Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Reflections on Tompkins

While Ilse and I are relaxing in our lawn chairs at the end of our first day at Tompkins, a beautiful Serenity class ”B+” pulls into the campsite across from us. We soon meet the owners, Manuel and Roz De Lizarriturri, who are on their way to Canada. They have a long, extended vacation planned, finishing off the summer and watching the leaves change color as fall descends on the Northeast. They are the creators and owners of the RV site, “RV there yet?” We share stories and experiences, trade cards, e-mail addresses, and of course inspect each others RV. Their new Mercedes-chassis Serenity is the ultimate class “B+” self-contained unit. It is modern, well made and well thought out. Their RV is definitely high-end state of the art, ours, well, not so much.

We have been on the road for over two months now, and our small travel trailer looks like we live in it, which, obviously we do. Ilse vacuums and washes the floor every several days, but living in a space less than eight feet wide and twenty feet long with two dogs is a definite challenge. Without the dogs it might be comparable to living on a sailboat, or a one-room flat somewhere. Material items have an order of relevance. Everything has a place, and we have found a place for just about everything. Even the dogs.
The Moccasin Trail at Tompkins

We have had a few problems on our camping adventure, mostly simple issues requiring just a few dollars to repair. Such as the headboard for the couch backrest which pulled out of the poster-board type wall. The manufacturer screwed the backboard directly into the poster-board without using any type of anchor. No wonder they pulled out. A quick trip to a home supply center in Painted Post, New York, and a bag of nylon screw anchors and we are back in business.

I made a stop in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, earlier in the trip to replace a chain-retaining nut that came off one of the torsion bar load levelers. That was about a dollar or so. It was my fault as I hadn't checked the nuts since we started the trip. I now check every time I unhook from the trailer.

We've added a couple of battery powered touch lights in closets, mounted new shelves and clothes hooks in the bathroom, and pretty much figured out our storage protocol. We can usually find anything we need in less than an hour or so. The only major expense has been the failure of the power converter while in Tionesta, Pennsylvania, which cost just under $300 and almost a week to replace. That little adventure merits a chapter of its own, palatable only to techies and propeller heads. I'll post it soon in a separate blog.
The only cell phone coverage

Now, however, we discover the floor edge of the cabinet on my wife's side of the queen-size bed is damp. The discovery process begins. It isn't raining so an open window is out of the question. A leaky water hose? A bad connection somewhere in the PVC water system? A blocked air conditioner drain? Oh well, as long as the floor doesn't rot and fall out before we get home in three weeks, we're OK. Only kidding, we immediately start taking things apart looking for the source of the water. I find a wet spot just behind where the external water hose enters at the other end of the trailer. We clean, dry, check and recheck the whole trailer after I take out the assembly and re-tighten all the connectors. We check the front, the sides, underneath and on top. So far so good. Now we will just have to monitor to insure everything stays dry and the problem is solved.
Yes!  Speed control!  Other COE Campgrounds take notice!

We also meet Holly and Randy, who pull in across from us, and their huge puppy, Roscoe. Roscoe, a Great Dane, is just over three years old and 175 pounds. Holly graciously gives us a tour of their three-axle, fifth wheeler, a big Raptor, which somehow seems appropriate for the size of the dog. The big 42 foot-long Raptor is at the other end of the size spectrum from our little 21 foot KZ Sportsmen. They have three televisions while we have room for maybe three DVDs. If I stack them right, of course. The Raptor is a beautiful unit that again, showcases the varied types of RVs available to match the varied needs and wants of the RV community. With vertical headroom that resembles a hotel room and dual, opposing slide-outs, the Raptor has almost three times more living space than our KZ. Their unit is big enough for a small family reunion. Holly and Randy are from nearby Mansfield, and like most of the campers here, meet their families for a congenial weekend get-together.
Lake Cowanesque

Family get-togethers are a ritual during weekends at every campground we have visited on this trip, and Tompkins is no exception. Grandparents and grand-kids have as much fun sitting around the campfires as the campers who show up in every kind of RV or tent imaginable. We have seen everything from basic geodesic tents and screen rooms to huge self-contained Class “A” buses and fifth wheels like the Raptor, and on weekends they are a center of family activity. Just about everyone around us has visitors and guests for the weekend.

Still, one of the quietest weekends we've spent in a campground comes and goes without fanfare. The campsites at Tompkins have plenty of room and greenery between sites, quite different from the cramped inner loop at Tionesta. There are plenty of boats and kids on bikes, but everyone is friendly and almost subdued compared to some of the mad-houses we've seen. By Sunday afternoon, the campground is practically empty.
One of Three floating docks at Tompkins

We go to shower after the campground empties, but the toilet/showers on our loop are a mess. If we have any complaints against Tompkins, it is the toilet and shower facilities, especially on our loop. They are far below the standards we have seen at all other Corps facilities. Dirty, hard to flush urinals, and generally just plain dirty facilities are not the norm for Corps campgrounds, but we have been here six days now and have seen no improvement in the care of the facilities. We called once about a toilet that backed up, and even though the local handyman has wandered around for a couple of days with his crescent wrench, the toilet still doesn't flush. One shower in the men's room now hasn't shut off the entire time we've been here.

The lake-front between two of the floating docks
One oddity has caught our eye here, and that is the condition of the lake front around the campground. While the public access areas at nearby Hammond Lake, where we stayed at Ives Run Campground, is well taken care of and quite clean, Tompkins Campground, on Lake Cowanesque on the other hand, has shut down its swimming beach and left the entire water front completely unattended or maintained. The area next to the boat ramp has trash, including an old tire, floating nearby. They don't even mow the area around the lake front. The rest of the campground is well-maintained and clean, but the water front does not reflect any other Corps of Engineer facility we've seen. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

The camp-hosts tell us there are absolutely no vacancies next weekend, the three-day Labor Day Weekend, which is traditionally the end of the RV season for most working families. We'll see how that works out as the remnants of Hurricane Isaac are forecast for the weekend. We've had a solid evening of rain this week, which adds to the serenity of the almost empty campground. It also gave us a chance to check our trailer for leaks. We are tight and dry, so our previous problem has been solved.


Most northern campgrounds revert to first come-first served after Labor Day, and many close completely by the end of October. RVing then takes on a whole new personality. Before long, waves of retired RVers will jam the highways and Interstates headed south to Florida. Florida does its best to absorb the thousands of RVers who winter there to avoid the cold weather. It's like a funnel, with RVs from all the northern states trying to cram into a state that may soon sink or tip over. Reserving RV campsites in Florida in the winter is almost impossible. That is for another chapter.


NEXT: Allegheny moon, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2012/09/reflections.html





Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tompkins Campground

First impressions always count, good or bad. Driving up Bliss Road on the north side of Lake Cowanesque from Lawrenceville, right on the Pennsylvania/New York state line, gives us a strange, apprehensive feeling that has us wondering what to expect around the next curve. The drive is at first a narrow, overgrown two-lane road that opens up into a broader roadway, through rolling farmland but soon becomes a chassis-rattling ride that only my three-year old granddaughter would love. It's one of those semi-smooth roads where if you try to sing and hold a single note, you end up sounding like a broken record. The undulations in the road are subtle but constant, and prevent us from towing our travel trailer anywhere near the 45mph speed limit. We'll have scrambled eggs in the morning, I'm sure. But the first view of the beautiful lake and the campground more than makes up for the road.  The area itself is only twenty five or thirty miles south of Corning, New York.  

Welcome to Tompkins Campground
We park next to the main gate, which has a drive-up service window, rare in the world of main gates, and within a few minutes are on our way toward site 66, our home for the next two weeks. We tried to swap sites for one of the full-hook up campsites which are only found on one loop of the campground, but there are no vacancies at any campsite over Labor Day.   We aren't on the full-hookup loop, of course, so in five or six days we'll have to unhook and head for the dump-station.

Campsite 66
Bill and Joyce McCawley have been the hosts at Tompkins Campground for ten years. They are the only camp-hosts here, doing both the “A” and “B” contracts, so there is a good chance you've met them if you have ever checked in here. The young man who occasionally sits in for them is their son, who helps fill in during dental visits and other rare absences from their duties. One of those duties is the care and landscaping around the main entrance, which they pay for out of pocket. They do a beautiful job as the main gate at Tompkins is perhaps the prettiest we've seen on this trip.

Campground road to the boat launch
The campsites are all paved, with grass alongside the paved pads. This is our favorite type of site. The pads look exactly like the ones at Robert W. Craig in West Virginia, except here they all have water. They all appear to be level, ours certainly is, and we are only twenty yards or so from the showers and the laundry. The sites are well spaced, clean, and have plenty of greenery between them for privacy. Great campground. The few sites that are actually on the lake front are also full-hookup sites, so we now know if we decide to return to this area which sites to reserve.

Ilse admires a Chihuly at the main entrance to the Corning Museum of Glass
The closest WiFi is in the nearby town of Elkland, Pennsylvania, just five miles to the west of the campground. We drive over our first day here just to sight-see and log on if possible. The pretty little town, full of history and unique architecture, has a library that requires a signed certificate and a photo ID to prove our identity before we are given the sign-on password. We check e-mail, pay bills, make sure all our friends still like us on Facebook, then head back for a great pasta dinner.

Corning Museum of Glass
We tank up in Pennsylvania before driving up to Corning our first Friday as gasoline prices are considerably cheaper in the Keystone State than in the Empire State. Way cheaper! We visit the Corning Museum of Glass, one of the major attractions in the area, before heading back to the campground via back roads, avoiding the congestion and construction of U.S. 15, the major route between Corning and Mansfield. The countryside is just beautiful. One odd note about the Corning Museum of Glass, though. When we wandered through the gift shop, which is extensive, covering most of the first floor, we picked up several blown glass items we wanted to buy as mementos. Oddly enough, they were all made in China.


The campground is just about full as we pull back in, and the friendly waves and smiles from campers sitting around freshly lit bonfires are a welcome that we have found missing in several other campgrounds. We'll be here for awhile, so perhaps our opinion will be affected by exposure, but, again, first impressions still count, and our first impression here is just great.



The abandoned beach at Cowanesque Lake. The Corps no longer maintains a swimming area at Tompkins Campground

NEXT: Reflections on Thompson Campground, at:








Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Camping with Canines


The thing I like best about camping is also the thing I like least about camping: Dogs. My English teachers are probably having an eye-rolling contest right about here, but the sentence stands. Dogs are the common factor in my paradox. But I really don't hate dogs. Dogs have always been a part of my family. The only time I haven't had a dog was when I was in the service or when my wife and I lived in an apartment right after my discharge. Our daughter grew up with two of the most wonderful dogs ever. No, what I really dislike most about camping are inconsiderate dog owners. There, is that better Mrs. Rasmussen?



We take our dogs, Daisy and Taz, with us everywhere when we travel with our trailer. We actually started RVing so we could take them with us. Worrying about our pets being caged in an indifferent, perhaps even hostile kennel, is like putting them in a maximum security prison and then wondering if they are having a good time. “Sure, Master, we love solitary confinement!”

We once picked up our Golden Retriever, Taz, after a ten day stay in a kennel and he was so hoarse he couldn't bark for well over a week. No, they come with us and we all make the best of it. Seven-year old Taz is lying on the bed watching me as I type this. Our thirteen-year old Samoyed mix, Daisy, is asleep on the floor, oblivious to her surroundings. As long as she's with us, she's happy.

Let's see, how do we differ from the dog owners who spoil our camping experience? Well, for starters, we clean up after our dogs. Always! We know our dogs don't have the intelligence to not dump a load of excrement wherever he or she feels the urge, and if they do happen to pick an inopportune time or location, we always clean up after them. We always carry plastic doggie bags, and most campgrounds have doggie-bag dispensers located around the campgrounds. We walk our dogs in areas where they don't interfere with other campers or their children, and even then we still insure no one will inadvertently discover a fecal reminder of our visit. Taking that little bit of time and making that decision is the responsibility of the pet owner, but unfortunately many dog-owning campers think just like their dogs. Wherever they happen to be when Fido gets the urge to take a dump is just fine with them. Cleaning up after their dogs never crosses their minds. There is no shortage of people who have no consideration of anyone else. There are times I think their dogs just might be smarter.

For example, take the people who are camping next to us at Raystown Lake. They'll be here Friday night through Monday morning with four large dogs, all of which are leashed at various locations around their campsite. Apparently they can't tolerate each other so they have to be separated. The dogs are pooping in all four corners of their little shire, which apparently is odor free as our neighbors and their two adult children are spread out in hammocks and sling chairs with drinks in their hands, totally oblivious to the indiscriminate piles of solid dog waste that totally surround them. 

Another major problem are the unleashed free-roamers of all sizes and shapes that suddenly rush out, barking wildly, from their owner's campsites to confront our normally affable, goofy family friend walking with us on a leash, turning him into a snarling, 45 pounds of defensive fury. “Gee,” they say, “Fido is just being friendly! We don't understand why your dog is so upset!”  Well, gee, if I charged at you yelling at the top of my lungs, what would you think?

There are quite a few people, especially parents, who are rightfully fearful of untethered dogs in a campground. My wife had a pooch stick his head under her bathroom stall yesterday, another first for us in our camping experience. Ilse assumed the dog's owner was also in the toilet, but the owner was sitting at his campsite a hundred yards away. The dog was running around loose and simply wandered in the open door to the shower room which had been propped open. The owner was miffed at us when told to leash his dog! Dog licenses should require a test for the owner. This "owner" would have failed.

Thirdly, we can not believe the number of people who think they can control their dogs on retractable leashes. It can't be done. Just watch the Caesar Milan television show, the Dog Whisperer. He'll tell you what most dog owners already know; throw the retractable leashes in the trash! They will get you into trouble in a hurry, and quite often give you a good rope-burn in the process.

And then there are the barkers, the yappers, the howlers, the pets left unattended for extended hours while their owners go out on the boat or go to town, or pass out somewhere around the campground, leaving their pets abandoned at the end of a leash in strange surroundings. It isn't the dog's fault they bark, it is the owner's, and they are the ones that can be evicted for violating the rules. We have seen campers evicted twice on this trip for barking dogs.

RVing, camping, sitting around a campfire or whatever name you give it, is really a community. A community made up of temporary residents who share similar likes and interests who sporadically gather in random locations specially designed and set aside for just them. Some have a love for the camaraderie and togetherness of the communal campfires, others simply love the solitude of nature. We all love being outdoors. An overwhelming majority bring their whole families, and that includes pets. Most pet owners we have met are responsible, loving owners who spend considerable time and money to bring their dogs and cats with them. It is the irresponsible few that result in some campgrounds closing their facilities to pet owners. There are more than a few campers who pay for the solitude and cleanliness of a dog-free environment and I understand them completely.

We have met some wonderful people on this three month sojourn up the east coast from Florida to the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Many of the campers we've seen have either dogs or cats. I'm sure we will meet many more pet owners before we again head for home. In retrospect, it makes the aggravation of the few inconsiderate campers seem almost trivial.  Well, at least until next weekend.

NEXT: On to Cowanesque and Tompkins Campground, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2012/08/tompkins-campground.html














Timing - Steaming on through History

On our way from the downtown Huntingdon library to the grocery store, I noticed a well-equipped photographer standing patiently by the well-worn double train tracks as we headed out of town. We had finished checking our e-mails on the Internet in the library in Huntingdon late that Monday morning and wanted to buy groceries before heading back to our travel trailer, parked the Seven Points Campground at nearby Raystown Lake.  For a brief, fleeting moment, I was curious why he would pick this particular time to take photographs of a train. I wondered aloud if he was waiting for something special or if he was just a railroad fan who liked trains. My easily distracted attention turned to finding a grocery store and I forgot about the photographer.

The following morning at a vendor's display at the Seven Points Campground Visitor Center, I found out why the photographer patiently waited by the tracks when a beautiful, hours old, full color photograph of Ol' 765 was displayed by the Huntingdon Historical Society. The photographer we saw had caught a moment in history that few get to see, and mounted it proudly at the Society's display table. A beautiful photograph of a Berkshire 2-8-4 steam locomotive, number 765, retired from service in 1958, one of the few operating steam locomotives left in the country, the former Nickle Plate Road locomotive built in 1944, had steamed through town and I missed her. I missed her by minutes.

I didn't even know she existed the first time she rolled through, but I spent the week researching the locomotive and its schedule so I wouldn't miss seeing her on the return trip. But ol' 765 did it again. She rolled once again through Huntingdon and once again I missed her by mere minutes. She was deadheading from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, back to Pittsburgh when she steamed through a little after nine o'clock Monday on a beautiful July morning. 

I couldn't believe we missed her again. We arrived at the silent railroad crossing as the oily, smoky smells gently descended on the silent shiney steel rails and perfectly manicured stone roadbed. I smelled her as we pulled up next to the tracks and my wife stared at me in disbelief. “How could you smell a train?” she asked. Easy. I had a lot of practice. My grandfather, Lou, was a railroad man, and so was his brother, Carl, who worked as a yardmaster for the New York Central in Detroit. I don't remember much from those early childhood years, but I remember the trains!

Grandpa Lou often took me by the hand after dinner and we walked the many, many blocks to the local New York Central railroad overpass in Lincoln Park, Michigan, just south of Detroit. We climbed the gravel hill and stood by the railroad tracks waiting for one special passenger train that whistled past at the same time every night. Grandpa Lou would take out his pocket-watch and check every few minutes, patiently waiting for the event of the evening. You could see the headlight of the oncoming locomotive way off in the distance on the absolutely straight track as it came roaring up from Toledo. It barreled down on top of us and Grandpa Lou picked me up and told me to wave at the engineer as the thundering, smoke billowing locomotive roared by. I'm still fascinated by the old steam locomotives. They were incredibly loud and dirty. The smoke would sting your eyes hang in your clothes and hair all night. But boy were they impressive. Especially when you were four years old standing just a few feet from the barreling trains. It was always dark by the time we walked home.

Ol' 765 is a big girl, standing over fifteen feet tall and weighing in at 404 tons. She's one of the largest operating steam locomotives in the United States, and every once in awhile, somebody takes her out for a ride. Built in 1944 at the Lima Locomotive Works, she's been lovingly restored by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, and this year, she hauled a passenger train just for the folks at Pennsylvania Railroad from Fort Wayne, Indiana, through the famous horseshoe curve at Altoona to Harrisburg. It was the staff at the railroad museum at Altoona who told us not to be later than noon on the following Monday, August 20th, if we wanted to see her at the famous Horseshoe Curve National Historical Landmark. 

They even scheduled a photo-stop at the famous curve just for the Museum. She was making her return trip from Harrisburg the following Monday, but apparently, the Transportation Security Administration, the TSA of airport fame, decided it was a security risk to publish the train schedule in advance, so only rough “guesstimates” were given as to when ol' 765 would arrive. At least that was what we were told by the Museum staff. They were charging twenty dollars a head to witness the special event at the Curve. I decided to be early at the Huntingdon crossing, where we saw the photographer, that next Monday morning as it was forty miles closer to our campground than Altoona, and I'd save forty dollars to boot. Besides, I would have unrestricted visibility, and with a little luck, plenty of elbow room. All I had to do was correctly deduce her arrival time at Huntingdon if she was to be in Altoona by noon. Then I gave myself an extra hour and and half lead time as a cushion.
By joneau261 - Own work,
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11820471

I walked over to a young man working on an electrical box and asked if the steam locomotive had gone through yet on the off chance the familiar steam and smoke smells that floated across the quiet railroad were just a coincidence. He dropped his arms and said, “You just missed her. She went through ten minutes ago.” It has been over 65 years since I last smelled a steam locomotive, but the memories came flooding back. Yep, Ol' 765 did it again, and I didn't even get to see her.

NEXT: The paradox of camping with canines, at:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Raystown Lake Revisited

We pulled into the main gate at Seven Points once again in just under four, leisurely hours on the road, and that includes climbing a couple of small mountains. We took a casual, easy going, sight-seeing journey from Tionesta, using backroads and avoiding the Interstate altogether as we headed back to Rays Town Lake. We made a side trip through Punxsutawney, famous for its annual ground-hog day festival every February 2, just to say we have been to the famous, somewhat unique town. Giant ground-hogs of every shape, size and color can be found all over the city, including one dressed as a mail carrier in front of the U.S. Post Office.

Raystown Lake is the most popular campground run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The Seven Points brochure states there are “First Come, First Served” campsites, however, every campsite at Seven Points is reservable on line at www.Recreation.gov, or by telephone through the National Recreational Reservation System (NRRS) at 1-877-444-6777. In my book, if they had full hook-ups here it would be the winner of best COE campground, hands down. We really like the facilities at Raystown Lake, however, there are no water hook-ups at any of the 264 campsites here, and after having the full hook-up, complete with sewer, at Tionesta, the services here seem somewhat lacking by comparison. That doesn't deter the campers who solidly reserve all the campsites possible.


It appears most of the sites are booked through the next eleven days we are scheduled to be here. As soon as one RV departs, another takes its place, even on Sunday. Sunday evenings are normally the quietest evenings as many week-enders head back to work, but here it is hard to tell as the sites simply don't stay empty very long. It is almost as busy this Sunday evening as it was Saturday night.

We tanked up with fresh water before setting up in site number 42 in the Ridge Campground. We know we will have to head for the dump-station at least once during our stay here, but we buy extra water to help extend the time we have before we need to refill our fresh water holding tank. We are in full shade in a heavily forested part of the campground, quite different from our first campsite on Bay Campground which was out in the open. The stepped, or terraced, campsite is roomy, but the bottom is still somewhat muddy from the rains the day before. The top section is dry however, and we set up without any problems. Our new power converter is working just fine.

We head into Altoona on Saturday just to see what we can find. The GPS says it is 18.4 miles away, but when I compute the track, it comes out to 41 miles! I just love those little, talking boxes, they are a constant source of amusement.

We find all the big-box stores and restaurants we have missed at the last several campgrounds. After our first Toscana soup and salad special in two months, we head back to Raystown Lake. We take a different way back just for a change of scenery. The country roads past Canoe Creek State Park, then over the mountain through Williamsburg, down through farmlands where I have to make an emergency stop to keep from hitting a slow-moving groundhog, are a nice change from the main roads. We are back at the trailer soon and having a glass of wine. Alcohol is permitted here, a pleasant change from most COE campgrounds.

One of the unique features about the Seven Points Campground is the vendor's display done every Tuesday morning during the summer season. From 9:30am until 10:30am, the visitors center hosts a myriad collection of local vendors who display their wares and brochures, answer questions, and graciously donate prizes to be awarded by drawing from a collection of email addresses submitted by the attendees. This time Ilse wins a hat. A fishing hat, in fact. Ilse doesn't fish, so I inherit the Raystown Lake Striper's ball cap. A few minutes later I win the book “Civil War Sketchbook: Civil War Diary,” from the Huntingdon Historical Society. A hat and a good book, it doesn't get much better than this.

Yes, it does. At the vendor's display, we meet Terri and her family once again. They are visiting Seven Points for the second time this summer. Terri and her husband, Scott, told us about the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, Trough Creek State Park, and several other points of interest we would have otherwise missed back when we first met them over a month ago. They are here this week with no less than 32 family members for a reunion! The Meadow Campground where they are staying is perfect for large get togethers. Our loop is better for seclusion and privacy.

We also meet Caleb once again. He again has his impressive bike on display, promoting the Allegrippis Mountain Bicycle and Hiking Trail. Caleb is the young man who we met back-packing on the Dark Hollow section of the Allegrippis mountain bike trail over a month ago. He amazingly remembers the names of our dogs, Daisy and Taz! We again chat and talk about the impressive bike and hiking trail, and one section that is now open that isn't shown in the old trail maps. It really doesn't get much better than this.


NEXT: Timing is everything, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2012/09/timing.html




















Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Reflections - Trials, Tribulations, and Thank You's

As my wife and I sat in the Sarah Stewart Bovard Memorial Library in Tionesta, Pennsylvania, waiting for the UPS delivery that would hopefully bring my new power converter, we had time to reflect on our stay here.  Last night, for instance, was the first time in years we have seen the Milky Way.  

The sky was absolutely clear and cloudless and the lack of light from anywhere else brought the stars out as bright as we have seen in years. At 11:00pm, the campground was still filled with the laughter of children being allowed to stay up past their bedtimes, and the wispy smell of dying campfires.  Score one for camping.

Something else really unique occurred to us as we walked over the triple-arched concrete bridge over Tionesta Creek.  We cross the bridge at least three times a day while walking the campsite or to town.  No trash!  Never any plastic bottles or McDonald's wrappers, no bags, no cardboard boxes,or any other kind of refuse is ever seen anywhere here.  The river and the banks are clean, and so is the town and its surroundings.  We've never seen any trash alongside the road or especially in the water.  Score more than one for Tionesta.

It is now 11:15am and the UPS driver just brought in our new power supply.  We wholeheartedly thank Head Librarian Brenda and Librarian Dawn, and really appreciate their help in helping us solve a tricky problem.  Score a whole bunch for the Sarah Stewart Bovard Memorial Library in Tionesta. 

Now, back to the campground and get out the toolkit. Let's see how hard it is to replace this unit.

NEXT: Back to Raystown Lake, and yet a different campground, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2012/08/raystown-lake-revisited.html







Monday, August 6, 2012

Greater Tionesta, Pennsylvania

We weren't happy campers, in the truest of terms, when we first arrived at Tionesta. But, since that first impression, we have met some really, really nice people here, especially in the town of Tionesta and our stay here has been enjoyable.  

One of them is librarian Dawn, at the Sarah Stewart Bovard Memorial Library in Tionesta, who goes out of her way to help us resolve a problem with our travel trailer. We have used the WiFi facilities of the Tionesta Library enough to know the librarians on a first name basis. After helping with the WiFi and the library facilities, she brings us the name and telephone number of the Postmaster of the Tionesta Post Office.  We will have a new power converter for the trailer emergency shipped to us and we need a shipping address.  We can't use the campground office, so we need an alternative. 

Guardians

After talking with Postmaster Christina, we realize we can't use the Tionesta Post Office with simple General Delivery as we will have the power supply expedited by UPS.  The Post Office can only accept Postal System shipments.

Brenda, the Head Librarian at the Sarah Stewart Bovard Memorial Library in Tionesta, graciously allows us to use their shipping address so we can be assured of delivery of the new converter because we have nowhere else to ship it!   They are bending over backwards with kindness, and we certainly appreciate it.

We met John and Becky, a couple who live about an hour south of here. They ride their road bikes past our campsite everyday.  We chat with a fellow kayaker who is also camping here and find out he is from Pittsburgh. Then we meet Mike and Becky from Orchard Park, New York, who are also here for the first time, and compare notes and past experiences. These are the people who make camping fun. 

 
 We drive slowly through the small, and oddly pretty town of Tionesta. The old homes along the Allegheny river are mostly trim and well kept, but we notice the river is covered with a yellow-green flotsam we hadn't noticed the day before. We drive to a local kayak rental shop and chat with them about tours, kayak rental costs, and the state of the river. The owner, a brusque, sun-hardened outdoorsy woman, says she doesn't know what that is on the river. She half-jokingly tells us, “It could be hickory poop.” Maybe, but maybe not. We'll pass on kayaking the river this trip.

 We haven't found a manned visitor center anywhere in the area since we've been at Tionesta Recreation Campground. Well, just one, the Tionesta Area Visitors Center in the heart of town, but the elderly couple manning the counter can only answer but a few questions. They did their best though, and even turned on the wide screen TV to check the weather radar. We pick up a handful of brochures from local venues and again look at a map to figure out where we are.

Pithole City comes up as the number one attraction in the area on my GPS, and when we accidentally stumble across the road signs pointing that direction while driving to Titusville, I immediately turn and head down the narrow, paved road to history. After a twisty, five mile ride, and an encounter with a fawn in the middle of the two-lane road who stares at my wife while she stares back, we stop at the Historic Pithole City Visitors Center. It is dark and locked. Not a soul in sight.


Ilse and I have the place to ourselves. Songbirds and beautiful sunshine are our only companions as we take photographs of what had one time been a booming community. Never mind our GPS has no clue where we are. We squint and look through the locked doors of the museum, take photos of the placards, and finally head toward Titusville and the famous Col. Edwin Drake Oil Well Museum. At least we think we were headed toward Titusville, our GPS wants us to drive through a corn field.

As we pull into Titusville and its divided highway through town, my wife says, “I think I like this little town. It's pretty.” Two hours later she's ready to leave. First impressions can be deceiving. We drive through town several times looking for different stores, using different streets, and while many homes are well kept and attractive, the houses along the main routes are mostly dilapidated and quite rundown. Reconstruction is going on in town, but it will take quite a while before the once attractive city is restored. They have a good start, and if it comes out half as well as Wellsboro, they will have done a good job. The old run-down homes along the highways will be a real test, though, they are mostly in sad shape.


We drive to the Col. Edwin Drake Museum just on the outskirts of Titusville. There is no sign of life. Again, a completely empty parking lot. We drive to the museum/gift shop, all the spaces are empty. Nobody here but us, just like at Pithole. We walk to the dark, closed gift shop, that has a sign that says, “Open,” and through the wide-open doors of the grounds of the historic site that marks the beginning of modern society, and into our own world. Not a soul here but us. We take our time poking into buildings and looking around the museum compound. After taking all the photos we can take of the first oil well, we head back to town. We do some shopping, check out the local Elk's Club, and finally head back to the campground at Tionesta.

But first, another road sign catches my eye. It says, “Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad, Caboose Motel.” OK, I'll bite, and we take yet another side trip to the outer fringes of our solar system and pull into another empty parking lot and yet another closed museum, the third closed museum and visitors center we have visited today. Not a good sign as this is the height of the tourist season.

There are twenty-one cabooses from famous railroads of the past, parked side by side on adjacent railroad sidings. The multicolored old rail cars conjure up memories of railroad greatness of the past. Cabooses from Erie, Lackawanna, New York Central, Delaware and Hudson, along with many others, sit side by side in pairs, with permanently mounted stair cases and handrails. They have been firmly attached to mother earth and they aren't going anywhere. The cabooses have been turned into a motel!


The only person we see the entire time we are at the railroad museum and caboose motel is an elderly maid, slowly carrying a load of clean sheets and towels in her arms from the office toward one of the distant, faded, permanently parked railroad cars turned motel room. We wonder why she doesn't use a cart of some sort to carry everything. But, who knows.

There are no automobiles in the parking lot for the museum or for the motel. Again, except for the time warped dimension of the maid who I believe still may be walking across the parking lot, Ilse and I are as alone as the astronauts who circled the moon. I take several photos of the row of cabooses, but decide we don't need any photos of the huge, dilapidated factory that forms one backdrop vista for the motel customers. We put away our brochures and slowly head for our campsite at Tionesta.


After a short, thirty minute drive, we are sitting in our camper wondering what we are going to do for the next two weeks. Hopefully, the converter will arrive within a day or two, or Brenda and Dawn are going to get very tired of us.

NEXT: Thanks to the good folks at the Tionesta Library, next at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2012/08/reflections.html






Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tionesta Recreation Area Campground


Our sixth campground of our current RV adventure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tionesta Recreation Area Campground in Pennsylvania, is the least impressive of the trip, so far.  But, we have only been here one day, and we realize the campground is completely different than any we've stayed at in the past.  This campground is a unique usage of the space available to the Corps for camping, but we are nonetheless disappointed after only our first day here.  We weren't thrilled after our first day at Raystown Lake, either, but after spending several days there we began to appreciate what the location and the campground offered. We'll see how we feel after we spend more time exploring the Tionesta Recreation Area. The campground is located on Tionesta Creek a short distance from where it meets the Allegheny River. The campground is located below the dam across the Tionesta Creek which forms the Tionesta Lake above it.
 
We have several issues with the facility and its operation, one of which is our reserved campsite itself. Picking any campsite on-line is always the luck of the draw, or in the case of Tionesta, the drawing itself. Campsites picked on-line through www.Recreation.gov, the Internet reservation system that handles the Corps of Engineers campgrounds, unfortunately may not always accurately match their written description. Such as the drawing that show the Tionesta Creek directly behind a row of campsites. We have one of those sites, number 38, and believe me, we can not see any water. I'm sure it's back there somewhere, but it certainly isn't close or even visible.

There are campsites here on the outer unnamed loops that are very well laid out, and very pretty, but the ones on the center loop, where our reserved site is located, are close together, muddy, and quite frankly, dirty. Most of the sites in our loop are very close together with no space between pads, and therefore, no privacy. They also do not drain well. There is mud everywhere as soon as I step off the sparse gravel camp pad. The inside of the upper loop is also tight packed with little room between campsites, great for family reunions but not for those who want to listen to their own music.


The differences between campgrounds begin right at the main gate. The unkempt flower boxes in front of the main gate is in stark contrast to every other Corps of Engineer entrance we've ever seen.  The front gate office itself is only manned from 11:00am to 6:00pm, Monday through Thursday, and from 2:00pm to 9:00 pm on Thursday and Friday. The gate is manned by a COE campground ranger instead of volunteer attendants.  The campground is wide open to anyone to walk or drive in at any time, day or night. Security consists of occasional evening tours through the campground by the Forest County Sheriff Department, although they don't seem to show up every night.

Speed bumps might help enforce the 15 mph speed limit, or perhaps keep it under 35 mph or so, which seems to be the normal speed once past the main gate. The exit speed appears to be higher still, even for those campers towing huge, fifth-wheel units as they head out.  The week-end drivers tend to be more cautious than the locals who zip through during the week, and for good reason; the campground is filled with children of all ages from Friday evening until Sunday, many of whom are on bicycles. I guess the speeding drivers don't expect to see campers here during the week.

This is a very popular campground for local residents, and campers from as far away as Pittsburgh and even eastern Ohio.  The lake and marina are on the lake itself above the dam, while the campsites are on Tionesta Creek below the dam. You have to leave Corps property to drive to the rim of the dam and then a few miles further to the ramp and floating dock that also serves as the marina office. Not having the boating area near the campground explains the constant flow of traffic through the campsites, but there is no alternative due to the nature of the creek itself. The boat launching ramp looks new and well maintained, but other than the floating dock, there are no other amenities. The lake appears to be long and narrow, more like a river, but very pretty and clean.

The fairly new toilet and restroom facilities are well kept, in the standard of other Corps campgrounds, even with the overflow weekend crowd. The campground has doggie-bag dispensers located around the campground for pet owner's convenience. One thing we notice as odd here is the lack of trash hangars to deter nocturnal scavengers. This is the first campground we've visited without the steel-pole “Critter hooks.”

Our bicycle-dodging, first evening walk is cut short by the overpowering campfire smoke that hangs heavily in the moist, night air. The elderly, official firewood vendor drives slowly around the campground in his gun-metal gray pickup truck with a little yellow flashing light on top. His magnetic stick-on sign proclaims “Firewood.” He does a very brisk business, stopping constantly to sell bundles of firewood. It would be nice if everyone drove as slowly as he does. Once back in our trailer, we turn on the air conditioner as our neighbor's fire-pit is just outside our kitchen window and the heavy, unpleasant smoke blows directly into our trailer. I don't know what kind of tree the firewood vendor was selling, but it certainly wasn't hickory.


Sunday begins our second day here in the valley campground at Tionesta Recreation Area. The temperature is 58 degrees and the skies are clearing after a day of intermittent rain showers. Ilse and I walk the campground and the Dam Trail after breakfast. We check out open campsites that are popping up around the campground as the weekend warriors head for home. We decide to either find a decent site or leave for another campground. We may have problems, though, the entire upper loop is without power due to the storm that rolled through last Thursday while we still over at Tioga Campground. A ranger we talked with said they had no idea when power would be restored. The Corps of Engineers Project Office and the Visitors Center located up on top of the dam are without electrical power as well.


We are in luck as Tionesta has a block of campsites that are walk-ups, or first come, first served that are not on the reservations system. They are located just past the entrance to the campground and are well spaced, clean, and have plenty of green area. Best of all, by Sunday afternoon most of them are empty. We talk with Ranger Garrison at the main gate and he politely informs us we may change sites once during our planned stay. Simply pick any site that is not marked as reserved and he'll be happy to handle the paperwork. We pick site 15 on the main entrance road as it has plenty of room, no neighbors, plenty of grass for the dogs, and it is dry. I drop my orange traffic cone in the center of the new site to stake our claim and we head back to our old site at 38 to hook up the trailer for the move.

An hour later we are set up in our new site, awning out with the dogs laying happily in the grass, watching the steady stream of RVs of every size and type as they head for home. A completely different world without leaving the campground.

The campground is practically empty on Monday morning. We watch a doe and her fawn slowly walk across the street in front of our campsite early in the morning the second day. Later, as we drive to the library in town, Ilse sees her first woodchuck, waddling hurriedly along the dirt access road . A small, brown rabbit mistakenly hops from between our trailer and the Toyota and stops directly in front of Taz, our Golden Retriever, and for a good minute, neither one moves. We all sit quietly, waiting for the rabbit to run, but he just sits there, frozen. The rabbit is hoping no one seems him even though he is only ten feet away. A really unique, memorable moment, but just as I lift my camera, a nearby camper starts his pickup truck and the magic is broken. The rabbit bolts for the safety of the underbrush while Taz simply sits and watches. 

Each campground has its own personality and idiosyncrasies, and perhaps in a different campsite we will begin to enjoy what Tionesta offers. Hopefully, with our new start we will enjoy our stay here after all. Besides, the pretty little town is only a quarter mile away and the library has WiFi.

Lake Tionesta

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