RVing in the Keystone State (September 16-30, 2019)

On Monday, September 16th, we drove 250 miles to Saylorsburg, PA where we spent a week at Silver Valley Campsites. Saylorsburg is in the Pocono Mountains, a popular vacation spot for residents of the Middle Atlantic states. We had expected the drive to only be 216 miles but the RAM’s GPS had a different opinion. Since that GPS is configured to identify routes that are compatible with our rig’s dimensions, we generally follow it without always knowing why. Although we expected that most of the trip would be through New York, we were surprised when the GPS took us through New Jersey for about 40 miles. Then, when we arrived at the freeway exit Phil had expected to take, the GPS had him continue to the next exit and then instructed him to do a U-turn whenever possible, not easily done with a 39-foot fifth wheel in tow. We were quite relieved to finally make it to the campground and were much more exhausted than normal.

On Tuesday we drove to the Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center (JEEC) in Nazareth, PA. The history of Jacobsburg focuses on the Henry family and their small arms industry. The first of the Henry gun makers, William Henry I, opened his gun factory in Lancaster, PA in 1750. In 1792, William Henry II purchased land at Jacobsburg and built a gun manufactory. Henry II acquired the land from the heirs of Jacob Hubler, who in 1740 founded the community from which Jacobsburg draws its name. Three succeeding generations of Henrys produced small arms until the late 1800s. The Henry firearms were used in all of the nation’s major conflicts from the Revolutionary Way through the Civil War and became the prominent weapon of the western frontier.

The JEEC includes 1,168 acres of forests, fields, and creeks. We hiked the 3-mile Jacobsburg Red/Green Loop through the woods. There are 19 miles of trails that crisscross throughout the entire property, often making it difficult to stay on the route we intended.

On Wednesday we returned to the JEEC and hiked 4.2 miles on the Homestead Trail. The trail took us through meadows that were likely farmed in the past but are now teeming with wildflowers.

On Thursday we visited Bushkill Falls in Bushkill, PA. Dubbed “The Niagara of Pennsylvania,” Bushkill Falls is among the Keystone State’s most famous attractions. This unique series of eight waterfalls is accessible through a network of hiking trails and bridges that provide fabulous views of the falls and the surrounding forest. Early records show that, in the late 1890s, a farmer charged tourists to walk through his cornfields to reach Bushkill Falls. In 1904, Charles Peters officially opened Bushkill Falls with admission costing 10 cents.  It costs a little bit more now.

We hiked 4.5 miles on the red trail. The red trail is the most demanding of the four routes and visits all eight waterfalls. Much of the early part of the hike was along rocky paths through the forest. At one point, Phil was looking at the trail map and came close to stepping on a large snake which quickly slithered away. In addition to the rocky paths, there were many bridges to cross and lots of sets of stairs to climb and descend. In total, these stairs had a total of 1,267 steps. By the end, our legs were quite weary. Despite this, the trails were beautiful and the weather was ideal.

On Friday, September 20th, we drove to Bangor, PA and did a 4.8-mile out-and-back hike. The majority of the trail was on the Appalachian Trail. Although the path was rather rocky, the first three miles of the hike were fairly easy and took us through a lush green forest. The fun really began when we reached the Wolf Rocks, a 1/3-mile section of boulders that we needed to scramble over. It was quite challenging but we managed to get through this section with no major mishaps.

On Saturday we drove to the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area in East Stroudsburg, PA and attended the Shawnee Celtic Festival. We began by visiting the petting zoo and the vendor booths, then headed to the festival tent where we listened to a Celtic band, House of Hamill. We then headed back into the courtyard and watched a drum and bagpipe band perform. By then, the temperature was approaching 80 degrees so we headed inside to the air-conditioned Irish Pub where we listened to performances of Celtic songs by Seamus Kennedy and the Rogue Diplomats. Many of their songs involved audience participation and were quite humorous.

On Monday, September 23rd, we drove 160 miles to Gettysburg, PA where we spent a week at Gettysburg Campground.

On Tuesday afternoon we were joined by two couples who had accompanied us during our 2018 caravan to Alaska. Ken and Cathy Bentz camped on one side of us and Tom and Trish Lehr camped on the other. After spending the afternoon catching up, we all headed to the Dobbin House Tavern for dinner. This restaurant is in a house built in 1776 by Reverend Alexander Dobbin. We dined in the basement portion of the house. After dinner, the group returned to our site and we were introduced to the game of Farkle. While somewhat similar to Yahtzee, Farkle provides the potential for players to rack up, or lose, a huge number of points on each turn.

Unfortunately Ken and Cathy could only stay one night so, after saying our goodbyes, we headed out on Wednesday with the Lehrs to explore the area. Our first stop was at Jack’s Hard Cider in Biglerville, PA. Named for Jack Hauser, who led Musselman Foods into national recognition in the 1950s, this company presses, ferments and packages their cider on site. The current showroom is on a hill overlooking the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside. We sat outside and enjoyed our drinks while snacking on cheese, crackers and apple slices. Our next stop was at the historic Round Barn & Farm Market. Built in 1914, this is one of only a few truly round barns surviving today. While the lower level of the barn sells produce and other food products, the upper level is available for staging weddings and other special events. By this point it was already early afternoon so we headed to Gettysburg’s Lincoln Square in the center of town and had lunch at The Pub & Restaurant. After lunch we stopped in at the neighboring Adams County Winery shop and enjoyed a wine tasting. We then returned to the campground where we played some more exciting games of Farkle. We also introduced the Lehrs to Giant Jenga and played a couple of competitive games before calling it a day.

On Thursday the Lehrs headed to a doctor’s appointment, so we were on our own to explore the town and learn about the Battle of Gettysburg. We began at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitors Center. We first watched a film, A New Birth of Freedom, narrated by Morgan Freeman. This film served as the starting point for our education concerning the events of the 3-day battle in which over 160,000 soldiers converged on the town of Gettysburg, with its 2,400 residents. Total casualties (dead, wounded, captured, and missing) for the three days of fighting were 23,000 for the Union army and as many as 28,000 for the Confederate army. We then went to view the “Battle of Gettysburg” cyclorama. This cyclorama, which depicts Pickett’s Charge where General Lee lost over 5,000 soldiers in one hour on July 3, 1863, was painted by a French artist in 1884 and moved to Gettysburg in 1913. The artistic work underwent a massive restoration prior to being moved into the newly-constructed Visitors Center in 1962. The Gettysburg Cyclorama is 377 feet long, 42 feet high and weighs 12.5 tons. We then explored the museum which contains one of the largest collections of Civil War relics in the world. The exhibits, along with multi-media presentations, helped to explain the events of each day of the battle and the terrible aftermath. We spent nearly two hours in the museum and were very impressed. We could have spent much more time in the museum if we had not already made reservations for a bus tour that afternoon.

The bus tour was in an air-conditioned coach and was narrated by a licensed guide. During slightly more than two hours, we drove through the battlefield and learned details as to the events that occurred on each day. The guide did an excellent job of explaining the troop movements and the ebbs and flows of the 3-day battle. We had three stops on the tour, including one at Little Round Top. We saw many of the 1,500 monuments throughout the park.

Upon returning to our campsite, Tom and Trish joined us for dinner. We played a couple of games of Farkle and then introduced them to Marbles. Tom’s good luck at Farkle continued with two wins at Marbles.

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Playing marbles with Tom & Trsih

On Friday we said our goodbyes to the Lehrs and headed to a guided tour of the Jennie Wade House. We had purchased the value plan with our bus tour and this included admission to three additional attractions, from a list of eight possibilities. The Jennie Wade house was one of the options. Jennie Wade, a 20-year-old, was the only civilian killed during the battle. She had been staying at her sister’s house, assisting her sister who had given birth several days before. The Union and Confederate armies were positioned on either side of the house and were firing back and forth. The Union soldiers had encouraged the family to hide in the basement but, due to the condition of Jennie’s sister, Jennie’s mother refused. Jennie was kneading bread for the Union soldiers when she was killed by a bullet that passed through both the outside and inner doors. The Union soldiers then insisted that the family move to the basement and carried Jennie’s body there, where it remained until the fighting ended. During the tour, we were able to see evidence of the gunfire and artillery that had hit the house, as well as the holes in the two doors through which the fatal bullet passed. Artifacts from that day in 1863 are on display as well, including an artillery shell that was discovered, still live, in the roof’s eave during restoration and a floorboard with Jennie’s blood still on it.

In the afternoon we drove to the nearby town of Hanover and got an oil change for the Ram at the Dodge dealer. Although it was supposed to be the Express Service lane, it took nearly two hours. First, we discovered that the mechanic had gone to lunch so we did likewise. While driving to Chick-fil-A, Jan spotted a cinema that was showing Downton Abbey, so after the oil change was completed, we went to the movies. After the movie and a stop at Sam’s Club, we returned home somewhat exhausted.

On Saturday morning we drove to downtown Gettysburg and got a guided tour of the Shriver family home and business. George Shriver was a young man who had become rather wealthy making liquor on his family’s farm several miles from Gettysburg. In 1860, he built a very nice house in Gettysburg for his wife and two young girls. Attached to the house was a saloon and ten-pin alley. Unfortunately, George joined the Union Army before he could open the business and ended up starving to death in a Confederate prison. Since women were not permitted in a saloon, the business never opened. When the Confederates invaded the town of Gettysburg, Mrs. Shriver fled with the girls to the family’s farm. The house was occupied and ransacked by Confederate sharpshooters who knocked out bricks in the attic wall through which they could fire their rifles. There is evidence that at least two soldiers were killed in the house. The museum connected to the house contains relics that were discovered during the 1996 restoration, including live Civil War bullets that had fallen through the floorboards. One of the more sobering parts of the tour dealt with the aftermath of the battle. The thousands of wounded soldiers, both Union and Confederate, were cared for all over town, including some in George Shriver’s saloon. With over 5,000 dead soldiers, as well as thousands of dead horses and mules, laying in the fields and woods under the hot July sun, the stench could be smelled as far as 30 miles away.

While waiting for our tour of the Shriver House, Jan had learned from the tour guide that there was an outdoor antique show, with more than 120 antique dealers, going on in Lincoln Square. Jan decided she would rather explore the antique show than visit another museum so Phil headed off with our remaining two tickets and visited the Gettysburg Heritage Center and the Gettysburg Battle Theater. The Heritage Center focused on what life was like for the civilians before, during and after the battle. The Battle Theater provided a multi-media presentation showing the routes the various forces had taken prior to converging on Gettysburg. When we reconnected, we headed to Friendly’s for a late lunch and then drove to Orrtanna, PA where we briefly attended an outdoor festival at the Adams County Winery.

On Sunday we spent our last full day in Gettysburg exploring the battleground by car. Our first stop was at the Sachs Covered Bridge. This 100-foot bridge was built in 1852. It carried both armies during the battle of Gettysburg and was crossed by parts of the Army of Northern Virginia as it retreated.

We then drove the 24-mile self-guided auto tour of the battlefield. Our first stop was a 120-step climb up an observation tower that overlooked both the southern portion of the battlefield and Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower’s farmhouse and barn.

We drove most of the auto tour before stopping for dinner. We passed many of the 1,500 monuments that have been erected to honor the battle’s participants. Some of these are in fields in which corn has been planted in rows with paths that enable access to the monuments. We climbed to the top of the huge Pennsylvania Monument as well as another observation tower at Culps Hill.

Our final stop in the afternoon was at the Soldier’s National Cemetery which contains the remains of over 6,000 U.S. servicemen, including 3,500 Union soldiers killed in the Civil War. Nearly half of the Civil War burials are unknown soldiers. On November 19, 1863, government officials, battle veterans, and citizens gathered to dedicate the cemetery. Near the end of the ceremonies, President Abraham Lincoln offered a few remarks – his Gettysburg Address.  The exact location within the cemetery where the speech was given remains unknown.

After dinner we finished the Auto Tour. We stopped at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial where over 1,800 Civil War veterans gathered on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg to dedicate this memorial to “Peace Eternal in a Nation Divided.” FDR gave the dedication speech. We also visited several other monuments, including the Virginia and Tennessee monuments.

 

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