Author: Donald D. Deixel
Date of Trip: October 2007
Our 2007 travel plans were pretty much determined by financial considerations; two elderly retirees considered the shrinking dollar and increasing costs against our fixed income and quickly decided against anything that would involve buying tickets on planes, trains or ships this year.
It became clear that our ten-year-old car would be getting us wherever we wanted to go, but the skyrocketing price of gas and our reluctance to drive at night or for more than a couple of hours at a time without a sightseeing break put a further crimp in our thinking.
Starting from the New York suburbs, we narrowed down our choices and finally selected a ten-day circular tour of the parts of Pennsylvania we had never seen. That eliminated all of the tourist destinations that would come to mind first: Philadelphia, the Poconos, Gettysburg and the Penn Dutch country. Considerable research produced an itinerary that met all our requirements.
To keep the budget down we planned on most nights being spent at low-end motels, Super-8’s mostly (averaging about $70 a night), but we allowed for a couple of splurges. One was for our first night away from home in Scranton at the historic Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel, converted as the name implies from the imposing classic showplace where Lackawanna Railroad trains once roared through. Our Saturday night there was a fun experience, but hardly a B & B, since the $25+ Sunday brunch was not included in our bill of $122 including parking and tax.
Scranton surprised us with its attractions, although it was quiet on an October Sunday. We particularly enjoyed going down into a coal mine, and the Steamtown National Historic Site. Unfortunately we were too late in the year for the Houdini Museum and too early for the Dunder Mifflin ‘Office’ Convention.
Next stop along scenic US Route 6 was to have been the French Azilum near Towanda, but it too was closed for the season. It was just as well because we never saw a signpost directing travelers to it or even to the scenic overlook above it. This is a reconstruction of the site where aristocrats from the French Revolution sought refuge from the guillotine and there are costumed reenactors (before Labor Day!).
And then we were on our way to our next and last splurge, the Arvgarden B & B near Wellsboro. We had aimed for Wellsboro as a well-known vacation center and lovely small town that is the gateway to Pine Creek Canyon, the so-called Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, and found this B & B on a website among a number of others in the area. We chose it because it isn’t in town, and because it advertised itself as being a ‘working sheep farm’! How cool is that? A friendly exchange of e-mails and phone calls confirmed our reservation for Sunday night.
Distances were short and directions were clear and we arrived a little after lunch. (A side note: lunch had been at a cute little place on the highway that seemed to be a local hangout to judge by the pickup trucks in the parking lot. After a big breakfast in Scranton, we weren’t up to the daily special – a full chicken dinner for $5.95 — but our less demanding hamburgers added up to under eight dollars. When we declined the friendly waitress’s offer of pie and coffee, she said disappointedly, “But they’re only fifty cents each!” We knew we weren’t in New York any more, or maybe not in 2007.)
We found the Arvgarden as promised out in the country but in a somewhat suburban area, across the street from a cemetery. The large contemporary house is set an 118 acres with barn and other farm buildings and views in all directions and there was not a soul in sight. We started to explore and discovered our host, Keith Cooper, waving from out near the sheep pens, where he was busy moving his flock from one enclosure to another for fresh grazing. Hund, the sheepdog had apparently completed his job and came racing to greet us, but we didn’t see much of him after that since he lives in the barn, not the house.
We walked down and met Keith half way and were introduced to his animals: about a dozen new youngsters, several dozen more out in their pasture, and the three impressive rams in their private shed. The most surprising thing was that each of the sheep wore a natty overcoat! We learned that since these are a rare breed from New Zealand called Corriedales, their wool is too highly prized to be allowed to be exposed to the elements; serious weavers and knitters reserve their shearings years in advance.
We got a real education on raising sheep from Keith and later from Hilma, when she returned from delivering lambs to the butcher. That, of course, was after we were introduced to our room and the house which Keith had designed himself for use as a B & B as well as for their own large family reunions. The four guest rooms and sitting area are separate from their own living quarters, and since we were the only guests that night, we had plenty of space to ourselves. The accommodations and furnishings reflect a Swedish style in keeping with Hilma’s heritage and the long history of Swedish immigrants in that part of Pennsylvania; that also explains the name.
On the parlor table was a wooden puzzle — you know the kind where you have to rearrange four odd-shaped but identical pieces into a square. I’m the puzzle person in our family, but it frustrated me and I gave up. A little later, Gloria called me and said, “Look!” A perfect square, to my chagrin. That may have been the best part of her stay.
In the afternoon, we rambled over their acreage that wasn’t being grazed. The Coopers gave us advice on an evening visit to Wellsboro and places to eat as well as the very important directions on getting ‘home’. On our return, we reported back on our visit to town , talked some more about the Coopers’ long list of interests and local involvements, and as a good-night treat went out to gawk at the night sky in an area almost free of ambient light and passing jets. The Milky Way dazzled; the stars were beyond counting.
The next morning breakfast was outstanding, with many courses and featuring delicious lemon pancakes. We sat much longer at the table than we had planned and regretted not a minute of the interesting conversation. We were told the best short cut to Pine Creek Canyon and the State Park on its edge, and bade the Coopers farewell. (Did I mention that we never noticed the absence of a television set!)
Pine Creek Canyon may be the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, but it surely is not THE Grand Canyon. This is a beautiful natural area, quite unspoiled, with great facilities for hiking, biking , horseback riding although we did none of them. Sadly, the weirdly hot weather in early October meant that the autumn foliage we had been looking forward to was hardly evident; it also meant that we had taken all the wrong clothes, flannels instead of shorts, and weren’t too eager for physical activity. I found the history and geology of the canyon of great interest. From its Ice Age origins to its use as a transportation corridor before the Revolutionary War to float the tall straight pine tree trunks down to the Susquehanna and then to Chesapeake Bay where they were loaded on ships to be taken to England for use as masts on the ships of the British Navy, when it ruled the seas!
Briefly, our scenic and historical adventure continued to the nearby Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, the Kinzua Dam near Warren, the Drake Oil Well site in Titusville (where oil was first discovered), Pittsburgh (of many great sights and horrible traffic patterns), Fort Necessity National Battlefield (where George Washington commanded and lost his first fight), Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright’s amazing masterpiece) the Inclined Plane in Johnstown (where our car rode down the mountainside on a funicular, and the site of the famous flood), Altoona and the Horseshoe Curve (an engineering marvel that revolutionized rail travel), and Hawk Mountain near Allentown to see the migrating raptors on our last morning.
A great trip on a limited budget, and our B & B a stay was a high point.