The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

P1060572For Memorial Day weekend this year we did one of the things we love best: head out into the woods. I had been waiting for this weekend like a little kid thinking about Christmas, jittery and overwhelmingly excited. Two reason this weekend felt so special, it was our first time full-on backpacking since leaving Alaska and my dad was coming with us. And the trip certainly lived up to my expectations!

We made a plan to head north and hike the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, which, ironically, we learned about while traveling through Canada last summer. After a little reasearch, it was clear that the 30 mile West Rim Trail would be our route for exploring the “grand canyon,” otherwise known as Pine Creek Gorge.

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Fortunately, Pine Creek Outfitters, a local guide and rental shop, offers a shuttle service for backpackers so we could do the trip in one straight shot with no back tracking, ideal hiking. So after a three-hour drive, we parked our car at the north trailhead, hopped on the shuttle and headed south. We hit the trail just after 1PM  and managed to pack in 10 miles before we made camp for the night. It was a strong push to start our weekend!

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The first ten miles slowly rise to the ridge and include meandering streams with baby waterfalls, thick waves of fern undergrowth, and a mix of pines and deciduous trees. It felt great to be out in the woods and the weather was perfect, cool with a light breeze to keep the bugs at bay. We also got our first glimpse of the gorge. Although the vista’s get better as you head north, even on our first day you could see the curving, thick-green walls of the gorge mounded on both sides of Pine Creek. It is vastly different then the true Grand Canyon, but certainly beautiful in its own right.

My favorite vista on the  first day was just north of our little campsite and we could see the rapids of the creek, the Tom Sawyer-like islands that speckled the gorge, and the sun just touching the top line of trees in a milky-orange. It was a perfect cap to the day and set the stage for a great dinner around the campfire.

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Day two we completed the middle, and longest, leg of our journey, leaving us with a quick six miles for the final day. One of the best parts of day two was our lunch vista. The vista was the first place that really allowed us to see north up the gorge and we had a blast watching canoers and kayakers try to navigate the rapids far below us. We even got out the binoculars for a closer look. One guy lost a paddle and had to jump out of his canoe to get it back. It was a day of enjoying the peaceful way light filters through the leaves of trees making a polka dot-pattern on the trail and, once again, great weather!

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Our second campsite, again we had the place to ourselves, was right along a creek and a waterfall rushed behind our head all night. Greatest white noise ever! Another campfire and cards and quiet. There is nothing like sinking into the woods so deeply you forget about the fast pace of everyday life. Instead, you eat when you are hungry and rest when you are tired and spend your day looking out because everything happens and exists independent of you. It is almost a relief to be so insignificant in the face of nature.

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Our final day, an easy, short (6 miles- everything is relative!), mostly downhill, light-pack kind of hike, brought the best views of the trip. The trees gave way to vista after vista that allowed us to see the rim we had just hiked and north to a place we wouldn’t set foot on. It made the gorge feel large and deep in a way I hadn’t yet felt. I almost wanted to slow down, to make it last a little longer. I think we all did.

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The Wonder of Waterfalls

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Last weekend we finally made the long-talked about trip to Ricketts Glenn State Park. A full day of much-needed hiking. What is so special about this particular state park is the Falls Trail. This loop trail showcases 21 waterfalls in about 7 miles! It is the kind of trail you hike slowly because around each corner is another spectacular view.

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The trail follows two branches of Kitchen Creek that have cut a snaking gorge before reuniting at Waters Meet. The falls vary from wide cascading layers to sheer movie-like drops and range in height from 11-94 feet. What I liked most about the trail is the diversity. It is hard to imagine that water can drop and twist in so many different, beautiful ways. I also loved the sound: the rushing water came in thunders and a low bass-like thrum and light rain-splattered curves. A constant symphony.

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I wish there had been fewer people, but otherwise, it was just what we needed to kick off a summer of hiking.

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Happy Trails for Memorial Day Weekend!


Blooms and Butterflies and Blown Glass

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Yikes, I really fell off the blogging map this spring. I am going to blame a combination of rainy weather and one too many irons in the fire, but I am happy to say it is green and pretty in Carlisle, and I am ready to get back to adventuring!

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And it seems appropriate that my first post back is all about beautiful things: butterflies and blown glass. Last week, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to spend time with family and during my visit I went to the Franklin Park Conservatory. It is a place that holds both nostalgia and excitement for me. The nostalgia comes from my time working as a volunteer in the butterfly garden every Sunday during one summer break in college. I was quiet, and a little awkward, and loved escorting people through the double door system (to keep the butterflies in) and watching their faces ripple with wonder as the small, striking creatures took flight in front of them, sprinkled through the air like tiny drops of fairy dust.

That summer, I also helped release newly hatched butterflies into the garden, delicately pinching their wings between my fingers and freeing them with the quick flick of my wrist. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger, something unique and beautiful. Now when I visit, I get that wonderful feeling of returning to a special place that has changed, yet somehow still feels familiar in just the right kind of way.

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Stepping back through the double doors on this trip, I was amazed to see so many butterflies in one place. Instead of being sprinkled through the air, as I remember, the butterflies coated the room like stars across a night sky. The air seemed to vibrate with them. We spun in circles watching them land, feed, and spring to the air again. Some flew in tight groups, like swirling leaves, while others dipped and glided alone. A little girl near us held out her hand and one landed, perched on her finger like a snowflake, gone before she had time to breathe. It felt almost magical.

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In addition to the butterflies, the conservatory is also speckled with Dale Chihuly’s incredible glass artwork, which only adds to the swept away feeling of stepping into the gardens. Originally part of a visiting exhibit, some of the Chihuly pieces where purchased by the Friends of the Conservatory, a private nonprofit group, to remain as a permanent collection. Every time I see his work I find myself in awe. The glass seems to embrace art and nature and color all in one breathe.

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My favorite piece is a bright red and yellow, twisting sculpture set in the Pacific Island Water Garden, which also happens to be the home of the butterflies. The piece seems to rise out of the green like a volcano and the butterflies have taken to it as their own personal resting place. It is a combination of my two favorite parts of the conservatory: a swirling, spinning, quiet reminder of all things bold and bright.

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I think I still have butterflies on the brain!