December 27, 2017: After seeking elk in the outlying areas of Benezette, we found a little herd at the campgrounds in town, which they favor. I handed my phone off to my cousin, who was in a better position to capture them. Benezette is part of the area that’s been rebranded “Pennsylvania Wilds” to attract adventurous tourists of the have kayak, will travel variety.
December 27, 2017: Visiting part of the Pennsylvania elk herd in Benezette.
May 29, 2015
Because we’d been to Cherry Springs, we had to get our state parks books stamped. At the park, though, the ranger told J. we’d have to go to Lyman’s Run State Park a few miles away for the Cherry Springs stamp. Getting there involved a narrow, winding road around mountains, constrained on one side by a guard rail unprotected by more than a couple of inches of shoulder — J’s favorite kind of driving conditions. Just as we found Lyman’s Run, a deer crossed the road well ahead of us, then, to our surprise, a fawn on spindly legs appeared and stood in the road, confused for a few moments before wandering off in Mom’s direction.
At the Lyman’s Run office, we told the ranger about the deer. A few moments later, she asked where exactly we’d seen them — a couple desperate to see deer had just come in.
At a beach below the nearby dam, a family or two was splashing about in the water. I always hope that when these children grow up they will want their own children to enjoy the same kinds of outdoor experiences they had.
At breakfast someone had told of seeing elk in Benezette and of a motorcyclist who’d feared for his bike’s life when a big bull elk eyed it. Benezette had been a possible destination, but now it became a must-see. I’d never gone there from the north, and we found ourselves on the narrow, twisting road to Galeton, then on more narrow, twisting roads post what seemed to be a lot of state parks and recreation areas. We had to hustle to get to the Elk Country Visitor Center before it closed at 5 — we just made it, at about 4:40 or so. I was surprised I found it as easily as I did.
We hadn’t seen any elk in town or near the visitor center, so I steered him toward the overlook where the bull elk had looked upon the motorcycle. Nothing. Seating had been added, and a man sitting there told us he’d seen some animals earlier, so we sat down to wait patiently.
Within about 10 minutes a female showed up at the edge of the woods and tucked into the field vegetation. Soon she was joined by a second and then a third, who also seemed to materialize from nothing. None of them strayed far from the wood’s edge.
We’d seen elk, if only a small number, if only at a distance. J proclaimed himself content.
We returrned to Benezette, driving around for a bit and spotting the top of a deer’s head among the high grasses along the river. Even the picnic area, jammed with elk during my December visits, was populated only by a few people and vehicles.
After eating at the Benezette Hotel (where J got an elk burger to go), we called it a day, knowing we had a long way to go. On the road out of town, however, elk began popping up in front yards, including three bulls in velvet. By now the residents of Benezette and beyond must have given up on any kind of garden or landscaping and let the elk have at their yards.
We stopped at length in front of several houses, sometimes in awkward spots ahead of road curves. I worried about being rear-ended, but the few times we saw cars, they slowed down and stopped too. The elk are hard to resist.
On the way back we noticed several popular fishing spots and some vintage bridges. Oh, to have a creek nearby to visit every day . . . preferably an uncontaminated one. In Pennsylvania, you never know.
For the last leg of this day trip, Google Maps helpfully steered me toward a long gravel road overrun by creatures that, in the growing darkness, could have been toads or chipmunks or something else — they scooted across so fast it was hard to tell. After two to three miles we came to the main road to Frosty Hollow, where a sign invites you to detour four miles up the gravel road (the way we’d come) to Jackson’s Bargain Barn & Gift Shop (open Thurs., Fri., and Sat.). When we’d passed the sign earlier, J had pointed it out and wondered if anyone (like us) would ever choose to go up that road. Ooops. Thank you, Google Maps (and for trying to take us down a footpath at Chestnut Ridge Park). We got back as rain began — no need to debate a return to Cherry Springs. Sitting on the barn porch, watching the rain come down, ended the day in the country perfectly.
On the day after Christmas, four of us set out for Benezette, Pennsylvania, in the heart of Pennsylvania elk country. It’s an impoverished small town, where a “Hunters Welcome” banner takes the place of the “Bikers Welcome” message common in parts of Illinois and Wisconsin. The houses and other establishments are nestled on steep hillsides, in some cases precariously, or so it looks. A few places are owned by candidates for the “Hoarders” TV show, with disintegrating lumber, parts, and trash strewn everywhere.
We discovered the most interesting part of town as we were leaving — a small enclave that lies beyond a wide, expensive-looking modern bridge culminating in a narrow dirt road, like a Pennsylvania version of the “bridge to nowhere.” Beyond the bridge are houses at various stages of upkeep, but the most surprising feature was a railroad line or spur running parallel to the hillside with dozens of rusting cars frozen in time where they’d been left. To the locals, this may not seem unusual, but to me the combination of the oversized bridge, the dirt access road, and the little neighborhood clustered around the abandoned rail line and cars seemed surreal, like the perfect setting for a vaguely disturbing movie. Summer sunshine and greenery would make it only the more haunting.
When my cousin and his wife had visited Benezette before, part of the elk herd had been lounging about in town, including at the tavern with the “Hunters Welcome” sign. We’d seen some in some fields off to the side and some at a picnic area near or in town. We passed through and came to the Elk Country Visitor Center, which looks like a fairly new building and features a gift shop, discovery room, and elk mounted at various stages of life, including a couple that were still spotted. Outside the trees, like most of those on all the private property we’d passed, were protected; the dirt had been disturbed by many hooves; and “biscuits” were piled in several places. Despite the evidence of previous visits by elk, not one was to be seen here.
While driving around, we found a herd of up to 75 in a field near a building maybe a half mile off — too far to get a good look at without binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens. Still, it was beautiful to watch their shapes moving about or lying down against the setting sun.
We spotted one or two in the bushes alongside the road, but the one that came down toward a break in the fence couldn’t make up her mind to cross. Finally, she retreated slowly.
After checking out the Benezette bridge to nowhere, we passed the picnic grounds again, where more elk and more cars had congregated. Like others, I got out of the car to take photos, but the elk, intent on grazing, ignored all of us and our car doors until a clueless woman broke the relative quiet by screeching, “Oh, look at the baby!” (the “baby” being at least half grown). As a group, the elk spooked a bit, trotting away from her — and toward me as I snapped happily away, a lot closer than the recommended minimum of 30 yards. I was disappointed only not to get a photo of an elk lying under the “Hunters Welcome” sign.
I had no idea I’d have an opportunity to see elk during this vacation, so it was a great thrill. You can find out more about Pennsylvania’s wapiti here.