Written by Vanilla Sugar on 13 Mar, 2009
Brrrr, Momma. It’s cold in here."Despite my daughter Suzie’s complaints, I stubbornly refused to close the driver side car windows. Even with the Toyota heater turned to the maximum red zone and the fan turned to high, the December air nipped our exposed faces.…Read More
Brrrr, Momma. It’s cold in here."Despite my daughter Suzie’s complaints, I stubbornly refused to close the driver side car windows. Even with the Toyota heater turned to the maximum red zone and the fan turned to high, the December air nipped our exposed faces. "We can’t be looking at Overly’s Christmas lights through the car windows. Besides we need to hear the Christmas carols too. Just zip your coat to the neck and stuff your hands in your pockets." The tradition of Overly’s Country Christmas goes back over 50 years when Harry Overly first decorated his rural Armburst home with a few stands of lights. When I saw the display for the first time some 26 years ago, it had grown from few to many. The elaborate display featured white lights intricately strung on the branches of trees and attached in rows on miles of fence that outlined the property. I remember a living nativity scene and Santa on the roadside handing red and green lollipops to all the children in each passing car. Santa’s elves greeted the visitors and accepted donations to benefit children’s medical services.Each year Harry Overly added more lights and even animated some of the display. I remember my favorites: a horse pulling a carriage with light synchronized to look like the legs and wheels actually moved, a cascading fountain, and a rotating carousel. The lights outlining his house, ringing the perimeter of his property fence, and illuminating all the figures, could be seen from the nearby hilltops. It was a photographer’s delight and a Christmas tradition for the many families who inched by the display in the bumper-to-bumper traffic backed up for miles. The attraction grew with more visitors and more lights. After the 35 years that the light display was held at this private home, Overly’s display moved to the 15 acre site of the Westmoreland Fairgrounds in Greensburg where it’s now called Overly’s Country Christmas. The display features 2.4 million twinkling lights. It is a nationally recognized holiday light display. That’s where we were on this freezing December night – me, my Mom, Suzie and my son’s little girl, my five-year-old granddaughter Brianna.Brianna and I didn’t mind the cold. Our excitement gave us warmth. As we drove the circuit around the light display, Brianna squealed when she saw the fairy castle. Could it be Cinderella’s palace? We saw my old favorites and more: the outline of railroad depot and train engine, familiar cartoon characters, and outlines of old town buildings. When we’d finished our drive around the holiday lights, I parked the car on the hard packed dirt lot so we could enter Overly’s Country Christmas Village. Red, white, and blue nutcracker soldiers guarded the entrance to the magical place. First, we stopped at Hartman Station, the G-gauge model train display, partly to warm-up in the heated building. The village looked real, suspended in a time when train transportation moved people and commerce through the countryside. Nostalgic like the trains, a team of horses stood outside ready to pull a wagon load of people through the light display. Suzie and Brianna were immediately drawn to the horses, more interested in talking to them and stroking their manes instead of a ride. Now, where’s the Talking Christmas Tree? We detected it by the crowd of knee-high children clutching the hands of parents. They stood in wonder as this broad, tall tree with colorful lights and big eyes asked their names, the name of the town where they lived, and whether they’d been to see Santa yet. I introduced Brianna and myself to the Talking Christmas Tree because Brianna would not say a word. The whole time we stood in front of this child mystifying pine, I served as Brianna’s mouth piece. She’d whisper something in my ear and I’d have to relay the message to the Talking Christmas Tree. "Tell the Tree about Brady….Tell the Tree I am five years old and go to pre-school…Ask the Tree if the Grinch will steal Christmas." That last question drew an emphatic response from the Tree, "We have the very best of security," said the Talking Christmas Tree with conviction. "There is absolutely no way the Grinch will ever steal Christmas!" Brianna felt reassured and so did I.We made another stop to get warm. This time we huddled close to the bonfire where the heat from the flames warmed our faces and with a turn our back sides too. We agreed our next stop would be a visit to Santa.The line to Santa’s lap ran the length of his workshop and moved slow enough that we could browse the display of antique toys. Brianna’s big brown eyes opened wide with wonder as we looked at the Christmas tree, candy cane striped candles, baby dolls, a Mickey Mouse stuffed toy, kid’s size pool table, and antique toddler pull toy in the shape of a cow. A photographer from the Scottdale Independent newspaper on assignment to cover Overly’s Country Christmas saw Brianna. He asked permission to candidly photograph her while we waited in line. Brianna had not heard this adult conversation so she continued to lean over the protective rail staring at all the toys. Several days later, her photo hit the front page of the newspaper. She was most surprised when I showed her. She never knew she’d been photographed that night. She’d been preoccupied with the toys and reviewing the list of gifts she’d ask Santa to bring her on Christmas.We left the warmth of Santa’s warm workshop to give Brianna a ride on the kiddy train. Each time she passed the spectators – Grandma Helen, Aunt Suzie and me – Grandma Patty – she gave a wave and big smile. The wind blew. "Brrrr," I heard Suzie say. "Let’s go to the gift shop." Colorful nutcracker soldiers of assorted sizes filled the rows of shelves. Tree ornaments hung on evergreen covered pegs. On a floor level shelf, Brianna found a ball of fresh mistletoe with a red ribbon. Suzie knelt down to see what Brianna had found. "Aunt Suzie, look! It’s mistletoe," Brianna held the ball above Suzie’s head and kissed her. That moment, it didn’t matter how cold we felt. Brianna warmed us through and through with that one gesture – a kiss under the mistletoe at Overly’s Country Christmas! Close
Written by Troobabiee7 on 14 Jan, 2009
I love a good road trip. There's nothing like rolling the windows down, cranking the music up, and hitting the wide, open road... even if it's just for a three hour trip. This was my family's first real vacation in a few years,…Read More
I love a good road trip. There's nothing like rolling the windows down, cranking the music up, and hitting the wide, open road... even if it's just for a three hour trip. This was my family's first real vacation in a few years, after getting our Shih-Tzu a few years earlier and not being sure of how to travel with her. We finally figured that we might as well bring her along, drive to our destination and stay in a pet-friendly hotel. This trip was sort of a trial-run for a bigger trip to Florida we were planning for the next year, so we wanted to go somewhere close and familiar. What better place than Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a gorgeous town we'd already visited countless times and really loved? I couldn't have been more excited!I hadn't been able to sleep all night the night before. After a six year vacation hiatus we were finally going on vacation in the morning and the excitement was overwhelming! The day before had been a busy day. My cousins Jessica and Samantha had been over and we spent the day hanging out, walking around the neighborhood, and just generally acting crazy and cracking each other up. We had also stayed up all night watching the MTV Video Music Awards and by the time they left it was already after midnight... and I still had to pack! I finished up doing everything I had to do and just laid in bed. I slept for an hour or two at most. When it was finally time to get up I was pretty exhausted, but my adrenaline was pumping so it wasn't too bad.We had decided that we were going to leave later than we usually do to go on vacation. We normally leave as early as possible but we wanted to leave later in the morning so that we could walk Oreo at a normal time and try to miss the morning rush-hour traffic around Manhattan and Philadelphia. We had to start off the vacation right, though, so we decided to meet my Aunt Stacy, Uncle Alan, and little cousin Alison at our local diner at 8:00. There was no way my brother Mike was getting out of bed any earlier than he had to so we just left him home. He hates the diner anyway.We met my Aunt Stacy, Alan, and Alison in the parking lot and all went to get a table. The diner was pretty empty so we were seated right away and all ordered our food. I got French Toast which is my absolute favorite! It was so exciting having our first breakfast of trip, even though we were still in Brooklyn. Our food arrived by 8:30 and we passed the time eating and talking about how excited we were. Well, dad, Aunt Stacy, Alan, Alison and I talked about everything we wanted to do and see while my mom worried about how the dog would handle the situation. Mom, relax... we're going on VACATION!We finished eating and left the diner at 9:00, and I was very surprised when Mike opened the door for us. Not only was he up but he was DRESSED! For a kid who sleeps as late as possible whenever he can, I was definitely surprised. I took it as a sign that he was excited, too. At least a little bit. We all hung out around the house and just relaxed. At 10:00 my mom and dad loaded the rest of our luggage and bags into the car and then walked Oreo while Mike, Aunt Stacy, Alan, Alison and I watched "Starsky and Hutch" on HBO. At 10:30 we were finally ready to go, so we piled into our cars and pulled out of the driveway. It was great knowing that we were headed to one of my favorite places in the world! My Grandma was waiting on her porch (she and my Grandpa live across the street from us), so we waved to her right as we turned the corner and drove off the block. We were finally on our way!We stopped a few blocks away at a Mobil station that recently opened a new "On the Go" convenience store. My mom, Aunt Stacy, and Alan ran in to get coffee and then we got going. Not to another diner or a convenience store, but finally on our way to Pennsylvania! There was no traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, as usual, and after driving about an hour into Jersey we stopped at one of the rest stops. We took a bathroom break, got some mini cinnamon buns from Cinnabon and looked at the bags, pocketbooks and sunglasses that were being sold outside. They were pretty nice and Aunt Stacy wound up buying a pair of sunglasses.We continued driving through Jersey until we got to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was starting to rain and I got upset since we had planned on doing a few outdoor things later that day. It was only a light drizzle, though, so it wasn't too bad. About an hour and a half into Pennsylvania we stopped at another rest stop, this time a McDonald's. We all ran in to use the bathroom and get some fries and drinks for lunch. We then continued driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, listening to the radio along the way. Every time a good song came on my mom would call my Aunt Stacy to tell her what station to put on, and then we'd look at their car behind us to see Aunt Stacy dancing in the passenger seat! It was hilarious!We drove for another two hours before finally arriving in Lancaster at 2:00! But it wasn't exactly smooth sailing... we were looking for Rt. 30 which would turn into Lincoln Highway East, the street that our hotel was on. We took Rt. 30 West, which was the way we were supposed to go as stated on our AAA TripTik, and drove for ten minutes without the road turning into Lincoln Highway East. According to our map it should have happened already, so we went back to where we started and went down Rt. 30 East thinking that this road would lead to Lincoln Highway East. They were both east so it made sense. We drove for fifteen minutes and then saw signs that we were going back up north towards Philadelphia, so we turned back around again and continued driving on Rt.30 West until we finally found Lincoln Highway East. If we had only driven a minute or two farther than we had the first time we would have seen that we were going the right way. We still weren't sure exactly where the hotel was so we stopped at an Arby's on Lincoln Highway East to use the bathroom before we continued driving and found the hotel, the Lincoln Host Resort, no more than a quarter of a mile up the road. Close
Written by MilwVon on 12 Feb, 2008
BODIES – The ExhibitionCarnegie Science CenterPittsburgh, PABODY WORLDS is the world renowned exhibit created by Gunter von Hagen that has traveled the world bringing the human body in its most basic form to illustrate how it functions. Using a technology called “plastination” human bodies…Read More
BODIES – The ExhibitionCarnegie Science CenterPittsburgh, PABODY WORLDS is the world renowned exhibit created by Gunter von Hagen that has traveled the world bringing the human body in its most basic form to illustrate how it functions. Using a technology called “plastination” human bodies are preserved to allow scientists to show muscle tissues, organs, skeletal structure and the circulatory system. BODIES – The Exhibition is a copy-cat production using the same process to preserve human cadavers for illustrating the complexity and wonderment of our body.I spent about an hour touring through the various areas of this very interesting, and at times thought provoking, exhibit. Starting with some rather basic displays of the human skeletal and muscular systems, it was easy to become comfortable with what seemed to be an uncomfortable air of voyeurism looking at the human form in its rawest, most basic form . . . bare and naked.As someone who has her own health concerns, to learn about and see anatomically accurate illustrations through real human bodies gave many reasons to pause for reflection. Not a smoker myself, I cannot imagine the impact of seeing an actual lung blackened and destroyed through cigarette smoking would be to a current smoker. To see a breast ravaged by cancer only served to remind me of how fortunate I am that I have not had breast cancer hit women of my family.I have always wondered about the uterine fibroids that continue to pain me so to see one preserved through plastination, I thought “I need to donate my body to science so that they can display what I have since mine is roughly twice the size of the one on display.” I was also very interested in seeing the structure of the lungs and how they work when healthy and how disease hampers them from feeding our body with life’s substance - - oxygen.Perhaps one of the potentially most disturbing areas of the exhibit was immediately after the reproductive organs display. Once sperm meets egg, a single cell exists for about 30 minutes before splitting and duplicating creating the embryo that some 40 weeks later arrives as a small bundle of joy. In the area that has preserved fetuses as young as a couple of weeks after conception . . . and as fully developed as a baby at full term. They also have a couple of specimens of fetuses with birth defects including a cleft lip as well as one with spina bifida. I had to take a seat and clear my head after seeing this section of the exhibition. For those who may not want to see these specimens, there is a side entrance that by-passes this hall and takes you to the next area.I think in total there were 15 full body specimens that illustrate muscle structure, the full digestive tract from mouth to anus and other full systems including the circulatory system complete with heart and lungs. There were three bodies featuring sports poses including a tennis server, a volleyball player digging a spike and a soccer player doing a bicycle kick. To see their muscles fully flexed in sport was very interesting. I cannot do justice in trying to explain the detail that this plastination process allows you to view the human body. You really must see it for yourself.Admission fee for BODIES – The Exhibition is a separate fee from the main Carnegie Science Center. There is no price break if you’re not interested in the science center itself, save your $14. Admission prices for the BODIES exhibit is $22 for adults and $16 for kids ages 3 – 12. Carnegie Science Center members receive a discounted rate of $14 and $10 respectively. There is no price break for seniors at this exhibit. Exhibition hours are 10:00am – 9:00pm daily, except on Steelers’ home game days, Thanksgiving and Christmas.NOTE: They do not permit taking photos in exhibit area.HIGHLY Recommended! Close
Written by zabelle on 31 Jul, 2007
In 1754/55 General Braddock with his young subordinate George Washington began the construction of a road through the southwestern portion of Pennsylvania. Its purpose was to allow the movement of troops, artillery and supplies into the area that was disputed with the French around the…Read More
In 1754/55 General Braddock with his young subordinate George Washington began the construction of a road through the southwestern portion of Pennsylvania. Its purpose was to allow the movement of troops, artillery and supplies into the area that was disputed with the French around the area of Fort Duquesne. (Present day Pittsburgh.) This road would later become the basis for the new National Road that was coming through from Baltimore.In 1806 the Federal Government authorized the national Highway. Construction began in 1811 and by 1818 it had reached Wheeling Virginia. It continued out as far as Vandalia Ill. Congress was no longer willing to appropriate funds so it became up to the states to continue and maintain the road.The major impact of the National Road was that it opened up the Ohio Valley and the west to settlement. For over forty years this was the main route that wagons and settlers used to get from the east coast into the newly opened territories. A Conestoga wagon could expect to travel up to 15 miles a day and a stage about 4 times faster. Thousands of people followed the national road and along the way major cities sprang up.In the 1850s the railroad reached Pittsburgh and this led to the decline of travel along the road. It took the advent of the motor car to bring about a revival of travel along the national road. When the highway system was establish the new route 40 was given a route that followed quite closely the old National Road. Depending on what your age is traveling route 40 will bring back childhood memories, I know it did for me. This road meanders through bucolic towns and over hills and dales, and if you are in a hurry it’s the last road you want to be on. It was a really nice change from speeding along on the Interstate.In Pennsylvania you can find one of the original tollbooths as well as road mile markers. Inns were a vital part of the National Road in it’s heyday and you can still visit some of these Inns today both to eat and to sleep. We ate dinner at the Century Inn in Scenic Hill which began its life as Hill’s Tavern.Traveling west before you reach scenic hill you will pass the Madonna of the Trails, a monument erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution to honor of the women who followed the trails west. Driving the Lincoln Highway (route 30) was quite an experience. For the most part it goes through a very rural part of Pennsylvania. What took us by surprise were the mountains we had to go over during our drive. It was as green and mountainous as some parts of Vermont, and there were a couple of sections of hair raising turns and excessively steep road. Be prepared for quite a ride. Close
Fort Necessity If ever there was an aptly named fort, this certainly was it. Constructed by the young George Washington in 1754 it was with the certainty that the French and their Indian allies would be coming to seek revenge for the massacre of their…Read More
Fort Necessity If ever there was an aptly named fort, this certainly was it. Constructed by the young George Washington in 1754 it was with the certainty that the French and their Indian allies would be coming to seek revenge for the massacre of their compatriots by the British at Jumonville Glen. That particular incident was to haunt Washington for the rest of his life and to leave him with the certainty that he caused the French and Indian War to escalate into a global conflict. A single conflict between two groups of soldiers both itching for a fight had repercussions felt round the world.What happened at Fort Necessity was a defeat for the English and a much needed victory for the French. On July 3, 1754, after a one day battle, Washington surrendered the Fort and as part of the surrender was required to sign a document that admitted his part in the massacre at Jumonville Glen, calling it an assassination. Washington always claimed he was told that it translated as death or killing but the French had a powerful weapon and they used it.Today Fort Necessity, Jumonville Glen, Braddock’s Grave, and Mt. Washington’s Tavern are all part of the Park Department and are close enough to all be visited at one time. Mt. Washington Tavern is located on route 40 and shortly after it you turn down and drive into the woods to find the visitor center. In the visitor center there is a film to watch which last about a half hour. There are also live interpreters who give talks at different times during the day. Be sure to check the schedule with the rangers in the visitor center. There is also a very nice museum at the visitor center.The Tavern closes the earliest so we went there first. You can walk through the woods or there is a parking lot close to the Tavern. This has nothing really to do with Fort Necessity but it is interesting nonetheless. It was a stage stop on the national Road and you get to see what the sleeping, eating, and drinking arrangement would have been like. There are guides inside to answer any questions you may have.We tried to time everything perfectly so we went next to listen to the interpreter who was a French soldier in our case. I found this of particular interest since I lost a French Ancestor in the French and Indian War. We were sitting out in the woods so wear bug spray on trees and we had to walk down a dirt path through the woods. You will see a reconstruction of the fort off on your right. Try to listen to the interpreter, he was fascinating and very interactive with the children in our group. His talk lasts about a half hour.After sitting in the heat it was nice to watch the movie in an air-conditioned theater. Braddocks Grave is located a couple of miles down route 40 from Fort Necessity. General Edward Braddock was a career soldier. He had 45 years of military service when he was assigned the task of taking Fort Duquesne which is located where on the point of land where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet, in other words today’s Pittsburgh. The General came with two regiments infantry and with the colonials forces and some Indians he had 2,400 men. One of the Colonials was George Washington. They organized in Maryland and headed out on the road that Washington had blazed the previous year. Washington’s road however was not wide enough to accommodate the wagons and the artillery that Braddock had with him so they had to begin by creating a better road (this is the beginnings of the national Highway).This was slow work and it resulted in the army splitting and only part moving ahead. The consequence was a resounding defeat by the French. Of the 1,400 men engaged in this battle 900 died (casualties on the British side). Many officers were killed and general Braddock was fatally wounded. The troupes retreated taking their wounded General with them. They retreated back to near Great Meadow. General Braddock died 4 days later and was buried in the middle of the road he had built with George Washington saying the committal service. The men then road their horses and wagons over the grave to hide it.Fifty years later human bones were found where Braddock was supposed to have been buried and they were taken and interred on a small knoll nearby and the monument that you see today was erected in 1913.The monument is close enough to the road to see when driving by. There is a parking lot and as you go down the stairs look to the right. You will see a path leading into the woods and if you follow it , you will arrive at the spot where the General was originally buried. If you are in the mood for more you can follow the signs to Jumonville Glen and walk to the spot where the French and Indian War really began. When we got there it had already closed so we were not able to walk to the spot. We did however read all the available plaques. Close
Written by MonnieR on 15 Feb, 2007
The urge to visit Erie, Pa., tends to be strongest in the fall, mostly because there’s splendor in the park—the 3,200-acre Presque Isle State Park, that is. In fact, there’s plenty to do here year-round—though in winter, be prepared for plenty of snow.The Presque Isle…Read More
The urge to visit Erie, Pa., tends to be strongest in the fall, mostly because there’s splendor in the park—the 3,200-acre Presque Isle State Park, that is. In fact, there’s plenty to do here year-round—though in winter, be prepared for plenty of snow.The Presque Isle peninsula was formed as sand and sediment accumulated on a glacial moraine. There's a well-developed road system of about 13 miles that loop around the park, and paved hiking/biking trails wind their way around Lake Erie. Across Presque Isle Bay, which creates a harbor for the port city of Erie, is a wonderful view of the downtown skyline.Erie boasts three lighthouses; arguably the most notable is the picturesque Presque Isle Lighthouse in the park. Built in 1872, it’s the second lighthouse to be built on Lake Erie's American shores. The first also is on Presque Isle: the Erie Harbor Pierhead, also known as the Presque Isle North Pier, on the north side of the entrance to Erie Harbor. This black-and-white cast iron tower is far from spectacular, but it is the only remaining US lighthouse in this design.The third, the 49-foot sandstone Erie Lane Lighthouse, is on the other side of town on Lighthouse Street in Dunn Park. Entered into service in 1818, this lighthouse shares the distinction, with the original lighthouse in Buffalo, NY, of being the first on Lake Erie.There’s a another reason to visit Erie—the new Tom Ridge Environmental Center near the park entrance. This 65,000-square-foot center features a 75-foot glass-enclosed tower with a deck that offers a great view of Lake Erie, plus a theatre and a nature shop. When the weather cooperates, pick up a box lunch at the center’s Sunset Café for munching at a picnic table on one of the park’s soft-sand beaches.For those with youngsters in tow, there’s Waldameer Amusement Park Water Park, located at the entrance of Presque Isle State Park. Be sure to head downtown to the Bayfront and the top of the Bicentennial Tower for a panoramic and color-filled view of the city’s skyline, Presque Isle, and Lake Erie. This summer marks the opening of the new Bayfront Convention Center, a maritime-style meeting hall and ballroom.Peek in the Erie Maritime Museum next door where, from September through May, the US Brig Niagara—a fully reconstructed version of the vessel Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry sailed during his victory at Put-in-Bay in the War of 1812—is docked for public viewing. She’s quite a magnificent lady.Dinner might be Lake Erie perch or walleye at Smuggler’s Wharf back in the Bayfront area on State Street. Or, head to Peach Street to Quaker Steak & Lube, one of our all-time favorite restaurant chains that’s headquartered in Sharon, Pa., about 15 minutes from our northeastern Ohio home (I highly recommend the parmesan pepper wing sauce). Close
Written by creekland on 07 Oct, 2006
In pretty much all of our travels we learn (by experience) some important tips that we always pass on when people ask us (in person) for advice. It only seems appropriate to add such an entry here too. This is mainly for those who live…Read More
In pretty much all of our travels we learn (by experience) some important tips that we always pass on when people ask us (in person) for advice. It only seems appropriate to add such an entry here too. This is mainly for those who live in the east - or perhaps anywhere but the rural west - who are contemplating taking a similar road trip out there. If you live in the rural west, perhaps you'll be amused - or say to yourself, "duh," but read between the lines and maybe contemplate what the east is like?
For our definition of "rural west" we're mainly considering west of the Mississippi, but looking at a map, perhaps these tips best apply for states west of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, etc. The definition of "rural west" doesn't apply once one reaches populated (IE coastal) California.
Tip #1: "Civilizations" in the rural west are far and few between. Just because a "town" makes the map doesn't mean you'll be able to get gas, food, and especially lodging there. One "town" we passed in WY had a population of 4. Therefore, get gas/food/bathroom breaks when the opportunity is there and be sure you can drive a couple hours at all times. You may not be able to eat at a specific time without a bit of planning and delay. Look for bigger towns for the basics.
Tip #2: Gas gets cheaper as you reach the bigger towns - and for a state to state comparison, use the website, US Gas Price Map. There's nothing worse than paying 20 cents more per gallon than you could have if you had waited 20 miles.
Tip #2b: If you need gas, but know it's cheaper shortly down the road, don't fill the tank... half full (or less) can usually get you to the cheaper gas.
Tip #2c: Gas tends to be unreasonably expensive IN the National Parks - so gas up outside of them or be prepared to pay...
Tip #3: Speed limits are faster in the west - even on the back roads (70mph is not uncommon for back roads) - so there's less of a reason to need to use highways unless that's the only road from point A to B. Hop off the highway and see some of these small towns. If the distance is shorter, you'll also save time. The views are certainly better and the lack of traffic is awesome.
Tip #4: Mom and Pop motels might be older, but are often quite adequate and tons cheaper than the chains if you're on a budget and don't need luxury - or simply want to support local. They don't always stay open for you to check in at late hours though. State Park campgrounds are also worth considering if you camp.
Tip #5: Local restaurants also tend to be quite good, so try them if you can. A big tip is if you see a lot of local cars outside, it's worth a stop. We've never gone wrong using that "sign." Without local cars it's usually worth passing - unless you're starving. Of course, this works in the east too...
Tip #5b: Have food/drinks in the car with you. Pretzel logs make a great, dry, snack that comes in handy when you realize you've misjudged where you might find a place to eat. Sandwich cookies were also a favorite with us - and string cheese. You'll be surprised at how good they taste when you realize you're at least an hour away from your next possibility...
Tip #6: Wyoming has to be the main state "where the deer and the antelope play." Towards evening you can't drive anywhere without seeing them - though they are most definitely in other states too.
Tip #7: If you want to find crowds in the west - stop at Wal-Mart. Everyone is usually there - well, that and the major National Parks. Incidentally, pretty much all Wal-Marts are set up similarly, so if you're used to shopping there, things are usually easy to find. You can locate stores easily by buying one of their Rand McNally maps and checking the front/back (depending on what state you're looking for).
Tip #8: It's almost impossible to avoid crowds in the major National Parks. To try to do so, get up and going EARLY when most folks are just getting up or eating breakfast. Hikes/drives/views are all MUCH less crowded before 9am. The "plus" to that is that's when many of the animals are active too. Also, eat "off hour" when you can - early or late. Weekdays are less crowded than weekends - and holidays can be atrocious.
Tip #9: If you want to camp in the major National Parks - and they take reservations - you usually need to make those super early - many times the first day they take reservations for the best spots. Some campgrounds are first come first served. Even the best of those fill VERY quickly though. In general, we absolutely love camping in the National Parks...
Tip #9b: Don't camp in some of the National Parks if you're afraid of bears... (we aren't). And DO put all your food in the bear boxes if it's recommended at the park. While the slides of many cars conditions after a bear opted to help himself to the food inside were neat - on a road trip, it would be awfully inconvenient to have that be YOUR car.
Tip #9c: National Park Campgrounds don't have swimming pools - and many do not have showers either. Those that have showers require that you pay for them - have quarters for most. If you're the first one showering in a while, expect cold water for the first minute or two that you've paid for. Campgrounds with less "accessories" tend to be MUCH quieter and less crowded... and you can still go to the other ones to use their showers.
Tip #10: There's no one or two states that have the monopoly on rude/inconsiderate drivers or people and there will almost always be one or two wherever you go. We like to laugh at them...(privately of course) and many still make our stories we tell to others. We have found higher concentrations of them in cities and on highways - and often wonder if the crowded conditions generally found there tend to bring out the "worst" in people or if it's just because there are more people - therefore making it more likely that you'll find those "special someones."
Tip #10b: It's rare to find those "special someones" at the LESSER (known) National Parks or Monuments - a NICE plus to visiting and staying at those places. It's also more rare (but not impossible) to find them on the back roads or in local restaurants or motels.
Tip #11: Heard the myth that the west is "dry heat" and you don't sweat? Well, it might be dry, but you still sweat... quite a bit on hot days too. Have water available at all times and don't even take a short hike on a hot day without it.
Tip #12: Many rivers in the west are dry in the late summer... still seems strange to us to pass over a "river" and see a dry bed. Since rivers are dry, so is the land. You really won't find natural "green" in very many places - only where they irrigate. Seems strange and it's definitely different. In many places you can literally drive for miles and miles and see lots of barrenness (with sage, etc). If you get bored easily, perhaps this will be a problem. For us, we enjoyed conversation...
Tip #13: Wildfires are common in the west - while you won't likely have issues with the actual fire, they can haze over views even many miles or states away.
Tip #14: Have flashlights with you. These are important if you camp, but they also came in handy in both Lava Beds National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns... unexpectedly so in both cases. Headlights are small and easy to either carry or wear.
Tip #15: Have hiking boots or shoes. Many trails are less developed in the west and require a good sturdy shoe if you want to go on them.
Tip #16: Slow down... not driving-wise, but mentally. Don't try to do a National Park in a day - or worse - two in a day. Take your time to actually SEE what you went out to see. Remember, you're on vacation. Be flexible, be open-minded, and be prepared to be astounded by nature's beauty of all sorts.
Written by creekland on 05 Oct, 2006
No review is worth much unless you understand the perspective of the one giving the review - otherwise, how do you know if you would agree or disagree? Should you see the sight - or will you be bored silly? So... more about us -…Read More
No review is worth much unless you understand the perspective of the one giving the review - otherwise, how do you know if you would agree or disagree? Should you see the sight - or will you be bored silly? So... more about us - and this trip.
We're a family of 5 (hubby, myself, 3 boys) and are Eastern US dwellers - having been born and lived in this section of the planet - from NY to FL (and some states in between) our whole lives - thus, our perspective. Our boys on this trip were 14, 12, and 10. It's our 2nd trip out west (didn't know about these reviews after our first one two years ago). Some places we visited were repeat visits and many were new. Our preference is seeing new places. We get more of a "high" from that I suppose. I guess it's our need to fill in our "mental maps" of the world. We often find that what we THOUGHT would be the picture, isn't... Our ultimate goal would be having the whole planet "filled in" but that's doubtful considering our finances...
On this trip, we added my nephew (age 16) and mom (you guess her age) for the first half. Neither have really traveled with us before (my mom had never camped either), so we wondered how we'd all adjust... (it worked out fine). They had to return at the end of August for my nephew to attend school, so flew out from Seattle. (This is our first year homeschooling our youngun's - they love it -but as a warning - homeschooling is not for everyone. Our kids are self-motivated and learn well on their own...)
Our trip itself had a two-fold purpose... first, we wanted to take our nephew to see some areas of the west (Badlands, Yellowstone, the Pacific) we enjoyed the first time as he's never had the opportunity to travel far. We added a few new spots in between other destinations. Then, when he and my mom went home, our family was to meander our way back with nothing really specific in mind - other than we wanted to see more National Parks. We ended up heading to the far south - the deserts, across to Carlsbad, NM, and eventually back through the Smoky Mountains. So, overall we did a huge loop - PA to SD, WY, MT, WA (with nephew and my mom) and OR, CA, AZ, NM, etc back to PA with just our family. We lost track of the miles and days - and, quite honestly, had a blast. We wish we were still out traveling... however, tis time now to earn money for our next trip.
Since we're not independently wealthy, for jobs, hubby works for himself in Civil Engineering and I substitute teach math and science courses in our local high school. This allows us time (and money) to travel. Well, that and the fact that we don't really plan on retiring in the "traditional" way nor is our house up to some folks standards. Hey, we all choose where we use our money - and we only have one trip on this planet - so we each choose for ourselves.
Then, you should know (for perspective purposes), we're not "normal" by typical American standards...we're weird - and we like it that way. We don't watch TV much, and aren't into fashion of any sort (function is of more importance to us). When we do watch TV, it's travel shows, history shows, animal shows (documentary style) or such things. Our boys get along fairly well with each other and aren't into video games as most kids are. They very, very seldom ask if we're there yet and never complain about a trip. They're as "hooked" on travel as we adults are. From a young age I overheard one of my sons telling a friend that he didn't consider a trip "long" unless we got to spend at least one night away from home and not with relatives! This other friend had considered traveling an hour to Grandma's house to be a long trip... Our kids have as much fun planning - and have their dream destinations (Africa, Antarctica, South America) just as we adults do. We're also not shopping or golf lovers - though we do have a huge magnet collection on our fridge - and could use another fridge!
With the travel, we love nature and are not as fond of cities or "man-built" creations - though sometimes we do visit/enjoy those as well. We very seldom dislike a place - but do have preferences about what we like. We love finding "hidden gems" - wonderful places we didn't expect to find.
Getting out and seeing/experiencing nature is often a big part of our traveling. We love camping, hiking, snorkeling, diving, traveling back roads and eating at local places. With hikes, we're game for anything from 1/2 mile to 12 miles - pending our time allowances. Our boys are pretty sure-footed - we "old folks" often call them our "mountain goats." If we're caving, our youngest is nicknamed "mouse" as it's his job to crawl through spaces to see if it's worth it for the rest of us. In the water, we can snorkel for hours. For this trip, the "water" part really doesn't apply though. Our youngest is into all sorts of critters and is our resident critter and insect expert.
We often tent camp - though can be as varied in our lodgings from primitive camping to 5 star resorts. Flexibility is the name of the game. We have, however, discovered the budget goes much further with camping than with the 5 stars, so to travel more, we tend to opt for cheap.
While we appreciate good food and service, it's not really a priority with us. Often times we'll merely "forage" with items we buy along the way to keep in the van. If we do eat out, it's usually lunch - it's cheaper and allows us to stay out away from our campsite. We also have a rule when traveling - we can't eat anywhere we could have eaten at home. This eliminates a TON of chain restaurants and introduces us to many wonderful local eateries. Once in a while this rule gets broken, but it didn't on this trip.
Due to finances and where we were born on this planet, so far most of our traveling has been in the US and Canada. We hope to explore more world-wide in the future, but expenses for the 5 of us increases rapidly once we add airfare, etc, to do it, so who knows? We've been to 49 of the 50 states (need to see Alaska) and have done all of the Eastern Provinces of Canada except Newfoundland and Labrador (maybe next year?).
Anyway, we're always up to a challenge - love exploring - and hate crowds - so work hard at avoiding them. Driving on roads other than interstate highways is a big priority - at least - once we're at the place we consider our trip to have started at. We can use highways to get there quicker.
Hmm, can I think of anything else? Guess not right now... At this point, you should have an idea if you're "weird" like us and want to know more - or if you want to read more just out of curiosity and had no idea folks like us existed. If so, welcome to our world! :)
Written by Philly_Girl on 15 Aug, 2005
When my 17-year-old nephew came to visit this summer, I planned to take him to all the historical sites of Philadelphia. You know the ones, the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge, etc. Evidently though, he had done his research, and he had a slightly different…Read More
When my 17-year-old nephew came to visit this summer, I planned to take him to all the historical sites of Philadelphia. You know the ones, the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge, etc. Evidently though, he had done his research, and he had a slightly different agenda for his 4 days in our city of brotherly love.
I knew it wasn't going to be one of the typical tourist visits, when he got off the airplane with his skateboard on his backpack. "Mom sent you my insurance card, in case I get messed up at the skate park."
"Oh, great," I stammered. "Um, it's good to be prepared..."
The next day we were off to FDR, a skateboarding park. I had looked up directions for us on the Internet, but I had no idea what to expect. I imagined something like Disneyland, with ticket takers, vendors selling $5 cokes, and some kind of form to sign releasing them of liability. What we found was infinitely cooler and way more organic. We got off at the Phillies stadium exit and made our way to the FDR park, following the drive around to the right (one way) to an area underneath I-95 freeway. And there we found it, the famous FDR skate park. This is a skateboard park built by skateboarders. Free to the public the park was filled with 15-25 year olds waiting in line for their turn... At 33, my husband and I were by far the oldest people around.
We stayed all of 5 minutes during our first visit to FDR. Evidently the competition was stiff, and my nephew was not too keen on breaking through the crowds for his turn. I promised him we'd come back in the morning when presumably most of the frequent users might be sleeping in (after a night on the town in Philadelphia.) "Cool," he said. We headed for Philadelphia art museum for the rest of the afternoon, swinging by Love Park a famous site where skateboarders and local city officials duked it out over whether skateboarding would be allowed. Officially it's still banned, though rumor has it among skateboarding fanatics that nighttime is a great time to try out Love Park...
Anyway, the next morning my nephew and I made our way back to FDR. Happily, we were right and the park was mostly empty. My nephew made his way to the edge of the skating area with a handful of other boarders and some bikers. I hung out for a while taking pictures, then retreated to the car to give him some space. Who needs a 30 year old around when you're trying to skate FDR?
Forty-five minutes later, a sweaty but very happy 17-year-old joined me in the car. "I carved my first bowl," I heard him crowing to his friend back in Minnesota on the cell phone as we drove downtown to see the Liberty Bell. "It was totally awesome."
The rest of the trip was filled with more traditional Philadelphia sights, Independence Hall, The Mummer's museum, and South Street with Lorenzo's pizza. But, I'm grateful to my nephew for introducing me and letting me observe a vibrant subculture here in Philly. This is a great city, and there is more to do here than even we natives know! Close
Written by Suzanne715 on 06 Jun, 2005
A colorful totem pole greets visitors upon arrival at the parking area. Looking up the hill, the Indian Cavern gift shop is built into the mountainside. Plaques line the outside wall and share interesting stories about people associated with the cave. The…Read More
A colorful totem pole greets visitors upon arrival at the parking area. Looking up the hill, the Indian Cavern gift shop is built into the mountainside. Plaques line the outside wall and share interesting stories about people associated with the cave. The big red cavern door opens, and our tour begins.
White calcium carbonate seeps through cracks of the arched "Entrance Hall," the caverns grey limestone foyer. We wind our way through narrow passages that twist and turn. Smooth edges of round holes in the walls curve in the direction the water once flowed, like waves frozen in time. Moss grows under artificial lights, adding splashes of green to the rusty-brown rock. Two tiny brown bats cling to the wall, undisturbed by our presence.
In one corridor, Tom, our guide, shows us a hollow, fractured stalactite and encourages us to examine it. Then Tom taps on a triangular rock, jetting out of the floor, and it chimes like a beautiful church bell, echoing off the cavern walls.
"Giant’s Hall," has a towering wall of brilliant creamy-white flowstone cascading from the ceiling to the floor. The gorgeous display of natural art is known as "Frozen Niagara Falls." In the middle of the room, a large sheet of brown rock leans at an angle reaching 25 feet to the ceiling. A rock dinosaur lies along the upper rim of the room, if you use your imagination a little.
In the "Jewel Room," the deepest (140 feet underground) and farthest point in the cave, Tom turns out the light and our world becomes pure darkness. After a moment, he turns on a blue light over a tiny spring full of water. When the area has heavy rains, an underground stream (six feet below the "Jewel Room") overflows. The water bubbles up this spring and water trickles over the ledge on to the fragile "Lily Pad" formations five feet below. Once the "Lily Pads" fill, the water runs back over their lips into deeper grooves resembling a miniature Grand Canyon. From there, the water runs back into the stream.
Leaning our backs against the slanted and chilly wall in the "Star Room," we stare at what has the appearance of nutmeg sprinkled on the stone above. Tom turns out the lights again and tells us to look for bright green dots glowing in the darkness overhead. The tiny dots are minute traces of Radium and haven’t been found in any other cave in the United States thusfar.
Other neat features along the way include a wishing well, a massive rick resembling a thick tree trunk with a heart cut out; thin cracks in the cavern ceiling healing themselves by filling with calcite; cedar tree roots reaching down through the Earth sixty feet in search of moisture; and stalagmites posing like prairie dogs.
Indians occupied three rooms in the cave four hundred years ago, leaving behind many artifacts. Picture writing, found in the "Indian Council Room," tells the story of an Indian who lived and died in the cave. The "Indian Relic Room" has a display of arrowheads, spearheads, hatchets, grinding stones, and peace pipes found in the cave.
David Lewis, an outlaw, and his gang used the cave as a hideout from 1816-1820. Originally known as the "Robin Hood of Pennsylvania" for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, he changed his ways and kept the riches for himself - finally landing him in jail. Rumor has it that he buried a sack of gold inside the cave but it's never been found. In the passage where he and his gang hid out, we stomp on the floor and hear the hollow echo of another tunnel below us.
Indian caverns opened for business in 1929. It is located in Central Pennsylvania on Route 45 (midway between Waterstreet and State College) in the quiet valley of Spruce Creek. This cavern offers a great tour for children (and adults) that plays with your senses and imagination. The tour lasts about an hour. The fifty-six degree cave remains open year round. Tours being daily at 10:00 am. During May, September, and October the cave closes at 4pm. From May 30th through Labor Day the cavern closes at 6pm. Sometimes a discount coupon can be found on their website.
Indian Caverns: Indian Caverns or (814) 632-7578
Allegheny Mountains Visitors Bureau: Visit Central Pennsylvania or (800) 842-5866
Raystown Area Information: Raystown Lake or (888) RAYSTOWN