Horseshoe Curve National Historic Site, Tytoona Natural Area Cave Preserve
In December I’d checked out Horseshoe Curve from the parking lot, but hadn’t been up to the top since September 1988 — er, 31 years ago . . . Not long after, a visitor center and 288-foot funicular were built and opened in 1992. Not knowing anything about the funicular, I was surprised to find it doesn’t run constantly, only on the hour and half hour.
We spent about 15 to 20 minutes looking over the exhibits while waiting. I appreciated the one showing how the Curve had been carved out — I’ve never been able to visualize it or how it would have looked before. Another highlighted the wreck of the Red Arrow in 1947, which killed two dozen and injured more than 100.
The funicular cabins, which were made in the Durango and Silverton Railroad shops in Colorado, ascend and descend at the same time. They pass at a circle part of the way up (or down). I expected the cabin to veer to its right, but they swing to the left to pass. Very British.
Up top the cars from the summer derailments (two!) are visible but not close. We’d picked up a list of scheduled trains at the visitor center, but am not sure we matched any that went by to it — certainly not the “Oscar” (trash train) heading west. In addition to the Oscar, we saw an intermodal plus helper locomotives returning in pairs as they do. No Amtrak — the eastbound Pennsylvanian had gone through earlier. I’d be on the westbound Pennsylvanian later in the afternoon, while it was still daylight.
While we watched the trains we found ourselves plugging our ears. One thing I didn’t remember from all those years ago was the screech of metal on metal, the wheels and brakes as they fight the curve and the incline.
It seemed fitting we got a wave from the locomotive of the last train we saw — one of the few times I’ve seen a woman engineer.
Our final shopping stops were Hillside Farm, where I bought whoopie pies, and Ridgeside Cider Mill, where V. picked up their first cider of the season and I added to my soap collection.
Years ago a relative had posted about Tytoona Cave (more formally, Tytoona Natural Area Cave Preserve), the name an awkward mashup of “Altoona” and “Tyrone.” Previously, its location had seemed a mystery to me, and December wasn’t the best time to visit it. I’d looked again recently and found out it’s connected (more or less) to Arch Spring in Sinking Valley which my cousin had pointed out to me a couple of years ago. Now I could find it easily on Google Maps — as it turns out, it’s on T495 off Kettle Road, less than a half mile from Ridgeside Cider Mill. Off we went.
There’s a slight cutout parking area, with the trail entrance marked by green barrels. Steps, some eroded, built in 2001 by the Tytoona Cave Preserve Committee and members of the Huntingdon Co. Cave Hunters, lead down into the sinkhole. Normally a stream flows into the cave, but it was bone dry. This made walking in without hiking shoes a lot easier.
If you walk far enough into the cave, you can sign a register. I didn’t make it nearly that far. I didn’t have a flashlight, and was surprised by how dark it became a short way in. It’s easy to see why people in Tytoona Cave videos wear helmets with headlamps — it’s too dark to see the low ceiling that your head will hit.
The stream bed through the sinkhole may have been dry, but there was running water somewhere in the darkness. In this video, the cave walls and ceiling amplify the sound, but I suspect the cave’s water would make a respectable noise without the help.
It felt weird and creepy to hear water rushing nearby without being able to see it. If I’d had a light, a helmet, and a better physique, I wonder if I could have gone as far as the register or even the first sump . . .
On the way out, we saw a poster about Pennsylvania bats. Short version: Tytoona Cave is not the best place to find them.
And so back to packing for the return trip on the Pennsylvanian and Capitol Limited.
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