Columcille Megalith Park

Columcille

Tucked away in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania is a beautiful and mystical place called Columcille Megalith Park. It’s rather unknown even to locals but is truly a wonderful treasure. If you’re up for exploring the outdoors while immersing yourself in a mystical landscape and setting, Columcille is for you!

I reached Columcille Megalith Park by taking route 611 off I-80 near Stroudsburg (right near the Delaware Water Gap for those in NJ/NY).  From route 611, I then took route 191.  Be on the lookout for Fox Gap Road next!  Quaker Plains Road comes up about a half mile later and this is where I found the Megalith Park.  There’s a dirt/stone parking area alongside a fence.  From there, you can begin your adventure!

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Columcille is an outdoor “sanctuary” built of stone and megaliths. Inspired by ancient Gaelic megalith structures and landscapes, Columcille is named for the 6th century Irish monk Colum Cille, who founded a monastic community on the Scottish Isle of Iona. The Megalith Park is privately owned but opened to the public – anyone can come and enjoy the sights!

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On my visit, I followed a map around the property and was able to see some awe-inspiring structures and megaliths. The stones were brought in specifically to create Columcille. The megaliths are often thought of as stones meant to allow one’s spirit and energy to “play” and be free. While exploring Columcille, it was easy to see how one could engage with the mysticism the site inspires. One doesn’t have to be spiritual by any means to enjoy the sites, though. The park exists simply for people to come and enjoy!

The tallest megalith at Columcille rises out of the ground about 20 feet and weighs over 45 tons! I was impressed and in awe at the fact that someone could possibly go through the trouble to place these giant stones this way. It certainly creates a gorgeous landscape.

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Around the park, there are lots of little sights to visit. There are bridges, towers, single-standing stones, and other creations made from stones and the megaliths around the property. Walking around, I was sort of reminded of a fairytale. I felt like I was exploring ancient Ireland during the time of the Celts – there’s such a neat vibe there. I really enjoyed being able to walk around and simply enjoy the scenery and visit the sights around the park. There is a guest book in the chapel you can sign and I was amazed how many people from so many different places come to visit! It’s generally a very quiet place, but the park is also a popular spot for celebrating spiritual events and holidays, like the equinox and solstice.

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If you ever find yourself around the Pocono Mountains and want to experience something truly unique, I highly suggest a visit to Columcille. It’s a great place to simply get in touch with nature and, if you’re interested, feel a bit more connected to your spiritual side.

To see and explore more of the Poconos, click the image below!

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The Abandoned Mining Town: Centralia, Pennsylvania

Creepy and weird or abandoned places always seem to top those “must-see” travel lists for those looking to go beyond the normal “touristy” stuff. Sometimes, though, these types of places are right in our own backyard. A while back, I took a trip to Centralia, Pennsylvania, a town not too far away from my own former hometown and the real-life inspiration for the movie and video games Silent Hill (talk about creepy, right??!).

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What exactly makes Centralia so weird and how did it serve as the inspiration for Silent Hill? Located in Columbia County, PA, the area was once a popular coal-mining site (there are still active mines nearby today). In 1962, the mines beneath Centralia accidently caught fire when (according to the most popular theory, as there are quite a few) a fire at a landfill was not entirely extinguished and reached down into a strip-mine pit, leading the coalmines to eventually catch aflame, as well. Centralia is literally a town with a fire burning beneath it.

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Numerous attempts were made to extinguish the fire, but the fact of the matter is that there is too much coal beneath the town, too many different veins that may have caught fire, and no amount of water that could be poured into the ground would sufficiently put it out. The fire is still burning today and there are estimates that it could take over a thousand years to fully burn out, given the amount of coal that may lie beneath the town and connect to other coal veins in the area. Ultimately, residents of the town were forced to evacuate due to dangerous gases, the fire itself, and possible land collapses as the coal burned beneath the town. Some residents refused to leave, however, and as of today, there are less than ten people remaining in the town (against the will of the government). Centralia’s zip code has been revoked by the U.S. Postal Service and the state has invoked eminent domain on all the property, with last-ditch efforts to evict the remaining people there. The residents won a lawsuit, however, and are allowed to remain in the town until they die.

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Centralia is easily missed unless you’re actually looking for it. The state route that once ran through it, PA Route 61, has been torn up and no longer reaches the town. Other, smaller roads are now used for access. Once you do stumble across the town, it’s quite an eerie sight. All buildings have been knocked down (save for those still being lived in by the few who refuse to leave), so nature has reclaimed much of the town. The crumbling sidewalks and cracked streets still remain, though. Coal fire smoke and steam drifts up between cracks in the road and from the side of the large coal-dump mountains and piles. In the winter, snow melts because of the temperature beneath the ground. There’s always a fog/mist hanging around Centralia due to the fire, giving the town a definite creepy-abandoned feel. You can still drive through the abandoned streets and, if you’re super adventurous, get out on foot and head back into the woods, where the old mine shafts are. I did just that and found some interesting things.

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Be careful crossing into any areas marked with bright orange netting! These are dangerous and are not advisable to enter!

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There are some old, overgrown access roads that now make for some solid hiking trails if you’re looking to do some exploring.  It’s super important to pay attention to the ground when walking around Centralia, particularly if you go into the lesser-visited areas and into the woods. Many of the old mine shafts were simply abandoned when the town was evacuated, so it’s certainly possible to accidentally end up falling into the old mines if you’re not careful. In my experiences exploring Centralia, I’ve come across old ruins of the coal mine company buildings, abandoned mine shafts, empty houses and shacks, old power lines, rusted equipment and children’s toys, and other odd things. When exploring the area, it’s easy to see how the town was the inspiration behind Silent Hill.

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It is absolutely crucial to be safe about where you go and what you do.  DO NOT approach any mine openings and stick to roads and obvious paths while exploring.  Be cognizant of your surroundings always!  Vandals have unfortunately defaced some of the roads and ruins around the town, so police patrol the area more heavily now than in the past.  Always be smart and always be safe!

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The Pocono Mountains: Boulder Field

Welcome to the next installation of my summertime Pocono Mountains series! Today I’ll be exploring Boulder Field, a well-known local spot that’s both unique and rather iconic!

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Boulder Field is located in Hickory Run State Park off route 534, which can be accessed from I-80 or the nearby turnpike (I-476) if you’re coming from out of town, or from local back roads around Jim Thorpe and the Split Rock/Big Boulder area. If you explore around this area in general, you’ll find many smaller boulder fields (which I’ve traversed previously), but the main one is of course the most well known. What exactly is Boulder Field, you ask? Well, it’s a giant field. Of boulders. No kidding!

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Finding rocks out in nature is no big deal, but a large field of boulders like this is highly unusual. Boulder Field was made roughly 20,000 years ago during the last glacial period in North America. The simplest way perhaps of explaining the formation of the field (as best as scientists can determine – much of their information is still theory) is that, during the last ice age, the glacier never actually covered Boulder Field, but made it cold enough to freeze the ground, expose bedrock (the Pocono rock), and create permafrost. With fluctuating temperatures between the day and night though, freeze-thaw and frost-heave created cracks in the bedrock. Because Boulder Field actually lies on a slope, gravity naturally played into the formation of the boulders once the bedrock cracked. The rocks moved due to a process called gelifluction, or the downward movement of sand, water, rock, and ice particularly in geographical areas like the Poconos. Similar to the process of how potholes are created in wintertime, the bedrock of Boulder Field cracked and eventually broke into the large boulders as it sloped downward and was “moved” by the flow of water, ice, mud, and sand. Today, water still runs beneath Boulder Field. Geography is awesome!!

The boulders are naturally rounded rather than jagged because of having collided and “rubbed” against one another for so long. Large boulders lie on the top of the field because they have greater surface area and allowed smaller boulders to “fall” below. The indentations in the field that are seen today are evidence of this process and movement. In some places, these large indentations have generated stories about their origins, often weaving into the history of the surrounding area. A hike in Central PA a couple years ago led me to a place called “Indian Wells,” an area similar to boulder field but on the top of a ridge, where large indentations in the rocks were present (the story goes that Indians created these impressions to collect water, hence “Indian Wells”).

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The road to Boulder Field is usually closed in the winter due to snow and ice, but those willing to hike the three miles in can still access it. In summer, many snakes make their home in Boulder Field, so it is crucially important to take caution when walking across the boulders. Some of the rocks are loose, so taking your time is a smart idea. Spiders are also abundant, but they normally just scurry away into the depths of the rocks when you approach.

Unfortunately, Boulder Field has seen lots of vandalism in recent years, including the spray painting and defacing of the actual boulders. To maintain Boulder Field as it exists today, natural occurrences aside, it is important not to move the boulders or remove them. Like anything in nature, leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories!

Boulder Field is great for a day adventure. You can even picnic out on the rocks while doing some exploring! Once you get the hang of walking across them, the boulders don’t pose too much of a challenge. I’ve seen really young children and even pets traverse them with no problem. It’s certainly an incredible sight to see and absolutely worth the visit!

For more information and posts about the Poconos, click the image below!

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The Pocono Mountains: What Are They?

Welcome to my series of summertime Poconos exploration!  I’ll be visiting various hiking trails, forests, natural areas, and sights around the Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania, which has been my home for most of my life.  In this first post, I am going to explain a bit about the what the Pocono Mountains are and why so many people are drawn to visit each year.

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The Pocono Mountains are a truly incredible place.  Home to mountains, plateaus, lakes and rivers, wildlife, parks, and resorts and ski mountains, there is always something to do and see.  The Poconos is defined geographically quite well, but the term “the Poconos” has come to include a large and broad area of NEPA (northeastern PA).   With popular ski destinations and in the wintertime and lakefront sports and mountain activities (and now also huge water park resorts) in the summertime, the Poconos functions year-round as an outdoors-man’s dream.  Tourists come most notably from New York and New Jersey, often on day trips to a specific locale or to stay in some of the iconic and long-standing resorts that dot the area.

The Pocono Mountains are named for the unique Pocono rock that was formed 300-400 million years ago and then “shaped” by glaciers, the most recent being the Wisconsin Glacier of about 12,000 years ago.  The Poconos is part of the larger Appalachian (we pronounce it “Appa-lay-shin”) Mountains and the Appalachian Trail runs right through at the Delaware Water Gap.

Traditionally, the Poconos has been a vacation destination.  People built vacation homes on lakes and tucked away into the mountains, as well as hunting camps in some of the state game lands and less-populated forests.  Many of the homes in the Poconos today either began as vacation homes or have been modeled off the traditional “Pocono lakefront” style.  In this way, many homes in the Poconos retain a unique look.

Economically, the Poconos was a large exporter of ice in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s.  With plenty of lakes frozen over entirely in the winter that took a long time to thaw into summer, and with modern refrigerators a thing of the future, ice harvesting was hugely profitable and the Poconos was an ideal place from which to get it.  Today, Brady’s Lake near Pocono Lake still harvests ice in the wintertime and keeps alive the history of the area.

Resorts have played a large role in the economy and life of the Poconos.  Old lodges and resorts, such as Skytop Lodge built in the early 1900’s and Pocono Manor built at the turn of the century, helped build the Poconos as a travel and vacation destination and kept alive the tradition of enjoying nature and the outdoors.   Ski lodges and resorts that operated for skiers in the winter stayed open through the summer for those looking to enjoy the sunny mountains and lakes.  Resorts such as Split Rock, Jack Frost & Big Boulder, and Camelback have kept this idea alive. Today, the Poconos has seen many new additions to its collection of iconic lodges and resorts and it continues to expand.

History perforates the Poconos and at almost every turn there’s something interesting to learn or be found. From Revolutionary War figures, coal mining, original railroad routes, old amusement parks, and Native American tribes, to more modern day athletes, celebrated artists and authors, there are layers and layers of history to be discovered in the Poconos (just describing them would be a post unto itself!).  Having learned much about the local area while growing up in school and then going out to explore the Poconos more myself, I still find that there is so much to learn about the area.

I am proud to have grown up and lived most my life in such a beautiful and lively place.  While the winter may seem to last half the year and the snow can be a lot for some people, there’s nothing like watching the mountainsides turn vivid colors in the autumn, newborn animals wandering with their parents in the spring, and jumping into a cool lake or river in the summertime.  The area has definitely built up in recent times, but the Poconos has certainly managed to retain its outdoor, mountain charm and keep alive many of its traditions. There’s nothing like bringing someone new to the Poconos and showing them around!

In my following posts, I’ll be exploring some of my favorite spots in the Poconos to go hiking and sightseeing.  Follow along for updates and be on the lookout for some incredible places to see and visit!

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The Arboretum at Penn State

Ah, the beauty of bright flowers and leafy greens in summertime!  It’s the perfect season to travel and do some sightseeing and, for the past month, I’ve been doing just that! I came up to the northeastern U.S. a couple weeks ago from Florida and Georgia, making a stop at my Alma Mater first.  Penn State is a giant university in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania.  You can drive two hours in any direction and pretty much not see civilization for quite some time.  That’s what makes it so special, though – the small town feel (of a HUGE university) in a very rural area (don’t let the “rural” part fool you – there’s always so much to do and see!).  The university sits in what has been coined “Happy Valley,” where the views of the mountains are spectacular and the land is farmed by locals, the Amish, and even the university.

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In the northeast corner of the campus is The Arboretum.  A gorgeous garden-setting of both local and far-away flowers, trees, and vegetation, it’s absolutely perfect for an evening time stroll (especially after enjoying some ice cream across the street at The Creamery!).  It’s a hot spot for recent graduates to take pictures and for die-hard Penn State fans to have their weddings.  A new section of The Arboretum was recently finished and, having never seen it before, I was excited to visit it and see what all the buzz was about!

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The many different pathways of The Arboretum lead to different connecting gardens the tend to feature certain types of plants, flowers, and vegetation.  Each plant is labeled with it’s name and place of origin.  It’s always so fun to see just how many of the plants are local from Pennsylvania!

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In the middle of The Arboretum sits a large sun dial that is “interactive” in the sense that one can stand up on the rocks used to designate the time.  To the south of the sun dial is a gorgeous fountain (scene of many a wedding and graduation photo) that sits next to a man-made marsh area the leads back toward campus.  At night, the fountain lights up and can be seen along the northernmost road of campus.

The new section of The Arboretum, the children’s’ section, was greater than I expected it to be!  It is a very interactive section, where children can water plants, see how food is grown, play in sand pits and water troughs, and even enjoy some outdoor musical instruments.  As an adult I absolutely loved it – I can only imagine how neat it must be as a kid!  There were lots of places to crawl around and explore.  I was surprised at how many vegetables were growing in the raised beds (and am curious about what is done with them when they’re ready to be picked!).  I definitely think this new section is my favorite section!

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At the north end of The Arboretum is a pavilion that overlooks a large field and the mountains in the distance.  It was sunset when I visited, which afforded me some incredible views of the sun sinking below the trees and mountains.  And although I don’t have a photo of it, next to the pavilion is a great in-ground scaled “model” of the local topography and waterworks of the area.  The attention to detail is superb and it’s always fun to find the little towns and creeks labeled on it!

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Pennsylvania is home to some amazing state parks, trails, lakes, and mountains.  Even surrounded by all these things, The Arboretum at Penn State stands out as something beautiful and special.  It is a must-see if ever visiting the campus, particularly at sundown when the light is soft and the views are spectacular.

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