Category Archives: Places to visit

Scouting the Gap Trestles Marathon Course

Two Saturdays ago my family and I paid a visit to the location of the Gap Trestles Marathon to scout out the course.  The race starts and ends at the Meyersdale Area Historical Society, an old train station that has been made into a museum.  If you like to walk, run or bike; or if you are a railroad enthusiast, it is definitely worth a visit!  Below are some photos and videos I took while I was there.

Here are some video clips of the course that I recorded during my bike ride:

Backpacking in the Otter Creek Wilderness Area

The boys and I have been wanting to try backpacking for the last year or two, but we have been slow in getting it done.  The main reason for that was the cost of all of the necessary equipment. We had plenty of camping gear, but none of it was small and light enough for backpacking. But this year Landry’s school teacher invited all of the boys in the class and their fathers on a three day, two night backpacking trip.  So that was the motivation I needed to spend the money and get geared up.  Sometime in a future post I’ll give you a run-down of all the equipment I purchased.

A test run

Being new to backpacking, I decided to take a short one-night backpacking trip just to test my equipment in preparation for the longer trip.  I took all three of my sons on a 1.5 mile trip into the state forest near our house and we camped for one night.  My friend and his son also went along.

Everything went well, except that our 2-3 man tent was very cramped with myself and my three boys.  But that was to be expected.  Only Landry and I were going on the longer trip, so we knew tent space wouldn’t be a problem.

Day 1

About a week after our test backpacking trip, we arrived at the parking lot for Otter Creek Wilderness Area to start our three-day, two-night adventure.   The trail started by crossing Otter creek on a suspended bridge.  Then it was a rugged hike for a short distance until we got to what appeared to be an old railroad bed running along Otter creek.  The trail was relatively flat, but muddy in places and there were a few small streams to cross that flowed into Otter Creek.  When we reached the first creek crossing, I removed my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes and wore my Crocs for the remainder of the day.  They were not the most comfortable shoes to walk in, but thankfully we had only planned to go 3.2 miles on the first day.

Our campsite was a flat, dry area on the banks of Otter Creek.  We reached it around lunchtime, so we had plenty of time to hang out and explore.

As far as scenery goes, Otter Creek was the highlight of the trip. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, except perhaps in some Montana trout fishing videos.  It was one waterfall or white-water area after another, with water crashing over huge boulders.  Some deep pools in-between looked like perfect places to hold trout. Several of our group who were under 16 (no fishing licenses needed) fished for a time, but we didn’t have any success.

Day 2

We packed up camp after breakfast and resumed our trek along Otter Creek.  The trail was a slight uphill grade and followed Otter Creek for about 6 miles.  There were several large waterfalls along the way. We forded the creek a total of four times.  One crossing was a little treacherous, and I wouldn’t have wanted the water to be any higher.

Somewhere around mile nine the trail left Otter Creek and headed up the mountain.  I was glad to finally be able to put on some dry socks and shoes and be able to keep them dry for a while.

The trail flattened out when we reached the top of the mountain, and we had an easy hike through the hemlocks to our campsite beside a spring at mile 12.

We hung-out for a couple of hours and had a good supper, and then escaped to our tents at dusk just in time to escape the rain that continued into the night.

Day 3

The rain stopped sometime during the night, and day three was another great day to hike.  It started with several miles of hiking a slight downgrade on the top of the mountain, so I assumed it would be reasonably dry in spite of the rain.  I was proven wrong when we slogged through mud again and again.  The thick rhododendron was nearly overgrowing the path and was wet from the rain.  Add in a few rocks and roots to trip over, and it made for some treacherous hiking.  It was especially difficult for the two younger boys.  For them much of the rhododendron was head level, making it difficult to watch for obstacles.  Landry fell at least five times, but thankfully didn’t have any injuries.  I was relieved when the trail opened up and then headed sharply downhill.

At around mile 16, we rejoined the trail along Otter Creek that we had started on, completing a loop.  From there we retraced our steps about four more miles to get back to the vehicle by early afternoon.

Lessons learned

Here are a few things we learned on our first multi-day backpacking trip

  • Blue jeans get really heavy when they are wet.
    For this trip I wore lightweight hiking pants that I was very happy with. Landry, on the other hand, wore blue jeans. Everything was OK until we crossed the creek a few times and he got wet up to his waist. At that point the denim got heavy and began to chaff his legs. Thankfully, we had an extra pair of pants for him. Next time, denim clothes will be left at home.
  • Paracord and carabiners are very handy for all sorts of things.
    Take some of both along when you go backpacking.
  • Take extra socks.
    An couple extra pairs of socks take up very little space and you will be glad for them if the trail is wet and muddy.
  • Bacon & Cheddar Cheez-it crackers are a very tasty trail snack

All-in-all, we had a great time.  Our equipment worked well, in spite of the fact that we were pretty frugal in the products we selected. Luke and Jared did a good job of planning the trip as well.  The hike was difficult and long enough to be an adventure, but not so much to cause many aching muscles.

Day Trip to Seneca Rocks

Somehow on the eve of Memorial Day we still didn’t have any plans of how to spend the day, so I took to the Internet to find a good day trip. I ran across Seneca Rocks, a hiking and rock-climbing destination in West Virginia. I don’t have interest in hanging from a rock face on a rope, but we enjoy hiking. I remembered from a field trip our school had taken there years ago that there was a nice hiking trail and a lookout.

So I gave each family member a motion sickness pill and headed out immediately after breakfast on the winding 3 hour trip into the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. Upon arrival we ate a snack and then headed up the mountain. The trail to the top was about 1.5 miles with a 1000 ft elevation gain, so it was good for the cardiovascular system. At the end of the trail was nice lookout and a sign admonishing non-rock climbers not to go any further. Rock-climbers, of course, don’t bother with the hiking trail at all but scale the rock face directly from the bottom.

We finished off our picnic lunch and then hiked back to the bottom. Then we paid a visit to the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center where we watched a video about how the area was used for rock-climbing training during WWII. The building also had a large deck where those with good eyesight could spot some rock-climbers on the rock face above.

This destination is definitely worth a day trip. Be aware that there are only a few nearby places to eat, so you might want to pack a lunch. Also, you might want to pack a fly rod and enjoy the nearby trout stream.

UPDATE 06-27-2016: Landry put together some footage to create a nice video of our adventure. Take a look below.

Return to the 1000 Steps

After a few cold weeks, Sunday we had some spring-like weather. My family and I took advantage of it by taking a trip to the 1000 steps.  As it turned out, a lot of other people had the same idea; the parking lot was nearly full.

In spite of having to pass a lot of other hikers going up and down, it was a great hike.  Upon reaching the top, we hiked out to the locomotive shed and the western overlook.

The trail-head for the thousand steps is located on route 22 about two miles west of Mount Union.  This is where the road follows the Juniata River through a narrow gorge known as Jack’s Narrows with high ridges on either side.

This was named for a trader by the name of Jack Armstrong who lived in the 1700s.  It was near this location in February of 1744 where Jack and his two servants were killed by Indians after a dispute over a horse.

1000Steps 12The steps were built in the 1930s by miners who climbed the mountain each day to work in the quarry. Sandstone mined from the quarry was taken to Mt Union where it  was made into  bricks. At one time Mt Union was the largest producer of silica bricks in the world.

1000Steps 4How long it takes to climb the steps depends on how physically fit you are but for most people will take between twenty minutes and one hour. At each 100-step interval you’ll see a number of painted on the rocks to tell you how many steps you’ve climbed.

Turn right or left at the top of the stairs to  continue exploring. Turning to the right will take you to a lookout that will allow you to catch a glimpse of the town of Mt Union.  If you turn left the path will lead you to a concrete building. This building housed the locomotive that moved the sandstone from the quarry to the bottom of the mountain.

If you still have some energy left, climb the steps beside the building that lead a little higher up the mountain. After a short climb you’ll come to trail that  leads further west along the mountainside.  After walking about half a mile you’ll come to a lookout that allows you to see the town of Mapleton along with the railroad, route 22 and the Juniata River.

If you’re in the south central region of PA and you’re looking for interesting hike, you definitely will want to visit the 1000 steps.  In fact, you might like it so well that you’ll find yourself making the trip every year.

 

Our Honeymoon in Hawaii

On February 12, 2005 – a little over 11 years ago – I married the love of my life. Crystal and I left the following day for an eight-day honeymoon in Hawaii. In the days following our return, I had written a day-by-day account of that trip.  Today, after some searching through old backup discs, I was able to find that account, and I’m re-posting it here.  Enjoy!


Our Hawaiian Honeymoon

Sunday

Today was a long day of traveling. We crawled out of bed about 3:45 and took the shuttle bus to the airport. Our first flight left at 6:05. The plane ride was long and uneventful. After a layover in Phoenix, we left for Honolulu. Within a few seconds after takeoff, two explosion-type noises were heard, one on each side of the plane.

A stewardess came on the loudspeakers and said that the flight crew was aware of the noises and were searching for a cause. A short time later the captain informed us that the plane was being diverted to Los Angeles airport, where we would do a fly-by of the tower, allowing the people on the ground to alert the flight crew of any problems with the landing gear.

La'aloa Beach Park #2The fly-by didn’t show any problems, so our plane circled and landed. Dozens of emergency vehicles, including several ambulances and fire trucks, were near the runway awaiting our arrival. Applause broke out in the cabin when the wheels were on the ground. A fire police followed the plane as it taxied down the runway.

After hours of frustration and waiting in ticket lines, we took an American Airlines flight directly to Kona, HI from Los Angeles.

We arrived around midnight Hawaiian time, and finally went to bed about 1 pm – twenty-six hours after getting out of bed in the morning.

Monday

Place of Refuge #8

“Place of Refuge”

We slept in today, and then went shopping for a few essentials. Around lunchtime we traveled to the Pu’uhonua Honaunau State Park (also called Place of Refuge) and tried snorkeling at the nearby Honaunau Bay (also called Two-Step Beach). Once I got used to breathing through a plastic tube, I was hooked. Although the sheltered part of the bay I was in isn’t known for good snorkeling, I spotted dozens of fish and and a few large green sea turtles. Crystal didn’t fare so well. Her mask didn’t fit well, and water kept leaking in.

Tuesday

We left our apartment at about 9 am and headed south. We stopped at Kona Boys (the rental shop) to get a new mask for Crystal and a two-seat Kayak. We stopped at Honaunau Bay where Crystal tried out her mask. It wasn’t perfect, but worked much better than the old one. Then, we drove up a narrow one-lane road to Kealakekua Bay.

Hawaii 022

Kealakekua Bay

After a Hawaiian helped us launch our kayak, we paddled across the bay to the Captain Cook Monument. We spent several hours there eating our lunch, snorkeling, and just relaxing on the large boulders. The scenery under the water was amazing! There were colorful coral and fish everywhere. Schools of fish would swim by so close you could nearly reach out and touch them. Within an hour we had used up the film of our underwater camera.

In the afternoon we left the bay and returned our kayak. After we cleaned up and rested up at our apartment, we drove up to the visitor’s center on Mania Kea. We had hoped to travel to the snow-covered summit, but because I badly underestimated the travel time it was already dark when we arrived at the visitor’s center.  We each had some hot chocolate and looked through the telescopes at various stars and planets. Then we headed back to our apartment.

Wednesday

Today we drove an hour or two up the coastline and visited Hapuna Beach. As usual, we had to fight a lot of traffic, and the drive seemed longer than it was. There we spent most of the afternoon sun bathing and walking on the beach. We also swam and played in the waves for a short time.

We waited until the sun went down to get some sunset pictures, and then returned to Kona. We ate at Denny’s before returning to our apartment.

Thursday

Today we slept in and then visited the Volcanoes National Park. The drive was a bit tiresome, but it was worth it. We viewed the craters and steam vents near the top of the mounting before descending the Chain of Craters road to the sea. From the end of the road, we hiked about forty minutes to view some lava flows. The surface flows were interesting, but the more spectacular sight was where the lava flowed in the sea.

Friday

This morning we spent some time at the Kahalu’u Beach, just a mile south of our apartment. Crystal rested on the beach while I snorkeled. The coral in this area wasn’t spectacular, but there were plenty of fish and sea turtles.

State Park #5

Kekaha Kai State Park

After my snorkeling session, we traveled about ten miles north of Kona to a secluded beach at Kekaha Kai State Park. For much of the time we had the beach to ourselves, or at least the portion visible to us. I started to feel sick to the stomach after an hour or so in the sun, so I left Crystal to soak up my share of the sunshine and took a nap in the shade.

We had planned to hike to one or two other beaches that were within walking distance of the one we visited, but it was getting late by the time my nap was finished, so we headed back to Kona and ate some excellent food at Pancho Lefties.

Saturday

We left at mid-morning and stopped at Wendy’s for brunch. Then we continued to Honaunau Bay and put our snorkel equipment to use one last time. The bay was a bit rough, especially getting in and out of the water. Crystal stayed in the more sheltered area. I ventured into the rough water for a few minutes, then returned and put on a life jacket for the remainder of the time. The fish weren’t as plentiful as in Kealakekua Bay, but the coral was beautiful.

After soaking up some sun, we again drove into Pu’uhonua Honaunau State Park and hiked the “1871 trail” before returning to Kona.

Sunday

Kona Airport

Kona Airport

Today we cleaned up the vacation rental and checked out around 11 a.m. We visited White Sands Beach (the one without any sand) near our vacation rental, and then made various stops around town until our late-afternoon flight. One of the highlights was a stop at Jamba Juice, where we purchased some delicious smoothies. The picture to the right is Kona Airport.

Our tour guide

We owe our success in finding our way around the big island of Hawaii almost entirely to a book loaned to us by a family member. “Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed” was a big help, guiding us to the best beaches, snorkeling locations, and other places of interest. The information was accurate and useful. In one case, it warned of a rip tide at a snorkeling location, even correctly specifying the direction the current would carry me. The information is categorized by geographical region, letting you explore more while driving less.

Steelhead Fishing in Erie, PA

Bicentennial Tower in Erie, PA

Bicentennial Tower in Erie, PA

Each of the past two years I have traveled to Erie, PA with some fishing buddies to fish for steelhead.  This year, Crystal and I decided to change things up a little and take the whole family.  We have three sons ages four, six, and eight who love to fish; and I wanted them to have  chance to hook into a steelhead.  I went into this knowing that it would be challenging.  Steelhead fishing is something that can require a good bit of patience.  I’ve fished as long as two days straight without catching anything, and with the family along I knew fishing time would be much more limited.  So we went on the trip hoping to have some family fun with a chance of a bonus fish or two.

Day 1

We traveled up in the early morning hours of Wednesday, December 16.  We arrived in Erie around 8 am and started the day with a trip to Poor Richard’s Bait and Tackle, which is always our first stop.  The guys there can give you some general advice about where to look for fish and what they are likely to bite on.

Next we did some scouting to find some good fishing spots.  We first went down to Trout Run to show the boys the steelhead that are typically stacked up in the creek near the mouth.  We hoped to do a bit of fishing in the lake there (trout run itself is off-limits for fishing), but there were probably 20 anglers already standing in the lake and nobody seem to be catching, so we moved on.

Our next stop was at Elk Creek.  We hiked over the ridge and down to the mouth of the creek.  I did some fishing while the boys looked for sea shells and other treasures along the shoreline.  The water was low and clear and there were no fish to be found.

Raccoon Park

Raccoon Park

From there we checked out Crooked Creek and Raccoon Creek. There were some anglers fishing the riffles upstream from the no-fishing area in Crooked Creek and reportedly were catching a few. However, the terrain was not family-friendly at all so I decided it was as spot for me to try later by myself.  We ate a picnic lunch at Raccoon creek and was surprised to find a few fish in the creek near the mouth.  However, they didn’t seem to be hungry for anything I threw at them.

Boys with SteelheadAfter lunch we headed to Homewood Suites at the Millcreek Mall complex where we had reserved a room.   I left Crystal and our four-year-old son there and left with the older two boys to check out spots on Elk and Walnut.   We found some fish and Landry and Camden each were able to pull in a steelhead by the time the day was over.  Both fish were caught on egg sacks.

Day 2

The weather was unseasonably warm the next day just as it had been the day before.   I took the whole family down to the creek and by lunchtime Crystal and Landry each were able to land a steelhead.  Four-year-old Cullen had one on as well, but had to hand the rod off to me when his arms got tired.  All three fish were caught on skein.

Tom Ridge Environmental CtrAfter lunch we headed down to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center for some educational time.  We watched a video about Presque Isle and climbed the tower to have a better look at the area.  We then drove out on the peninsula to get some views of the bay and Lake Erie.

Day 3

steelhead on the fly rodThe weather turned colder on day three.  I took the older two boys out in the morning.  By 9 o’clock they each had caught one fish and were ready to get out of the cold.  I dropped them at the hotel and fished myself until just after lunch, landing two more, one of those on the fly rod.

In the evening we spent a few hours at the Splash Lagoon indoor water park.  It was a great experience for the whole family that we won’t forget anytime soon.

Day 4

Steelhead fishing in the snowBy morning some lake-effect squalls had blanketed the ground with 2-4 inches of snow.  I got to the creek just as it got light and never saw another angler.  It’s hard to remember when I had a more enjoyable time fishing.  I fished until 9:30, landing six fish and losing several more.   After landing four on single eggs, I switched to the fly rod and landed two more on a nymph.

After lunch we made a very cold and windy visit to the top of the Bicentennial Tower before heading for home.

Equipment Used

Rod: Okuma Connoisseur CQ-S-862M-1 Steelhead Rod
Reel: Quantum Optix 20 Spinning Reel
Line: 6 lb. Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon

Fly fishing outfit: Wild Water 5/6 Starter Package

Shout-outs

Rarely is a fishing trip successful without help from others, and this time was no exception.  As usual, the guys at Poor Richard’s Bait and Tackle were helpful in deciding what to use for bait.  Jack York’s web site and video channel contain great information for anybody trying to learn more about steelhead fishing.  Last but not least, thanks to the fly fisherman who gave us the tip to look for fish farther upstream, and also the one who shared a nymph and some fly fishing tips.  You made our trip a great one!

The Scenic View at Tower Road

Early this week I decided to take a detour at the top of the mountain and see the fall colors from the look-out on Tower road.  I wasn’t disappointed.  To get there, turn off route 30 at the Mountain House and head north on Augwick road toward Cowens Gap Start Park.  About a mile back you’ll see a dirt road bear off to the right, which is Tower Rd.  Take that road and travel about a mile and half to reach the lookout.  Just before you arrive, you’ll come to a fork in the road – you can go either way because it is just a loop at the end.    About halfway around the circle, park on the side of the road and walk to the edge of the cliff to catch a nice view.

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad – a Review

Diesel EngineI was looking for a interesting place to visit with my wife to celebrate her birthday when I ran across the website for Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.  I liked what I saw, but it took me a few days to decide which tickets to purchase.    The cheapest option was the standard coach class tickets, but there were several upgrades available. Premium coach presumably gives you more spacious seating, but perhaps there are other differences that I’m not aware of.  The parlor car gives you access to alcoholic beverages, and first class includes a meal aboard the train.   There are a handful of menu choices available for first class passengers, but the selection is made at the time of reservation.  I finally decide to go the frugal route and get standard coach tickets.

Steam EnginOur visit was on Sept 27, 2014.  By coincidence, this was during the during the annual Steel Wheels festival in Cumberland, which added a few more sights to our experience.  As part of this event, there was a steam engine that puffed back and forth across the bridge near the station in Cumberland, giving good opportunities for picture-taking.  Also, Amtrak had an exhibit train on-site that visitors could walk through. The exhibits inside showed the history of Amtrak and also gave glimpses of the inside of a modern Amtrak train.  Lastly, there was an old caboose that you could explore as well.

The WMSR train leaves for Frostburg at 11:30, but when I called to purchase the tickets  I was told to be there at 10:45.  My advice:  follow our example and get there at 10 AM.  By 10:45, the lines are getting long and the place is very crowded.  If you get there early, you can walk right up the counter and get your ticket, and the spend the extra time walking around or visiting shops at Canal Place.

Canal PlaceThose of us with coach class tickets were free to sit in any available seat on any of the coach cars, with the exception of one car which was reserved by a church group.  There were double bench seats on either side of the aisle. Being accustomed to coach seats on a plane, I was afraid the seating would be cramped, but it was not.  There was plenty of leg room.  We also found the cars to be clean and in good repair. The seats are reversible so you can face toward the front or rear of the train just by moving the backrest.  This is especially handy if you have a group of four and prefer to face each other.  If you want the best view, sit on the right side of the train as you’re facing the front ready to depart the Cumberland station.

Snack BarDuring the trip, we were allowed roam freely among the coach class cars.  In one of the cars there was a snack bar with a variety of items to eat and drink.  This included hot dogs, cold sandwiches, chips, and candy bars.  A small selection of gifts were also available, all of which are also available at the gift shop at the Cumberland station.

SceneryThe windows were clear enough to take decent photographs, but for better shots you could venture to a small picture-taking car at the front of the coach class section.  This car had no seats, but had grab bars and open windows to allow for clear photographs.  You could also get good photographs by standing in the area between the cars.

Upon arrive at Frostburg, we exited the train and has some time to explore a few shops or grab a bite to eat.  To get to main street, you had to climb up the ridge using a long series of steps.  Partway up was a good place to stop and watch the steam engine being turned on the turntable to prepare for the return trip to Cumberland.

All in all, we were very pleased with the trip.

7C’s Lodging in Flintstone, MD – a review

7C Lodging 9Cozy, Convenient, Comfortable, Clean, Classic, Country, Cabins.  Those are the seven words referenced by the name “7C’s Lodging“. I stumbled on the website for this property when I was searching for a place to stay near Cumberland, MD.  My wife and I were schedule to ride the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, and I found that the nearby hotels in Cumberland were either expensive, had poor reviews, or some of both.  So I expanded my search to surrounding areas, and I found 7C’s lodging.

7C Lodging 12The cabins are located in the very small town of Flintstone, MD.  It is conveniently located just a few hundred yards off of interstate 68.  It is about 15 miles from Cumberland and about 5 miles from Rocky Gap State park.

7C Lodging 7I booked our stay online, trusting that the photographs on the website were an accurate representation of the accommodations. As it turns out, the photos didn’t do justice.   We stepped into cabin #12 and were greeted by a faint “new home” smell.  This cabin couldn’t have been built very long ago.  Everything looked brand new.  There wasn’t a speck of dirt anywhere.  The handcrafted wood furniture showed no signs of use.

7C KitchenThe room was an L-shape, with the bathroom taking up one corner.   The main room included a comfortable king-sized bed and a kitchen area that included a table, sink, microwave, and a small refrigerator.

A TV was mounted high on the wall where it can be comfortably viewed from the bed.  Wi-Fi Internet was also available, although the signal was a little weak. 7C Lodging 3 This was somewhat understandable because cabin #12 was the one farthest away from the office, and I was attempting to use the internet sitting on the bed which was against the far wall. It was fast enough to browse websites, but not enough to stream videos.  The signal improved by moving to the kitchen area, which was the side closer to the rest of the cabins.

There were several other cabins on the property as well, and also several locations with sewer hookups that presumably are sites for future cabins.  Cabin #12 was actually one-half of a duplex cabin, the only one of those on the property.  All the rest were single cabins.

7C Lodging 5Other than the weak Wi-Fi, a very minor issue, the only other complaint I’d have is that noise did carry through the wall from the other side of the cabin.  Not enough that you could eavesdrop on conversations, but enough that you could hear people coughing or a loud TV.   My suggestion to the owners would be to keep that in mind if/when they build more duplex cabins.    Some kind of sound barrier would be useful.

All-in-all, 7C’s lodging lives up to its name.  We were very pleased with our decision.  It is very nice place to stay at a reasonable price.