This is the eighth installment of our summer road trip travelogue, starring Artificially Sweetened (AS), her daughter Cupcake, and me, the Nittany Turkey.
Toejam had told me that he didn’t want to return to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, having been there a few times; however, I wanted to show the ladies this beautiful place. With or without Toejam, we would be paying a visit. We agreed that AS, Cupcake, Toejam, and I would go to Ricketts Glen State Park (with its great waterfalls) the next day, Saturday, and in order to facilitate an all downhill hike on that mountain, we’d bring Judy along to hang out while we hike so she could meet us at the bottom, avoiding having to take two cars. That was the plan for tomorrow; today, we would go to Hawk Mountain while Toejam mowed his lawn.
Although we were a few weeks early for the start of the bird migration, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is still a great place to visit, to learn something about birds, to stretch one’s legs, and to hike a bit if one so chooses. There are lots of overlooks just off the main trail; all have great views of the valley and the ridges beyond. The main trail is hard-packed dirt, rocky in places, but it’s basically an uphill stroll, not a serious hike. However, there are other trails that will challenge the most experienced hikers—lots of rock scrambling and elevation changes. For the casual visitor, the main trail leads to a set of stairs carved in rock up to the North Lookout, which is very rocky, as are most of the overlooks. The glaciers from the last Ice Age did Pennsylvania no favors, leaving lots of rocks and boulders behind.
We wound up eschewing any of the strenuous hikes because we weren’t wearing proper foot gear and besides, we were too lazy. Toejam and I had tried the River of Rocks trail last year and my right knee hasn’t been quite the same ever since. Today, though, we could still derive a lot of enjoyment from the sanctuary without breaking our necks.
I knew the way to Hawk Mountain, which meant that we wouldn’t have to listen to that wretched mechanical voice emanating from the BlackBerry every time we needed to make a turn. After using that damn thing for most of our road trip, I can still hear “Recalculating…” over and over in my dreams. There was no recalculation at all on the way to the sanctuary, as the noisy broad was safely and silently ensconced in my pocket.
We parked the minivan (I did, I mean, receiving the expected disapproval by the Cupcake). I lead the babes into the gift shop/welcome center building. In the vestibule, we passed a motorized wheelchair apparatus with huge balloon tires, which is used to transport handicapped people up to some of the lower lookouts. Once inside, I paid the trail fees while AS and Cupcake looked around the shop. No shop will ever be passed without sufficient perusal time. Eventually, we were ready to go back outside and start walking up the trail.
After crossing the highway, we stopped at the kiosk, which was manned by a volunteer. A chemical engineer in real life, he asked if we had been there before. I said I had, but the ladies hadn’t, so I pushed them forward to hear his “spiel”. He told us about the migration and why the raptors tend to concentrate their path particularly over Hawk Mountain, and that the migration would start in a couple of weeks. We were there too early, but had no choice in the matter. Both AS and I follow the Sanctuary’s page on Facebook, so we’ll be able to watch the migration from afar.
It is only a short walk up the hill from the kiosk to the first lookout, but we stopped several times to examine mushrooms, mosses, and ferns. AS is quite an appreciator, particularly of the latter two categories. She likes mushrooms, too, foremost in her spaghetti sauce.
Reaching the first lookout, we were treated to the song of a cheerful little blue bird on a bare branch. Immediately, AS was enraptured by the tiny creature, as she tends to be with animals that talk to her. We snapped some pictures of the little fellow, who turned out to be an indigo bunting, listened to his song until he was tired of performing for us, and then we moved on.
Speaking of talking to animals, Cupcake’s eight year-old brother, Shark Bite, has for a long, long time wanted to be able to talk with squirrels. Apparently, he and they share some common interests. I don’t know whether squirrels are quite as fanatical about weapons and explosions as Shark Bite, but they’re both pretty nutty. Along those lines, on one of our Florida wildlife preserve missions, we encountered serious bird watchers, which AS called “bird nerds.” Quickly, Shark Bite corrected her.
“A bird nerd is a snerd!” he stated authoritatively.
“Where did the ‘s’ come from?” I asked.
“No one knows!” interjected Cupcake.
Since that time, the word snerd has become part of our standard usage, as it serves to poke fun at both serious bird watchers and Shark Bite in one fell swoop.
Communications Officer Second Class Cupcake reported to us that she had been in touch with her 12 year-old sister BCH, then vacationing with Grandpa in Chicago. BCH had said that we were all snerds because we were visiting a mountain named after a bird for the purpose of looking at birds. And so, with that characterization in mind, the three snerds marched on to the next lookout.
Cupcake, of course, had to stop at intervals to photograph her feet. I think she was intent upon fulfilling the requirements of a summer assignment to create a photo essay about where her feet had been during their vacation. If not, she was just being a weird self-foot fetishist or perhaps, if Shark Bite were around, a fnerd.
We continued our lazy walk up the mountain, stopping at each lookout. One of them was named Bald Overlook, and I explained to AS and Cupcake that I had taken a picture overlooking Toejam’s bald head there next to the sign a couple of years back when I first visited the sanctuary with him. I have included it here for your enjoyment. (Note that it was fall at the time, hence the jacket and the leaves.)
At one point, we sat down on some rocks just to chill out. I spotted a rat rustling around in the leaves about 50 feet away. The rat turned out to be a chipmunk, which are omnipresent in the Pennsylvania woods. Sometimes, it is so quiet that one can hear their little chirps while strolling through a forest. They’re cute little things, for rodents, that is, and they’re much nicer to talk with than squirrels, as they’re shier and less squirrely. If Shark Bite were around, he could translate.
Then, we ascended a series of steps carved out of rocks to get up to the North Lookout. Noting the rock strata on the way up, another geology lesson was jointly delivered by the three of us snerds. At the top, we found that the area had been inundated by a pack of Cub Scouts, who were going to be camping nearby for the weekend, but who were told that the camp would not be open for them until 5:00 PM. Thus, they had a day to hang out somewhere, and this great place was their choice.
At the North Lookout, there is a tall pole with a large stuffed owl mounted atop it. The purpose of this strange device is to inspire the curiosity of the hawks that pass overhead so that they swoop down for a closer look, thus delighting the expectant crowds of photographer snerds (or p-snerds). On this day, there was one hawk making lazy circles in the sky.We took some pictures and roamed around on the rocks for a bit. At one point, I heard a hilarious comment from one of the Cub Scouts, who asked, “Is that a hawk or a bird?”
We decided to git while the gittin’ was good. In other words, I wanted to make our way down the mountain before the Cub Scouts started their descent. I chose the shortcut path that took a different, steeper route to the main trail. I figured that we would get some more exercise and avoid more people by using the lesser traveled path (with all due deference to Robert Frost).
An additional benefit of the alternate path presented itself to Cupcake under a rock overhang. It was a tableau of nature in action, a spider ensnaring, paralyzing, and wrapping up a caterpillar for lunch. Cupcake is fascinated with spiders, I suppose because she would love to have eight legs and poisonous fangs herself. She took many pictures of the unfolding violence, but I have seen none thus far.
From that point we retraced our original steps, which took us back past the reclining chemical engineer volunteer and into a native plant garden, which was fenced off to keep the deer from eating all the native plants. Cupcake lagged behind, so AS and I hid out in a snerd blind. Cuppy eventually found us, though. In the garden, we enjoyed the many varieties of plants and the butterflies and bumblebees that came to drink their nectar. In a little marsh area, we found the expected cattails, water lilies, dragonflies, and frogs.
At one point, AS grasped the business end of a cattail to show something to Cupcake. I quickly snapped a picture, which Cupcake instantly told me I must delete. I don’t follow instructions very well; those of you who can access Facebook will find it in my Summer Vacation gallery there, as there isn’t enough room to include it here. For some reason, I thought it made an interesting picture.
Among the native plants is a large, beautiful wood carving of an eagle. The ladies didn’t seem to have much interest in photographing it. In fact, AS hadn’t brought her camera at all.
We went back inside the gift shop, where AS and Cupcake made pit stops before AS went about the task of questioning one of the volunteers about the songbird with which she had fallen in love. The volunteer confessed to not being a bird expert, so the two of them looked through one of the bird books that they were selling in the store. They finally agreed that it was, indeed, an indigo bunting. Whew! One more to add to the snerd life list.
I bought some drinks and some cookies, so we wouldn’t have any major crankiness. Dumbly enough, we hadn’t taken any water up the mountain with us. We all needed something liquid. AS turned down the cookies, so only Cupcake and I were stuffing our faces.
“This is like a cool cookie sandwich thing!” said the Cupcake.
“It’s just two back-to-back cookies wrapped in plastic,” I said.
“That’s what I mean,” said Cupcake.
I found the van making a left turn as we exited the preserve. While this aimed us away from New Philly, I wanted to drive around a little more and take in a little more of the countryside. My time in the Pennsylvania mountains and farmlands was growing short, and I needed a full dose to recharge me until the next time I would return.
We knew not what awaited us back at Tam Manor, but we did know that Judy was cooking. Wow! We returned to a great spread, a quickly whipped up Italian dinner by the amazing Chef Judy. Pasta, sauce, sweet and hot Italian sausages, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, and garlic bread adorned the table. We all dug in and it was terrific! We followed dinner with coffee and bullshit.
Dinner was fairly late, and Toejam complained that he had missed Jeopardy. I think he was half kidding. I don’t know for sure sometimes.
With the TV blasting away, we discussed the plans for tomorrow. I thought that an early start was in order, so as to do most of our hiking in the cooler, early morning hours. It was agreed that we would leave around 7:30. You might recall that at the beginning of this post, I had mentioned that the tentative plan formulated between Toejam and me was to drag Judy along so she could drop us at the upper trailhead, read a book while we hiked for three hours or so, and then pick us up at the bottom of the mountain. Toejam now announced that Judy wouldn’t be coming.
“Yeah. I’m not going to be yiz guys’ coolie!” announced Judy. “Yiz can figure something else out.”
Thus, the plan evolved back into two cars for the excursion on the morrow. The waterfalls at Ricketts Glen are beautiful and well worth the logistical effort to get there. Toejam and I have been there twice before. In spite of the familiarity, the place continues to attract us.
So it was off to bed to rest up for what would be an early start in the morning.
Read about our visit to Ricketts Glen State Park, the waterfalls, another biker joint, and another Judydinner in our next installment.