Winter at Woodbourne Forest

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Hiking at Woodbourne Forest

Every other year it seems I find myself back at Woodbourne Forest, north of Dimock.  This preserve covers over 600 acres and is owned by the Nature Conservancy, the first of its preserves in the state.  The forest is famous for its old growth forest.  Here, you will find giant beech, oak, cherry, and ash trees.  However, it are the ancient hemlocks that make this place so special.  The giant trees with canopies of green are a beautiful sight, casting the forest floor into eternal shade.  With its wide variety of habitats, from streams, fields, wetlands, and drier slopes, Woodbourne boasts an impressive diversity.  Nearly 200 bird species have been documented.  The preserve is described as Hike No. 2 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.
The woolly adelgid has reached Woodbourne, and the hemlocks have been affected, but most trees are hanging on.  We began on the blue trail as it circled the northern and eastern parts of the preserve.  The trail passes many of the preserve’s large trees and we hiked through spruce plantations as an owl hooted in the distance.  A white blazed link trail brought us to the orange trail, featuring more large trees and a meadow as a deer silently ran away from us.
Next was the yellow trail as it did a small loop through the old growth hemlock forest.  A frigid breeze blew off of the frozen swamp, formed by a beaver dam encased in snow and ice.  Shafts of sunlight pierced the high canopy to illuminate the forest floor.  The colors were stark and beautiful, from the deep blue skies, white snow on the frozen ice, to the brown and gray trunks of the trees, and finally the green hemlocks.  Besides the breeze, the wetland was serene and silent.  In early summer, this is a place that teems with endless life and the buzzing, chirps, songs, and calls that goes along with it.
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Trail map

The trails are pretty well marked and most trail junctures have signs.  There were fallen trees and branches on the trails, but overall it was a nice hike in one of Pennsylvania’s first protected places.
More photos.

The Lesson of Devil’s Falls

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Devil’s Falls, near Pittston, PA, upstream of Gardner Reservoir, along Gardner Creek

Only a couple years ago I heard about Devil’s Falls.  The pictures looked incredible- a towering, large, cascading waterfall.  It didn’t seem real.  It looked like a falls you’d expect to see in some other place, far away.  But here it was, hiding in plain sight.  I recently set out to see it for myself, and I did.
This, for me, was a hike of contrasts.  Even the name of the falls is a contrast.  And it was a contrast that hinted at something deeper.
After all, places like Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Pittston are where people move from, not to.  Northeast Pennsylvania raises images of culm dumps, old mines, land that has been raped.  Depressing communities on life support, waiting for someone to tell them to die.  A place where the younger generation moves off to greener pastures- Colorado, Washington, Arizona, California, or North Carolina as the older generations wither into obscurity.  Maybe our attitudes have conditioned us.
And maybe we have been completely wrong.
No one is going to arrive here to create the place where we would like to move to; only we can do that.  And we deserve it.
Surrounding these old mining towns and cities are places of amazing beauty.  We have no idea.  From sweeping vistas, to hidden gorges, beautiful trails, and serene waterfalls- it all exists right here.  Waiting. For you.
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Devil’s Falls

I once talked with someone who recently moved back to the area after being away for several years.  He didn’t realize all that was here when he was a younger man.  He said Scranton has more outdoor recreation possibilities than Burlington, VT.  Imagine that.
Think about it.  Close to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area are: Rattlesnake Falls, Pinchot State Forest, Pinchot Trail, Seven Tubs, Ashley Planes, Bear Creek Preserve, Harvey’s Creek Gorge, Tillbury Knob, Moon Lake, Frances Slocum State Park, Moosic Mountain Barrens, Merli Sarnoski Park, Nay Aug Gorge, Lake Scranton, Campbell’s Ledge, Panther Creek Preserve, D&H Rail Trail, Mocanaqua Rock Climbing and Trails, Shickshinny Falls, Lackawanna River fly fishing and rapids, Panther’s Bluff, Stillwater Cliff, Lackawanna State Park, Susquehanna River, Ricketts Glen…
And Devil’s Falls.
I parked behind a development filled with vast warehouses and hiked along an old road, a place that seemed totally forgettable.  The woods were sparse and forlorn, growing over and trying to heal the land.  As I hiked further, the forests became scenic, with larger trees.  I continued on the rutted road, as it followed a hidden water line.  I saw two large water tanks off to the left.  The road then dropped into a glen with icicle covered ledges.  The sound of roaring water filled the glen.  I knew there was something special down there.  The road became eroded as I picked my way between the ice.  I reached the bottom and looked up.
There was Devil’s Falls.
This falls alone would justify a state park or premier hiking trail anywhere else.  It was a huge, powerful, towering cascade as the currents almost seemed to cris-cross as it slid down the bedrock.  It was easily 70-80 feet tall.   Hemlocks framed the falls.  At the bottom was a shallow, clear pool anchored by a massive boulder.  This is truly one of the finest waterfalls in the state.
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Looking down the falls

I climbed up the north side of the falls.  I reached an exposed ledge that had stunted oak and pine, common for dry, exposed habitats.  Just thirty feet away was a moist hemlock forest growing along the creek.  An impressive array of diversity.  Views stretched across the glen.  I descended to the top of the falls, scrambling between large conglomerate boulders.  The top revealed the impressive scope of the falls.  But there was more.  Above me were additional falls and slides beneath massive boulders.  All told, I would not be surprised if all the cascades were over 100 feet tall.  I explored this boulder city, dressed with veils of moss between the twisted trunks of mountain laurel.  Nearby the creek had etched itself into the smooth bedrock.  The clear, calm water oblivious about what was ahead.
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Massive boulders above the falls

I reached another trail and looked upstream as the creek flowed under a grove of green hemlocks.  I soon returned to the old road, and my car.  I drove away along the wide, sweeping roads of the warehouse development as Devil’s Falls continued to flow in its glen of hemlocks and boulders, waiting for us…
More photos.

Pinchot Trail-North Loop

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Painter Creek

With the hope to burn some holiday calories, we headed out to hike the north loop of the Pinchot Trail in the state forest of the same name.  I was looking forward to it, since I had not been on some parts of this trail for a couple of years.  The easy trail threaded its way between green mountain laurel, over streams, and through hardwood forests caked with fluorescent lichens.  In summer, this trail features every shade of green imaginable.  In January, the colors were not as diverse, but the forest still had a stark beauty.  As we continued, there were more fern and lowbush blueberry meadows, now a lifeless brown.  White birch trees added some color, especially since the snow had melted.  Deep green spruce trees rose over the trail.
Some areas were very wet and water seemed to drip from everywhere.  As we rounded the north end of the loop, I was surprised to see several campsites where they had not been before.  The trail was in good shape, and seemed to be well-used.  We descended to Painter Creek, a scenic highlight of the north loop.  Here, a pristine stream flows under a dark grove of hemlocks with beautiful campsites.  We took a break here as another hiker walked by.
The trail took us into a forest with carpets of ground pine, moss covered logs, and fins of fungus encircling a dead tree.  We took a side trail to the Pine Hill Vista as a strong wind blew around the observation deck and through the stunted forest of pine and oak.  We didn’t linger.  It is striking how much the forest changes in less than a hundred feet of elevation.  We descended back to the car.  It felt good to get outside and use my legs.  It is also hard to believe only twelve miles south of Scranton is this beautiful trail system and state forest, just waiting to be explored.  Go there.
More photos.

“Backpacking New York” is now published!

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I’m pleased to announce that “Backpacking New York” is now published.  It is the best book I have written, and more than a typical trail guide.  It has been a blessing to explore New York, which is such a beautiful and diverse state.  From Allegany State Park, to the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Taconics, this was a journey that I will never forget.  Thanks to everyone who joined and helped me along the way.  Enjoy.

For sale at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Stackpole Books

 

First Day Hike 2016

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The group at Coyote Rocks Vista

 

Over the last few years, it has become popular for state parks to offer guided first day hikes (on the first day of the year) to get people outside, and to start the year off right.  This year, I decided to jump on the bandwagon with my own first day hike.

After a little advertising, I was surprised to find 9 people wanting to go on the hike.  They made a good choice.  I decided on a 6 mile loop with moderate terrain and great scenery; it follows Wolf Run, Bean Run, and Bowmans Creek in SGL 57.  It really is the perfect dayhike, with tumbling mountain streams, big rocks, streamside hiking, a view, beautiful forests, isolation, and a stunning hike along Bowmans Creek.  Part of our hike is described as Hike 29 (White Gold Loop) in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

After a drive deep into the gamelands, we reached the parking area along Wolf Run.  Our hike follows unblazed and unmarked trails that are well-established and just a pleasure to hike.  The trails are also used by mountain bikers.  We climbed up along Wolf Run as boulders and cliffs adorned the woods.  At the top of the glen, there were red spruce trees.  We left the loop for a hike to Coyote Rocks Vista.  The view was forbidding with a cold wind, flurries, and dark skies.  Everyone liked the view, but we did not linger.

Our hike continued as the trail crossed the plateau west to Bean Run.  This is a superb woodland hike that everyone enjoyed.  In summer there are meadows of ferns and ground pine under stately hardwoods.  It is simply beautiful.

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Boulders along Bean Run

 

Next was our descent along Bean Run.  The trail followed this pristine stream along an old grade with more spruce.  Huge boulders soon crowded the trail, making it a beautiful place.  One angled boulder created a small cave.  Bean Run was higher than I expected and it took time for everyone to cross on a fallen cherry tree.  No one fell in the water.

Our loop continued by following Bowman Creek, where two mountain bikers passed us on bikes with large, fat tires.  This was everyone’s favorite section, with comments such as “it’s like a rainforest” or “it’s like a jungle”.  It is simply a sublime hike.  The trail closely follows scenic Bowman Creek through tunnels of laurel and rhododendron.  Hemlocks tower overhead as the creek danced over rapids and swirled in pools.  It’s the type of hiking you wished never ended.  Everyone was impressed.  People had the look in their eyes that said I never knew this was here.

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Trail along Bowman Creek

 

We reached the end of the loop.  Everyone enjoyed the hike and wanted to go hiking again.  After a quick stop at Beth Run Falls, we all headed our separate ways.

2016 is off to the right start.

More photos.