal falls across the creek, hidden by rhododendrons.

Shades Creek

The trail meandered from the creek, exploring a hemlock and moss forest with some wet areas. I returned to the creek.  Soon, I hiked by several cascades, slides, and pools.  The water was crystal clear.  The skies threatened rain, but I remained dry.  The clouds did bring out deep green hues in the forest.

Big hemlock

I reached the largest cascades, about five feet tall with a deep pool. You can shorten the hike and cross the creek above the cascade to pick up the red trail; this is a wet crossing.  There is no bridge.  I followed the grey trail as it climbed from the creek to a grade and the purple trail, where I turned right.  The purple trail was easy to follow.  The trail dropped down through thickets of laurel and rhododendron to another purple trail at a “T” intersection, where I turned right.  Here is Bear Creek and a deep pool.  The trail crossed Shades Creek on stones under a scenic hemlock forest.

I turned right on the red trail as it explored more beautiful woodlands. The trail went near the same large cascade I was at earlier.  The red trail then climbed gradually along rock outcrops and ledges.  The forests were mostly hardwoods with ferns.  Another large cliff soon loomed in the forest.  A green trail joined from the left and I continued on the red trail.  The net highlight was another footbridge over a small creek with a falls downstream from the trail.   The clouds had lifted and the setting sun sent shafts of light through the misty woods. I then turned left on the green trail as it climbed gradually, and then a sharp right onto the orange trail as it explored the tops of ledges and cliffs before reaching a small view of the hills across Shades Creek.  There is a deep crevasse in the rocks at this view.  The orange trail features a lot of blueberry bushes, which offer berries in late summer, and red leaves in Autumn.  I followed the orange trail back to the parking area just as it was getting dark.

View from orange trail

The trails are well established, but do get brushy. There are no signs at trail junctures.  The trails are marked with circular placards, with arrows, that are the color of the respective trail.  I found the trails easy to follow, but you do need to keep an eye out for trail junctures to make sure you are following the right trail.  The most confusing place is at the largest cascade on Shades Creek.

This is a great place to hike and the trails are well routed to take advantage of the scenery at the preserve. Bear Creek is one of many beautiful preserves and trails surrounding Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.

More photos:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskzUXzW9

Trail map:

https://natlands.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2016/03/BearCreekBroch-2014-11-map.pdf