July 24, 2012

Pennsylvania Triangle 2012, Day 3: Mining & Dining

Tuesday, July 10, 2012: On the third morning of this trip, as I was preparing to make the drive to the second point on this Pennsylvania Triangle (Gettysburg), I checked out of the resort with a heavy heart. I've always gone the economy route when it comes to picking hotels and the Great Wolf Lodge was definitely way above anything that I've ever experienced in the past. I can honestly say that it was easily the nicest stay that I've ever had.

After driving west for about an hour and a half, I came to the town of Ashland. This destination was a little bit out of the way, but I really wanted to experience the next place on my list -- the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine and Steam Train. I bought my ticket for the tour and took a seat on the benches by the mouth of the tunnel. I could feel a chilly 49-degree breeze emanating from the dank confines of the mine. Soon, I boarded a coal car and took a bumpy ride that went 1,800 feet into the mountainside. Here, I learned all about the mining of anthracite and its dangers. I never knew that rats are a miner's best friend. Rats are very sensitive to gases like methane and if they become aware of such a threat, they will make a dash straight for the exit with the miners right behind them. I really loved exploring the gangways and chutes of the mine. The atmosphere was both fascinating and spooky.

After the coal mine tour, I hopped aboard a steam train called the Lokie Henry Clay. With a loud toot and an unexpected burst of steam, the train lurched into the woods to emerge on the side of Mahanoy Mountain. Surrounded by the lush beauty of the landscape, I was able to look out over the mostly-abandoned borough of Centralia, PA. Due to conditions caused by an underground coal fire that has been burning since 1962, Centralia has basically become a ghost town.

From Ashland, I headed southwest to the town of Lititz. In the middle of town is the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. This building has been open since 1861 and offers a tour and a hands-on pretzel twisting lesson. Unfortunately, a large group had arrived at the bakery a few minutes before I did and all of the tours for the next two hours were booked. A little disappointed, I bought two fresh pretzels and I took a seat on the bench in front of the store. The pretzels were soft, yet a bit chewy. Delicious.

Just down the road from the pretzel bakery is the Wilbur Chocolate Company. This building features both a factory and a chocolate museum. Walking through the displays of old tins and chocolate molds, I came to the area in the back where I could see candies being hand made. I knew I couldn't leave this store without buying some kind of confection, so I picked up a chocolate crisp bar and headed to the nearby Lititz Park. Ducks swam in the pool and water erupted from the fountain as I sat beneath a tree nibbling on squares of chocolate. It was a very sweet moment.

As the day was beginning to turn dusk, I finally arrived at the Econolodge in Gettysburg. After unpacking my things and freshening up, I figured that I would go out to eat dinner and then just drive around town to get the lay of the land. I ended up eating at a sushi bar that was really good.

After the meal, I drove the streets of Gettysburg to scout out the many places that I would visit on Day 4. As I was following the map to the famed Gettysburg Battlefield, I saw a sign for Soldiers National Cemetery. There were quite a few people walking in through the gates, so I figured this would be a good place to get out and look around. The green grounds featured many monuments, headstones, and grave markers, a lot of them simply marked with "Unknown."

As I approached the largest monument in the cemetery, I realized that I had stumbled into a very important place. This monument marked the exact spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. A solemn feeling came over me as I found the plaque dedicated to Mr. Lincoln; it was covered in heads-up pennies. The monument itself looked absolutely beautiful in the golden glow of dusk. I've been to many historic places throughout the United States, but none has ever made me feel quite as patriotic as I would in Gettysburg. As the sun set on Day 3 of this adventure, I looked forward to what kinds of things Day 4 would have in store.

"Now may the Lord of peace himself
give you peace at all times and in every way.
The Lord be with all of you."

~2 Thessalonians 3:16