Autumn in Huntingdon

On October 12, 2017 · 2 Comments

I completed the little adventure I described in County Hunter a few days ago. The first leg involved a course through previously unvisited Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Don’t confuse this with Huntington (with a T) elsewhere in Pennsylvania, a township in Adams County near Gettysburg. I kept messing up searches because my mind wanted to spell it the wrong way too. Nonetheless, everything worked out and I found plenty to do Huntingdon, the one with a D. The weather cooperated in early Autumn, the leaves showed signs of color, and the county brimmed with seasonal activities. Our drive up from the Washington, DC area that morning left us with too little time to see everything. We needed to select carefully.

St. Mary’s Covered Bridge


St. Mary's Covered Bridge
St. Mary’s Covered Bridge

I planned a route directly through the heart of the county. It took us from the wonderfully named Burnt Cabins, as we crossed the border heading north on U.S. Route 522, then northwest on U.S. Route 22 through the actual town of Huntingdon, and onward towards Altoona in the neighboring county (route). I looked for the usual attractions I liked to track on my many lists, of course. Covered bridges seemed to be a thing with me lately so I found the only remaining covered bridge in Huntingdon County online and added it to my itinerary. Really, how could I do otherwise? The bridge crossed Shade Creek on Covered Bridge Road just as it had since 1896, within eyesight of our route. It required no detour whatsoever and offered easy parking (map). Perfect.

The bridge sat just across the road from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Orbisonia. I just loved some of those place names in Huntingdon. Anyway, locals called it St. Mary’s Covered Bridge for the appropriate reason, or Shade Gap Bridge or even the unimaginative official name, Huntingdon County Bridge No. 8. I may have seen more imposing, more architecturally distinct, more historically significant covered bridges before although I didn’t have to go out of my way for this one either. It did feature a rather unusual two-tone paint job too. All-in-all the bridge offered a satisfactory start to my hunt through Huntingdon. It merited a brief stop for photos.


Rockhill Trolley Museum


Rockhill Trolley Museum
Rockhill Trolley Museum

It look all of ten minutes to drive up to Rockhill Furnace borough once we left the bridge (map). I wanted to see the Rockhill Trolley Museum. I wondered why a museum dedicated to preserving trolleys existed in such an out-of-the-way place. Trolleys provided urban and sometime suburban transportation in the days before buses overtook them. The concept never would have worked in a town of 400 in the middle of rolling Pennsylvania farmland. Nonetheless, the trolley museum found a home there, with plenty of space to restore old cars plus a couple of miles of suitable track and overhead electrical wires to run them.

By chance, our visit coincided with the museum’s annual Fall Spectacular weekend. That meant they let some of their rare equipment that usually sat in storage see some daylight and run the rails briefly again. People could ride them, too. A ticket lasted for the entire day and visitors could take as many trips on the old trolleys as they could stand. One ride seemed just fine for us though. We took a 1931 Brill Bullet Tram once operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in the Philadelphia area. Then we explored the rail yard for awhile.

Many other visitors qualified as true railfans (or trainspotters to the UK audience). They flocked to the museum on this special weekend both to ride the trolleys and to photograph them in action. People with cameras and video equipment lined the track anytime a trolley started rolling. I didn’t share that level of passion although I certainly understood it. After all, I have similar enthusiasm for other things not necessarily considered mainstream, like this whole County Counting obsession that led me to Huntingdon in the first place.


Lincoln Caverns


Lincoln Caverns
Lincoln Caverns Ready for Halloween

The boys liked visiting caves and I found one along our direct path (map). We arrived at Lincoln Caverns about a half-hour after we left the trolleys. It featured something special for the season too, a spooky Halloween theme called Ghosts & Goblins. We didn’t know this ahead of time. Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind it although I do find contrived hauntings a bit silly. My one son, however, didn’t like spooky stuff at all. He simply wanted to see the cave. Fortunately the good folks at Lincoln Caverns gladly offered a regular tour without the frights and scares, and gory creatures jumping from behind stalagmites with bloody butchers’ knives and such. It did feel a bit odd to have someone in a werewolf costume describe cave features although it seemed an appropriate compromise and we all enjoyed and appreciated it.

Lincoln Caverns also included a second smaller cave called Whisper Rocks in the same admission. This one, just uphill a few hundred feet, didn’t share the Halloween theme. It was a completely normal tour led by someone without a costume. Afterwards, our guide walked us down a wooded path to an open field nearby. There we climbed onto a wagon pulled by a tractor for an old-fashioned hayride. I totally didn’t expected that. It was part of the same seasonal package: a spooky cave; a normal cave and a little hayride. What a nice way to end an enjoyable afternoon during my first ever visit to Huntingdon County. Thank you, Huntingdon. It was a pleasure.

Onward to Blair County!

Totally Eclipsed

On August 23, 2017 · 8 Comments

Can anyone stand one more eclipse story? I promise this one will be a little different than most. I drove a thousand miles for a 4-day weekend and, well… Mother Nature had different plans.

Lots of loyal Twelve Mile Circle readers asked me if I planned to see the August 21, 2017, total eclipse of the sun. I started getting emails from curious readers several months ago. Actually, I began planning for the event even before anyone asked. My brother lives in a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina. Exactly one year in advance, to the day, I sent him a message requesting a place to stay. Of course he hadn’t heard anything about the eclipse at that point. Almost nobody had. Nonetheless, I wanted to stake out my prime viewing spot before anyone else could claim it. The year passed a lot quicker than I expected and soon we found ourselves heading down to Charleston.

The Drive Down



I way overthought the logistics as I always do, and as my nature often compels me. How would we survive Interstate 95, one of the most traffic-clogged roads on a good day, when hundreds of thousands of people had the same thought? I guessed maybe fewer drivers would begin their journey early Saturday morning, two days before the eclipse. We left the Washington, DC area at 5:30 am, hoping that my prediction might hold true. However, traffic coming out of DC seemed heavier than usual. It continued to build as we passed Fredericksburg and pushed forward towards Richmond. I definitely feared the worst. If traffic looked this bad even before sunrise, what would it look like when everyone woke up and started heading towards the eclipse’s path of totality?

Unexpectedly, conditions improved after we left Richmond. In retrospect, I figured they must have been heading to the beaches of Virginia and North Carolina. This wasn’t eclipse traffic, this was normal beach traffic, of people with Saturday-to-Saturday cottage rentals. We experienced nothing but smooth sailing for the rest of the drive. Honestly the easiest driving happened in South Carolina. The route seemed downright relaxing compared to the initial leg. We arrived at our destination in 7.5 hours, with an average speed (including stops) of about 65 miles per hour (105 kilometres per hour). No delays. None.

I guessed correctly. Others, however, did not. My wife’s friend left from New Jersey later in the day. She made it only as far as Fayetteville, North Carolina until being forced by fatigue to stop overnight. It took her 15 hours.


Hanging Out


Rusty Bull Brewing Co.

We also got plenty of time to hang out with family, another benefit of arriving two days early. This trip would be a little different. We would avoid the usual tourist sites of Charleston. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the crowds. Our older son enjoyed spending time in a quiet corner of his temporary bedroom playing interactive Internet games with his friends back home in Virginia. Our younger son got some quality time with his cousin, including a trip to the local trampoline park. My sister-in-law definitely took one for the team as she shepherded them during that adventure.

The rest of us visited as many local breweries as we could. Over the course of two days we hit six: Frothy Beard Brewing; Holy City Brewing; Oak Road Brewery; Rusty Bull Brewing; Twisted Cypress Brewing and Westbrook Brewing. I’d never been to a brewery in South Carolina before, so now the only states missing from my brewery adventure map were Arkansas, Kansas, Montana and Oklahoma.


Eclipse Day



The morning of the eclipse

Then came the big day. I started with a six-mile run at dawn. I thought Virginia summers were brutal although they paled in comparison to South Carolina. At least mornings in Virginia offered a bit of respite from the worst extremes of the day. However, in South Carolina, I walked through the front door and hit a solid wall of heat and humidity. This seemed troublesome because all that water vapor had to go somewhere, and sure enough clouds began to build as the morning progressed. Clouds, obviously, would obscure the eclipse. Still, I tried to remain optimistic.

Fortunately we didn’t need to travel anywhere. My brother’s house sat northwest of Charleston, even further into the area of totality than the city itself. The period of darkness there differed from the theoretical maximum by only 12 seconds. We didn’t see any need to fight our way through the traffic. We already sat at an awesome geographic viewpoint.

The city itself largely shut-down for the event. Many businesses closed for the days as did the schools. Still, lots of bars and restaurants remained open with all sorts of eclipse celebrations and specials. It became something of an undeclared holiday. Even so, we decided to remain in the back yard with lawn chairs and our eclipse glasses ready.


The Eclipse


Eclipse?

Where we stood, the eclipse lasted from 1:16 pm to 4:09 pm, with totality starting at 2:46 pm and lasting for more than two minutes. Right around 12:30 pm, a thunderstorm rolled into the area and heavy clouds did not depart for the rest of the day. We never saw the sun during the entire period of the eclipse. Thunder and rainfall drowned out every other sound. Only complete darkness offered the telltale sign that something else was happening. This unfortunate turn of events offered a humble lesson in making the best of a bad situation. We did enjoy the moments leading up to totality. The world darkened visibly, especially during the final moments, arriving faster than any sunset. It looked like someone turned a dimmer switch on the entire planet, then repeated the process in reverse. We never got to use our eclipse glasses though.

When’s the next one? April 8, 2024? I have a cousin who lives in Austin, Texas. Maybe I can make reservations early.

Four Corners, Part 1 (Orientation)

On August 3, 2017 · 12 Comments

Our family visits a different part of the United States every summer. This year we decided to travel through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. We made it as far west as the Four Corners monument although we we spent only a few moments in Utah and Arizona. We toured through parts of Utah back in 2011. Arizona will need to wait for another day.



The embedded map showed our approximate route. We began our adventure at the Denver International Airport where we landed and rented a car. From there we drove down to Angel Fire, a ski resort town in New Mexico where I have family. That offered a nice base for a return trip to Taos, a place I last visited in 2013 during the Dust Bowl adventure. The next swing included a series of National Park properties: Pecos National Historical Park; Bandelier National Monument; Chaco Culture National Historical Park; and Mesa Verde National Park. We also spent time in towns along the way including Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Durango. Then we drove back to Denver.

We packed a lot of activities into those ten days. From mountains to desert, from cold to warm, from historic to modern, we tried a little of just about everything. I didn’t capture many new counties on this trip though, for a couple of reasons. First, the immense size of counties out there made it difficult, although each capture covered a lot of territory on the map too. Second, I’d been to several of the places before. This was more about visiting friends and family, and showing the kids places I loved seeing during an epic road trip I took a quarter century earlier. Even so, I still found time for a few county captures, some under interesting circumstances


Pecos Subterfuge


Pecos National Historical Park

The path from Angel Fire to Santa Fe, New Mexico would ordinarily go through Taos and enter Santa Fe from the north. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to capture a couple of new counties by traveling along the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, then looping back to Santa Fe from the south. That inefficient route led directly past Pecos National Historical Park. I used the park as my excuse. We enjoyed Pecos — and I’ll talk about that some more in a future article — although the actual reason focused squarely on the new counties, Mora and San Miguel.

The park fell within San Miguel and the photograph above gave a nice overview of its terrain. Each afternoon the "monsoon" rains of summer covered the plains. Mora County looked similar, maybe a little greener, with an economy seemingly based on ranching. I didn’t see a lot of wealth in sparsely-populated Mora. At one point we drove through its county seat, also called Mora, and the speed limit dropped down to 15 miles per hour (24 kph). You better believe I didn’t go a single mile per hour over that limit. It seemed like one of those places where speeding tickets probably funded the few public services that existed out there. I admit I had no evidence of that and perhaps I’ve made an unfair assessment. I didn’t risk it either.


Let’s Make Sure at Los Alamos


Bradbury Science Museum

I’d marked New Mexico’s smallest county, Los Alamos, as one I’d visited previously. Los Alamos made my tally many years ago during that previously-referenced epic road trip. However, I’ve since doubted that I actually captured it. No major roads between popular destinations cut through there. That was by design. Los Alamos served as the secret hideaway for scientists designing atomic bombs during World War 2. Nobody was supposed to travel to Los Alamos without a specific reason to be there. The county, established formally in 1949, covered barely a hundred square miles (250 square km). I simply couldn’t see how I’d crossed its borders on that earlier trip. Why had I concluded otherwise so many years ago? This time I made sure to record my visit photographically for the sake of accuracy and completeness. It didn’t "count" as a new capture even if that might have actually been the case.


Giving William McKinley His Due


Chaco Culture

My exceedingly brief visit to McKinley County, New Mexico probably set a record for my most absurd county capture ever. It also became another exceedingly rare example of a "walk only" county like my recent visit to Cass County, Michigan. McKinley happened during my trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Nothing was easy about getting to Chaco Canyon. The National Park Service recommended the northern route that involved about 16 miles of mostly decent dirt and gravel roads. I took that route. Visitors could also approach from the south with about 20 miles of "at your own risk" dirt roads. The southern route, if I’d been more adventurous, would have brought me through McKinley County.

However, I noticed that I could head south from the Visitors Center, go a couple of miles along the southern dirt path, and reach McKinley. I decided to touch McKenly at its closest point, where the road ran directly along the county line. I simply needed to stop the car and touch a point of land just beyond the roadside (map). A barbed wire fence ran along there too, so I put my foot between the strands of wire. Then I gently patted the ground with my foot. County captured.


Colorado Backcountry


Durango, Colorado

Actually I captured most of my new counties on a single day. We drove from Durango to Denver using the default route. We had some friends to visit in Denver so I didn’t want to go out of the way. Even so, that brought me through Archuleta, Mineral, Rio Grande, Saguache, Chaffee, and Park Counties for the first time. Driving through Saguache offered particularly remarkable scenery. Much of the county sat in humongous bowl surrounded by mountains on all sides. Amazingly flat, filled with fertile fields, and yet the wide plain sat at an elevation of something like 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). Park County also offered a little entertainment, if only as the setting of the South Park cartoon. That included a drive through Fairplay, the inspiration for the quiet mountain town where Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman lived.

Nine (possibly ten) new county captures didn’t seem like a lot from a numerical perspective. Nonetheless, we covered quite a bit of territory and had a great time doing it.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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