This is the ninth installment of a travelogue of the summer road trip starring Artificially Sweetened (AS), her daughter, Cupcake, and me, the Nittany Turkey.
The best laid plans of mice and men oft times run amok. As we had left it, we were going to take two cars to Ricketts Glen State Park so that our waterfall hike could be mostly downhill. However, when I came downstairs, Toejam advised me that he woke up with hip pain, so he wouldn’t be hiking all the way with us and he could therefore perform shuttle duties. Thus, we would need only one car.
“Who’s driving?” I asked.
The girls arrived on the scene and groggily began loading up the Sienna. All my hiking stuff was already in there, which meant that all I had to do was wait for them to settle down, and we’d blast off for another adventure in the Keystone State.
Hmmm, the Keystone State, eh? Well, Cupcake thinks that’s stupid, too.
“Why do they call it the Keystone State? It doesn’t look anything like a keystone!”
“What does a keystone look like?” I asked her.
“It’s like a building thing,” she said.
All right, so Pennsylvania doesn’t look like a building thing, I guess. Whateverrrrrrr.
Ricketts Glen State Park is a wonderful place. This would turn out to be my third time there. The main attractions for us are the 22 named waterfalls and the hiking trails alongside them. In addition, there is also a large lake and a beach, plenty of camping, and lots of other, diverse hiking trails. As you would imagine from the presence of so many waterfalls, the park occupies one side of a mountain. Accordingly, some of the trails are quite strenuous, but they are well worth the effort, particularly in June when the mountain laurels are in bloom. That trail through the laurels leads to a fire lookout tower at one of the high points. The tower is fenced off, but there is still reward at the top in the form of lots of blueberry bushes.
Alas, it was too late for the laurels, but AS and Cupcake hadn’t seen the main attraction yet, which meant that we would be spending most of our time close to the waterfalls. The trails alongside the waterfalls form a “Y” with a connector on top to form a closed loop. Water flows downward over waterfalls along both branches of the “Y”; the streams forming the branches come together at “Waters Meet”, then cascade over several additional waterfalls on the way to the valley beneath. Our plan was to hike down the side of the “Y” with the largest falls, and continue down to the bottom, where Toejam would await with the van.
Last year, Toejam and I did something similar. We took only one car and were prepared to walk down one side and back up the other. However, when we reached the trailhead, we saw a flyer on the sign board that advertised a shuttle service running from the bottom trailhead back up to the top. Thus, we altered our plan, making it a one-way hike to the bottom. When we got to the bottom, we waited for a while, but saw no shuttle. I called the park office to ask when the shuttle might be arriving. They said that it ran only on weekends, and we were there on a weekday. It damn well hadn’t said that on the sign! I was pissed! They had to send a couple of rangers down there to pick us up.
This year, knowing that we would be there on a weekend, we thought the shuttle option would be available to us. It wasn’t. I called the park and got the word that the shuttle had been run by a private contractor and he hadn’t done very well last year. So, no more shuttle. That’s when we hatched the Judy “coolie” plan, which obviously didn’t work out; it evolved into the Toejam “coolie” plan.
We piled into the van, with an air of anticipation (or perhaps that was the residual gas in the air from last night’s sausages). The girls were in the back, Toejam had shotgun, and I was the chauffeur. It was about an hour’s ride to the park, but we would stop a couple of times.
The first stop was for fuel. I pulled into a busy gas station in a small town not far from Ricketts Glen. It was busy because it was the only pit stop for miles around. I didn’t want to run out of gas and get stuck at the park. We might not be as lucky finding friendly rangers as we were last year. After all, there have been budget cuts.
Gassed to the hilt, I exited the station, which was close to the center of the little town. The speed limit on the main street onto which I had to execute a left turn was 25 mph; the road seemed clear, so I made the turn. Meanwhile, some jerk zoomed toward us from the left and jammed on his brakes and his horn simultaneously. He had to been going 50 mph, as he was two blocks away when I looked left before turning. Being a drama queen, he kept the horn blaring for 30 seconds or so, just so everybody would look at him in appreciation of his Oscar-whining [sic] performance. I swear that he had to speed up to make it look like I invaded his space or something. I, of course, gave him a greasy smile as I blocked his cacophonically challenged path and slowly completed my left turn, much to the embarrassment of the Cupcake.
“Lots of idiots out there today,” I offered to my rapt audience.
“The biggest one is driving us!” countered Cupcake.
Along the way to the park, Toejam recalled that there was a covered bridge photo op somewhere along the way. Sure enough, we soon saw a sign pointing us toward the twin covered bridges, where we stopped to take some pictures for a while. We all developed our own theories about why they needed two bridges instead of one. These were not two parallel bridges, but rather two back-to-back bridges. (See the photo.)
Twin Bridges at Forks were built in 1850 and through the years they became dilapidated. A preservation effort launched in 1962 by Columbia County restored the bridges to their former glory. Another rehabilitation project commenced in 2005, converting the bridges into West Paden Twin Bridge Park, replete with sheltered picnic tables. The bridges are no longer used to carry traffic.
Just think about the changes this country has been through since 1850!
Done with the bridges, we drove a short distance and found ourselves at the base of the mountain. Going up the steep grade, I almost missed the park entrance near the top. Cutting the turn a little wide elicited a “Hey!” from AS, who sure as hell didn’t want to buy a new van in Pennsylvania. Mea culpa. Mah bad!
Toejam said, “Show them the beach.” I drove toward the end of the parking lot where the beach was and said, “There’s the beach.”
“You’re mean!” saith the Cupcake.
“Well, does anyone want to get out to look at the beach?” I asked.
I drove back to the other end of the lot, close to the trailhead and close to the spot where the rangers dropped us off last year when we wrested them away from feeding the bears to rescue our sorry asses from having to hike seven miles uphill. We changed into our hiking shoes, grabbed our sticks, and were ready to rock and roll (with particular attention to the “rock”). Toejam said that he was feeling like he could do a couple of miles, so he would join us for the first leg, across the top of the “Y” past what was called the central crevasse. Then, the plan was that he would go back to the van and drive down to the bottom where he would wait for us.
The park was pretty crowded, as it was a Saturday. There were all kinds of people there in groups large and small. It was a beautiful day for it, a day worth celebrating with a nice hike. I have been lucky. On each of the three occasions I’ve been to Ricketts Glen, the weather has been perfect.
We maintained a semi-leisurely pace across the top of the “Y” and down the west side branch. Toejam decided to stay with us for a while, eventually turning around when he would have had to descend 120 feet to see the base of the largest waterfall; with his hip hurting, he felt that he might be asking too much of it to turn around at the bottom and come back up. So, we bid farewell to Toejam, agreeing to meet at the bottom in a couple of hours.
The girls stopped by several of the falls to take pictures. Cupcake, of course, had to take pictures of her feet.
Fortunately, no one fell over any of the waterfalls. The steps carved out of stones are quite treacherous in places, especially when they are wet. I noticed that some idiots were wearing flip-flops and sneakers. It’s a wonder they made it past age 18. Anyhow, I lost my footing in several places, but my hiking boots have decent tread and ankle support, which enabled me to stay upright and out of harm’s way. Since I’m the most topheavy of our group, the others did even better.
This is a park where magical things happen. I recalled one as we passed the Old Beaver Dam trail. It was on that trail two years earlier that I rounded a corner while Toejam was talking to some people about Geocaching, and suddenly one of the people yelled, “Ben Goldfarb??” It was a guy and his family who I had known in the Orlando area, and who had moved to a part of Pennsylvania about an hour and a half from this state park. They had chosen to camp at Ricketts Glen for a few days—right at the same time as I had chosen to hike there. Believe it—or not! What are the chances?
But I digress, as usual.
We reached Ganoga Falls, at 94 feet, the tallest of the waterfalls at Ricketts Glen. Down steps and switchbacks we went to get to the plunge basin, where there are always scads of people taking pictures and having fun. On this particular day, though, we were to witness yet another Ricketts Glen magical moment.
I had plunked my ass down on a rock to relax for a while, as the girls were posing for pictures. Suddenly, we heard a round of applause from our left, near the falling water. What could that be? Damned if I would have figured it out, but AS did. A man had just proposed to his future wife there, and she accepted. A Ricketts Glen engagement. How cool!
We loitered around there for a while, enjoying the scenery and the antics of the assembled crowd. I noted several Mennonite women in traditional garb peering down from the top of Ganoga. Still Pennsylvania Dutch country here, obviously.
Resuming our hike, after a while we found ourselves at Waters Meet, where we sat down to eat some power bars and suck down some water. The Mennonite women soon arrived. As they were examining the map that was posted there, I noted that a couple of them were wearing modern sneakers. Not quite traditional!
Fed and watered, we got our butts in gear again. Now, we were at the elongated bottom part of the “Y”, which would take us past a few more waterfalls before descending into a great, first-growth hemlock forest. Past the forest, we would presumably find Toejam at the south parking lot.
Actually, we found him sooner. He had parked the car and hiked back toward Waters Meet to rendezvous with us. The three of us hiked together through the hemlock forest. There are hemlocks there so big and old that two people could not get their arms around them.
Finally, we got to the parking lot. Toejam wanted to do the hike on the other side of the road. He was obviously feeling no pain at that point. I, on the other hand, was tired, hungry and had sore ankles. It was but a mere six mile hike, but AS and I had some cumulative fatigue from the North Carolina mountains and then Hawk Mountain yesterday. So, we agreed that there would be no more hiking. At the van, we changed shoes and AS announced that she had to use the facilities. She came back saying unkind things about the crapper. Hey, what do you want? Clean? There have been budget cuts, you know.
After a while on the road, I sensed the hunger alarm emanating from the back seat, so I started searching for a place to eat. Actually, my beer tank was on empty, so I was ready for another Skynard’s (see Day One). Using all the electronic marvels available to me, I set courses for various promising sounding watering holes that turned out to be duds, one by one. Remember that AS had declared that we would avoid chain restaurants as much as possible. We passed several of those. That’s all right. They wouldn’t have had beer, anyway.
At last, we spotted a seafood joint called J. J. Banko’s. Several motorcycles were parked in front, which meant that it was perfect for AS. It passed the chopper test. There were several pickup trucks in the lot—not just any pickups, but great, holy bigass pickups—another vital indicator for AS. For my money, all I needed to see was a Yuengling sign. I changed my shirt in the parking lot, not to dress for dinner or anything (that would have required leather and studs), but rather to doff the aromatic and sweat drenched t-shirt in favor of a clean, dry one.
We entered the joint. Passing the bar, where a traditional biker crowd was drinking beer and wondering who the hell just walked in, we found a dusty dining room that was in the throes of remodeling. We didn’t know whether anyone was actually serving there. The girls went to wash their hands. Meanwhile, our waitress showed up in studded, holey jeans and a homey attitude that suited us just fine. We asked her where the hell we were.
“What city, you mean?” she asked in return, not knowing what to make of us. “West Nanticoke.”
Now we knew where we were. Or not. But at least it had a name.
Curiosity getting the better of her, the waitress asked where we were from. We told her, and I guess that explained a lot. We ordered liquid refreshments.
Toejam said that Judy was planning to cook dinner tonight, so we shouldn’t stuff ourselves like pigs. It was after 3 pm and the typical dinnertime around Tam Manor was 6. After hiking, though, waiting three hours to eat is not an option. Neither are dainty little portions. Once our drinks arrived, we ordered a whole bunch of food—chicken wings, shrimp, hamburgers, whateverthehell.
The food was surprisingly good, and it all went down the hatch pretty quickly.
The rest of the return to Tam Manor was uneventful. Once there, it was a matter of waiting to eat again. We do that well. Judy made enough chicken to feed an army, but still full from the earlier stuffage and beer, I could consume but two meager pieces. It would have been worth the wait.
Then, the blast of the TV signaled that it was time to lay back for the evening. AS and I hadn’t formulated a plan for tomorrow, but by default we were going to leave it loose, letting everyone sleep as late as they wanted on a Sunday morning.
But I know now—and you will know forthwith—that Sunday turned out to be a shopping day. So, be forewarned!
Read about our Schuylkill County shopping day in our next installment.