Skiing in a Winter Wonderland

It’s now officially spring, but many parts of the U.S. still definitely feel like winter! And I’m actually totally okay with that! Growing up, I went skiing every winter with my friends after school.  We had an after school ski club that most of us attended throughout the winter each year.  My parents skied, my grandparents skied, so it was only natural that I learned when I was young, too.  It has truly always been one of my favorite pastimes! Living in Florida for the past few years, though, skiing is hard to come by.  That’s why I was so excited to set aside a weekend recently to head out to the mountains to partake in some snowy fun!

It has been years since I’ve worn my ski boots and, at first, getting them on was a but difficult.  The plastic sections on the front had kind of warped out of shape, so locking the bindings on them was almost impossible (it took two people to finally get them on my feet). They were a little stiff at first, but walking around and skiing downhill on them all day loosened them up a bit and brought them “back to life.”  If you’ve never skied, just know that there is nothing worse than uncomfortable ski boots.

I started off on the smaller slopes to warm up, genuinely surprised how quickly it all “came back” to me since it had literally been years since my last downhill run. After I was sure I could once again handle myself on long planks stuck to my feet, I headed to the more difficult slopes.  The conditions were pretty nice, but the temperature was positively freezing. I ended up going inside a couple times to warm up, but even hot chocolate couldn’t completely shake the cold from my bones.  I wanted to get the most out of my day on the slopes, though, so it wasn’t long before I geared back up and headed up the mountain again.

Once the sun set, the temperature really, really turned cold. Tired and hungry, I decided to turn in to the lodge.  It was a wonderful day and lots of fun!! Skiing will always be one of my favorite winter activities!

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The Keystone Capitol

There’s nothing quite like taking a road trip to visit old friends!  I recently took a drive to central Pennsylvania to visit friends, enjoy some historic and eclectic nightlife, and see the state capitol.

The day began with a visit to a wonderful restaurant and bar called The Gingerbread Man in downtown Harrisburg.  I enjoyed a yummy Cuban sandwich and a crisp beer.  After lunch, it was time to head down the street to a wine bar! With lots of local options, it was fun to taste and try the vino of Pennsylvania. I’m always a big fan of trying local fare and drinks when traveling to or visiting new places.

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As the day waned, it was time to revitalize ourselves with some coffee. The next stop was a coffee shop called Denim Coffee in Carlisle.  I got a warm mocha and we all sat and talked away the late afternoon.  Continuing what was soon becoming the food-and-drink tour, we ventured onward to a local favorite – Molly Pitcher Brewing Company.  With fun drinks, a cozy space, and the coolest beer taps I’ve ever seen, it was definitely one of my favorite places of the trip.

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I drove past the beautiful state capitol building in the early hours of the morning after finishing a few rounds at a fun, eclectic bar (with excellent fried pickles!).  It was a wonderful day and night of exploring, trying new things, and catching up with friends!

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Snow Tubing in The Mountains

I couple weeks ago, I flew north to New York City and then made a short trip to the Poconos in Pennsylvania to visit family, see my old childhood home, and to take advantage of the snowy, cold weather activities in the mountains!  I had been wanting to go skiing for quite some time but, due to time restrictions and traveling, decided on going snow tubing instead.

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I looked up a few of the mountains in the Poconos that offer tubing and decided on Big Boulder, which part of the Jack Frost/Big Boulder Ski Resort.  Although it is a smaller location than say, Camelback Mountain (which boasts 42 snow tubing lanes!), I decided on Big Boulder because it’s super close to my family’s home, it’s a scenic drive (especially if you enter through Split Rock Resort), and the price and time slots available were right.  So the drive from NYC to the Pocono Mountains began!

After arriving at Big Boulder and finding the parking for the tubing area (which is all the way beyond the ski slope parking), I added my final cold-weather layers to my attire and headed out to the mountain! I signed a release form stating I wouldn’t sue if a I died and attached my wicket and ticket to my coat (I had a great moment of nostalgia attaching the wicket to my coat, haha… I hadn’t done that in years!).

I grabbed a snow tube and headed for the “magic carpet” tow that took me up the mountain (more of a hill, in this case).  At the top, there were different lanes you could choose to tube down, so I hopped in line for one and waited to glide down the snow!

It’s such an exhilarating feeling, “teetering” at the top of the hill and then rushing down! I love a good adrenaline rush and snow tubing is great, especially on a steep hill with drops! The snow and ice kicks up while you go down, though, so protect your eyes if necessary.  I saw a number of people with ski goggles on, but I braved the hills without any (I was a little blinded the first time down, but it got better after that).

As time went on, fewer people stuck around into the evening and the lines at the top of the hill got shorter, making for quicker runs and returns to the top. It was a blast!  Eventually, my toes were cold enough for me to consider heading in, so after my final run down the hill, I headed into the small “snack lodge” to warm up.  There was also a large fire pit outside to warm up around.  Now that I live in the south, I really miss simple things like fires in the winter and going out in the snow.

Snow tubing at Big Boulder was incredibly fun!  I miss winters in the Poconos a lot, so it was nice to get back and enjoy a wonderful day outside in the snow!

 

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The Pocono Mountains: Francis E. Walter Dam

Welcome to my next adventure in my summertime Pocono Mountains series! Today I’m exploring a place where the workings of man and nature come together – the Francis E. Walter Dam!

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The Francis E. Walter Dam can be accessed from routes 115 or 940 near either Lake Harmony or Bear Creek, depending on which side of the dam you enter from. Regardless of the direction from which you come, there are some fantastic little spots to stop off at and check out before even reaching the dam itself.  The area surrounding the dam is perfect for hiking, boating, and doing some good old fashioned exploring!

The Francis E. Walter Dam was built by the Army Corp of Engineers in 1961 as a way to block water on the Lehigh River.  As a result, there’s now a large water reservoir that “fills up” on one side and is a prime location for boating.  When water is released through the dam, the other side, or the “dry side,” suddenly becomes rapid-like and rafters flock to catch some good rapids.  In summertime, it’s simply a nice place to enjoy some outdoor activities!

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On the roads leading up to the dam itself, there are lots of little waterfalls to check out and explore.  They are always a favorite of mine because they’re often less visited than the dam itself and are great places to explore around and to even enjoy being in the water.  Many of the little waterfalls have flat bottoms where you can stand beneath the falling water, or small pools where you can sit and cool off on a hot day.  In any case, it’s always a good idea to wear or bring a bathing suit and have a towel ready when visiting the Francis E. Walter Dam.  Between the surrounding waterfalls and the large water reservoir, there’s plenty of ways to stay cool there in the summertime!

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Even in the wintertime, though, the dam and the waterfalls around it are still sightseeing-worthy!  The entire place often ices over and is truly dazzling.  For comparison’s sake, here is a picture of one of the waterfalls in both winter and summer:

Waterfall near F. E. Walter Dam in summer

Waterfall near F. E. Walter Dam in summer

Waterfall near F. E. Walter Dam in winter

Waterfall near F. E. Walter Dam in winter

The road leading to the dam on either side can take you two ways: over the top of the dam or on the road beneath it.  The road over the dam is the most used because the road that goes “beneath” it is flooded over pretty much 99% of the time by the reservoir.  In times of drought, or sometimes when the water is released, the road that goes under the water is uncovered and you can drive straight across it!  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it just a couple times in my life and have managed to capture a picture of it.  Here are some pictures of the road both covered and uncovered:

Road under the dam flooded over

Road under the dam flooded over

Road under the dam exposed during low water levels

Road under the dam exposed during low water levels

When the road is flooded over, it becomes a makeshift boat launch area for boaters to access the water.  On one side of the dam there’s even a picnic area, so it’s definitely a place where one can visit and spend an afternoon enjoying being outside either in and/or around the water.  There are some hiking trails through the property around the water, too.  There’s lots to see and do!

In the summertime, snakes love to sunbathe on the rocks and can usually be seen if you walk atop the road that goes across the dam (the “high road”). Access to the machinery of the dam is located here, too, but because it’s government property, it is strictly gated off.

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Whether you’re searching for some nice views (there are great views of the surrounding mountains!), or to cool off under a waterfall, or to go boating, or just enjoy being outside, the Francis E. Walter Dam is truly a wonderful place to visit.  Take the time to explore the side roads leading up to the dam to find the waterfalls and take a walk down to the reservoir!  Given the amazing views from the road across the dam, it almost feels like you’re on top of the world 🙂

For other places to explore around the Poconos, check out the image below!

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Tussey Mountain Trail

On my most recent trip up to Pennsylvania, I took to visiting one of my favorite areas to hike – Rothrock State Forest.  I’ve visited this place many times to hike the Mid State Trail and to explore various sights around the greater State College area.  On this trip, I hiked a ridge I had never been on before – the Tussey Mountain Trail.  Having heard that there is a random beer tap to be found about four miles in, I was excited to get up to the ridge and see what it was all about. Getting there requires entering Rothrock State Forest at the base of Tussey Mountain in Boalsburg. After passing the state forest boundary, you continue driving down the paved path until it turns to gravel.  There are a number of trails marked on either side of the road.  The Tussey Mountain Trail can be reached by parking near the marker for it, or also near the marker for the Kettle Trail (which leads up to the Tussey Mtn Trail at the top of the ridge just the same).

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The beginning of the excursion was definitely one of the more interesting parts of the day.  After hiking for only about a third of a mile up toward the ridge, we were met with an interesting sound.  To preface this, I had literally been talking about how I would’ve liked to see a snake since I don’t really mind snake encounters while hiking.  No sooner were the words out of my mouth when a rattle snake sounded off just a few feet up the trail.  Non-rattlers I don’t mind.  Rattlers, though?  I knew enough to get out of there quickly!  The rattler didn’t sound at all happy!  Since continuing up that trail was now rendered impossible (didn’t want to risk going through the thick brush around the snake), we turned back and decided to take the Kettle Trail up to the ridge instead, which turns into the Tussey Mtn Trail anyway.

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There was a storm system coming through from the west so we made sure to keep careful watch of the weather maps while heading up the ridge.  There are a lot of open areas on the ridge and being stuck there in a thunder and lightning storm would’ve been less than ideal.  So we decided to keep a quick pace to try to beat the storm in case it decided to turn our way.

The Kettle Trail is a small trail that cuts directly up to the ridge.  From there, we turned left and started making our way toward our destination – the beer tap.  About four miles down the ridge-line, there’s a beer tap stuck straight into a tree stump.  The trails throughout the Rothrock Area are full of neat little things like this.  They make for nice turnaround points, too (see my previous posts about Roman Tower and Indian Wells on the Mid State Trail).  We enjoyed the great weather and views from atop the ridge as we hiked toward beer tap.

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Tussey Mountain Trail is a mix of exposed rocky areas and covered forest.  Part of the mountain looks like it was hit by a wildfire, although there’s also evidence of controlled burning father down the ridge-line.  The bare trees reach up like withered hands from the undergrowth along the ridge.  In these parts, there’s little protection from the sun and we later found that we actually ended up a little sunburned.  These parts also offer great views of the surrounding mountains, though!

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We didn’t encounter any other hikers on the trail, although we did cross paths with a few cyclists.  The trails around Rothrock are popular for mountain biking and “extreme” cycling (there are parts of the trail that I truly wondered how a biker could possibly navigate!). There are a few other trails that veer off down to the valley that (I assume) are meant for cyclists to take, or perhaps for hikers to take to reach a possible water supply (the Mid State Trail tends to veer off for that purpose).  I’d be really interested in taking the trail that appears to head down toward the valley and up the other mountain!

After reaching a marker for one of these side trails, we made the decision to stick with our hike even though there was a chance of hitting some hard rain up on the ridge.  Our hope was that the storm would stay south of us, so we continued on in pursuit of the beer tap!

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The beer tap is quite literally just a beer tap sitting in a tree stump.  It sits right in the middle of a crossroads in the trail, so you can’t miss it.  It’s definitely both an interesting and funny thing to come across while hiking!

At this point, we decided to head back.  We were fortunate that the weather did, in fact, keep south of us, though the skies got much darker on the return journey.  The occasional breeze blowing over the mountain was refreshing!

By the time we got back to the car, we had gone about 9 miles.  Had the rattle snake not been in our way originally, we might’ve been able to add on a bit more distance, but it was still a fantastic hike!  I’d love to explore more of the Tussey Ridge in general.  There are so many incredible views and interesting things to see!

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