Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tionesta - On the Road to Where?

People at Tioga asked us where we were going next in our camping adventure, we answered Tionesta. They always said, “Where's that?” Funny thing is that they all from Pennsylvania, and to the best of our knowledge Tionesta is in Pennsylvania.  Doesn't sound good.


We made the reservations on-line over three months ago and actually lost campsites that we liked because we hesitated while comparing other locations. We were glad to get a campsite anywhere in northern Pennsylvania. Camping up here is a serious weekend pastime. Probably right up until football season. Cracking open a camping slot on a weekend in Pennsylvania during the summer is next to impossible. Besides, the campsite I got at the Corps of Engineers Tionesta Lake Recreation Area looks good on paper. It is supposed to be right on Tionesta creek, our first waterfront campsite of the trip. If you are going to make reservations for Pennsylvania, start early!

We strike camp at Tioga on Friday morning, July 27th and head west, hopefully, toward Tionesta. We go east, actually, because a fuel truck overturned on PA 287 west of the Tioga-Hammond Corps of Engineer campground and the Pennsylvania Department Of Transportation closed the road. The detour isn't marked, the road is simply closed! Pennsylvania highway 287 is simply barricaded at the intersection of an un-named county road!  You can go either left or right, so you make your best guess and go with it!  We chose left the first time while trying to get to the Grand Canyon.  We aren't even considering going the other way!
The pretty, gas-lit town of Wellsboro

So, instead of subjecting our travel trailer to the torturous road over the river and through the woods, we elect to drive east instead to US 15, then south to PA 6 then finally head west, some twenty-five miles further than planned. It sounds like a great ride, though, as PA 6 is the state bicycle trail, and the highway is also a Pennsylvania scenic route. According to one local pamphlet, National Geographic even went so far as to write, "One of America's most scenic drives."

We turn on to PA 6 at Mansfield, and by the time we reach Wellsboro some twelve miles down the road, we decide whoever selected this road as scenic must have been sitting in the back seat watching a DVD. The road does turn somewhat prettier well past Wellsboro, and even then we find the ride up PA 287 from down south to be a far more scenic ride. At least there aren't any junk yards on 287.

The damage from the thunderstorm that passed through the area the night before is evident as we drive west. Fallen trees and downed power lines are all along the highway. Several towns, including Port Allegheny and others in the area, are completely without power. Most traffic lights we come to in the small towns are out. The few gas stations we come across with power for their gas pumps have cars lined up reminiscent of the gas shortage lines of the early seventies. This is the second major storm we encounter this trip, the first being while we were at Goose Point campground at Philpott Lake in Virginia. We remind ourselves we left Florida to escape the heat and storms. At least it isn't hot.

As we slow for an intersection at Mt Jewett, an antique auto pulls out of a side road marked Kinzua Bridge State Park. Sounds good to us, so we take a side trip to a very unique Pennsylvania State Park that we hadn't planned to visit.

Built in 1882, the Kinzua Viaduct was highest railroad bridge in the world at the time. It was rebuilt in 1900 to modernize it, then finally removed from rail service and turned into a state park in 1970. Ironically, the center section of the viaduct was destroyed by an F-1 tornado in 2003 just as a major rebuilding effort was being undertaken. The partially restored viaduct was rebuilt as a sky-walk, complete with six large glass panels at the end that give a startling view to the valley floor below. It opened to the public in September, 2011. The damaged superstructure still lies scattered along the valley floor, testament to the ferocity of the tornado's winds. And as with all Pennsylvania State Parks, admission is free, as opposed to Florida State Parks which have an entrance fee for every venue. Incidentally, the Pennsylvania State Park System has been awarded the best State Park system in the United States. From the four parks we have visited this trip, we agree wholeheartedly.

As we rejoin highway 6, Ilse calls the campground at Tionesta to see if they sustained damage the night before. It would be nice to know if in fact they are closed before we get there. She gets their answering system, not a good sign. She leaves our telephone number and asks for a callback.

As we turn off PA 6 on to PA 66 at Kane, it begins to rain. It also is the beginning of a beautiful drive through the Allegheny National Forest. This is the road that should have the scenic designation, in my book. Soon, we approach our turnoff to Tionesta, just as the rain stops. Finally, a good sign.

I almost over-shoot the gravel road turn-off to the Recreation Area as it isn't marked as all the others we've visited. It's toward the bottom of a long hill and looks more like a county park, which in fact, it is. Checking in at the main gate is a bit of a task as several people are patiently waiting for the Park Ranger to resolve reservation problems. They too, were hit hard by the storm. The reason we didn't get a callback was because they simply didn't have time. One complete loop, as well as the Corps project office, is without power. Luckily, our loop not only has power, it is a full hook-up site, meaning for the first time this trip we have a sewer hook-up.

Our first impression is mixed. While beautifully forested and heavily wooded, the sites are far closer together than any Corps of Engineer park we have yet camped at, even at Goose Point.

We'll have to spend a couple of days to get a better feel for the Recreation Area, but for now, we are glad just to be dry and able to take a shower whenever we want without worrying about filling up the gray water tank. For the first time this trip, we have a full hook-up. That means we have sewer anytime we want to dump our holding tanks. Leaving the black water, the sewage tank, valve in the open position all the time is a sure-fire service call to have the tank cleaned and usually repaired.  Black water tanks should only be drained when at least a third full.  The gray water tank can be left open, but we leave ours shut as we don't want smells from the sewer coming back into the trailer.

The campground is below the dam, also a first for us, and will have to take a trip just to see the lake. Another unique Corps campground, and it really is in Tionesta. We drove over there tonight just to see if it is a real town. It must be, it has a library.

The Kinzua Bridge State Park, Pennsylvania

Another Storm - This time at Tioga

One reason we decided to leave Florida this summer was to escape the heat and humidity.  The other was to avoid storms.  On that one particular count, we aren't doing too well.

We had our first bad storm of the trip while at Goose Point, Virginia, when a frontal system that affected most of the eastern coast of the U.S. rolled through.  We did fine, although we were concerned about our rather precarious campsite.  The areas we traveled through for the next three weeks showed signs of tree damage and power line failures.  The damage was very wide spread.

On the day before we are to leave Ives Run, we get another severe weather warning, including a tornado warning.

Again, we rocked and rolled in our little trailer, but we had no real problems.  We were tight and cozy after taking down the awning and putting away the lawn chairs.  The actual storm winds, while really severe, only lasted five minutes or so. Many people huddled in the toilet and shower facilities as the facilities are listed as storm shelters. We decided to stay with our dogs and ride out the storm. Next time, they'll go with us to the shelter.

Several campers at the lower levels escaped damage by mere inches when several large tree branches fell beside their tents or RVs.  

The sound of chain saws could be heard within half an hour of the storms passing as Park Rangers began clearing debris and downed tree limbs. The storm damage was wide spread along the northern half of the state and affected not only Tioga, but our next planned camping stop at Tionesta as well.

NEXT: On the road to Tionesta, or as everyone said, "Where?" at

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Grand Canyon

Yep, they call it the Grand Canyon. The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, that is. It actually is named the Pine Creek Gorge, but I doubt the thousands of tourists who visit here each year would make the trip to see something with such a mundane name.

So, the Grand Canyon it is, and it is worth the trip to see. It is one of the prettiest gorges we've seen in the entire Appalachian chain, but it is a lush, forest green, not the arid, dusty brown of its western namesake. It isn't a mile deep, either. More like a thousand feet or so from the rim to the creek bed below, but it is really beautiful.

Located just west of the famous gas-light town of Wellsboro, the Pine Creek Gorge is a perfect example of man reclaiming nature from what he had wasted only one hundred years ago. The Pine Creek Gorge area was an ecological disaster after logging and mass deforestation of the late 19th Century. The project to reclaim and rebuild not just this forest, but all of the Pennsylvania forests, has been a massive, on going one-hundred year long effort, and the beauty of Pine Creek Gorge attests to the success of the many programs. One of the more famous reclamation projects was transforming the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek and Buffalo Railroad bed that follows the Pine Creek bed into a twenty-six mile long biking and hiking trail.

The road west from Wellsboro, PA route 660, is a well-paved, two lane country road, with a few humorous signs. The first sign as you leave town proclaims, “Grand Canyon – 6 miles.” After six miles or so, the next sign states, “Grand Canyon – 8 miles.” Hmm.   After another four miles or so, yet another sign say, “Grand Canyon – 6 miles.”  Don't count the miles, just follow the paved route 660 until it soon ends in the parking lot of the Leonard Harrison State Park.  The Leonard Harrison State Park is on the eastern rim of the gorge, and offers perhaps the best scenic overlooks of the entire Grand Canyon.

My wife and I walk the Otter View foot path from the main vista to the southernmost overlook of the State Park, and meet a middle-age couple from the Netherlands resting on the benches at the quiet, isolated vantage point. They have a teenage daughter and her boyfriend with them, and the entire family is simply taking in the quiet beauty of the gorge.

We begin a conversation and are fascinated to hear their travels have included landing in Chicago, renting a car and driving through Michigan, stopping in Detroit before driving on through Canada to Toronto and Niagara Falls, then down through the New York finger lakes to Pennsylvania. They also plan to later visit Houston and drive to New Orleans.

And of course, they had to see the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ives Run Campground, Tioga-Hammond, Pennsylvania

I can't believe we have the heat on. The temperature never went above 63 degrees the entire 190 rainy, spray-filled miles from Raystown Lake, our last campground. We drove the last wet fifty miles or so on Pennsylvania State Road 287 just for the beautiful ride through the Allegheny forest. A really nice break from the bustle of the Interstate and U.S. 220, even if it was raining. And it hasn't quit yet.

We are sitting in the gray, fading daylight at our Ives Run campsite at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground at Hammond Lake, Pennsylvania, enduring an endless drizzle that makes the low sixties temperature reminiscent of summers in Germany. We aren't here to suffer, so we turned the heat on in the camper. Never mind it is the twentieth of July.

We haven't seen much of the Ives Run Campground yet, but what we have seen so far is impressive. Beautiful, well maintained, spacious sites seem to be the order for every loop of this campground. The sites through number 131 have water and electric, and at least three loops, Beech, Aspen, and Hawthorn, have sewer hook-ups as well. 

Here again, however, the official brochure sometimes lists services differently from what is available. Beech only has sewers for part of the loop, not the entire length. Each campsite on those loops has its own service monument directly beside the pad, but the Hickory loop has to share service monuments. The campsites at the separate Pine camp, about a mile away, have only dry, or primitive sites, but several of those sites are directly on the water. Every site is reserved for at least the next three weeks, and again, we see why. This is a beautiful location, and a beautiful campground.

We have found all the Corps of Engineer campgrounds we have camped at to each have its own personality and idiosyncrasies, but they all share one common trait: cleanliness! From the always immaculate grounds to the showers and toilet facilities, one thing we have come to count on is the standards the Corps sets for all its facilities.

How they utilize the resources and areas available varies from project to project. Some camp sites are paved, some are gravel. Some have water and electricity, some have only one, or the other. Primitive campsites have neither, but are well marked. Unfortunately, we have found brochures from the Corps of Engineers themselves to sometimes be inaccurate when it comes to describing facilities. The brochure for Seven Points, where we just spent the last eleven days, claims showers on every loop, while in fact only two of the six loops have showers. But they were spotless, even after a troop of weekend campers, who I believe may have been rhinoceroses or water buffaloes, did their best to make themselves at home. The restrooms were returned to service within hours.

As with every campground, there are things you need to know beforehand. We had a hint when Ilse happened to see a you-tube video warning about the possible need for extra-length water hoses at Tioga-Hammond. We thought we were prepared, but surprise, surprise!

We drop anchor at site 111 after checking in with the main gate. Our stay at 111 is just for one night until our regular site at 120 opens up. We need two, twenty-five foot water hoses to reach the pad's water spigot. The service monuments are located centrally between every other two sites, and the sites are not close together! Not only did we need two water hoses end-to-end to reach the spigot, but I also needed my extension power cord to reach the power panel as well! The distance between the paved pads is nice for us, though, as the added distance adds to the privacy of each campsite.

We are reserved at 120 for the next six days. The campground is so popular there is no other way to juggle our schedule. Since we have to move in the morning, I don't unhook the trailer from our Toyota Sequoia. Changing sites in the morning will be really easy as all I do after backing in is put down the stabilizers to make the trailer stable, and of course go through the drill of hooking up the water hoses and the power cords. I crank up the TV antennae and am pleasantly surprised to find we have five stations! The news is so depressing we soon turn it off without even hearing the weather forecast.

We wake up to a damp, chilly, overcast morning, but at least the rain has stopped. We make breakfast and walk the dogs around the dripping wet campground. We watch the people currently at site 220 and would like to encourage them to speed it up a bit. They are putzing their way through the hooking-up process and it looks like they'll take an eternity to vacate the site.

Dinner ready yet?
A white SUV marked Park Ranger pulls alongside during our walk, and we meet Trish, one of several volunteers who help with operation of the campground and events. She's handing out flyers about upcoming events at the Recreation Area. We chat for a few minutes and find out Trish is planning a special trip she is submitting for official approval. I'll post the details as soon as they become official. I hope she gets approval for the project, and I would like to see it becomes a regular, annual tour. That would have to be one of the prettiest camping and RV trails in the country. We wave goodbye and I notice on the flyer they are asking everyone to “Like” them on Facebook.

We cover over two miles walking the dogs and by the time we get back, the people in 220 are gone. Great! We hurriedly head out to the dump station, empty the holding tanks, and drive back through registration and pick up our new site tags. We excitedly back in to 220, it really looks like a great campsite! Ilse guides me back until we have the trailer perfectly aligned to put down the awning and have room next to the camper for the lawn chairs. Great!

I break out both water hoses and the electrical cords. I plug in the electrical service first, and surprised to find I have absolutely no cable left to spare. The power cord is twenty-five feet long and the extension cable is thirty feet long. At fifty-five feet, the power cord is almost taut. I have used every inch to connect the trailer! The water hose is also twenty-five feet long, but the extension, unfortunately, is also twenty-five feet long, five feet too short to reach the spigot.

We relocate the trailer to reach the spigot, but find we can't open the awning because of lack of space on the pad. Nuts! We decide to fill the fresh water tank in the trailer, then move it back to where we started, foregoing the water hook-up. Twenty minutes later, we break out the refreshments and kick back. Until the people in 121 check in, we have a great view of the lake! They check in twenty minutes later.

We call the local library in nearby Mansfield and ask if we can use their free WiFi service. No problem, so after lunch we run into town and on the way get to see one of the prettiest vistas we've seen on the entire trip. The Pennsylvania welcome center on US 15 at Tioga is located centrally between, and well above, the Corps project dams and facilities of Tioga-Hammond Lake. It is a really great place to see the scope of the entire project.

We find the library easily and after chatting with the pleasant librarian, she slides a piece of paper across the counter with the WiFi access code written on it. This is the first pass-word protected library we have used. The last library at Huntingdon didn't even have a consent page as with most guest access WiFi suppliers.

We pay bills, read e-mails, delete political entries, check our Facebook pages, and after liking the friends of Tioga-Hammond Lake, head to the nearby WalMart to replenish depleted stocks. It is funny to see different items stocked at chain stores that reflect the local populations. We are still not used to Pennsylvania grocery stores not being allowed to carry beer or wine. Special beer distributors carry beer, but we have found two or three liquor stores that carry wine. We stock up on milk and eggs, dog food and other essentials, then head back to Ives Run.

We drop by the Ives Run Visitor Center on the way back in to see the Rattlesnake they have on display in a glass case. It was captured at the Pine Campground. While we are looking around, Maggie, the volunteer behind the front desks introduces herself and graciously spends time chatting with us even though she has her purse ready to go. We are right at the closing time, but she tells us about several areas near here we should see. She even pulls a map out of her own bag and gives it to us, telling us to make sure to see the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. When I asked about the Rattlesnake, she laughs and tells us about the recent visit by a thirteen year old boy, who quite seriously asked if he could take it out of the case and play with it. She said that only several weeks later, a middle aged man, she thinks he was in his forties, stopped by the center and while looking at the snake, made the same request! She asked him if he was thirteen.

As we drive out, we again meet Trish, who tells us she left a draft of her proposal at our camper. We thank her and tell her we “Liked” the Facebook page, and can't wait to read the details of her planned trip. As we drive away, yet another white SUV marked Park Ranger pulls along side and we meet Ranger Dina, the young lady who actually does the websites, including the Facebook page. She laughs and thanks us for “Liking” the page.

I think we're going to like this campground. I even bought a third water hose to reach the spigot.

NEXT: Local info - a trip to the Grand Canyon - no, not that Grand Canyon, the other one, at:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Allegrippis Bicycle and Hiking Trails

Ilse and I enjoy what Germans call “wandern.” Not necessarily heavy-boot hiking, but more than just shuffling along in flip-flops. Good shoes, yes, but no alpenstock required. We find the perfect hiking trail for us at Raystown Lake at the Seven Points Recreational Area. Designed and built by the International Mountain Biking Association, the Allegrippis trail system is a first-class multi-use trail system that is fast becoming world renowned. There were several young Germans here just to ride the trails, and on our last outing, we met a couple who had driven over from Washington DC, a three and a half hour drive, just for a day's outing on the Allegrippis trails.

On our second evening hike on the trail, we meet Caleb, a shirtless back-packer coming out of the southern loop. Caleb, slender, lean and not an ounce of fat on his body, is not just hiking, he is checking the status of the trails. He is one of many volunteers who constantly monitor the condition of the 36 mile long series of trails. Volunteers from the Friends of Raystown Lake, and the Raystown Lake Mountain Bike Association do a marvelous job of keeping the well-maintained trails clear of fallen trees or any debris or trash what-so-ever.

We met Caleb a week earlier at the vendor's showcase at the Visitor Center, where he represented Rothrock Outfitters in Huntingdon. He proudly had his state-of-the-art, 29 inch mountain bike on display at the showcase, and spent quite a bit of time explaining the trails and their history to us. When we meet him again, hiking alone in the cool, evening quiet, we realize it is people like him that make the trails possible for us and everyone else to enjoy.

While we are at Seven Points, Ilse and I also take another local hiking trail known as the Old Logging Trail, a trail not recommended for bicycles, and find it to be far less pleasing to hike than the Allegrippis trail.

We'll be back at Seven Points in another month or so, and look forward to hiking more of the beautiful 24 trails of the Allegrippis system. 

For more information on the Allegrippis Trails:

NEXT: On to Ives Run at Tioga-Hammond, another great COE campgraound, at:


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trough Creek State Park

Terri, who we met during a trip to the Visitor's Center, highly recommended a near-by state park as a must-visit attraction, and she was right. Just fifteen miles south of Seven Points Campground is Trough Creek State Park, located in the Rothrock State Forest. A cool, heavily forested ravine with rock ledges, the area is reminiscent of my wife's home area, the Eifel mountain region of Germany.

The narrow road that follows the Trough Creek is a spatial test for large campers. One-lane bridges add to the extreme narrowness of the access road. The beautifully maintained park has picnic area all along the winding road, and pull off areas to allow enjoying the well-used trails.

We did the Raven Rock trail across the suspension bridge, over the Rainbow Falls, and up to the Balanced Rock. A hiker we met told us the famous Rhododendrons around the waterfall had bloomed early this year, and had already faded.

The area is a beautiful forest and well worth the hike. When the Rhododendrons are in bloom it must be outstanding, they are everywhere. The quiet, serene walk in the cool forest air was really enjoyable, and we hiked to the end of the trail at Raven's Rock. We met a ranger on the trail who gave us some background and history of the locale and the park, just to make it all that much better.

After several relaxing hours in the park, we drove to the nearby marina at Lake Raystown Resort and had lunch. Thanks Terri, it was well worth seeing.

For more information:

NEXT: The famous Allegripis bicycle trail runs through the Seven Points Campground, at:

The Other Princess Cruise

Any Ideas?  They don't know either

Once we get settled in to our campsite, we begin to relax and realize the site really isn't too bad after all. It really isn't barren, just no shade beside the pad. We are spoiled by the lushness of Robert W. Craig Campground, the last one we stayed at. There are no campsites across from us, the campsites are about twenty five or thirty feet apart, and the road is a dead end. There is a children's playground in the center of the loop at the end of road, and a small parking lot for the seven or eight tenter's camp sites. And the dogs next door are gone.

We go through our morning ritual and head over to the Visitors Center to see what we can learn about the area and its attractions.  There are quite a few local vendors set up in a conference room, and there is a jar collecting e-mail addresses for a door prize drawing. We decide they can't hurt us with any more spam than we already receive, and drop in our entries.

While milling around outside the Visitors Center, waiting for the door-prize drawing, we meet Terri and her husband Scott, who are camping at the Ridge Campground with their three delightful kids. They are camping with Mom and Dad as well, who have an adjacent campsite. They are from the area and Terri soon fills my note pad with information about what to see and do. Again, there is no better source of information anywhere than local residents who also love to camp, hike, or kayak. Terri recommends several places that turn out just great.


Several of the drawing prizes are tickets for a cruise on the Princess, a double-decker tour boat that does an hour and a half cruise of Raystown Lake. Terri and her family win several tickets, and when she wins yet another set of tickets in the drawing, she graciously gives them to us. You do meet some nice people on the road, one of the really nice benefits of RVing.

We drive by the marina to take a look at the facilities and are taken back by a fish feeding station at the water's edge. We have been to Robbie's in Islamorada and paid a couple of bucks to feed the huge Tarpon that lull around the docks waiting for food, but I have never seen it done before with Carp! They are so thick you can't put your hand in the water without hitting one. A nearby sign says “No Fishing!” No problem, they aren't my catch of the day.

We arrive back at the marina at 12:30pm to get a good seat on the top deck of the Princess. We walk around the top deck, looking for seats in the shade but don't see Terri and her family. They arrive just before the double-deck cruise boat shoves off, but stay on the main deck below. 

There are a couple of U.S. Air Force veterans chatting on the side of the deck in the shade. They are easy to spot with their black baseball caps that proudly proclaim “Air Force.” We end up sitting with one of them, John, a former C-124 Globemaster driver, and his wife who are celebrating their 47th anniversary. We chat idly and trade war stories as we leisurely tour the scenic lake, everyone just enjoying the great weather and being on the water. 

When I get up to go to the bow to take a photo, a fellow about my age wanders up and takes my seat.

His wife drags a chair up dividing Ilse from the couple we have been talking to, and when we go to sit back down, they simply stare at us. Oh well, you do meet all kinds.

As we slowly disembark down the stairs, Ilse smiles and reminds me this is the second time this year we have sailed on a Princess. We went with Bernd and Agnes, friends of ours from Germany, on the Crown Princess for a seven day Caribbean cruise in February. I can't help but smile. Both cruise were enjoyable and memorable, each in its own way.

NEXT: Local info, or how we found nearby Trough Creek State Park, at:


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