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Our Appalachian Trek
Part 1

ary and I
have traveled the length and breadth of the United States and much of Canada, but significant corners have been missed.   We never will see it all, though we have found it fun to try.   So when we sat down to consider the remaining areas we needed to visit, we decided that the Appalachian Mountains, particularly those in the South, should be our next focus.

The big problem was that the Appalachians are very far from our Oregon home.   It would be a great effort to get there and see it the way we want to.   As we considered this problem, it was obvious that we should get the most mileage (accidental pun) from this effort by extending the trip to take in Florida.   Except for a short business trip 26 years ago, we hadn't visited Florida.

Having lived in Oregon for 36 years with yet more of Oregon to see,
we knew that this excursion could not be a full experience.   However, a short exposure would be better than no exposure.


The Appalachian Mountains extend from northern Georgia in the south to Quebec in the north.   Mount Washington, New Hampshire (6288 ft) is the highest peak in the north and Mount Mitchell, North Carolina (6683 ft) is the highest peak in the south.

Within the Appalachians, various ranges are identified with names such as the White Mountains of New Hampshire; the Green Mountains of Vermont; the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia; and the Blue Ridge Mountains, extending from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

Our route is shown in purple.

Late Sunday afternoon, September 22, 2002, we found ourselves rolling through the beautiful hills and dales of Northwestern Pennsylvania.   In these narrow valleys we drove through the small towns of Franklin, Oil City and on into Tionesta.   Here, where level ground is scarce, we passed stately old buildings, accenting their surroundings.   "History" is apparent here.

This is the region where the oil industry began.   It was in Titusville, barely 14 miles west of Tionesta, where on August 27, 1859, Edwin Drake bored 69-1/2 feet into the Pennsylvania ground to begin pumping "black gold."   The world would never be the same.

Just as darkness descended, we arrived at the nicely furbished National Forest Service Campground at the edge of Tionesta.   You can be sure, as the Pennzoil commercials urge, we sounded our Z's that night.

This is the Allegheny National Forest.   It doesn't have a preponderance of ponderosa nor a jungle of juniper or chaparral as Western National Forests often have.   I'd guess that this forest consists of about 90% deciduous trees, majoring in species such as oak, maple and hickory.   Truly magnificent!   Yet, even without affirmative action, small firs and pines, the coniferous minorities, achieve due respect.

There is some harvesting in this National Forest.... Why not?   It was made for man.   And, even from our temporally limited perspective, it rapidly grows back.   Logging has long been significant here in Western Pennsylvania.

About 80 miles east of Allegheny National Forest, we came upon "The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania."   It's just off U.S. 6, near the town of Gains.   This "canyon" is a special sample of the typical land form found everywhere in the Appalachians: long ridges with a valley between.   In this case, the canyon bottom is 600 to 1000 feet below the ridge top.   But the effect here is particularly striking because of the narrow distance between ridges.

The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

Though this canyon is no match for the vast, deep Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, it has it's own charm. Unlike the distant, evasive Colorado River at the unreachable bottom of that Arizona chasm, Pine Creek is like a reliable friend, always near and available.

We also observed that pine trees are much more dominant here than in the Allegheny National Forest.

At Tunkhannock, just short of Scranton, we stopped to rest.   Mary took in a quilt shop and I took in a deep breath.   This would be the most easterly point of our tour.

Tunkhannock is a small town on the upper Susquehanna River, the major river in Pennsylvania that completely crosses the state from north to south.   We had followed it for about 40 miles before reaching Tunkhannock and followed it for another 100 miles, more or less, southwest out of Tunkhannock.

At Northumberland (Near Sunbury), we were fortunate to find an overlook, 300 feet above the river looking northeast, up the Susquehanna with it's tributary entering from the west.

From here it was easy to appreciate why the colonists, including my German immigrant Hans Jorge Mack, treasured their Pennsylvania home.

Looking at a road map of Pennsylvania, you will notice a system of concentric arcs that seem to radiate northwesterly from Harrisburg, the capital city.

It turns out that most roads were built in the level valleys between the long Appalachian ridges that, in this area, curve concentrically.   These ridges are not particularly high, and even the rivers find gaps to cross them.   Roads that cross the ridges tend to be very crooked, with severe ups and downs.   We purposely traveled roads that stayed between the ridges, enjoying a mostly level ride through what Pennsylvanians fondly refer to as "The Endless Mountains."   Our route is shown above in purple.

A relief map shows the area surrounding Lewistown, Pennsylvania where we stayed one night. This map simulates an aerial view looking southwest along the valley we traveled. Note particularly the opening called Macedonia Gap providing a level passage crossing the easterly ridge.

Gaps such as this throughout the Appalachians provided convenient passage for emigrants moving westward in the 1700's and 1800's.   Even today, many highways pass through such gaps.

To geologists, the Appalachians are exemplary in geologic history.   Mind-boggling theories date these mountain-building beginnings in terms of hundreds of millions , even thousands of millions of years ago.   According to these theories, a collision between the North American continent and the Euro-African continents brought about the rise of the Appalachians.

If you are interested in learning more about Appalachian geology, visit:
(This is not a link. Please, no wandering off just yet.)

Theories provide structure and a sense of understanding, which is generally good.   But theories never end.   More questions always result.   There comes a point when we must stop and just marvel at what we see but cannot understand.   Perhaps God spoke, causing a collision of continents on the morning of the third day of creation.   At any rate we can believe that God did it His way.   At the same time, it is He who gave us the curiosity to develop an understanding.

Cutting across the narrowest spot in Maryland, less than two miles wide, crossing the Potomac, then 18 miles of West Virginia, we quickly entered the state of Virginia where we were slowed by the snarled traffic of Winchester, Virginia.   Finally through that, we settled for the night at the nicest KOA Campground yet.   It was just west of Front Royal, the northern entrance to Shenandoah National Park. This was in open country on a wooded hilltop where the campsites were terraced.

Shenandoah National Park features Skyline Drive on a 70-mile long ridge of the Blue Ridge mountains.   The Blue Ridge mountains are the first ridges of the Appalachians west of the Atlantic Ocean.   Skyline Drive becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Shenandoah National Park wending it's way on the ridges all the way to Georgia.

Shenandoah was to be the highlight of our trip.   .... highlight indeed.   The next morning, Thursday, September 26, the rain set in with a vengeance.   It Poured!

As we pulled up to the northern entry gate at Shenandoah National Park, the lady sternly commanded: "Please keep your headlights on at all times.   On days like this you will have a lot of heavy fog and will see almost nothing.   It's really not the place to be."

    Thank you, Mam!

This was our day to be here, and who knows when the sky would clear?   So, we were intent on "making lemonade."   It was a 'nice' drive.   The traffic was very light.   We stopped at the uncrowded viewpoints where the plaques told us what we were seeing.   But they were not very accurate.   Nowhere did I read the word "fog" or "mist."

... and the solitude was cathartic.

In fact, it was so cathartic that Mary and I had a little, slightly unilateral, conference:   "Here's how we can make some really good 'lemonade,'" she said.   "Down in the Shenandoah Valley near Harrisonburg, there's an interesting quilt shop called Patchwork Plus in Dayton, Virginia."

So, after traversing less than a third of Skyline Drive, at the next gap in the mountain we headed west, down to the Shenandoah Valley.

Trying to find the shop was interesting.   Despite the torrential rain, Amish buggies were encountered on the country roads west of Harrisonburg.   Very bucolic!   Why do I recognize those missed photo opportunities after I'm 3000 miles past them ?? (sigh)   Stopping on a very narrow road to take a picture in the pouring rain is a bit problematic.

But this "photo" is clear and crisp in my head: On a narrow, glossy-black road, winding through wet green fields under a rainy sky, there's a grey horse, prancing dutifully in the rain while the driver, hands on the reins, stays completely dry under his buggy's black canopy.

Oh yes, we found the quilt shop in a small shopping center on a knoll south of Dayton.   For the hour that Mary was inside and warm, I stayed in the car reading maps, playing the radio and enjoying the rain without driving in it.

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