Caverns, creeks and dark skies ahead…

Buoyed by the great company the night before, we set off with a renewed energy. It was nice to share nice food and have some great conversations with somebody new.

We set off for more underground caverns, this one named Penn’s Cave. This one offered a slightly different experience to the Indian Echo Caverns, this one had to be accessed via an underground boat.

We arrived in good time, appreciating some of America’s Amish farmland. Apparently, we were driving past on laundry day. Ever farm house we passed was full of categorised washing lines. All the jumpers in a section, all sorted down to underwear on the other side. I don’t think they would approve of our make shift washing line on our laundry days.

On our way into the gift shop to buy tickets, we came across this very twitchy red squirrel. He had clearly found out where they stored their coffee beans.

The boat tour of the underground was incredible. We were both fascinated by the different stalactites and stalagmites littered through the cave. The hostess/guide pointed out what she thought looked like animals and famous landmarks, I think she had possibly found a stash of a different kind!

Tour complete, we were heading back to the van, when we stumbled upon Alvin and his band mates. Neither of us having seen a chipmunk before spent the next 10 minutes enthusically photographing them.

My camera zoom is broken and so this was the best picture I could get. Cavern tour compete, we were back in Ruby heading towards a place called Pine Creek. According to our research, it was home to a gorgeous gorge (excuse the pun). We made the drive across in no time. Ruby has been driving like an absolute star. We drove through the creek slowly, looking for an ideal parking spot.

Not having much joy and a large queue of cars behind me, I pulled over to let them pass. A car pulled into the same drive as us, so I pulled into a second side road, to let them pass. We agreed that we would drive slightly further down the gorge and then turn around if we didn’t find anywhere and drive back up to a park car park just off the main road.

That’s when we heard it… CRUNCH!!!

I hadn’t been paying attention to my surroundings when I pulled into the side road. I paid less attention when, I had to move more to let the car pass. With the bike rack on the back of the van, I have mainly been using the side mirrors to reverse, as visibility out the rearview mirror is poor. What I couldn’t see in the side mirrors was that directly where I was reversing and turning back round was a bit wooden electrical pillar.

So yes… The load crunching noise was me driving Ruby right into it. Jumping out, I was relieved that I hadn’t knocked the pillar over. We quickly both jumped back in the van and drove off before anyone came out to investigate my stupidity.

We parked over to inspect the damage. There was some damage to the back door, luckily it wasn’t major damage, although I can no longer remind Willow of the rock incident in France. Unfortunately, my bike an the bike rack hadn’t faired as well. The pedal on my bike was crushed, and the back beams that hold the wheel had both bent, one so much that it had snapped. The bike rack had also bent, but seemed to still be functioning alright.

Angry and frustrated, we carried on with our search for a place to sleep. After a fruitless drive down a small track, we both decided to try a small lake in one last desperate attempt at a place not located off a main road.

As luck would have it; Little Pine Lake was a beautiful spot. The toilets didn’t have a lock on, so there was less chance of park rangers turning up and moving us on, and there were no trails, so it was less likely that we were going to be bothered by other cars in the morning. We would eventually end up staying in that spot for 3 consecutive nights.

We both sleep peacefully throughout the night without any disruptions. You can imagine how we both felt the following morning waking up to this.

We sat and ate salmon and scrambled egg next to the river. If it wasn’t for the bugs, that breakfast would hve been perfect.

We were deep enough into the gorge for neither of our phones to pick up signal, so we decided to spend some time chilling in the van, creating a video tour of Ruby for our Youtube channel.

Clips complete, we ventured off down the road for a walk around the lake. Enroute, we planned to walk past the local camp site to check out their facilities. Always good to know where your next shower if going to come from! They also had a bar/restaurant which had WiFi. This would be useful as Willow’s mum’s birthday was approaching an neither of us had received any form of signal all day.

The weather had definitely picked up a bit, although temperatures were still dropping at night. We completed a small walk around the lake, passing an eagles nesting spot.

Sadly though, we didn’t see any this time, we did spot this little fella though. He hissed at me as I walked past.

We visited the bar to have a few drinks (it was happy hour after all!). It also gave Willow a chance to phone her mum to wish her a happy birthday. We then went back to the van for another fantastic undisturbed night next to the river.

The next day we fancied challenging ourselves a bit more, so we drove the van up to the bar and followed a trail up to the highest point along the lake which started near by. Whilst we were getting our walking shoes on, a guy came over to talk about the van. We spoke to him for about 5/10 minutes. He told us his name was Craig and that he ran the kitchen. We said we might pop in later for a drink and a chat.

The walk was described as moderate, with a strong possibility of seeing some rattle snakes. The steep bank was definitely a step up on yesterday’s walk (gotta get them puns in!). Both dripping with sweat, we dragged ourselves up through the humid forest that engulfed the bank. We were both a long way from our old fitness levels that would drag us up Munroe’s in Scotland. We are still as stubborn though. We got to the top of the ridge and with our lungs adjusting to the torture they had just been put through, we decided to carry on and walk a long the ridge a tad further.

Back down near the lake, we were heading back to the van when I saw something in the corner of my eye. Initially I thought it may have been an armadillo (do they even have those here?). It turned out to be something else.

It was in fact a very large tortoise! Definitely wasn’t expecting to see him. I did ask him if he had seen Herman, our escapee tortoise, but he was not much use as you can imagine.

We then drove the van down into the camp site to use their shower facilities and to fill up our water. After severe online trolling by a guy named John Loftus, I had decided to change my hair a bit as I had been meaning to do something a bit different now I was no longer reactivated by work.

Hair dyied, showered and water refilled, we headed back to the bar. We used the time to update our YouTube channel and blogs. Craig came over to say hi and bought us a drink, so we invited him to join us after he finished his shift.

When his shift finished, he came and joined us with one of his friends/kitchen colleagues. We chatted until the barmaid was done and it was time to close the bar. Enjoying the company, Craig and his friend Scott invited us back to Scott’s cabin on the camp grounds. Whilst Scott was away, Craig did warn us of Scott’s fragile mentality (he had recently recovered from leukemia), he also informed us that Scott had spent 15 years in jail. Scott seemed lovely, so we took our chances.

At Scott’s we continued to drink, we brought out a bottle of single malt I was given as a leaving present, as Craig enjoyed his whiskeys. The rest of the evening was spent listening to great music, with me chucking an axe at a target. After a brilliant early attempt, my beginners luck ended. Turned out I wasn’t very good.

With both of them due in work at 10 the next morning, we said good night. We woke in the morning to more sunshine.

Stopping by at the bar to say our goodbyes, we finally left Pine Creek after 3 amazing nights. Our next stop Cherry Springs State Park. A designated dark skies park. Here we were hoping to for a phenomenal star show.

The park was just over an hour’s drive from Pine Creek. We parked up and explored the surroundings.

A section of the park was reserved for keen astronomers with expensive looking equipment and had a list of rules. Basically white light was prohibited. They handed out red plastic film to place over car lights and phone forces, so you wouldn’t ruin the sky.

If you are not sure what a dark sky park is, it is a place with no artificial light pollution. We had previous been to Sark for New Year, which is a ‘dark sky’ island. Sadly the weather wasn’t great then, so we didn’t get to see many stars.

We parked out of the way in the public car park.

We then waited for sunset and prepared for some extreme star gazing.

It was quite a clear night and so we got a great view of the stars and the milky way. Willow was having great difficult adjusting her camera to capture the night sky, so it was up to me and my trusty Samsung. The pictures don’t really do the sky justice, but they give you an idea.

I must admit, the sky wasn’t much better than some of the night skies that I have seen at Willow’s in the East Sussex countryside, but it’s nice that people are conciously trying to cut down on light pollution.

The next day, we set off for what was recommended to us by Craig as the ‘Pennsylvanian Grand Canyon’. It sounded worth stopping off at, especially as it was on our planned route to the Finger Lakes.

We got to the canyon and completed a small walk circular walk around a ridge. The views were impressive, but it was certainly along way off what we expected from the Grand Canyon.

Wilow suffered her first flip flog malfunction of the holiday, but somehow creatively managed to temporarily fix the problem for the rest of the walk. The picture is an early experiment.

It wasn’t as successful!

We got back in the van and headed off. The Finger Lakes set in the sat nav. Driving down the winding road, we heard what sounded like a coin rattling down the road, we both put it down to some sort of bird and carried on driving.

Whilst in the back of the van, plugging in devices to charge on the drive, Willow informed me that she could hear an ominous noise coming from the wheel arch and told me to pull over immediately. Turns out that noise we hear was definitely no bird. Word of advise. If you ever hear a strange noise whilst driving a VW, stop and examine. You will definitely find the source of the noise to be some form of nut or bolt.

Pulling over at a church, Willow quickly found the culprit. The top bolt had fallen out of the shock absorber. Not the best photo, but you can see where it was banging whilst we were driving.

Willow took the shock absorber off and we were just discussing where we would go in search of a new bolt (one which is an unusual size), when a guy pulled up to ask us if we required any help. As it was close to 5pm, he recommended driving a mile down the road to a garage called Route 6 auto works.

Fortunately we pulled up and they were still open.

The guy who ran the garage was called Jamie. He mostly worked on Subaru’s and initially assumed we needed him for our engine when he saw the badge on the back of the van. We informed him about our situation and then he popped out into the back of his garage. Turned out he kept a trusty box of random bolts. After a bit of a search, he found a bolt that was the correct size and thread. He kindly let us use his facilities to reattach the shock absorber. We had a quick chat once it was reattached and then asked him how much he would like. He refused paymet. He told us that he was just glad he could hp us. Once again we were shocked and amazed by the generosity of the people we had met.

As it didn’t stop us driving, we’re not going to class this as a break down. Just a small hicup.

And so we were off again. We drove to a small town named Montour Falls, just under one of the main Finger Lakes. We got a pizza and chilled out to a movie, both relived our problem was resolved as easy as it was.

Hopefully it would be a while before we would need the assistance of a garage again.

4 thoughts on “Caverns, creeks and dark skies ahead…

    1. Hi Bisma, thanks for the message. I am glad the class got the post card. Say hi to everyone for me. I hope you are enjoying Year 6!


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