When I visited Pine Creek Gorge (Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon) in 2015, I hadn’t expected to return. My cousin and his wife suggested a trip there, so off we went. A stop in Wellsboro for lunch was my idea. After visiting Wellsboro in 2015, I’d read it’s one of Pennsylvania’s most picturesque towns. Soon after that, I’d heard about the Wellsboro Diner, which looks like an old rail car but likely isn’t. I never thought I’d be able to go there and am grateful for the chance to put away a grilled cheese and a side of cottage cheese. (I’m strange.)
Wellsboro itself seemed busy, perhaps due to a lot of road construction. I think it’s best approached from the west, where it seems like a surprise after miles of hills and countryside.
I remembered a red church on the way to Leonard Harrison State Park and asked to stop there again. A room, still in progress it appears, had been added to the back since 2015. This church is so distinctive the state park gift shop sells postcards of it. From the back of one of them:
Before entering Leonard Harrison State Park at the PA Grand Canyon, one will pass The Little Red Church. This landmark was buil in 1897, and donns [sic] eight beautiful stained glass windows. Because bricks were expensive, it was built of basswood siding with dado cuts to resemble brick. Electricity was installed in 1954.
Our next stop was Leonard Harrison State Park with its visitor center and gorge overlooks. No spring flowers this time, but the views of the now second-growth forest that’s covered the scars of 19th- and 20th-century clear-cutting are inspiring. If I lived in the area and were more mobile, I’d take the trail down past waterfalls and other wonders. (And, of course, have to take it back up.)
As we headed out, we passed a statue I didn’t remember from 2015 — a tribute to Civilian Conservation Corps workers. It appears the CCC was active all over the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, replanting Pine Creek Gorge and building the facilities at our next destination, Colton Point State Park on the western rim.
I had not gone to Colton Point in 2015. It’s described as more “rustic” or “primitive” than Leonard Harrison — take your pick. Not surprisingly the road up to Colton Point is twisty with steep drop-offs. At the top it turned into a choice of more “rustic” roads. We looked for an overlook and found a couple of places where you could see a little through the trees. We found only one parking area nearby, and someone had managed to crowd both spaces.
We noticed the same rocky wall we’d seen from Leonard Harrison. I read later that when the trees are bare Pine Creek Gorge sports more of a western canyon look.
When we got back to the main road/entrance, we saw what I had half noticed before — a small parking lot. Across from the parking lot? A fancy overlook with a view rivaling those from Leonard Harrison across the way.
As we stood in the circular overlook, which reminded me of Letchworth State Park in New York minus the waterfall, a parade of heavy construction vehicles headed past us uphill — strange, we thought, since it was now late afternoon. We tried to imagine them navigating the narrow “rustic” roads through the trees at the top. I wondered why they were there. Rustic road repair?
We visited my parents’ graves at Logan Valley Cemetery, located across from the high school. A cousin I haven’t seen in decades had left flowers at my dad’s grave. His flag holder for veterans still has a metal medallion. The newer medallions are plastic thanks to theft. Once upon a time I was young enough to find it shocking someone would steal the flag holder from a veteran’s grave.
In Sinking Valley, this little mare and her young’un attract customers to Hilltop Farm. There’s also a wee donkey.
On to Whipple Dam State Park, which was new to me. It’s yet another part of our legacy from the Civilian Conservation Corps. As it was Labor Day and central Pennsylvania isn’t rich with beaches, a college-age crowd had gathered at Whipple Dam’s postage stamp of sand to play volleyball and stand in the relatively shallow water. Despite the crowd, the surrounding woods gave the lake and beach an isolated feeling that reminded me of Pewit’s Nest in Wisconsin.
We’d passed the road to Shaver Creek Environmental Center and stopped on the way back. The buildings were closed for the holiday, so we relaxed on the deck’s Adirondack chairs. I kept hoping to hear a creek.
On the way to the park, V. spotted a plant she thought might be teaberry (ICE CREAM!). According to the folks of iNaturalist, it’s partridgeberry. Pretty, but perhaps not as weirdly tasty as teaberry. If you can’t get teaberry ice cream, try Clark’s teaberry gum. You won’t thank me, I think. It’s an acquired taste, associated with childhood 50 years ago.
My journeys on the Capitol Limited and Pennsylvanian were uneventful. The Capitol Limited arrived in Pittsburgh 40 to 50 minutes before the Pennsylvanian left, so it was a little close — but no Greyhound this time. I got my eastbound trip around Horseshoe Curve, although by looking to the inside I missed the derailed center beams on the outside – on both sides. (There were two derailments at the Curve this summer.)
I arrived in plenty of time to go on an outing to load up on spring water at Elk Run near Tyrone. Many, many bald-faced hornets were feasting on the plants by the stream.
We also stopped at a farm in Sinking Valley to pick up what turned out to be the last corn on the cob of the season and later shuck it for an evening “mountain pie/hotdog cookout and corn boil.” I wish I’d taken a photo of my ham and cheese mountain pie. Delish.
Another Saturday, another trip to Indiana Dunes. First, J. and I detoured to Valparaiso because Rise’n Roll is open until 7 p.m. for the summer (although it’s too bad their customers don’t seem to know that). Afterward we were going to try a somewhat new Mediterranean restaurant, but the wait was longer than I wanted, so we went next door and waited just as long. My spur-of-the-moment decisions are not always logical.
Having watched the Perseid meteor shower, and possibly the International Space Station, at Indiana Dunes National Park West Beach several years ago, I keep wanting to recapture the magic. The NPS doesn’t host the event anymore; it’s at the state park beach these days, minus ranger and guest speaker. It doesn’t seem to be as dark at the beach, though, with Chicago lighting up the night across the way.
After staring at the sky for a while, my eyes play tricks. Stars blink on and off, then disappear entirely. Other lights move erratically, then also disappear. Even without the Perseids (we may have spotted one or two streaks), I saw an entire show.
August 11, 2019
For breakfast, we went to Round the Clock, the two-restaurant chain (Chesterton, Valparaiso). Contrary to the name’s promise, the restaurant closes at night and opens in the morning. This disappointed me vaguely. I didn’t expect Round the Clock to have hours!
On to the Schoolhouse Shop. I wanted to sip coffee with the birds and butterflies in the back area, but since they also had a ginger iced tea I went with that. The cashier told us there were frogs by the water feature if we wanted to sit there, but I opted for a spot closer to the bird feeders and flowers, where a black swallowtail repeatedly evaded me.
Eventually I wandered back to the water and heard a plop that sounded suspiciously like a frog jumping in. As I walked around the edge I heard a second plop. I still didn’t see anything, but a few seconds later I caught a movement followed by a third plop. Eventually I spotted one frog in the water, convinced no doubt he couldn’t be seen. I left for a few moments and when I came back one was perched on an overturned flower pot and another was half sunning on a wee ledge. Later I saw a third one hanging in the water, one leg askew, pretending to be dead or invisible. He reassured me of his health when I got too close. Someone on iNaturalist helped me identify them as green frogs.
I can’t tell you how much I hate to leave the Schoolhouse Shop, although I always do so poorer.
But we had a date with the Emita II, a tour boat moored in Trail Creek by the Old Lighthouse Museum in Michigan City. Last year I’d made arrangements for a tour, but the afternoon excursions were canceled due to choppy waters. I was glad to have a chance to try again. The clouds were gathering but Lake Michigan looked as calm as it ever does.
We arrived early enough to get a table by the rail that would be on the shore/port side going out — perfect. While we waited for everyone to board, I heard a familiar sound approaching. A westbound Amtrak train raced by on the opposite shore of Trail Creek — possibly the Wolverine that leaves Chicago at 1:25 p.m. on its way to Pontiac. It breezed by so fast it was mostly a blur.
Finally 3 p.m. came and we backed out, passing the Nipsco coal-fired generating plant with its cooling tower that dominates Michigan City — I’m told it can be seen from Chicago, although I haven’t yet looked for it. Our host told us the more slender tower marked the location of the Hoosier Slide, once Indiana’s most recognizable landmark. All that’s left of the Hoosier Slide are vintage blue-tinted Ball canning jars.
After leaving the creek for Lake Michigan, we passed Mt. Baldy, a “living” dune that is moving four feet a year, which means at some point it will bury the nearby NPS buildings and parking lot and encroach on U.S. Rte. 12. Mt. Baldy is also famous for mysteriously swallowing a six-year-old boy who was recovered three and a half hours later. The Smithsonian and the Northwest Indiana Times have the story. I tried to climb Mt. Baldy once but had to stop maybe 20 feet short of the crest — stopped by fatigue, steepness, and shifting sands.
Now Mt. Baldy is closed except for ranger-led hikes; the rangers know where the tree holes are. On this day several people were trespassing on the shore side of Baldy. “They’re not supposed to be there,” the boat guide said. I wonder how often that happens. The guide noted that Baldy has an armchair shape vs. a normal sand dune shape due to its ongoing loss of sand. I wonder what its future will be and hope it, unlike the Hoosier Slide, will have one.
After Baldy there’s a series of beaches and dunes, with many visitors as well as boaters just off shore.
I didn’t know what to expect after the dunes, but there was Beverly Shores — and the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes. The flamingo pink Florida Tropical House is the easiest to see, but you get a glimpse of all of them (the Cypress House is the least visible).
The round trip takes about two hours. On the way back we spotted a boat with a plethora of fishing rods sticking up and men who likely had more beer than fish.
I also took more photos of Indiana’s only lighthouse. The former lighthouse, now the Old Lighthouse Museum, was tended for 43 years by a woman named Harriet Colfax. Having once tried to pick up a bucket of sand representative of the a single lighthouse oil bucket, I can tell you toting those buckets up lighthouse stairs even once a day would not have been the job for me. I can just haul myself up, with the help of the railing. Yet lives depended on the lighthouse and its keeper.
After dinner at Leeds Public House we detoured to the shore road, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Eventually we started to recognize some of the eastern beaches, then the Century of Progress houses, then Kemil Beach. It didn’t take much longer than the usual route, except for getting onto it — the turn was blocked by a big utility vehicle and crew.
You could spend the 4th of July eating, drinking, and making merry with fireworks. Or you could take a nearly 40-minute walk on Indiana Dunes National Park West Beach Trail, Loop 2, on loose, sloping sand in 90º plus heat and full sun to look for prickly pear cactus.
Having worked out Lyft, my next objective was Matthaei Botanical Gardens. I’d been there before without noticing it’s down the road that runs north of Parker Mill. Gallup Park is on the way to both. After how many years of visiting Ann Arbor, I’m finally figuring out the geography.
I also spotted several places from which the Huron River looks accessible. After visiting Minnesota’s North Shore a couple of times, reading The Journals of Lewis and Clark, and digging into a textbook on earth science, I’ve developed a new appreciation and love for rivers and all their variations (streams, brooks, creeks — or “cricks,” as my dad would say). They shape the land and weather, offer passage to humans and wildlife, provide food, contribute to the economy, join and separate nations, and hold countless secrets from throughout the ages. Just ask the Tiber.
At Matthaei, I found one of the things I’d been seeking — a bowl of plants surrounded by kaleidoscopes. I wanted to we if I could improve on my previous efforts to record it. It’s not easy to aim the phone camera precisely at a kaleidoscope eyepiece, hold the clunky phone sideways steadily, and spin the bowl. I didn’t succeed at spinning the bowl either slowly or at an even speed. I swear my anxious exertions and the pain of standing for a few minutes made me pant..
I headed through the rest of the greenhouse, but didn’t look or linger — it was too hot, for one thing. I went outside, hoping to find flowers laden with butterflies and bees. Instead I found neither much in the way flowers nor butterflies. Perhaps earlier in spring or later in summer.
Next, I wanted to a better video of the wind-spinner sculpture I’d seen on a previous visit. If I had a yard, I’d want something like this in it. My dad, I think, would have loved it (but not the price tag, I’m sure, for anything similar).
I turned toward the Gaffield Children’s Garden, where there’s a “rustic” trail through a wooded area, with benches along the way. It would have been perfect but where there’s shade, there are mosquitoes. Many mosquitoes. At one point the one bothering me turned into a dozen swarming me.
I left the rustic trail for an Adirondack-style chair in a dappled area — slightly cooler than full sunshine, but not as infested as full shade.
A tiny bird, species unknown to me, landed on a birdhouse and called back and forth with another bird, with long breaks for preening. A few people came along, but most of the time there was no one about. I liked the feeling, a little like being retired, although I’d have expected more summer visitors.
Gaffield has pretty features, even if they are artificial. I can imagine I’m enjoying a bubbling mountain stream. (I can’t, however, imagine the mosquitoes away.)
After more wandering and sitting, a peek at carnivorous plants, and a better video of the spinning plant bowl, I stopped at the gift shop and bought souvenirs, including an embossed Green Man tote bag as a gift. If there’d been one more left, I’d have been even poorer.
While looking at stalled traffic from the window at work, I’d noticed that most cars are black, white, or gray. That’s why, when I got into my return Lyft, I praised the car’s light metallic green color. The driver told me the only way she could afford a new car was to drive it for Lyft. On the flip side, it had accumulated 12,000 miles to date. That’s a lot of rides.
And so ended my last afternoon in Ann Arbor this trip. Until we meet again
Lyft is my new favorite thing — as long as I can afford to use it once in a while. I love creeks (even more than Lyft) and while in Ann Arbor had a hankering to visit Parker Mill on Fleming Creek. My left leg has been protesting lately, and I don’t have to walk far there to see the creek and a little bit of the woods. I discovered it’s only a little more than four miles from the bed & breakfast, which in Chicago would get me only halfway to downtown. I fired up the Lyft app.
The driver mentioned he takes his dogs to Parker Mill Park. “You feel like you’re in the country but you’re not at all.” I asked him if I’d have a problem getting back. “No, this is a main road between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. I live in Ypsilanti.” I asked him what kind of dogs he has. “Shiba Inus,” he answered. One of the few breeds I know a little about. He told me about his, a dominant female and a rescue male.
As he left me in the parking lot, he pointed out what looked like typical exurb apartment blocks going up next to the park. Look in that direction and you won’t feel like you’re in the country anymore.
There have been a few changes at the mill. There’s a new Bison pump (for filling water bottles?). Two slides descend from it, and before I left someone pumped water for their dog. He looked like he wondered why he couldn’t get his usual dish, but made a half-hearted attempt at a few slurps.
Some rocks may have been rearranged, with new concrete forms (seats?) added. A new set of steps with a red handrail to match the pump has been added. These steps and handrail made it easier for me to get down to the creek, although they aren’t exactly rustic.
I headed under the overpass, where the water seemed deeper than I remember. When I turned my head to the right, the water sounded faster, more urgent. When I turned my head to the left, it sounded deeper, like the flow had decreased. I did this a few times with the same results. Since the creek’s flow didn’t change every time I turned my head, it must have been me. My hearing loss is mild to moderate in the left ear, moderate to severe in the right. I heard more, higher frequencies when my left ear is turned toward the creek. It’s a disturbing feeling, especially since the first ENT I saw (almost 15 years ago) said the loss will progress. It doesn’t help that usually fluid sloshes about in my right ear, partially blocking it.
I continued along the creek under the road until I reached the footbridge over the creek into the woods. Two women, not middle aged but not young, ran toward me, screaming. I briefly looked for the ax murderer who must have been pursuing them. I didn’t see one, and the women slowed down, laughing breathlessly. “A HUGE bumblebee! HUGE!!!” If I could arch my eyebrows like Spock, I would have. Just then, an average-sized bee buzzed by. They fled in terror, half screaming, half laughing. The bee, unimpressed and uninterested, wandered off.
After that, I didn’t see anyone as I wandered through the woods along the creek. I went mainly in the direction that reaches a dead end at a wire fence. I didn’t have steam to go the other way, especially since in late June the weather had finally turned hot, which drains me of any little energy I have. My Osprey ultralight stuff pack, water resistant and not letting any air through, either, was glued to the sweat soaking my back.
I spotted one flitty red admiral that wouldn’t stay still for a photo, and a tree with picturesque mushrooms that weren’t going anywhere.
At last the creek drew me back, although no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find crawdads. I wondered if the water flow had changed and disturbed them, or if I couldn’t spot them in the deeper water.
This side was more populated, especially as the afternoon progressed. Cyclists, hikers, dog walkers, even a man on a bike accompanying a woman who was trying to manage the downslope behind the mill on old-school roller skates. She was young (20s) and fit, and it cheered me to see her grasping the wooden fence, stiffly and awkwardly taking baby rolls forward, finally crashing in slow motion into the grass where there was a break in the fence. This wasn’t her first rodeo; she was wearing thick knee pads.
A sloppily dressed man, smoking and yelling (presumably into a headset, although I didn’t see it), came along, unclear on the concept of a relaxing walk in the park. Maybe his doctor told him he should walk more.
A very old man came along, slowly and gingerly making his way down the steep paved walkway the roller skater hadn’t mastered. He was moving faster than I had.
As on my previous visits, ebony jewelwings flew around, sometimes landing to rest and sun on the rocks near the water. An eastern comma glowed with color when its wings opened, then disappeared when its wings closed.
Near the mill, a big, much-injured tree shelters a picnic table. I half expected a druid to emerge from its trunk and wondered if some of its wounds had been lightning strikes.
Having survived an autumn visit to Camp Bullfrog Lake, and being fond of the Palos area for its hills, moraines, sloughs, woods, and forest preserves, I wanted to plan another stay. There are only two large cabins, and I was happy to get one of them for May, which I had figured would be at the height of fine spring weather. HA.
May 18, 2019
The adventure began in Homewood, where I met J. He was immediately distracted by an Operation Lifesaver “train” blowing its horn as it circled downtown Homewood. It looked popular and crowded, or we might have ended up angling for a ride.
Our first stop was at Cottage on Dixie, where, unbeknownst to us, we were about to have our last meal there. A month later the owner announced it was closing. A few days after that, the owner announced a grand reopening on July 18. My head spins, and I’m guessing it wasn’t the last Cottage meal after all.
We settled in briefly at Camp Bullfrog Lake, then set out for sandwiches at Ashbary House at the Old Willow Shopping Center, set against a wooded hillside. I love the way it looks.
Back at camp, a full moon (well, a few hours past) rose above the lake into the clouds, looking a bit like Saturn. The clouds and moon over the lake were the perfect complement to the campfire. Our fire-starting skills are better if still in need of improvement. A bucket of topnotch fire starter didn’t hurt, and with close nursing our fire flamed merrily for several hours and marshmallows. The full moon was an unexpected bonus. (Usually I pay closer attention to moon phases.)
May 19, 2019
The morning looked promising weather wise.
I found we had a lot of neighbors at the next cabin, with breakfast piled high atop their picnic table. One of their cars had Alaska plates. I marveled that anyone would drive from anywhere in Alaska to Illinois. I might never have gotten past, say, Montana or Wyoming.
After breakfast at Maple-N-Jams, we happened upon the Nut House in Bridgeview. I gained weight looking at the colorful displays, but managed to walk away with mostly seeds.
Upon returning to camp, we found the perfect excuse to skim old travel magazines and, in my case, read more about The Black Death — a lengthy downpour. Undoubtedly payback for the serendipity of the full moon.
With numerous sloughs and the Des Plaines River, Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and Cal-Sag Channel running parallel to each other through this area, there are plenty of steel truss bridges. I love them. I wonder if the blue paint on some is relatively new to dress them up.
I thought we might see a lot of flowers in bloom at Little Red Schoolhouse, but maybe mid to late May was too late. Instead we found one of the ponds full of tadpoles, two northern water snakes, and a green heron trying to be still and invisible. Suddenly, it took off after another green heron we hadn’t noticed across the way. A brief yet epic battle ensued, and in the end I couldn’t tell which one hightailed it to the woods and which took over pond patrol.
On the other side, the great blue herons and great egrets of Longjohn Slough kept a watchful eye on each other, like boxers in their respective corners between rounds.
At Little Red Schoolhouse we’d seen a flier for a mushroom/fungus walk at Swallow Cliff Woods. We decided to investigate on our own. We didn’t get far down the trail before my pain levels rose and my energy levels flagged, just far enough to this tantalizing pathway. Someday.
I hadn’t noticed any mushrooms in the short distance we’d walked, but on the return trip we both noticed several (not the same ones in all cases). J is credited with the find of the day, a magnificent morel. I don’t think I’ve seen one “in the wild.” I began to understand why the naturalists had chosen Swallow Cliff Woods for their fungus walk. Now if only I could find (or recognize) slime molds in any form . . .
For dinner we headed to Jen’s Guesthouse, formerly Courtright’s. It was too wet to sit outside in the garden area against the wooded hillside, but the inside isn’t shabby.
Back at camp, we still hadn’t perfected the art of fire making but finally had enough going to toast marshmallows. When we were sure we’d had enough, we tossed in the Mystical Fire. I found out later we should have used three packs, but even one was . . . mystical. Or at least colorful.
May 20, 2019
We went to Lotus Cafe, which turned out to be part of Pete’s Fresh Market, and ended up with a breakfast-by-weight buffet. We also stopped at Strange Brew Cafe, which I recognized from last year.
Back at Camp Bullfrog Lake, we packed and took a last walk around. When I approached the pier, I was startled by a great blue heron perched on the railing, no doubt keeping an eye out for fresh lake fish (or even the eponymous bullfrogs). Just when I thought it was going to let me get close, it slowly flapped off to shore. They like to keep their distance. I don’t blame them.
While driving around we kept passing a historical marker sign and decided to investigate. This led us to St. James at Sag Bridge Church and Cemetery, which involved some steep hills. I can’t say for certain we found the historical marker, but i did spend a few moments checking out Our Lady of the Forest. It turns out the church is on the National Register of Historic Places. I’m reminded too that I want to read The Mystery at Sag Bridge by local writer Pat Camalliere, whom I’d met briefly at Settlers’ Day at Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland.
Despite the I-355 extension and the encroaching warehouse-type developments, I’m still charmed by most of Bluff Road in Lemont. We stopped at Black Partridge Woods, walked along the picnic shelter side of the stream for a bit, then returned to the parking lot to find two male scarlet tanagers paying court — presumably — to a female. I don’t get to see these birds very often, so it was a treat and a thrill worth the entire trip — downpours, damp, and all.
We made another visit to Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center. While no green heron lurked about that I could see, the great blue herons and great egrets were still skirmishing along Longjohn Slough.
For a light dinner we stopped at Spring Forest 2, where I love the terraced outdoor seating areas.
Finally for dessert, we headed to the Plush House to enjoy ice cream from the comfort of an Adirondack chair. And so ended another weekend adventure in one of Illinois’ more interesting areas.