Monday, May 13, 2019

Visiting the Hudson River Valley Region of New York State

We headed to Black Bear Campground ( in Florida—Florida, NY that is, in Rockland County.  We stayed here several times previously as weekend RVers, and it was the location of Mom’s very first work-camping gig!

The park has several amenities like swimming pool, activity center and playground for the kiddies, hiking paths, and a fishing pond.  During the summer months, it offers a bus tour to New York City with a seasoned guide for an extra fee, a convenient way for first-time visitors to get an overview of the City without the stress of driving in themselves.  But the Park, like others close in proximity to major cities, does not come cheaply: $80/night or $480/week are the discounted rates (FMCA/Escapees/Good Sam/AAA) for the back-in sites.  They offer no monthly rates.  So that’s a lot of cheese money, especially since it is not of the same caliber as Cherry Hill Park outside Washington, DC, which has similar prices.  But logistically, Black Bear Campground turned out to be a godsend.  You see, as we were driving, we noticed that the engine fan on Big Boomer, our International Durastar 4400 medium duty truck, was running constantly, and it was getting increasingly more difficult to hear our own voices.  Oh, no, not good.  Thank goodness Arkel Motors ( in New Windsor, NY, said they could look at it at our convenience.  We opted to get ourselves settled in at Black Bear that afternoon and bring the truck in the next day.

Spectacular sunset

Catch and release fishing pond

View from upper tier of campground

While Dad awaited Big Boomer’s diagnosis the following day, Mom and I caught up with campground friends. She introduced herself to this season’s work-camping crew at Black Bear.
  And since she kept in touch with Park owner Rita, Park Superintendent Frank, and fellow work-camper Genie, she enjoyed the opportunity to chat with them all in person rather than via phone/text/email as she had done since 2013.    I am particularly fond of Genie.  Despite her petite stature (I am almost as tall as she is!), she is a dynamo!  From planting trees to arranging flower gardens, she has a knack for botany.   And as a true animal lover, she has a heart of gold.  Speaking of animals, some of my own past acquaintances popped over to say hi, too!

My pal Genie

Some of Genie's gardening talents

My campground friends...

Turns out Big Boomer’s medical treatment entailed a new engine fan clutch—to the tune of $3,000 (God only knows how many cheese squares that equals)!  But these are the trials and tribulations for which you must be prepared when entering this nomadic lifestyle.  Despite what some folks may think, full-time RVing is not necessarily more economical than traditional housing (case in point, this RV park costs nearly $2,000 if you want to stay for a month in a back-in site).  And it is important that your budget can handle the costly pitfalls of repairs/maintenance.  Of course, the part we needed was not in stock.  So, we were required to return when the part arrived from the supplier the following day.    Arkel Motors were true to their word, received the part as planned, and installed it expeditiously.  Arkel Motors is a top-notch outfit with outstanding customer service.

After we left Arkel Motors, we took a scenic drive along Route 209.   As we passed through Ellenville, there was quite a bit of commotion.  Turns out an early morning fire destroyed the local auto dealership at which the HBO series, "I Know This Much Is True", is filmed.  I looked for Mark Ruffalo or Juliette Lewis to get an autograph, but alas, no celebrity sightings for this rat.

We continued our scenic drive into Ulster County, to visit brothers Brian and Eric Ellsworth, who own Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds ( in Saugerties, NY.  Comprised of 160-wooded acres, I think this is one of the most lovely, family-oriented, privately-owned full service campgrounds I’ve ever stayed at in this Northeast Corridor.   You get the true experience of camping in nature, yet have all the amenities you need and want:  Wi-Fi, cable TV, and secluded, spacious sites.  And plenty of good old-fashioned family fun, from a swimming pool, arcade, hay rides, and even a remote-control car track.  Not to mention all the special events like Christmas in July, where the entire park gets decorated, or the coolest Halloween funhouse ever!   The brothers are carrying on the work started by their grandfather, who founded the campground in 1966.  It’s a special place, and Mom was proud to be part of their work-camping team in 2014.

It was also wonderful visiting with Bonnie Schroeder whose family owns Brookside Campgrounds ( in Catskill, NY.  This is one of the only campgrounds in the entire Tri-State area open year-round with winter water sites available.  It is very kid-friendly with easy access off Route 32.  The Schroeders are personable folks who extended many kindnesses to us when we stayed at their Park in 2014, and with whom we have remained in touch.

Bonnie showing us her efforts to support The Daffodil Project, dedicated to raising awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust

The Hudson River Valley, in which these two campgrounds reside, offers a wide array of activities, cultural events, and tourist attractions, and we visited many wonderful places on our prior stays.  A small sampling of first-rate experiences include Storm King (, 500 acres of sculptures, hiking trails, and special exhibits; a tour of Saugerties Lighthouse on the Hudson River (, which acts as a bed and breakfast--how cool is that!; Hunter Mountain (, at which we hiked and snow-shoed in winter (no skiing for this rat and his family) and attended Oktoberfest, a German-Alps festival that now offers free admission; and the Motorcyclepedia Museum (   

Finally, we got a day in New York City.  Having lived in NJ all our lives until we began our full-timing lifestyle, and with Dad working in the City for a good portion of his career, we have done all the traditional sightseeing and cultural events, from the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center to The Guggenheim and The Cloisters, from the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy to a visit to Chinatown, from seeing the Rockettes at Radio City to viewing Broadway plays (you get the drift).  So, we opted for an excellent alternative to the typical tourist attractions:  New York City Slavery/
Underground Railroad Tour (

The tour originates outside the National Museum of the American Indian (, another free-of-charge Smithsonian building.  The building was once the US Customs House, erected in 1907 when the US was becoming an economic powerhouse.   The Museum itself is of interest, and I want to go back to see more exhibits since we had limited time this particular day. 

We walked about 2.5 miles during the New York City Slavery/Underground Railroad Tour, visiting various points of interest including the well that supplied water to the City.  Slaves would come here to gather water for their masters.  The 20 minutes they would be at the well gave the slaves a rare opportunity to speak with one another, so many arrangements for use of the underground railroad took shape right on this spot.  Most slaves were illiterate, no ability to read or write.  But, interestingly, they used their hair to braid in travel directions to safe houses and even to hide food for their journeys.  The final stop on the tour is the African Burial Ground National Monument (, where the excavated remains of 419 Africans buried during the 1600s and 1700s are now entombed within 8 caskets on the site.

Damaras Obi, our guide for the New York City Slavery/Underground Railroad Tour, is an impressive orator and knowledgeable historian.  She doesn’t just spew dates and facts in a boring fashion.  Instead, she presents a cohesive narrative, using background info, historical context, and visual aids to give a full perspective on the issue of slavery in New York City.  You won’t find this kind of insight in our traditional history books.  This tour is a unique, intriguing, educational experience, and it receives one of my coveted 5-cheese awards!

Speaking of 5-cheese awards, we ate dinner that evening at our all-time favorite steakhouse, Benjamin Steakhouse on 41st Street (  Dad was one of the restaurant's very first customers, bringing clients as well as Mom here regularly.  So, everyone there, from owner Benjamin, to chef Arturo (who worked previously at Peter Luger, another iconic NY steakhouse), to wait staff (all are attentive, but Rickey is exceptional), treats us like family.  But don’t think we are special, because the folks at Benjamin Steakhouse indulge everyone like this, whether first time visitors or long-time patrons.    One thing unique about Benjamin’s is its consistency:  it treats its staff well, hence, many staff members (like Rickey) have been there for years; its customer satisfaction has always been a priority; and the quality of its food, particularly its aged beef, has never diminished.  From the first time we dined here 11 years ago, it has been a 5-cheese rated experience.  No wonder Benjamin is on various “Best Steakhouses” lists and has won a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Award for multiple years. The porterhouse steak for two, cooked medium rare, is TO DIE FOR, with its filet so tender, you can cut it with a spoon!  I know what you are thinking—how does steak conform to Dad’s plant-based diet? Well, Dad cheats RARELY, saving his chips for a big payday—and this was it!  So, if you want a place with ambiance, excellent food, and exemplary service, look no further:  just go to Benjamin Steakhouse (and if you don’t believe me, read their reviews)!

Dad with Rickey, an exceptional member of the Benjamin staff, who treats us like family.

We spent some time walking the City streets, perusing the Farmer’s Market at Union Square, smelling the wonderful flowers on Florist Row, and admiring the gardens at City Hall.  I even made some new friends!  It was a very busy and tiring, but extremely fun day!

Gardens at City Hall

This adorable guy (not me, my friend) and the ladies in the window are a great marketing maneuver.  Who wouldn't go in to shop at a store with such attractive models.

Alvin was goofing off somewhere, so I joined Simon and Theodore in enticing folks to come inside this particular shop.

Since we have visited Black Bear campground and its surrounding areas several times, we wanted to go somewhere we had never been before.  So we opted to visit Sterling Forest State Park in Tuxedo, NY and hike within the Doris Duke Wildlife Sanctuary.  Named for the billionaire tobacco heiress, the Doris Duke trail winds through heavily wooded areas.  We went on a weekday morning, and we were the only ones on the trail, though it was a bit wet and buggy.  The trail is well marked.  Yet, somehow we managed to get lost, not once, but twice!  How, you ask?  My nitwit parents were yapping and consequently missed turnoffs at intersecting trails, which resulting in quite a bit of backtracking.  Nevertheless, it was a nice hike, complete with streams, mountain rock, and a gradual elevation change.  There is a rock outcropping that gives a panoramic view of the area.

View from the outcropping

The town of Florida, NY, has some cool shops, like Werner’s True Value, one of those family-owned hardware stores that have everything you could possibly need, from paint to patio furnishings to mousetraps.  We picked up a pot and soil for the new cherry tomato plant we purchased at a local church sale.  If you like Polish foods and delicacies, there is Florida Bakery and Deli.  We didn’t eat here this visit, but have done so in the past, and Dad says the homemade pierogies are just like his Grandma made.

We took a day trip to go to the gravesite of my Grandma and Grandpa.  It has been 5 years since I had a chance to say hi, place some blooms, and tell them how much I love them.  I only knew Grandpa about a year from the time Dad rescued me from the toy store to the time Grandpa passed.   Although Grandpa was sometimes Grumpy, I had a way of always getting a smile out of him.  Grandma was a huge part of my life.  She cuddled me and tucked me in to bed every night.  She even added to my wardrobe, buying me a pair of pajamas!  I miss them both terribly, but I know they are residing in the heavens, their shining stars serving as my beacon, giving me comfort and guidance.

Well, it is time to venture to our 6-week volunteer gig at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ.  I’ll tell you all about it in another post.  Talk to you soon!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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RV Dreams

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Visiting South Central Pennsylvania - Pine Creek Gorge, Flight 93 Memorial, Fallingwater

We left Aunt Laurie’s on April 29, a crisp (31 degrees) but glorious sun-filled day, traveling along NY Route 5 to I-81. This was a pleasant, picturesque route, with lots of farmland, hay fields, wetlands, and lakes.

We branched off to I-86, crossing the Susquehanna River.  As we passed historic Newtown, NY, I traveled back in time, imagining what it would be like to be in this Revolutionary War battle of 1779:  The Iroquois Indians, attempting to protect their tribal lands; The British, enticing the Iroquois to aid Britain against the Patriots, their mutual enemy; and the American Patriots, fighting for one victorious outcome to accomplish two very separate objectives.  We crossed the PA border and stopped for Dad to relieve Mom of driving (and for me to relieve my bladder!)  at the rest area on Route 15 in Tioga, PA, which offered panoramic views of the Tioga-Hammond Lake Dam and Recreation Area.   The Dam, created by the US Army Corp of Engineers, was completed in 1978 to protect communities from flooding.

As he does each time we stop, Dad did a cursory check to be sure we were in good operating condition before we continued down the road.  All systems were go.

We continued along our route, following the travel instructions provided by the campground.  But Gretchen, our new GPS system (Garmin 770), kept yelling at us, telling us there were weight restrictions.  She wanted to re-route us down a dirt road across a corn field!  When we ignored her, she told us to make a left turn into a narrow alleyway!  We retired Gerda, the GPS system that came with our truck, because she got old and confused.  Now we have young Gretchen being as demented as Gerda!   We opted to follow the specific instructions from the campground.  Afterall, they know we are coming with an RV and they should know the nearby roadway restrictions.  As Dad followed the campground’s instructions, Mom noticed that EVERY road included in the campground instructions had a weight restriction.  And she figured out why (which the campground later confirmed):  This was a big area for fracking several years ago.  The fracking operation required tankers of water and chemicals, delivery of heavy equipment, etc.  Some communities despised fracking, so imposing restrictions was a deterrence from fracking vehicles coming through their towns. Fracking vehicles would have to find alternate routes.  Other towns welcomed fracking, and found it could lead to revenues; hence, they required overweight trucks to purchase permits in order to use their roadways.

Anyway, we reached our destination of Canyon Country Campground in Wellsboro, PA.  We picked this campground for its proximity to Pine Creek Gorge, known as the Grand Canyon of PA.  At $45/night, the Campground is very rustic and wooded, with minimal sites to accommodate a setup our size.  Though our assigned site was more than adequate size-wise, it was a total mud pit.  Fortunately, this was shoulder season, so there were few guests in the campground.  Therefore, we opted to take a drier, smaller site to park our 5th wheel, and we parked Big Boomer (our medium duty truck) on the site next to us.  The campground offers decent, free Wi-Fi.  It has a game room, but it was not open yet for the season, so I could not satisfy my Ms. Pac-Man addiction.   Despite the rustic facade of the outhouse building, the bathrooms inside are brightly-colored and well-illuminated, with sparkling clean toilets and shower stalls.  I must say that the campground “office manager” was a bit lazy and not too bright.  But as good-looking as this, who’s going to complain?

Dad made a gruesome discovery as Mom was leveling the RV—we blew a leaf spring!  This was the second leaf spring that went bad in the past 2 months.  Fortunately, we landed at our destination safely.  Dad called two RV service centers within 1.5 hours of the campground, but neither had the required part in stock.  Mom, a very astute problem solver, suggested to Dad that he call Bennett’s RV Center in Granbury, TX, where we have our DRV Mobile Suites 40KSSB4 on order.  Her reasoning was that 1)Bennett's has a HUGE parts department, and had several of our leaf spring size in stock back in March when we blew our first leaf spring (Surely they still had at least one available); and 2)They could overnight it to us right at the campground, so this repair would not delay us or interfere with any of our future reservations.  Dad, being a wise man, acted upon Mom’s suggestion.  And since we still have 3,000+ miles to travel before we return home to TX, Dad ordered 3 leaf springs—it’s not a matter of if, but when, the other 2 original leaf springs of our 2015 Keystone Montana will break. 

Now that we had addressed the leaf spring issue, we went out to explore. Overlook Tower can be accessed right from a trail in our campground.  It cost $3/person, payable by credit or debit card at a turnstile, but we received complimentary access cards from the campground.  Originally built in 1906 at Mount Joy in Valley Forge, PA, this tower was moved to its present site in 1988.  At 2,100 feet above sea level, 100 feet tall, with 100+ stairs to climb, it offers spectacular views of the area, though you cannot actually see Pine Creek Gorge from it.       

Our campground has a trail that connects to Leonard Harris (PA) State Park, which provides access to the East Rim of Pine Creek Gorge.   We would have loved to camp right at this Park (and other PA State Parks nearby), but alas, the RV sites could not handle a setup our size.    We hiked along the poorly-marked 1.5 mile connector trail, and reached The Leonard Harris State Park Visitor Center at 8 a.m., just as it opened.  Lo and behold, they have a film for us to watch!  We did a few short paths at the Rim that offered panoramic views of the Gorge, then began Turkey Path, which leads you on a 1-mile descent via switchbacks and stairs to the bottom of the Gorge.  The Park classifies this trail as “difficult hiking”, but it certainly was a cakewalk compared to our trek down the Grand Canyon of AZ!  There are several waterfalls to enthrall you along the way.  At its maximums, the Gorge is ¾ mile wide and 1,450 feet deep.   Turkey Path connects with Pine Creek Trail.   We hiked a mile or so in each direction of Pine Creek Trail, a smidgen of the 62-miles of this multi-use rails-to-trails project.  But we were privy to watching a tour group float downstream, spotting an eagle looking for its lunch, and glimpsing a juvenile red-spotted newt, before heading back up to the East Rim.  When we returned to the campground, we woke up Dewey the Office Manager from his afternoon nap to collect our package from Bennett’s RV Center.  Bennett’s came through with exceptional customer service, and Dad got our leaf spring fixed up in a jiffy.  It was a very productive day!

The eagle in the tree in the distance...

...And a close-up shot.

Juvenile red-spotted newt

The following day we drove to Colton Point State Park, which gives access to the West Rim of Pine Creek Gorge.  As we have seen so often in our travels to national and state parks, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was responsible for creating many of the trails and buildings here at Colton Point. We started with the 1-mile Rim Trail.  Though relatively flat, the trail was very wet and slick, so I was glad I bought my hiking poles.  It was a foggy, overcast day, so the views were less than stellar at this early hour.

We planned to do the West Rim’s Turkey Path since we completed this trail on the East Rim (unfortunately, there is no bridge that connects Turkey Path from Rim to Rim, so you must do the trail separately on each side of the Gorge).  But upon arrival at the trailhead, we learned the Turkey Path was closed for maintenance/renovations.  So we hiked back to the truck and drove to nearby Tioga State Forest, where we hiked the Bear Run Nature Trail, West Rim Trail (not to be confused with the Rim Trail we did earlier), and portions of the Barbour Trail, which made an additional 4+-mile loop for us.  At the start of the Bear Run Nature Trail is a memorial dedicated to Armed Forces involved with Iraqi Freedom.   I learned that the Forest’s white pine trees can tower as high as 250 feet, and at one time were the lifeblood of Tioga County.  As we traversed along a section of the West Rim Trail, I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye.  I knew right away Dad saw it, too, because he stopped in his tracks.  Just as I had my camera aimed, ready to capture my greatest nature picture EVER of a brawny black bear scrambling along the ridge, my hairbrained mother, who had just spotted the bulky bundle of black fur, let’s out a bloodcurdling scream, scaring the scat out of both me and the bear!  So much for my digital photo to share with you.  Fortunately, I maintain a vivid picture in my mind.

It was a dismal day as we left Canyon Country Campground, but the sun beamed brightly by the time we settled into Shawnee State Park in Schellsburg, PA.  This is a wonderful park within the Allegheny Mountains, whose camping area opens in April and closes in December.  There are several decent-sized sites among 7 camping loops, though not all of the loops/sites have full hook ups.  Non-resident prices for 2019 are $24 for no hookups, $31 for electric only, and $46 for full hook-up Sundays-Thursdays.  Add $4/night for Fridays-Saturdays, and another $2/night if you bring your pet.   (Prices sure have increased substantially since our weekend camping days in PA State Parks.  Back then $18/night got you a full hook up site on a weekend AND covered your pet fee). We chose a 100-foot pull-through on Loop F which was an electric-only site (although it had a water source nearby and a dump station at the beginning of the Park).  But it came with a major advantage:  no other campers on the loop!  The Park has every recreational activity you could want--fishing, swimming, picnic area, boating, hiking, even disc golf (in the winter, it has day-use cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice skating).  We arrived as the trees surrounding Shawnee Lake were in full bloom, so it was quite picturesque.

Over the course of our stay, we had some very warm, humid weather, with temps going as high as 78 degrees.  The ticks have arisen from dormancy--Mom already found one on me!   Within the Park, we hiked Forbes Trail, where the dandelions were quite prolific.  Mom wanted to pick some dandelions and make Dad a nice plant-based dinner (using Granny Clampett’s recipe for dandelion soup, sans the squirrel), but oddly, Dad declined her generous offer.  We also traversed Lake Shore Trail, which encircles Shawnee Lake.  The Lake was created in 1950, when they dammed the Juniata River, a tributary of the Susquehanna.  The Canada Geese have invaded this area!  They come to the U.S.A., have their babies, and never leave!  They are such a nuisance and problem to the habitat that it is perfectly legal to hunt Canada Geese within these parts of PA.  Along Lost Antler Trail, we spied a wild turkey.  Shawnee Trail was a bit of an adventure, since most of its paths  were quite muddy and mucky.  Thank goodness we had our waterproof hiking boots.  And at one point, we got lost on the trail.  The map showed that we needed to cross the creek, but for the life of us we couldn’t find any trail marker.  We soon learned why when we backtracked—the trail marker post fell over and was hidden by a thicket of 3-foot-high grasses!

Dandelion soup, anyone?

An example of illegal immigration: Canada geese and their anchor babies.

Shawnee Lake

Bedford and Somerset Counties in PA offer some bucolic, pastural scenes:  cows in the fields, silos, barns, and covered bridges.   More than 14,000 covered bridges once existed in our country. Today, less than 900 still stand, of which nearly 200 lie within the State of PA.  We visited three bridges on this trip (although we have visited several within Bucks County, PA many years ago):  Kings Bridge, originally constructed in 1802, with rebuilds in 1906 and 2008; Barronvale Bridge, built 1830; and Burkholder Bridge, built 1870.  Some high school students were using the Kings Bridge as a backdrop for their prom pictures, while an avid fly fisherman cast his pole nearby.  Burkholder Bridge was not Big-Boomer friendly—it has a height restriction of 8 feet and weight limit of 3 tons, so we parked down the road and walked over to it for photos.

Barronvale Bridge, just one of the three covered bridges we visited.

While out exploring, we stopped to check out Laurel Hill State Park in Jefferson Township within Somerset County.   We were unimpressed, and it was the first PA State Park we have ever visited (about a dozen through the years) with which we were disappointed.  Laurel Hill Park is heavily wooded.  It is an older park (in fact it was the first State Park to be established in PA), so its RV sites are small.  Though they have pull-through sites, they are VERY tight.  The angle of the curve is like a horseshoe and unable to accommodate a big rig.

While in Somerset County, we had an opportunity to get together with RV Dreamers and fellow former New Jerseyans Bill and Kelly.  They are new grandparents spending time with the family’s new bundle of joy.  There are not many restaurant options in this neck of the woods, but our meals at Ruby Tuesdays were decent, and we so enjoyed catching up with this terrific couple.

We were compelled to visit the Flight 93 Memorial.  Though we visited the site in 2012 and donated toward its development, this is the first time we have seen the completed project.  The site was once a mining pit, surrounded by farmland, rolling hills, and hemlock trees.  Visiting the Memorial was quite a poignant experience, and the dismal weather of the day certainly didn’t help.  Out of respect for the lives consecrated on these grounds, we refrained from taking pictures of the actual museum and memorial.  But it was important for us to visit, to pay homage to those victims.  They were everyday people like you and me, going about their everyday lives.   They didn’t know what they would face that day when they boarded that plane.  Yet, once realizing what was transpiring, they accepted their fate and sacrificed themselves to protect others from perishing.  The Memorial is very somber, but tastefully done.    Concrete walls frame a walkway that follows the trajectory of the plane.  The Visitor Center is along this walkway, its rear textured wall in a black hue, symbolizing the hemlock trees that burned as a result of the crash.  There are some very moving exhibits, including the final cell phone messages from some Flight 93 passengers to their loved ones.   The end of the walkway overlooks the point of impact, marked by a boulder within the field.   A walking path leads down to Memorial Plaza, where the names of each passenger and crew member are engraved.  I stopped to read each name, saying a prayer that all are in peace, free from the horror of their violent deaths, residing in the heavens as their own shining stars.  We walked along the wetlands bridge, viewing the Memorial Groves, each grove containing 40 trees, commemorating each Flight 93 victim.   The Tower of Voices is still undergoing construction, but it is quite unique.  It is a 93-foot-tall tower to be comprised of 40 individual wind chimes, representing each of the Flight 93 victims.  Only 8 of the chimes were installed when we visited.  But when completed, I think it will be a melodic symphony of comfort, hope, and unity.

Tower of Voices

After leaving the Flight 93 Memorial, we stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel/Museum.  The Chapel is now only open for special events, namely for a remembrance ceremony on September 11 each year.  But the grounds are a lovely tribute specific to the Flight 93 Crew.  Across the street from the chapel is a cemetery, its tombstones embraced by a blanket of wildflowers, with dramatic clouds hovering above. 

After stopping for a late lunch at a local sub shop, we headed back to the campground via PA 30, which has some EXTREMELY steep (17% grades) roads!  Along this route is Mt. Ararat, the Allegheny Mountains’ highest peak of 2,464 feet.  

It was a long, somber, weepy day, and I was wiped out.  So I made an early date with Mr. Sandman.  I slept fitfully until about 4 a.m., when I heard a big thump.   Mom heard it, too, so she awakened Dad, who put the scare lights on and perused the perimeter of our RV.  He saw nothing but darkness, and finding everything with our RV in order, we all proceeded back to bed.  When Mom brought our trash out about 7 a.m., she found the campground garbage dumpster had been invaded--trash was strewn EVERYWHERE.  As she picked up all the garbage, she thought maybe it was a raccoon who caused the mess, until she saw that the lid of the dumpster was actually torn off and thrown on the ground.  Perhaps BooBoo the Bear, in his haste to get to his early-bird buffet, tossed the lid on the ground, creating the thump we heard?  Yes, indeed--Park officials confirmed that there are several “regulars” among the bear population who feast at the Park dumpsters.  The Park is constantly fixing dumpster lids since the budget cannot accommodate bear-proof dumpsters.  Seems a little penny wise, dollar foolish to me, but then again, it is government!

We had purchased tickets earlier in the week to visit Fallingwater, a home designed for the Kauffmann family in 1936 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  Getting tickets was no easy feat--this place is popular and books up quickly, despite it being a bit pricey!   We tried to get tickets any day during our 5-day stay at Shawnee State Park.  Secretly, I was a bit happy that Mom's choice of the $150/person package, which included a 3-hour tour, the privilege to take indoor photography, and a brunch was sold out all 5 days, as was the $80/person ticket (2-hour tour and the privilege to take indoor photography)—it meant me spending less of my cheese money.    Even the $32/person tickets (1.5 hour tour, indoor photography prohibited) were sold out 4 out of the 5 days.  So we were thrilled to score some of the last 9 tickets available on Sunday, our last day staying in this area.

Even the visitor center bathrooms were tranquil, and they were incorporated natural materials into the design (those are twigs in the backsplash).

Bear Run, the land on which the home is situated, was originally purchased in parcels by a local Masonic club.  Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann then purchased the land as a camp for their employees at Kaufmann’s Department Store.  (Founded in 1871, the store remained intact until 2006, when Macy’s took it over and subsequently ceased its operation entirely).  The land was later utilized as the Kaufmann family’s personal summer retreat, appropriately named Fallingwater.   It was the Kaufmanns’ only son, with no heirs of his own, who entrusted the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy with Fallingwater’s preservation.

Fallingwater is majestic in its simplicity.  It is constructed of only four materials:  steel, standstone, concrete, and glass, with the main house situated right above a natural, cascading waterfall.  In fact, the main living space had a retractable glass stair enclosure that provides access to the water.  Wright utilized rich earth tones throughout the home.  His design technique known as compression/release is evident as you traverse narrow, dark, low-ceiling hallways before entering high-ceiling, naturally-lit rooms.  Those low ceilings in hallways may also be attributed to Wright’s personal belief that the perfect height was 5’8” (he was only 5’6” himself, but reportedly wore 2” lifts in his shoes).

Personally, I loved the guest house more than the main home.  The rooms were more spacious, and the house had direct access to the spring-fed swimming pool.  Warm natural tones were used for bedspread and pillow fabrics.

The tour was very informative and very organized.  At least 6 groups of 20 tour the house at the same time, so there is no wandering off or lingering.  No interior photos nor photos taken from exterior patios/verandas are permitted during the tour--you need to score an $80 or $150 ticket to do that.  The tour ends in what was once the carport.  Now the area serves as a venue for the Pennsylvania Western Conservancy to promote its mission and entice guests to become members.  First they show you a video, then you get a spiel from the Development Team, and then they hover immediately outside the room with membership forms and credit card machines.  Memberships start at $60.  They promoted the $125 level, which comes with reciprocity for admission at 29 other Frank Lloyd Wright sites.  We are thinking visiting all his sites may be a cool road trip one year!

The grounds are lovely, too, including The Barn and Bear Run Nature Preserve, right down the road from the main entrance to Fallingwater.  It was once a dairy farm belonging to the Kaufmann family.  Today it is an event venue with hiking trails among hemlock trees,  laurel groves, and babbling brooks.  It was raining, but we still did a couple miles of trails.

I am really glad we had an opportunity to visit Fallingwater.  Good old F.L.W. sure had a knack for blending functionality and aesthetics to create a home of comfort, serenity and spirituality.

Boy, this sure turned into a l-o-n-g post—sorry about that!

We hit the road again tomorrow heading to Florida, NY.  I'll talk to you again real soon!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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RV Dreams

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