There are times when you have been fortunate enough to see or experience a place so special, that you know the experience will not soon leave you. I had such an experience this weekend.
State Game Lands 57 is a special place. Over the years I have been slowly exploring more and more of this vast area, and my appreciation for it has only grown. It features forests, landscapes, and habitats so rare in Pennsylvania. I have known for a few years of a series of cliffs on the west side of Flat Top, a name given on topographical maps to a prong of the plateau above Stony Brook. This weekend I decided to see it for myself.
I met Ryan and his wonderful dog at around 8 a.m. on a cool, misty morning as Mehoopany Creek’s current announced its presence. The tops of the white pines disappeared in the flowing mist; the sunlight was making a valiant effort to break through.
We decided to climb Flat Top from the south, avoiding a hike along flood-torn Stony Brook. We climbed along a very narrow ridge with mountain laurel and teaberry. Soon we reached the first view looking up Stony Brook as a breeze blew down the creek; it smelled sweet with mist and budding trees.
We continued our hike, all off trail. The terrain leveled off, but then grew steep and rocky as we made our ascent. The sun was trying to pierce the morning clouds. Despite it being cool, and being March, I began to sweat. We slowly made our way up, following old deer trails over loose rock. Upon reaching a level area, there was a large boulder resting flat on a smaller rock, resembling a balance rock or mushroom. Above were large rock outcrops and crevasses with scat and worn game trails. We could only imagine how many animals silently listened to us as we stumbled away.
We decided to head west along the contour of the plateau where we entered a beautiful hardwood forest with huge, majestic oak trees. We soon reached the west side of the Flat Top plateau, where we turned north, staying close to the edge.
We reached a laurel thicket that sliced my legs; although there were cliffs and rock outcrops, there were no views. We pushed on, passing small springs. Ryan was ahead and thought he saw an opening. No luck, there was only a minor view. To avoid the laurel, we scaled the side of the outcrops, holding onto roots and small ledges. Ryan soon told me to hurry up. I soon found him sitting on a dramatic rock outcrop- Pedestal Rock.
The view from Pedestal Rock was breathtaking as it looked down Big Deer Run’s gorge and into Stony Brook. The shadows of the lifting clouds drifted across the mountainsides.
Although Pedestal Rock was impressive, I knew it wasn’t the cliff I was hoping to reach. We continued north, and climbed to higher elevations. I soon spied massive boulders through the trees above us. We grew excited as we pushed up the mountain. We reached an incredible boulder city. But above was a prominent wall of cliffs towering through the trees. We reached the cliffs.
We scrambled to the southern end of the cliffs with some views to the south. Boulders were everwhere, bleached white from the sun. The rock was a type of pebbly conglomerate. We pushed north along the cliffs with more smaller views through the trees.
We entered an amazing balsam fir forest that was incredibly dark and green. These trees are usually found in the Adirondacks, New England, or Canada. We pushed through the thick forests, as the bare, sharp branches scraped and punctured my skin- the price of admission.
The scenery and terrain only became more impressive as we worked our way north along the cliff line. Massive overhanging cliffs jutted out above the trees; thick green firs grew over the top. The scenery was so unique. And soon we were treated to some amazing views.
It just kept on getting better. We passed a narrow crevasse that lead to the base of the cliffs; just further was a huge outcrop where we decided to eat lunch. The sky was a deep blue and the sun was warm and vivid, bringing out the colors of the sky and the green fir forest. The views were amazing- no houses, no development, no traffic, no sounds. It was completely untouched. A lone plane went by- it was the only sound we heard. Turkey vultures kept an eye on us and I saw an odd, reddish insect crawl across the outcrop.
The scenery was amazing, I could not believe what I was seeing. But we were not the first ones here- hidden near the fir trees was a small fire ring, now covered with moss. We have probably been the first visitors in many years.
We continued along the cliffs, parsing the fir trees and reaching more cliffs that offered more views to the south, looking into the Mehoopany Creek Gorge.
We left the fir forest and entered a hardwood forest with gnarled, wind torn trees and meadows of ferns. The cliffs soon returned, with columns of weathered stone and a final, dramatic view to the south as the ridges of the plateaus layered away through the sunlight.
We descended to a small stream and followed it down the Big Deer Run, which has no official name on the maps, but that is what I call it since it drains Big Deer Swamp. There is a hidden glen and falls along this creek under thick hemlocks.
We continued to explore the plateau, with incredible rock outcrops, crevasses and caves. There were impressive hemlock forests that appeared unaffected by the wooly adelgid. There was also a lot of bear activity, with bear trails and bear prints. This section had incredible biodiversity.
We made our way back down to Stony Brook along a very steep descent over loose rock and a landslide. Stony Brook was torn apart from the floods; the devastation was beyond description. Trees were thrown like matchsticks; mounds of cobblestones were deposited throughout the forest. The floods tore a gash over the old streambed, ripping through the forest.
We reached the cars, exhilarated from our incredible journey. Ryan suggested we do a quick hike along an unnamed stream on the east side of the Mehoopany Creek, where there were some waterfalls. I agreed.
We drove a little ways and parked along the road. We hiked down the Mehoopany along a vast bed of sand and cobbles under a brilliant blue sky. We hiked up along the small no-name creek where it carved mini-gorges into the red bedrock with small slides, pools, and cascades. It was very beautiful. The bedrock was sculpted and smooth. We soon reached the main falls- it was only about fifteen feet high, but it showered down from a notch in the red cliffs into an intimate pool. It was rather impressive. To the side, springs erupted from cliffs clothed with moss. I sat there as the falling water filled the air and the sun began to set over the mountains.
We hiked back down the creek as it glistened in the sunlight. We soon reached the cars, bringing an end to an amazing day.
It is my hope that this area will be included in Phase 4 of the proposed Endless Mountains Trail.
The beauty that lies in our backyards is often the most overlooked. We dream of far-away places, while ignoring what exists right here, hiding in plain sight. I’ve hiked in many places and in many states, but this will remain as one of my most memorable hikes. It is not out of bias, sure I grew up and live in Wyoming County, but to find a place such as this that can bring the same joy and wonder as a national park visited by millions, is something that I will always cherish.
I only hope that places such as this will be protected for not only future generations, but also this one. We cannot afford to lose a place so special, unique, and beautiful. I hope someday you will see it for yourself. Trust me, it will be well worth your time.
For more pictures of this amazing place, click here.
For a Google satellite image of the southern section of the cliff line with the balsam fir forest, click here.