For this spring trip, the plan was to stop briefly at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, then head to western New York and the Pennsylvania Wilds.
May 19: After taking Petunia to the Hyde Park Animal Hospital and chowing down on burgers and fries at Five Guys, we made it to South Bend, Indiana, before calling it a day. When I was a child, I was drawn to the Fighting Irish brand (without knowing that’s what it was), but the luster had worn off by my late adolescence. I didn’t see much of South Bend, just a bit around the airport and can’t tell you if it’s a quaint college town or a modern, efficient one that looks like a 1950s architecture nightmare.
May 20: J. was sorely tempted by some roadside attractions, including a Studebaker museum, but it’s my unhappy job to keep us focused. Somehow — probably while in search of a coffee shop — we were pulled over the state line into Sturgis, Michigan, by the Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee Co. Outside Great Lakes, we found patriotically decorated bicycles serving as ads, although they were locked up like any other bike. While in Sturgis J. also spotted a Harley-Davidson dealership, which features its canine greeter on some of its wares, so we had to stop there too.
The rest of the day was a blur of travel plazas and flatlands as we made our way across Ohio until we arrived in the Cleveland area, where we detoured off the interstate. A turkey crossed the road in front of us as we were getting close to Shady Oaks Farm Bed & Breakfast. Once upon a time, it was a rare thing to spot a turkey, at least in Pennsylvania. Now I’ve seen them on roads in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
After checking in at Shady Oaks; helping ourselves to pita, hummus, and lemonade; and getting restaurant recommendations, we backtracked a bit to Brandywine Falls at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is the newest (2000) and third most visited national park in the system. The sky was overcast with a threat of rain, and the lighting was poor, but we got our first peek at this beautiful and surprisingly colorful waterfall. It’s hard for me to imagine that this lovely spot once belonged to a private individual, who ran a mill by the waterfall. Now millions get to enjoy it every year.
Our dinner stop was in Peninsula, Ohio, at the Winking Lizard, a local tavern chain with locations clustered around Columbus and northeastern Ohio — a comfortable and delicious way to end a great day of travel and anticipate the next.
May 21: Knowing that our first destination, Hamburg, New York, was only three hours away, we dawdled at Shady Oaks, where we savored a fireside breakfast and some quality time trying to get the attention of the resident horses and pony. Finally, after 11 a.m., we returned to Brandywine Falls, which had become more popular during the daylight hours. There was even a group of park-rangers-in-training, led by a sharp-voiced instructor who made it clear après-lunch tardiness would not be tolerated. Instead of peeking through dense foliage to see bits of the falls, we went down the steps to the viewing platform to take in the whole view, colorful minerals and all.
Our next planned stop was Blue Hen Falls, but first we detoured to the Conference Center area with what is called the Stone Cottage and then to the Boston Store Visitor Center. Although it’s not as obvious from the outside as from the inside, the Boston Store, built around 1836 as a warehouse (“store” as in storage) and boarding house, is a trapezoidal building that follows the lines of the neighboring Ohio & Erie Canal.
Further along we found Blue Hen Falls, a mystical little waterfall in the woods where, with more time and energy, I would have liked to to have found the way down and soaked my feet and soul in its watery goodness. Apparently, despite the “End of Trail” sign, there’s a longer, more primitive trail to Buttermilk Falls that involves some creek crossings. As we say in Chicago, maybe next time — if there is one.
J. sought out Hale Farm, which was closed, but we soon found ourselves at Everett Covered Bridget, built most likely in the 1860s and reconstructed in 1986 by the National Park Service after a 1975 flood lifted it from its sandstone abutments.
Our last Cuyahoga Valley NP stop was the Beaver Marsh boardwalk viewing platform, which had attracted a horde of student observers who would have scared off any wildlife for miles. By now it was overcast, which had drawn out some interesting water lilies.
Back on the interstate, we stopped at Pub Frato in Concord, Ohio, and at Starbucks in Erie, Pennsylvania. We detoured to drive down part of the long peninsula that makes up Presque Isle State Park, where the sun was setting and the wind was howling.
At last we crossed the line into New York, where there are few exits and fewer rest stops, but giant signs proclaim, “Niagara Falls!” as though the region’s big wonder is only a few miles away.
After we exited the interstate, or the New York Thruway, even in the dark I felt at home with the older houses separated by woods and big front yards guarded by trees that have been there since before I was born. It’s different from most of Illinois in a way I can’t describe.
Finally, after passing it two or three times in the dark, I got out of the car to track down Sharon’s Lakehouse, which really is directly across from the Lake Shore branch of the Erie County library system. I also remembered why walk along Rte. 5 in Hamburg is dangerous, especially in the dark. No one hit me, I survived, and, for the first time since 1987, I had returned to Hamburg with a little time to explore my hometown.