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Friday, October 31, 2014

Hiking in Neskopeck State Park

Today we chose a short, 4-mile hike in Neskopeck State Park.  Bordered on the south by steep Mount Yeager and on the north by Nescopeck Mountain, the 3,550-acre Nescopeck State Park encompasses wetlands, rich forests and many diverse habitats. Nescopeck Creek, a favorite of anglers, meanders through the park. Hiking trails follow the creek, pass through quiet forests and skirt wetlands. An environmental education center provides year-round educational programs on the park’s diverse resources. Interpretive exhibits highlighting the park’s natural history can be seen inside the environmental education center.

Here is a view of the visitor center, which is a gateway to the 19 miles of trails in the park:

Our hike started toward Lake Frances.  There were still bright splashes of color around the lake:

The island in the center of the lake still boasts some greens, yellows and oranges, as well as some bird nesting shelters:

Some of the most interesting and diverse trails follow Neskopeck Creek.  Here, David explores variations in shade and light along the creek:

Kathy did some reflecting herself:

The creek water is so clean and clear that it is designated a protected trout stream.  Here, David peers down into the clear stream:

And David did a little additional reflecting of his own:

In addition to Lake Frances, the park is home to a large, unnamed pond and one or two informal beaver ponds.  Here, two trees cling to their colors along a greying pond shore:

Throughout the park, the state has provided sanctuary for birds, bats, butterflies and other wildlife:

All along Nescopeck Creek, we encountered evidence of bear grubbing.  At least one or two ursine spirits occupy this realm.

One of the trails we walked was the Red Rock Trail.  We understood why it was named this as we discovered red slate and other red-colored rocks along the banks of Neskopeck Creek.  The reds were complemented by the greens of moss and the reflections of trees in the water:

Small cascades alternate with quiet pools in this creek.  Both can be seen below:

Here's a close-up of the rocky cascade:

On the Woodlands trail, the terrain changes and so does the foliage.  Here, we entered a fir forest - first white pine and then hemlock.  The sun filtered down on the dry leaves and fir needles that littered the trail and the rest of the forest floor:

Toward the end of the hike, we found ourselves on an airy plateau - bright green from the moss covering the trail itself:

Here, Kathy leans on the trail sign as she reviews the many splendors we witnessed on this hike today:

We wish we had more time to explore the Lehigh Gorge area, but, alas, it will be time to move south to Hatfield tomorrow.  Perhaps it's just as well, because snow is in the forecast for this mountain area on Sunday.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Biking the Lehigh River Gorge

Hi Blog! Today we biked in the Lehigh Gorge State Park. The 6,107 acre park follows the Lehigh River from Francis E. Walter Dam in the north to Jim Thorpe in the south. We planned to bike a 10 mile stretch of the abandoned rail trail from White Haven to Buttermilk Falls, just north of Rockport. Here is Dave at the start of our adventure. Railroad buffs journey to White Haven to see the restored, 29-ton, yellow, Union Pacific caboose that sits along the trail where it coincides with Main Street.  The caboose houses railroad memorabilia.

White Haven was created in 1824 by industrialist Josiah White, an early pioneer in the advancement of anthracite coal for heating and manufacturing. He helped establish Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, which built a series of dams and canal locks along the Lehigh River. Twenty dams and 29 locks were built between what was then known as Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) and White Haven. We'll get to see a number of the old locks as we bike along the trail.

Here we are at the trailhead:

There is still an active railroad which operates in the gorge. Here we rode under a trestle that carries the rail line to the opposite bank of the river.

We soon left the hustle and bustle of White Haven behind. Our first views came at the old Lehigh Tannery site. Lehigh Tannery boasted the second largest tannery in the United States.  During the period it was active, hides were tanned primarily with tannins from hemlock bark.  The bark was stripped from hemlock trees logged throughout Pennsylvania and the Northeast.  There is not much left of the old tannery. It was destroyed by a forest fire in 1875.

Here is the view upstream from the Tannery Bridge. As you can see, fall has pretty much fell around here.

We soon came upon the bench in the photo below. It was facing uphill -- not toward the river gorge.  "What'cha looking at?" we wondered. We could only surmise that there was once a waterfall here. Perhaps it will be back in the spring.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad once crossed the river here. This railroad was one of several Class I railroads located in Northeastern United States built for the purpose of transporting anthracite coal. It was sometimes known as the Route of the Black Diamond, named after the coal it transported. All that is left are the old piers and abutments.

Next we stopped at a little bridge that crossed over Sandy Run. You can still see the old railroad supports.

We made a little side trip down to the Lehigh River to see Mud Run. On October 10, 1888, 66 people died in a train wreck known as the Mud Run Disaster. Two passenger trails collided. The full length of the lead engine telescoped into the rear car and drove it two thirds of its length into the next car; which was in turn pushed into the third. No-one survived in the rear car 'on all sides hung mangled bodies and limbs' whilst the second was described as 'crowded with maimed and bleeding bodies'. An attempt was made to withdraw the engine from the third car but brought 'such awful cries of distress that it was abandoned'. In all, 66 were killed and 50 injured; 37 of the dead were from the small village of Pleasant Valley (later renamed Avoca), Pennsylvania.  Many were teenage members of the Drum and Bugle Corps of the Aloysius Society. Here you can see where Mud Run comes into the Lehigh River under the railroad trestle.

Of the 29 locks on the upper section of the Lehigh Gorge, the stone foundations of some remain visible along the trail today.  Since we were poking about, we decided to take a closer look at Lock #22, which has been preserved and explained by historical markers.  The amazing thing about these locks is that they are all constructed without any mortar or cement.  The stones are just cut and stacked on top of each other.

We made it to our turnaround point - Buttermilk Falls.

We found a nearby picnic table and tucked into our turkey sandwiches. Here is Dave studying our map with the falls just over his shoulder.

Before mounting the bikes for the 10 mile ride back, we decided to poke around the river one last time.

We did stop a few time to check out a couple things we missed on the way out, but the ride back is always shorter.

This will be our last bike ride for the next few weeks.  As soon as we get back to Hatfield, the bikes are going in for a complete overhaul. Happy Trails!

Eddie & George Poke Their Noses Out in the Poconos!

It's the Lehigh Gorge Campground near White Haven.  It rained most of the day yesterday, but the boys are optimistic that they'll see their shadows today.  No, Darla, this does not mean we're in for 6 more weeks of winter.  Well, not yet, at any rate.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Exploring the Eckley Miners' Village

One quotation on walls in the Eckley Miners' Village Visitor Center expressed it all:

Rough men doing rough jobs, getting from their women, hard-won help.  
No frills here:  
cooked food, a help with washing the man's back when, just up from the mine, 
he sits in the round tub, tin or wood; 
a sponge-off with blackish-green "sandsoap" a clean shirt; 
hot broth when he's laid up....

Or, as we came out of the theater showing an introductory video, the songs referred to by the museum docent -- "Sixteen Tons"  -- or which came to our minds -- "Dark as the Dungeon" -- we were overcome with the difficulties experienced by miner families who lived in Eckley during the times they worked in the underground mines here in coal country in Pennsylvania.  There are so many songs about coal mining and its evils. In addition to the songs noted above, two of my other favorites are John Prine singing, "Paradise," and Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore singing, "Dear Companion."

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission acquired the entire miners' village of Eckley in 1971.   Eckley is one of hundreds of company mining towns or "patches" built in the anthracite region during the nineteenth century.  In 1854, the mining firm of Sharpe, Weiss and Company leased land from the Tench Coxe Estate of Philadelphia and began work on Council Ridge Colliery. After 1875, when the Sharpe, Weiss lease expired, the Coxe family either operated the colliery themselves or leased it to other coal companies. During this period many changes took place.  Eckley Village, built near the colliery where coal was mined and processed, provided housing for miners and their families. To Eckley came a succession of immigrant groups seeking economic opportunities and regilious or political freedom. English, Welsh, and German miners were supplmented by Irish immigrants and then by southern and eastern Europeans. these groups formed an ethnic mosiac typical of the anthracite region.  Its stores, schools and churches supplied the economic, education, and religious needs to the villagers. By owning the village, the company had greater control over the lives of their workers.

Coal was discovered in this area in 1791, and by the 1850's an underground mine was active here.  Strip mining, begun in 1890, gradually replaced underground mining. Steam shovels stripped away the part around Eckley as well as part of the village. The work force at the Colliery and the population of Eckley gradually declined. From a population which numbered over 1,000 in 1870, 270 lived in the village in 1971 when the property was turned over to the state Museum Commission, and, today, only 19 private residents remain.

The property boats a fine visitors museum that presents the history of the mine, the village and coal mining in Pennsylvania:

After touring the museum, we walked through what remains of the village.  There are dozens of miner residences that are in various states of restoration and non-restoration.  Here are some restored houses:

Most properties boasted outbuildings.  While some remain, none appear to be restored:

Some of the houses - notably the ones still occupied - have not been rehabilitated, but appear to be in their original condition, as impacted by time and the elements:

Miner's villages, or "patches" - almost always boasted a company store.  The company store in Eckley burned down years ago.  However, a replica was built in 1970 for the filming of the movie "The Molly Maguires" which was filmed on location at this site:

Here is one of the better-preserved homes that has not yet been completely rehabbed.  It's siding shows the process that the original red-painted houses suffered, where the peeling and aging of the red paint looked as if it was reverting to bare wood:

One diagram in the visitor center shows a typical miner family garden, where typical produce was potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, corn, pole beans, peas, tomatoes, onions, parsley, dill and garlic formed the staples of a miner family's meals:

Each coal mining town typically had a doctor, who was, essentially, an employee of the coal mine.  It was his responsibility to look after the health of the miner families, and for this he was paid a handsome salary of $1.00 per family per month.  Here is the doctor's house in Eckley, a respectable home:

The coal mine owner and his family often lived in relative luxury.  This is the home of the Eckley coal mine owner:

Religion played a major role in the lives of miners and their families.  There were Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches in Eckley.  This is the Catholic church, Immaculate Conception Church, which boated a rectory alongside it that now serves as the gift shop for the museum:

Over the years, there were three coal breakers in Eckley.  All burned down, but for the movie, "The Molly Maguires," this 1/3 scale model was built as backdrop:

The photo above includes coal cars that would have rolled up the ramp of the breaker to dump their contents into its bowels.  A better view of the ramp can be seen below:

Mining operations still continue on Council Ridge, variously known as Buck Mountain and Summit Hill.  The entire top of the hill has been flattened and was denuded of vegetation, as rock and coal were stripped from it.  When David visited the site in the early 1970's, there was little vegetation over the slag piles, but today, while the expanse of slag still reminds one of lava flows from Mt. St. Helens, trees and shrubs are slowly reclaiming the land.  In the photo below, you can see large swaths of slag spread out behind a reproduction of the mule barn that was used by the mine during its heyday:

This site was well worth our visit.  It gave us a concrete experience of the lives of miners in 18th and 19th Century underground coal mines throughout Pennsylvania and the Northeast U.S.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Around the Campground in Canandaigua

It's time to bid goodbye to the Finger Lakes.  This stay near Canandaigua has been enjoyable, with more hiking and biking opportunities than we had imagined.  We think this area bears returning to. In goodbye, here are a few random photos from around our campground.

Seneca Signs from the Ganondagan Historic Site in Victor, NY

As we hiked around the Ganondagan Historic Site, we came across a number of historical markers. Each marker had Seneca artwork along with the history of the area. We found many of them intriguing.  Here are some of our favorites.