Clicking the Heels of My Ruby Slippers

Day two began with a stop at Bushkill Falls.  I have heard of its beauty from many nature lovers who have visited this natural wonder, but never experienced it for myself.  It was surreal to finally be there.  It is referred to by many as the “Niagara of Pennsylvania,” and is said to be Pennsylvania’s most famous scenic attraction.  It doesn’t take long to see why.

The area is privately owned, covers over 300 acres and contains eight waterfalls.  The first thing I noticed when stepping inside was the area’s overall beauty.  Everywhere I looked there was lush greenery.  Ferns, rhododendron, and other foliage in every conceivable shade of green provided the perfect backdrop for the main attractions, the waterfalls. I felt as though I was entering the rainforest or perhaps a movie set.  I was expecting to see Indiana Jones run past evading the Nazis as he sought to recover the lost Ark or perhaps Mowgli from the Jungle Book to romp past with his pal Baloo.

There were multiple crisscrossing and downward spiraling boardwalk trails, two miles of them to be exact, that meandered through the park.  Everywhere you looked visitors were snapping pictures, trying their best to capture the beauty around them.  Which, I might add, is simply impossible to do.  All images, even the professional shots, seem to fall short, for how do you capture an experience in its entirety?

Hickory Run State Park was my destination on day three.  This park is a hiker’s dream with over 40 miles of hiking trails.  Imagine my surprise when a park ranger told me that the most scenic of all the many trails was the “Shades of Death Trail.”  Although the name sounds quite ominous, and evokes all sorts of eerie images, in actuality it was quite the opposite and very beautiful.  Although, I must admit at the beginning of the trail there was a network of protruding tree roots that gave the appearance of hands stretching out from the earth waiting to grab unsuspecting hikers.  I did find out through research that the trail was given its unique name by early settlers in the area who named it such because of the dark forest, swamps, and rocky soil that was useless for farming.

The crowning glory of this park, however, is its national natural landmark, the Hickory Run Boulder Field.  It was named as such by the National Park Service in 1967.  This 16-acre field is the largest boulder field of its kind anywhere in all of the Appalachian Mountains.  It sits in the middle of the woods and is made up of nothing but boulders, with absolutely no vegetation.  How this formation got there has been a topic of discussion for many scientists, but the consensus is that it was created during an ice age.  Believe it or not there is evidence that glaciers were once located within one mile of the field.

At this point you are probably wondering why in the world were you thinking of home?  It sounds like such an incredible experience.  Without a doubt it was, but as I drove through the Pocono Mountains, I imagined driving through the Lewistown Narrows marveling at the way our mountains fold and overlap each other creating green carpeted waves.  It feels as though you could step out and walk across them, feeling the softness under your feet.  I pictured traveling down Hawstone Road and pulling over to take in the panoramic view of the mountains, the Juniata River, Route 322, and if you’re lucky a passing train. As I hiked the trails, my thoughts turned to our many wonderful trails.  When traveling through our numerous back roads there are many trail head markers, nearly too many to count.

Of course, it is wonderful to travel and experience new places and I plan to continue to do so, but I will never tire of coming home.  Home to the unrivaled beauty of the Juniata River Valley.  So, I shall join Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz in clicking the heels of my imaginary ruby slippers three times because there is no place like home.  Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce