Stories from the Road: Cherry Springs Park (January 25-27, 2019)
As much as I started this blog to write about amazing spots and great recommendations, there’s part of me that sometimes feels like a fraud. Sure, I have seen plenty of things and am always happy to point other people in the direction other some of my favorite spots. But, those stories usually mean obscuring the not so pretty parts of the trip. The arguments. The exhaustion. The misread directions. A plethora of other mistakes. So, in the spirit of not hiding the other side of travel, I wanted to write about our weekend trip up to Northern Pennsylvania.
Cherry Springs State Park is supposedly the place where scientist Neil De Grasse Tyson was first inspired to dedicate his life to science. (I can’t find any corroborating evidence on the internet, so this could either be a boldfaced lie or I didn’t scroll through enough Google hits…) Regardless, the park does make most lists of the most beautiful dark sky parks. The fact that it is a dark sky park (meaning it is an ample place to go stargazing without light pollution) should give you an idea of how remote this area is. Logically I knew it would have to be rural, but I did not realize how much so. Picture driving for miles on a state highway and not seeing any signs of life. Also picture winding roads through state game lands.
Armed with the internet’s recommendation that January is one of the best months for stargazing, we planned a weekend trip and found, seemingly, the perfect Airbnb. (More on that later...) For the past few weeks, the weather on the East Coast has been unpredictable, but, with the snow having ended days ago, we figured that the trip wouldn’t be impacted. Now, I will confess that I can get a little panicked on dark, winding, unfamiliar backroads at nights. As Lady Gaga says, I was born this way. However, add in finicky weather and am I borderline illogical. I want to be as generous to Potter County as possible, but I also want to give you the truth. Most of the way up was fine, however, the last hour on Route 44 was full of black ice that nicely contrasted against my white knuckles. It took almost double the suggested time to make it from the exit to the cabin – shout out to my car companions for being patient and kind, even as plenty of other vehicles braved the wintry conditions and passed me over the double line.
I thought that getting to the Airbnb would be the most difficult part of the weekend. However, after the black ice on 44 and the backroad full of ice, gravel, and snow that lead to the house, I wasn’t ready for what would come next. The driveway to our cabin was a steep sheet of ice. Standing at the bottom, I couldn’t even see the actual building. We had gotten a message from the owner earlier in the day suggesting that maybe we should bring snow chains. But less than 12 hours was not enough to scrounge up anything more than a shovel, salt, and good thoughts. Having to hike up and down the driveway was a disappointing and seemingly avoidable inconvenience. It was pretty evident that, based on how thick the ice, that this wasn’t a problem that had sprung up over the last 24 hours. We ended up parking our cars at the bottom of the hill and hoping no one would care.
(However, if you are considering heading up in that area, the actual accommodations were fine. The cabin was spacious, clean, and the tower outside was a nice bonus. Just don’t book in the winter. No if, ands, or buts. No matter how tame you think the weather will be.)
With the forecast calling for a dusting of more snow, we planned our weekend around the weather report . In an attempt to see the PA Grand Canyon during golden hour, we left around 3:00 pm to head up. Depending on what you type into the GPS, you may be lead astray. The two best lookout spots are up North by Wellsboro. Do not go South. You’ll end up an hour off course and potentially without enough daylight to correct your mistake.
At a small town gas station in nowhere PA, we asked the woman behind the counter for a recommendation for dinner since the Grand Canyon was no longer an option. She sent us to the Hotel Manor, about 16 miles away in Slate Run. The Hotel Manor is located right on the water and is undoubtedly beautiful in the summer. However, covered in snow and operating on a limited winter menu, we probably did not experience it at its optimum. Regardless, we were grateful for a place to sit and the food was good. I would definitely go back. Since it was dark and snowy, we decided to forgo the GPS’s suggested route and went back down Route 44, which meant we, once again, had to traverse the winding and slippery back roads through the state game land and this added an extra 40 minutes to our trip. By this point, you’re just glad you weren’t there – right? (Mostly because you’re figuring I was losing my mind at the prospect of doing this all again. You’re right – I was.)
If you’re waiting for the saving grace of this story to be our amazing time stargazing, you’re going to be disappointed. (Just like we were.) While Friday night was clear, our 11:00 pm arrival left little time for true stargazing. Plus we were banking on having time at Cherry Springs on Saturday night. However, after dinner at Hotel Manor, we stood outside to evaluate the sky only to realize that it was completely clouded over. We couldn’t see anything, but darkness. With the prospect of not seeing a thing, we jettisoned our plan of going up to the park just called it quits for the night, staying in the cabin instead.
The weather report was calling for a light dusting of snow while we slept, so we woke up with the expectation of a new, thin layer of white. However, we were actually treated to something like 2-3 inches of snow and more coming down in huge flakes. Just when you thought I couldn’t be put in any more trying situations, here’s more snow. (But, really, it’s more like just when you thought I couldn’t be any more trying and annoying to the people I was in the car with…) 2 ½ hours and a few slips later, we made finally made it to Route 15. (Which only should’ve taken a little over an hour.) We finally got back home late afternoon on Sunday after a weekend of no state parks and lots of bad weather.
So why am I telling all of this? First because I want you to see the pretty Instagram photos (which I am definitely going to post), and know that behind them was something of a debacle. Also, because it is so easy to assume that people who travel a lot don’t make stupid mistakes, like getting the wrong address for a park. Or don’t get tripped up by uncontrollable things like the weather. And, finally, because I really want to caution you against heading up that way if there is any whiff of snow. I know that there are plenty of people who are not as fragile as I am in terms of driving conditions, but there were times that it all felt downright unsafe. Finally, I hope that you get a laugh after our fiasco of a weekend. Now that we’re all safe and home, it feels ok to smile, laugh, and get ready to plan our trip up in the fall.