July 14, 2012

Pennsylvania Triangle 2012, Day 1: Poke-A-Nose

Sunday, July 8, 2012: On the day before I depart on a road trip, I always like to pull the car through the car wash and purchase a new tree-shaped air freshener to hang from the rear view mirror. The scent inside the car has a way of becoming a part of the trip. For this venture (which I will dub the Pennsylvania Triangle 2012) the fragrance was to be mango. I also make a point of picking up some new CDs. The music becomes the soundtrack of the journey and, later, when I create a video slideshow of my photographs, I'll use some of the songs in the background. Music really captures the essence of the trip.

The first CD that I picked up was Rush's latest album "Clockwork Angels." Now, I've been saying for a long time that Rush has not been a vital band since 1982's "Signals." I've long thought that Rush's best days were well behind them, but now I will have to rethink that evaluation. The new Rush album is a fabulous, vital, and creative masterpiece. Every riff is amazing. Every melody is infectious. Songwriting brought to an entirely new level. The production sparkling, the mix rich. This album clearly shows the band back in top form and their music supplied the perfect accompaniment to the Pennsylvanian landscapes that passed by my windshield. I've never been so delighted to be proven wrong as I am with the new Rush.

The second album that I brought along was "Sign No More" by Mumford & Sons. With music that is an organic blend of folk, bluegrass, and moody, acoustic rock, this sound was ideal for those long mornings in the hotel room. I wasn't familiar with the group before I was turned on to this CD by a coworker, but I must say that I'm now a fan. Songs like "The Cave," "Roll Away Your Stone," and "Thistle & Weeds" got stuck in my mind for days. Highly recommended.

The first stop on my journey to the Pocono Mountains was Bushkill Falls. This is a place that is advertised as the "Niagara of Pennsylvania." That's a very ambitious slogan (I've been to Niagara Falls in the past and it was nothing short of majestic) and I was curious to see if this site would live up to the billing. Bushkill's Red Trail features a two-mile hike that leads to eight waterfalls fed by two streams: Little Bushkill Creek and Pond Run. I was pretty tired from the drive from Long Island, so I decided to relax for a little while before heading into the woods. I purchased a bottle of lemonade and took a seat by an outdoor stage where a Native American group was telling stories and sweetening the afternoon air with tribal songs. I felt refreshed immediately.

Soon, I ventured into the woods where I found an intricate system of wooden walkways, staircases, and bridges that bring visitors close up to the waterfalls. The scenery is comprised mostly of hemlock and pine trees, with a few beech, birch, oak, and maple trees also dotting the landscape. Within moments, I came to the first waterfall. From the top of the Main Falls, the water tumbles some 300 feet to the shale bed of the Lower Gorge. The mist sparkled in the Pennsylvania sun and the steady din of the splashing washed away every concern from my mind and filled me with a feeling of complete peace. In that instant, I knew that I was on a vacation.

About a half mile into the hike, the wooden bridges and stairs disappeared giving way to rocky paths and hills. The elevation of Bushkill Falls is 1200 feet above sea level. I'm a pretty avid hiker and even I found these rugged conditions to be quite challenging. By this time, the temperature was reaching into the 90s and I needed to stop occasionally to sit by the stream side and sip water. It was a difficult climb, though I enjoyed every minute of it. The effort was well rewarded with beautiful vistas of several more waterfalls, including Bridesmaid's Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the remote Pennell Falls. Toward the end of the hike, I also found a place called the Delaware Valley Lookout that lends a spectacular view of the land.

After leaving Bushkill Falls, it was only a short drive to my next destination, the Pocono Indian Museum. This museum offers a tour that chronicles the history of the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania from the Paleolithic Period (10,500 BC) through the time of contact with European traders. My favorite artifacts on hand were the clay pots that date back over 1000 years. After the Europeans introduced brass and copper kettles, the Delaware Indians no longer used their pottery skills, making these pieces very rare. The tour also covers topics like village life, food, clothing, tools, and medicines.

By the time I was leaving the Indian Museum (quite hot and sticky), I knew it was time to check in to the Great Wolf Lodge. This is a comfort resort that features a world-class indoor/outdoor water park. I would spend the rest of the day cooling off in the wave pool and having fun on the many water slides. The decor at the Lodge is woodsy and rustic, kinda reminiscent of being on a camping trip or staying in a mountainside log cabin. Antler chandeliers hang in lobby. Woodland creatures peek out from every corner. For the first night, I would have dinner in the hotel's restaurant called the Loose Moose. It offers an amazing buffet, which I washed down with a delicious peach smoothy. I really liked the tree that stands in the midst of the tables. In the evening, the hotel lobby fills up for a magic show, followed by an animated performance at the central clock tower, and finally story time at the fireplace. Children crowd in by the dozens dressed in their pajamas; it is a delightful, carefree environment to be sure. After that, I would head to the lodge's lower level for bowling and games in the arcade.

"O keep my soul, and deliver me:
let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee."

~Psalm 25:20