Big Rocks at Buck Run (Old Loggers Path)

Table Top Rock

This past weekend I ventured to the Old Loggers Path and the Loyalsock State Forest.  There were some sites off of the trail I wanted to explore.

First was a bog at the headwaters of Doe Run.  The hardwood forests had lost most of its leaves, but much of the forest floor was covered with deep green ground pine.  Along the way I passed a vernal pool, its clear, shallow waters reflected the forest perfectly.

I reached the bog, which was more of a wet meadow.  However, the meadow didn’t even seem that wet.  I did not see any open water.  I bushwhacked towards the Old Loggers Path, trying to find Doe Run so I could follow it.  It was an odd stream, flowing underground with no streambed, until it suddenly emerged from the ground to meander through the forest.  Its gradient picked up as it tumbled over rocks.  Soon I reached the Old Loggers Path at a campsite.

I headed to Buck Run to see a huge rock city just off of the trail.  I saw some big rocks through the bare forests, so I headed towards them.  I was treated to massive boulders and overhangs with small caves and draperies of moss.

One rock was very unique- Table Top Rock, which featured a rectangular overhang off of both ends that resembled its namesake.

Cliffs and large ledges surrounded the ridge.  There were partial views from the top of distant windmills.  The forest was littered with massive boulders stacked on top of each other, or angled and concaved, partially sunken into the soil.

The cliffs became more dramatic as I headed east along the ridge, culminating with a fractured, towering cliff riddled with crevices and caves.

See-through cave in a cliff

I scrambled to the top which revealed boulders upturned and tilted, cracked and separated by deep crevasses.  I was careful to watch my step. I wondered what hidden world lied underneath.

Rock bridge

Another crevasse featured a rock bridge that capped an opening deep into the outcrop.

I explored the base of the rocks and cliffs I saw from the top.  Moss hung to the sides as ferns grew along cracks.  I wondered how many animals I passed, hiding in the small caves.

I returned to the Old Loggers Path and hiked back to the car through a world of gold and orange.

Last foliage of the season

The location of the big rocks near Buck Run.

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Goodbye to Mountain Springs Lake

Hiking through an amber forest

Nestled among the forested ridges and deep hollows adjacent to Ricketts Glen State Park and SGL 57, miles from the nearest paved road, Mountain Springs Lake has long been a hidden destination that offered solitude and beauty.  It is the last vestige of the ice making industry that once prospered on the high plateaus.  But all things change, and Mountain Springs Lake will meet the same fate of it’s former sister lake, Ice Dam No. 1.

Beginning this month, Mountain Springs Lake will be drained.  The dam will then be breached.  There are no plans to rebuild the dam.  The lake will become part of our history, and will live only in our memories.

The lake has long been a part of our history and culture, and well-known by those living in the Noxen area.  People would drive their cars or ride their bikes up the old grade to the lake.  The lake was built for the creation of ice.  Ice would freeze on the surface in the winter, and would be cut, harvested, and stored for use in the summer.  The operation that once existed around Mountain Springs was impressive, with conveyors, cutting machines, and buildings for storage and shipping.  It supported a small town.  Other dams were built for ice production, but all were drained, leaving only Mountain Springs Lake.

The long concrete dam that forms the lake has gradually deteriorated.  Water seeps through cracks and the concrete is slowly crumbling.  During the floods, there were often rumors the dam breached.  Maybe surprisingly, the dam held.  But time was never on its side.  The relatively little use the lake received does not justify huge cost to rebuild the dam.  But then again, it was that little use that made it such a special place.

I remember hiking the trails around the lake on a fall afternoon as the smooth waters mirrored the beautiful colors perfectly.  Or hiking in the heat of the summer to enjoy the breeze coming off of the water, as it waters glistened in the sun through the deep forests.  I would hike the trails on the nearby ridges to enjoy views of the lake from cliffs, its placid waters surrounded by rolling green ridges that nearly concealed the lake, as if trying to keep a secret.

This weekend I returned to Mountain Springs for one last hike to enjoy the lake.  Although most of the fall colors were stripped from the trees high in the canopies, there was still plenty of color in the understory.  We began by hiking to sublime Beech Lake.  Afterwards, we followed a trail I hadn’t hiked previously up along The Meadows to a forest road.  It was a beautiful trail.  The yellow and gold birch trees created an amber forest interspersed with hemlocks.

The trail took us to a cliff rim with views over the mountains.  Colors still lingered on some trees as clouds drifted across a deep blue sky.   Down far below was Mountain Springs Lak, sunken in its bed, half its former size.  Bowmans Creek flowed across the muddy plain to feed the receding pool.

Reflections on Bowmans Creek

We hiked down to Bowmans Creek and crossed it via some old railroad tracks that just cleared the flowing water.  The creek traversed a hemlock forest that offered some stunning reflections.  We crossed the creek again and hiked the road to Mountain Springs Lake.  Another group of people were paying their respects as we arrived.  A muddy plain surrounded the pond, with the stumps of ancient trees dotting the surface.  It was hard to imagine those trees were cut over a hundred years ago.

I walked along the crumbling dam and touched the water.  Thick mud surrounded the shore.  I took a picture of the lake as the sun hid behind a cloud against a cobalt sky.

My final picture of Mountain Springs Lake

We returned to the car along the dirt road as the sun began to set behind the mountain.  Along the way we passed some hikers from Maine.

Nature will reclaim what man once created.  The lake bottom will become a meadow with grasses and wildflowers.  Trees will gradually grow and become a forest, returning the lake to what it once was.

But the story and history that Mountain Springs Lake represents is not quite over.  One lake that was used for ice production still remains, beautiful Beech Lake, a gem of SGL 57.  And because it is a natural lake, it will likely never be drained.

Goodbye Mountain Springs Lake, thank you for the memories, beauty, and solitude you have provided to so many.

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Bucktail Overlook

Views of the vast Quehanna plateau from the Bucktail Overlook

I was starting to head down the mountain from the Fred Woods Trail to Driftwood when I noticed a road to the left with a sign for the Bucktail Overlook.  Naturally, I had to check it out.

The road climbed and then crested, surrounded by huge meadows and amazing views in almost every direction.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was like being on a grassy bald in the Smoky Mountains.  The north revealed a wave of small ridges and hills.  The northeast had a prominent ridge with deep glens- the Squaretimber Wild Area.  The south offered a breathtaking panorama of the Quehanna Plateau.  The escarpment towered, its steep buttresses folded with small glens and gorges.  The southeast view had the deep, winding valley of Sinnemahoning Creek and the hamlet of Driftwood.

View to the east and the Bucktail Path

The diversity of terrain was impressive.  So was the scale of the topography.  The overlook is about 1,300 vertical feet above Driftwood.  Views expanded in all directions.  A strong wind swept over the meadows as the clouds sailed across the sky.

A lady was there with her two daughters.  She had been here before.  Her daughters began to run down the meadow.  She said to me, “Isn’t it beautiful?”.  It was.  I told her this was my first time here.  She looked at me with knowing eyes, but also with the exhileration that everytime was the first time at such a place.

If you ever happen to find yourself in Driftwood, you must stop by the Bucktail Overlook.  It is one of the finest vistas in the state.

View to the north

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Fred Woods Trail

Huckleberry Vista, Fred Woods Trail

The Fred Woods Trail is named after a forest worker who died on duty in 1975.  It is one of the finest dayhikes in northcentral Pennsylvania.  I had long wanted to hike this trail, which is known for its views and massive rock outcrops.

This is also an isolated trail to reach.  You must follows dirt roads off of PA 555.  Be aware that Castle Garden/Mason Hill Road is narrow as it traverses very steep terrain.  A car can handle this road, but take your time.

Despite the trailhead’s isolation, it was filled when I arrived.  By the time I finished this hike it was easy to see why.

The trail is mostly level and easy.  It is ideal for kids.  Despite the ease, you get a lot of scenery.

The trail began by going through thick hemlocks.  The woods opened up with hardwoods and ferns.  I soon reached the loop. I turned left to begin the loop; this is least-hiked side of the loop.  Most people go right to the big rocks.  The trail was rocky in places and meandered between some nice sized boulders.  It soon reached the edge of the plateau.  The sides of the plateaus in this region are incredibly steep; the earth just falls away.  It is odd to be hiking on such an easy trail surrounded by such rugged and steep terrain.  There are many views through the trees.  In winter, there would be extensive views.

The trail soon leads to its finest view- Huckelberry Vista.  Massive plateaus rise in the distance; to the west is a narrow gorge.  Mountains rise higher to the west.  It is an impressive sight.  I sat there for a while, as a red-tailed hawk soared overhead.

I continued down the trail as it began to wind in between big rocks.  I hiked down to the second vista, Water Plug Vista, also a nice view of the deep valleys and high plateaus.  I continued on the loop as massive boulders rose above the forest floor, with hemlocks growing on top.  I soon reached the Rock Trail, the highlight of the hike.  It cannot be missed.

The trail goes into this chasm

Massive boulders and ledges are jumbled and severed along faults and cracks.  Moss clothe the rock faces.  Roots of trees twist and bend into crevices.  The massive rocks have separated to reveal chasms, one into which the trail ventures.  It is an impressive wonderland of geology.  The chasm narrowed at the far end, so I had to squeeze through.  The trail then wandered on top of the rocks, descended, and passed a small cave.  It was a fascinating place.  One rock was colored orange, others white.  Angles pointed and turned in every direction.  Some rock faces were curved, sloped, or concaved.

I returned to the main loop as it explored more rock outcrops, green with moss and hemlocks.  The rocks receded gradually and the trail returned to the woods alone, before completing the loop.

The Fred Woods Trail is a beautiful and impressive place that is well worth the drive.  I was happy I was finally able to visit.

I thought I was done exploring, but I was wrong.  One more hidden gem awaited on my day of exploration.

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Pine Tree Trail Natural Area and Hicks Run Camping Area



On the Pine Tree Trail, Elk State Forest

My next stop was the Pine Tree Trail Natural Area in the Elk State Forest.  The natural area is adjacent to the Hicks Run Camping Area.

A short trail system explores the natural area.  The trail climbs along a steady, old grade.  At the top was a small pine forest, surrounded by larger hardwoods.  As far as natural areas go, it was nothing very special.  I did not see any white pine trees that were even close to old growth or mature.  But it does offer some nice hiking in the woods.  The colors were very nice on the hike down, and you could see across the deep mountain valley through the trees.

I was more impressed with the Hicks Run Camping Area.  There are about 15 sites under large pine and hemlocks with a small field.  It is a primitive campground, so there are no showers or water, but there are pit toilets.  The sites offer picnic tables and fire rings.  It is a beautiful camping area set deep in a mountain valley.  Hicks Run flows in the woods that border the camping area.  If you are looking for a secluded and serene place to spend the night, Hick Run is worth a visit.  It is ideally situated to serve as a base to explore the state forest.  Contact Elk State Forest for more information.

I continued down PA 555 to the primary goal of my quick trip through northcentral Pennsylvania: the impressive Fred Woods Trail.

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Parker Dam State Park

Lake at Parker Dam State Park

This past weekend I had a meeting with the Keystone Trails Association in Clearfield.  I had hoped to do a quick overnight on the Quehanna Trail, but it wasn’t possible.  So I decided to camp at Parker Dam State Park and then explore some sights and trails on Sunday.

I’ve been to Parker Dam a few times, but this was my first time camping.  I love driving into the park.  Towering oak and maple trees line the road, their branches nearly hiding the sky.  Beautiful fall colors lingered deep in the woods.

I set up camp.  The campground is nice, but seemed to be more popular with RVers.  One man walked by and saw my small tent, he said I was “roughing it”.  I never thought of car camping as roughing it.

With daylight fading fast, I decided to do a quick hike.  I was soon off on the Lakeshore and Souders Trail.  The latter is a very enjoyable hike along an easy trail through gorgeous forests of hemlock, pine, oak, and birch.  The hemlocks are heathy and were a deep green.  At the far end of the loop the trail passed Laurel Run and the remnants of a splash dam.  Just further was a huge pine tree; the stream had eroded into its twisted roots.

I hiked back to camp in darkness, passing the parking area for the Quehanna Trail, which was filled with the cars of people backpacking the trail.  I was a little jealous.

Showers passed early the next morning; it was relaxing to hear the raindrops.

I got up the next morning and proceeded across the dam to hike the Trail of New Giants.  As I began the trail, an army of turkeys scattered into the forest.  The forests were beautiful with some massive oak trees.  The forest soon changed to one of small trees and many old moss-covered logs on the forest floor.  This was where the 1985 tornado, one of the most powerful in state history, swept through the park and consumed the forest.  A small view at the top of a hill provided a view of the lake.  The trail shows how a forest grows and regenerates.

I left the park and drove to the new Elk Country Visitor Center.  It is an impressive building.  Unfortunately, there were no elk in the meadows that surround the center.  I arrived at the wrong time of day.  I drove to some more viewing areas, but the elk were nowhere to be seen.

I continued down PA 555 to my next destination, the Pine Tree Trail Natural Area and Hicks Run Natural Area.

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Mountain Biking at Lackawanna State Park

Jay in a blur, crossing Kennedy Creek

As a kid, I would often ride my old BMX bike on the country roads around my house.  As I got older, I turned to hiking and kayaking, and rarely touched a bike.  Recently, I’ve been wanting to give bikes, particularly mountain bikes, another try.

Lackawanna State Park has become a haven for mountain bikers, with its miles of trails that wind along creeks, meadows, forests, ponds, and Lake Lackawanna.  The trails in the park are considered ideal for intermediate, or even beginner riders.  A cadre of volunteers have done amazing work on the trails in the state park.  This would be my first mountain bike ride.

I met Jay and we proceeded down to the dam, crossed a bridge, and I tried to climb switchbacks.  But I ended up pushing my bike.  My bike does not have a front suspension, so it often would want to pop a wheelie when I was climbing and the front tire hit a sudden obstruction, like a root or rock.  And I just don’t have the legs for mountain biking yet.

It is surprising how mountain biking changes your perspective on a trail.  Trails that are easy, or even boring to a hiker, suddenly become challenging and exciting on a bike.

Next was the Frost Hollow Trail that was a lot of fun as it rolled through the forest and then descended along switchbacks.  We continued around the lake along the Ranger Trail which winds along the steep banks of Kennedy Creek and then crosses the creek via two bridges.  It was a fun and beautiful trail.   The Lakeshore Trail was also excellent as it lived up to its name, closely following the shore with great views over the water.  This trail also had two bridges, and several sections were wet.

We ran across Bill who is the Executive Director of the Countryside Conservancy and who was participating in the Go Green Bike Tour, a benefit for the conservancy.  We rode together down PA 438 to the Orchard Trail.

Bill riding the Orchard Trail along Lake Lackawanna

The Orchard Trail was fun.  It is a tight and more technical trail with small inclines and declines as it threaded between trees.  It also offered some great views of the lake.

After our ride, we stopped by the Go Green bike tour festivities where there was a band and food.  It was a good time.

Overall it was a successful ride- I didn’t fall over, no injuries, I had to push my bike a short distance up a hill twice, and put my foot down about ten times.

A map of Lackawanna State Park.

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