Six on 6: Celebrating 100 years of the National Park Service along Route 6

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I can think of no better way to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) than by hitting the road to visit some of these national treasures.

No matter when you plan your road trip, the journey is amazing on Pennsylvania’s US Route 6. This National Recreational Trail boasts 6 NPS sites as well other natural and historic landmarks that are both breathtaking and educational.

Heading from west to east, our NPS Roadtrip begins in the Oil Heritage Region of  Crawford and Venango Counties where oil was first discovered in the United States. Okay, this is a wee bit off Route 6, but definitely worth the deviation.

A visit to the Drake Well Museum and the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad in Titusville are a must. The story of the birth of the oil industry and the cities that seemed to emerge from nowhere is preserved and shared at the museum.

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The Drake Well Museum. Titusville, Crawford County, PA Photo by the Drake Well Museum

Take a ride on the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad nearby. The three-hour excursion will take you through the valley that changed the world. 

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Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, Titusville, Crawford County, PA  Photo by PA Route 6 Tourist Assn.

The next stop on our Route 6 #NPS100 Roadtrip is the North Country Trail which intersects Route 6 between in McKean County in the Allegheny National Forest. This designated National Scenic Trail traverses seven states and connects visitors with pristine and unspoiled forests.

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The North Country Trail in the Allegheny National Forest, McKean County, PA. Photo by the NPS

From here you will have a long stretch of highway until our next stop. You will travel through  Denton Hill, Lyman Run and Colton Point State Parks. It’s in the quaint town of Wellsboro where you will find the Pine Creek Gorge, also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. Though not a National Park Service site, a 12-mile stretch of the gorge was given the distinction as a National Natural Landmark by the NPS in 1968 . The view from the West Rim at Colton Point is one of the most spectacular vistas in the state.

Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton is a monument to the steam locomotive and a bygone era. Not only will you learn about the history of the iron horse and those who worked on them but you will have the opportunity to take a ride.

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Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton, PA Photo courtesy of the NPS

The Lackawanna Valley Heritage Area is a national and state designated heritage area that celebrates northeastern PA’s contribution to the growth of our nation. Lumber, rail and coal are all industries that helped fuel and make country prosperous in mid to late 1800’s. At historic site throughout the area, you will learn about the immigrant workers who settled here. Take a ride down into a coal mine and see what conditions were like for those who worked the mines.

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Scranton Iron Furnaces, Lackawanna Valley Heritage Area, Scranton, PA. Photo courtesy of the PA Anthracite Heritage Museum

The Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River offers miles of boating and fishing on the last major undammed river in the eastern United States. The area also boasts Sites like Grey Towers National Historic Landmark, the ancestral home of Gifford Pinchot first chief of the US Forest Service and two-time Governor of Pennsylvania.  Visitors who tour the  Milford, Pike County estate learn about the lives of the Pinchot family and Gifford Pinchot’s work through conservation education.

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Raymondskill Falls at Dingmans Falls Visitors Center, Dingmans Ferry, Pike County, PA Photo courtesy of Route 6 Visitors Assn.

The last National Park Service site on our US Route 6 road trip is Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area. Not only does this park cover 40 miles of the middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, it also contains 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail where spectacular views of the gap can be seen from Mt. Minsi. Water recreation, lifeguarded beaches, great hiking and beautiful waterfalls are just a few of the reasons visitors come to the Delaware Water Gap each year. Thought the gap itself is south of Route 6 an access point to the Delaware River is in Milford.

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Mt. Minsi (PA) on the left ad Mt. Tammany (NJ) on the right are divided by the Delaware River creating the Delaware Water Gap, Delaware Water Gap, Monroe County, PA Photo by James Hicks, courtesy of NPS

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IN THE MEANTIME

Lancaster County country road in late September.

Lancaster County country road in late September.

A little over a month ago, a dear friend said she decided to host a party at her lovely Lancaster County home. When I asked what occasion prompted the celebration, she responded that the point of the party was that there was no occasion. Her “In the Meantime” get-together would be held after Labor Day and before the holidays – in the meantime.

I absolutely loved the idea. Not only was there nothing on the calendar, but also late summer is my favorite time of year. Here in Pennsylvania, September is gorgeous, because, for me, the weather is perfect! No, the leaves have not taken on their spectacular fall color, but it’s pleasantly warm during the day and cool and comfortable in the evenings – perfect for bonfires and sleeping.

I can’t deny it, leaf peeping is the perfect excuse to hit the road this fall, but September and October are absolutely wonderful even without the vibrant colors that blanket the Pennsylvania landscape. Fall harvest festivals in PA are as plentiful as cornfields in Lancaster County. On any given weekend you can find a quaint festival or county fair that are about as Americana as it gets. And I absolutely love them. Everything about them – from funnel cake and apple dumplings to bluegrass bands and blue ribbons. Young and old enjoying the same things – where else do you find that? I really think people are just in a better mood at this time of year. We need that don’t we? Before the holiday crush, we all need a season of relaxed recreation that will transition perfectly into Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can’t wait to celebrate in the meantime.

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My Pennsylvania Christmas Bucket List

IMG_0255under-treeThere is very little that I don’t like about Christmas. I could go on about the commercialism that has taken hold of the holiday, but ultimately it is not Madison Avenue who dictates how we observe Christmas, we do. I never have a problem getting into the “Christmas spirit,” but if I did I would know just what to do to rekindle that childhood magic.

You may not know that many of the Christmas traditions that we hold dear in the U.S. got their start in Pennsylvania. When German immigrants settled here centuries ago, they brought Saint Nicholas, the Christmas tree and handmade ornaments with them.

After some careful consideration, I’ve come up with a “Top Ten” bucket list of Pennsylvania Christmas attractions that are sure to bring out the kid in you this Christmas.

#10. The Festival of Trees (December 6-9, 2012), Penn State Ag Arena, University Park. More than 100 decorated trees, craft vendors, breakfast with Santa, children’s arts and crafts, food and entertainment make a great weekend excursion.

#9. Dickens of a Christmas Festival (November 30 – December 1, 2012), Wellsboro. Main Street and the surrounding side streets will become an early Victorian marketplace featuring food and craft vendors, strolling musicians and singers, dancers, street corner thespians and much more.

#8. Peddler’s Village Christmas Festival (December 1-2), Lahaska. The Village is beautifully decorated, Victorian-style, with fruit wreaths and greenery. Live entertainment. The aroma of hot mulled cider fills the air as Peddler’s Village celebrates its 50th season with Santa. Admission and parking are free!

#7. Bellefonte’s Victorian Christmas (December 7-9), Bellefonte. Bellefonte, PA has long been known for its beautiful Victorian architecture and it has never been showcased better than during the holiday season. From a spirited Dickens troupe and horse-drawn carriage rides, you’ll feel like you’ve been sent back in time. In addition, the weekend offers a holiday homes tour, arts and crafts, concerts and a festival of trees.

#6. Overly’s Country Christmas (November 15 – December 31, 2012), Westmoreland Fairgrounds, Greenville. What started as one man’s mission to delight children at Christmastime has turned into more than 2 million twinkling lights! When Harry Overly began his light display, he just wanted to make kids happy, and as it grew he realized he had an opportunity to affect the lives of children in big way. Children’s charities have been the beneficiary of Overly’s Country Christmas for decades.

#5. Olde Time Christmas (November 30 – December 2, 8-9, 15-16), Jim Thorpe. The streets come alive with the sounds and joy of the Christmas season. Carolers and horse-drawn carriages create the wonderful illusion that you’ve stepped into a Dickens story.  Quaint shops, decked for the holidays, offer unique gifts that you aren’t likely to find at the mall. One of my favorite places in Jim Thorpe, and there are many, is St. Mark’s Episcopal Church which is literally carved out of the mountain. Thanks to the generosity of some very wealthy parishioners in the 18th and 19th centuries, the church is lavishly adorned, including beautiful Tiffany windows. The church gives tours throughout the year but there will be a special Open House on November 30th, from 5-9 pm.

#4. Christmas City (throughout the Christmas season), Bethlehem. Since the town was christened Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, 1741 its connection to the holiday can be experienced year round in the Historic Moravian Bethlehem District.  Today, the once-gritty Bethlehem Steel plant is now the center of art and culture. From light shows and concerts to carriage rides and historical demonstrations, Bethlehem has earned the title of Christmas City.

From November 15 through December 23 (Thurs – Sun) ArtQuest’s popular Christkindlmarkt will be held at the PNC Plaza. This traditional German-style Christmas market, has been recognized by Travel and Leisure Magazine as one of the top holiday markets in the world! The sounds of live Christmas music will delight you as you stroll through the booths of unique handmade gifts. I love watching as beautiful ornaments and decorations being created at the glass blowing booth.

#3. Koziar’s Christmas Village (through January 1, 2013), Bernville. The only way to describe Koziar’s is magical! For 65 years the Koziar family has welcomed visitors to their winter wonderland. Generations of families have made an outing to Koziar’s part of their holiday tradition. As a kid loved it and I love it now. In addition to the brilliant light displays outside there are several buildings that house everything from Santa’s Post office to an inspirational manger scene. Keeping an eye on your waistline? All diet concerns disappear as the enticing aromas envelop you just outside the Old Fashioned Bakery.

#2. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (December 8-30, 2012), The Academy of Music, Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Ballet performance of the Nutcracker has been on my holiday bucket list for at least a decade and still I haven’t found the time to experience one of the most celebrated and iconic Christmas productions of all time. Spectacular sets and costumes make a trip to the kingdom of the Sugarplum Fairy an enchanting experience. 2012 is the PA Ballet’s 25th season performing George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Attendees are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy for a needy child which will be distributed by the Salvation Army.

and the #1 pick for my Pennsylvania Christmas Bucket List is…

The National Christmas Center (year round), Paradise, PA. Nostalgic, wondrous and magical are just a few words to describe my absolute favorite Pennsylvania Christmas destination. Seriously, the only time you’ll have a better Christmas experience is on Christmas morning, in your own living room. When I sat down with Jim Morrison for the winter 2008 issue of Where & When, Pennsylvania’s Travel Guide, I had no idea how my visit with this gentle spirit would lift mine. Getting to know the man behind the museum made my experience at the National Christmas Center one I’ll never forget.

The NCC is packed full of everything Christmas from a 1940’s – 1950’s era Woolworth’s to the Christmas Around the World exhibit. My favorite is the huge ‘under the tree’ display. This very unique exhibit allows adults to experience the childhood joy of lying under the tree and looking up at all the lights and ornaments. Though that is my favorite display at the National Christmas Center, my favorite experience came that day in 2008, after I completed my tour of the museum. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

“After the interview he gave me a guided tour of the amazing facility. As we were just finishing up a little boy came into the museum with his family. I’ll never forget the way his eyes lit up immediately upon seeing my host. Morrison sat down on a bench and invited the little boy to sit and talk for a bit. I watched along with the little boys parents as he reached in the bag he was carrying and offered Morrison a cookie from his Happy Meal®

The two talked and as I watched I realized that it wasn’t the beard, the protruding belly or even the color red that Mr. Morrison dons daily that makes children believe they are in the presence of a magical being. It’s what’s in they eyes of the man they are trusting their wishes to. They see goodness and probably most importantly, they see themselves…someone who truly believes in the magic and wonder of Christmas.”

Read the full interview with Jim Morrison of the National Christmas Center here.

Wendy Royal is the blogger for Where & When, Pennsylvania’s Travel Guide.

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Can You Feel It?

There’s nothing else like it. Those distinctive sensory indicators that are more accurate than any calendar. Each season has its own look, taste, sound, feel and smell. For me, the smell of autumn is as crisp and clean as a freshly picked apple. Depending on which part of Pennsylvania you live, sleeping with the windows open is a definite perk of fall. Warm, sun-dappled days and crisp cool nights are what make the feel of this season unlike any other.

The sound of high school marching bands permeates the evening air in small towns throughout Pennsylvania as in communities throughout America. In preparation for Friday night lights, they march and play while projecting the iconic sound of pep music out into the neighborhood.

This is the season of fresh apple cider, pumpkin pie and squash. Nutmeg, ginger and cloves no longer merely take up space on my spice rack, as they are the essential ingredients of fall. It’s these amazing aromas that entice us indoors when the weather suggests otherwise.

Fall is festival season in PA. Whether it’s the harvest or the gorgeous fall foliage, no time of the year lends itself better to an outdoor celebration than the one we’re in now. As the leaves begin to change in late September and peak in early to mid-October, the entire state takes on the hue of a master painter. More than any other time of year “leaf peepers” get in their cars and just drive, because the journey is the destination.

It’s also this time of year that my focus begins to turn to what is to come. “Will it be a cold winter?” “Will we get more snow than last year?” Although resolutions are usually made at the turn of the New Year, I’m going to make a real effort to completely focus on fall and enjoy it for all it has to offer. For now at least, I’m keeping my windows open.

Want to know what’s going on this fall in PA?

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Dude! It’s Independence Day!

Yesterday I was in the self check-out line at the grocery store when I overheard a young man say something to his friend that completely floored me! They were discussing their plans to go to see fireworks next week. One of the guys said, “Don’t you think it’s weird that we have a holiday that’s named after a date?” To which his companion replied, “Dude, it’s supposed to be called Independence Day!” In guy number one’s defense, he did seem to recall the reason we have off on the Fourth of July immediately after his friend pointed it out to him. But, it got me thinking. Have we put so much emphasis on the celebration that we’ve forgotten why we celebrate?

Where I live in Pennsylvania, it’s just a 2-hour drive to Philadelphia, where so much of America’s struggle for independence took place. Even towns like Valley Forge, York, Allentown, Lititz, Reading and Paoli are indelibly marked with the birth pains of our nation.

The Moravian Cemetery in Lititz, Lancaster County, holds the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers. From December 19, 1777 to August 28, 1778, the Brothers’ House of the Moravian settlement was commandeered by General Washington and used as a military hospital. In all, 110 men lost their lives here and many were still children under the age of eighteen. For those young men alone, we must never forget why we celebrate on the Fourth of July.

So, when all the barbecues and fireworks have been extinguished, I hope the fire of freedom and independence still burns inside each one of us.

If you would like to visit Philadelphia or any of the historic places mentioned in this post check out whereandwhen.com. And, feel free to share my post with your friends and followers.

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What Will You Do With Your Extra 24 Hours?

Since tomorrow is Leap Day, it got me thinking, “what will I do with my extra 24 hours?” Just the thought of it fills me with stress. I mean, I can’t waste it, right? I have to do something creative or meaningful. When someone, or in this case, something (really, I have no idea) hands you an extra day, you seize it! Seize the day! Isn’t that what they say? I wonder if that’s where that phrase originated? A leap year, long ago?

So now that I’m filled with anxiety about wasting this once-in-a-four-year opportunity, what will I do? Gee, I really should have started planning this four years ago. Think of what I could have accomplished in 24 hours if I had 4 years of planning behind it. This is like pulling an all-niter, studying for finals that you had a month to prepare for. Another New Year’s Resolution  broken –  so much for 2012 being the year when I become organized.

Okay let’s see. I am the editor of Where & When, Pennsylvania‘s Travel Guide, for goodness sake, surely I can think of some way to make this day special.  I could visit world-class museums in Philly or Pittsburgh, go shopping in King of Prussia, or maybe take in a spa day at one of the Pocono resorts. No. Wait. I should probably visit one of PA’s amazing yet obscure destinations. Gosh, there’s so many things to choose from. But it really doesn’t matter, because I’ve already broken my New Year’s resolution, which means I did not schedule a vacation day.

I guess, I will approach this day like I should approach every day, like the gift it is. Isn’t every day a bonus? Each morning we’re given the opportunity to start fresh – to make a difference using the abilities and talents we have. And who knows, maybe the creativity and meaningfulness will just happen, because I’m open to it.

So, yes, I am going to seize this day!

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Unearthing the Underground World of Punxsutawney Phil

photo courtesy of the Groundhog Club

With Groundhog Day nearly upon us, I started thinking about the type of preparations that must go in to the big event. It goes without saying that the small PA town of Punxsutawney is abuzz with activity. So, what does Phil do to prepare for his moment in the spotlight after being in hibernation for months?

I imagine there’s stretching, and plenty of it. Let’s face it Phil’s old, he’s been doing this since 1886. That makes him at least 126 years old! I’m quite sure those four legs don’t move without some coaxing, especially at 7:20 in the morning.

A few years back, I did an article on Groundhog Day for Where & When, Pennsylvania’s Travel Guide and in the process learned some very thought-provoking things about Phil. He is one powerful rodent. First of all, Phil is always surrounded by his ever-vigilant Inner Circle. You will never see him without one of his handlers. To be very honest this secretive group of men in top hats creep me out a bit.  Masons, Schmasons, I’d like to see Brad Meltzer try to crack the code on this bunch.  When I inquired how it is that Phil is over 100 years old when the average groundhog only lives 7 years, I was met with every ridiculous theory from doubles to gene tampering.  It would be easier for me to believe that those dapper inner circle members just pulled a new hog out of their top hats every few years than what actually turned out to be reality. Here’s where it gets weird (er). Apparently, each summer, at the Groundhog Picnic Phil is given a ‘magical punch‘  that gives him seven more years of life. Holy cow! How long has Phil been on this stuff? This groundhog could be doomed to be a weather ‘man’ for eons! This is a crime against humanity (and animals). Who am I kidding here, Phil is powerless, it is the Inner Circle who holds all the cards.

Imagine how difficult it must be to keep this anti-aging potion a secret. How many times have rival clubs tried to infiltrate the Inner Circle just to get their hands on this stuff? The Slumbering Groundhog Lodge in Quarryville, Lancaster County would surely benefit by acquiring this juice. Slumbering groundhog my ear, Octoraro Orphie, is the product of a taxidermist! I have no idea how long he’s been dead but watching them march out each February 2nd carrying their stuffed prognosticator is just depressing.

And all this time I thought Phil lived an idyllic existence in his cute little stump in Gobbler’s Knob. It was only after digging below the surface that I realized that the darling 1993 film starring Bill Murray was little more than a fluff piece. It just goes to show how far his handlers will go to show Phil in the best light. Let’s see, he’s been on Oprah and had his prediction covered live on the Times Square jumbo tron in addition to all the national press he gets every year.

It makes me wonder if Phil has a party affiliation, because if he decided to run for office, he is one candidate that could honestly say he actually met Ronald Reagan. In 1986, he and some of his Inner Circle met with Ronald Reagan. It wasn’t long after that visit that the “Cold War” ended. Did Phil predict that warmer days were ahead or was he more directly involved in the thawing of icy relations between the U.S and the Soviet Union? We may never know the extent of his involvement but suffice it to say, the Inner Circle is happy to allow Reagan to take the credit.

Gobbler’s Knob is going to be a hotbed of underground activity this Groundhog Day. Whether it’s just a fun tradition in which we pull a groundhog out of his bed to predict the weather, or something more, is up to interpretation. 😉

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