The Delaware Water Gap

A friend who owns a second home in the Poconos thoughtfully offered us the opportunity to spend a day or two at her property. We gratefully accepted her offer partly because we thought we could all benefit from a mini-break and also because we normally only take day trips to the Poconos so it meant we would have longer to explore. Furthermore, I have also wanted to visit the Delaware Water Gap since we moved here (I cannot even recollect precisely why) and having my friend’s house as a base presented us with the chance to go that bit further afield and spend an entire day poking around in that area, which is governed by the National Park Service.

On our first day, we decided to focus on relaxation and quality family time. We spent time in the house together – playing card games, watching shark documentaries – and we walked to a nearby lake to spend some time there. We had planned on going swimming but it was a little bit too chilly at that time of day even for paddling so we just enjoyed the scenery, people watching, ice cream, and playing more card games. After dinner on the shore of another lake, however, it was time to head out and go for a hike.

My husband and I visited Hawk Falls several years ago now but we have never managed to take the boys there because the parking situation has always been horrendously swamped. Because we had the ability to hike in the early evening this time, however, we found a parking spot with ease and headed to the falls. It’s a relatively easy hike to the falls – though a little steep for a stretch on the return – and I like the way the path winds through the woods and across streams. I just really like being in the woods.

2021-07-30 16.34.01

There are definitely more impressive waterfalls but Hawk Falls are pleasing enough. Running water is always lovely, right? Except in relation to natural disasters or domestic pipe failures, of course. While we had met other visitors on the path, by the time we reached the falls, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was really peaceful. The boys had fun leaping around on the rocks. The 15 year old even scaled the rock wall on the opposite bank.

2021-07-30 16.48.48
2021-07-30 16.49.16
2021-07-30 16.55.05
2021-07-30 18.51.49-5

We had a leisurely start to the next day. We also decided to start with a big breakfast because we knew we would have few and far between (if any) opportunities to stop for a bite to eat for the rest of the day. Our 18 year old ordered a massive sandwich stacked full of any breakfast meat you can think of and slathered in sausage gravy. His digestive system is in training for that $27 a day college meal plan he had to sign up for.

2021-07-31 10.53.10

I had devised an itinerary for our travels through the Delaware Water Gap and the first stop was my happy place: an old cemetery. Obviously I like to wander around in cemeteries regardless of any personal connection to the place but, on this occasion, my husband and kids actually have some relatives buried there. Only my 12 year old agreed to come and find the graves with me. Everyone else stayed in the car. You will observe from the accompanying photos that this became a common occurrence on this particular trip. My youngest son was my exploration buddy while the others opted in and mostly out of most itinerary items. Anyway, we found the two relevant Shellenberger graves with ease.

2021-07-31 12.09.18
2021-07-31 13.11.55-1

Next up on the itinerary was visiting the view points on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware. Now I had conducted a decent amount of research on the Delaware Water Gap in order to draw up my itinerary so I was surprised and disappointed to discover that the view points were, quite frankly, totally duff. The first one we visited, we literally could not even glimpse a sliver of water through the trees and across the railroad tracks. What we could see was the interstate on the opposite side of the river and the sheer face of a small mountain. The same proved true of the other two view points we visited – though I did manage to see a patch of water from one of them. What I came to realise was that the National Park Service had taken photos of the views using either drones or cranes. Therefore, any human of normal height stood absolute zero chance of seeing the view, especially since there seemed to be no management of the foliage on the river banks.

2021-07-31 12.38.38
2021-07-31 12.38.58

After that failure, the kids were growing ever more cynical about the purpose and merits of the whole trip. I decided we should boost up the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River and focus on all the bits and bobs on the New Jersey side I was hoping to see. Incidentally, all of the Visitor Centers and Ranger stations were closed and none of the historic buildings were open for visitors so it was just as well I had conducted all of my research in advance. What my research did not tell me was just how arduous navigating the roads was going to be.

The first stops were all fine as they were within the boundaries of still functioning towns. First there was the Foster-Armstrong House (usually open the public but not recently) which was a ferry-side tavern and inn for tired 19th Century travelers. Then there was the Minisink Dutch Reformed Church, the oldest church in the county and still going strong today. And there was the Nelden-Roberts Stonehouse.

2021-07-31 13.50.28
2021-07-31 13.56.56
2021-07-31 14.04.17

After those three historic buildings, my itinerary took us onto the Old Mine Road. Well, this proved to be quite the challenge. The road dates from the 1600s but I had expected the surface to have been improved since then. I am obviously exaggerating but the surface was seriously bad. It was extremely crumbled, full of deep pot holes and eroded at the sides – and it was single track as it was for very long stretches – and just incredibly rickety. It got worse the further we ventured down the road and the more committed we were to just plunging onwards. It actually got to the point that Mr Pict and I were making mental note of routes for one of us hiking back off the road on foot and where the nearest lived in property was for phoning for help should the axel of the car break. I feel like we should have earned badges declaring “I survived the Old Mine Road”.

Anyway, first stop on the Old Mine Road was the Westbrook Bell House. While my oldest two sons trekked back along the road to a ruined barn my 15 year old wanted to photograph, my youngest son and I headed down a grass covered path through the woods in search of the house. It felt like a fairytale with maybe a witch’s house at the end of the trail. We soon reached the house, which is the oldest extant structure in the Delaware Water Gap, dating as it does from 1701. We were wandering around the exterior of the house and peering into barns that looked like they might collapse at any moment when I smelled and then spotted what looked to my non-expert eyes like pretty fresh bear poop. We, therefore, decided it might be a smart idea to skedaddle back through the woods to the car.

2021-07-31 14.16.12
2021-07-31 14.18.04
2021-07-31 14.18.22
2021-07-31 14.22.21

After another bone-jangling stretch of the Old Mine Road, we rejoined a proper road to visit what was once the village of Bevans. This rural hamlet has been transformed into the Peters Valley School of Craft so there were art and craft galleries and artisan workshops operating out of the old buildings.

2021-07-31 14.50.50

Tempting as it was to stay on these proper roads, I was both determined (some might say foolishly) to see the other items on my itinerary and I was convinced (some might say foolishly) that the final stretch of Old Mine Road could not possibly be as bad as the stretch we had left behind. Yup. Foolish. If anything, it was worse because this stretch also involved uphill stretches. I swear I could hear our car wheezing. I think everyone was relieved when we reached the Van Campen Inn and could pull over the car and take a break from all the bumpy driving. I had spotted on one of the maps I had looked at that there was a cemetery for enslaved people in the vicinity of the inn so my youngest son and I set off trying to find it. We were wholly unsuccessful. I think mostly we were determined to try just to avoid getting back in the car for a while longer.

2021-07-31 15.15.59

The Delaware View House was in a very sorry state. It had served as a hunting lodge and a hotel in its prime. Now it is clearly deteriorating rapidly. We very carefully walked around the wraparound porch before losing our nerve and getting ourselves back to solid ground.

2021-07-31 15.36.51
2021-07-31 15.38.15

The penultimate planned stop was at Millbrook Village. This is the site of a genuine settlement from the 1830s but the few remaining historic buildings have been expanded upon with reconstructed buildings that create the impression of what the village looked like in the 1870s. I think it would have been fun to visit at a time when visitors were permitted to enter buildings. This was probably the most engaged the boys were on the trip but they were fed up and jaded from all of the previous stops and from the nerve-shredding travels on that road so they were pretty resistant to finding anything of interest at that point.

2021-07-31 15.47.04
2021-07-31 15.48.40
2021-07-31 15.51.33
2021-07-31 15.54.56

The penultimate actual stop was at the request of my 15 year old. He has apparently inherited my love of dilapidated buildings so he wanted to take photographs of a barn that was falling apart at the seams. My 12 year old stood in the window of a gable end that had fallen, Buster Keaton style, while the 15 year old gave me palpitations by climbing over piles of planks in search of better camera angles.

2021-07-31 16.08.24
2021-07-31 16.09.14
2021-07-31 16.09.53
2021-07-31 16.13.30

We made one final pit stop in the Delaware Water Gap as one final attempt to see the Delaware. Kittatinny Point Overlook suggests being in an elevated position that provides a view out over the Delaware. Well nope. Not that we could find anyway. The best we could hope for was descending some stairs in order to be down on the shore. Unfortunately this spot was the end point for the scores of people who had rafted down the river so it was very busy and there were boats everywhere. Therefore, even that close to the water, it was nigh impossible to really take in let alone appreciate the view.

2021-07-31 16.45.04

As you can no doubt tell, my trip to Delaware Water Gap was somewhat disappointing. I am sure it is a fantastic area to visit if one wants to interact with the water in some way but I don’t do water sports. I really wanted to engage with the history of the area and to take in the landscape. I believe, therefore, it was a case of too high expectations and a lack of delivery. The whole “view” point debacle really set the tone for the day. When Mr Pict gets hacked off on an excursion, things are really not going well. I happen to like old, abandoned, decaying buildings so I definitely got far more out of it than anyone else in the family but I cannot say that was worth the investment of time. The condition of the Old Mine Road was probably the nail in the coffin of the trip. It set our nerves on edge and meant there was too much focus on the function and mechanics of driving rather than taking in the surroundings. It also simply slowed us down and made a long day out even longer. I am glad I finally visited the Delaware Water Gap after years of wanting to do so but I don’t think I could recommend a visit there to anyone not wishing to float down the river and I don’t envisage a return visit.

2021-07-31 15.57.32

Road Trip 2017 #23 – Bodie

The thirteenth day of our road trip fell on Independence Day.  We were staying in Mammoth Lakes at a ski lodge hotel.  Our suite had two large bedrooms, two bathrooms (which is a boon when you have six people sharing a space), and a spacious living room and kitchen-diner.  It was a welcome slice of domesticity after a few days of being crammed together into hotel rooms with regular proportions.  Despite having access to kitchen facilities, however, we decided to go out for breakfast as our 4th of July treat.  The hotel receptionist recommended a place in town named The Stove so it was to there that we headed.  It was a quaint little place, clearly popular with locals and tourists alike, and we enjoyed a pleasant breakfast to set us up for the day.  The diner was on the street where the town’s Independence Day parade was happening so we saw fun runners come jogging past and poked around at some of the stalls that were set up, including one where my younger kids obtained some new reading material.  We decided to get out of town before the parade, however, as we feared we might end up stuck by all the road closures.

2017-07-04 09.33.13

2017-07-04 10.01.39

Our first destination for the day was Bodie, a ghost town I have wanted to visit for a very long time.  It was a long drive up a winding, narrow, rubbly road to reach Bodie so – even before we set foot in the town – I was struck by how challenging life must have been for those who lived and worked there before the days of motorised transport.  I had assumed the national holiday might mean that people were at home with family and friends, doing the home town celebration thing, but when we pulled up to the entry booth the ranger informed us that the car park was full, the overflow car park was full, so we ought to just find a space on the road somewhere and park on the right.  I thought maybe that all of the visitors might detract from the sense of isolation and abandonment – those qualities one really wants from a ghost town – but the site was so vast that actually it wasn’t problematic.

DSC_0034

Bodie was a mining town founded after a chap named Bodey found gold there in 1859.  The town gradually grew and peaked in the late 1870s, booming after a rich seam of gold ore was happened upon following a mine collapse.  During that period, Bodie had an incredible 30 mines and 9 stamp mills, where the ore was processed.  The population ballooned to about 8000 people but rapidly declined with mine closures.  Fires, the climate, and the passing decades destroyed many of the structures in the town and then the state park service stepped in and decided to preserve Bodie in a state of what they refer to as “arrested decay”.  Apparently what remains represents a mere 5% of what was once there so it really had been a massive town at one point in time.

DSC_0024

We had a guide book to the town which was useful in identifying buildings and in breathing life into the old bones of the place by telling some of the stories of the people who lived and worked there.  We happened to be parked near some mining equipment so it was there that we started our tour of the 100+ buildings still standing in Bodie.  This equipment had been relocated from the Red Cloud mine and included the head frame and the cages that hauled miners and ore out of the mine shafts.

DSC_0009

DSC_0011

DSC_0016

From there we wandered among the residential and commercial buildings and the wonky outhouses.  Many of these still had their contents inside.  We could peer through the windows and see dust-laden rooms containing busted furniture, plates and bottles on tables, blankets on beds, layers of wallpaper peeling.  As we did so, we learned about some of the residents of the town.  We learned about the schoolteacher whose father was a Sheriff killed in a shootout near Mono Lake, about a very naughty schoolchild arsonist who burned down the original schoolhouse, the murder of one man and the lynching of his killer, the one-armed manager of a baseball team, the women of the red light district, and those of Chinatown, and we saw coffins propped up against the wall in the morgue.  We were able to step just inside the Methodist Church so we could view its interior and were able to enter and wander around one home.  It was fantastic.

DSC_0020

DSC_0022

DSC_0029

DSC_0043

DSC_0044

DSC_0045

DSC_0048

DSC_0068

DSC_0070

DSC_0072

DSC_0083

The Miner’s Union Hall is now a museum and we had fun looking in the display cases at all the personal items, photographs, hearses, and glass bottles.  We also loved finding random rusty objects lying in space between buildings, old vehicles standing like sculptures among the long grass, and gas pumps.

DSC_0092

DSC_0087

DSC_0085

DSC_0058

DSC_0061

DSC_0100

DSC_0101

DSC_0108

We took a wander past the lopsided hotel and the fire station and headed towards the stamp mill.  It was here that iron rods, mercury and cyanide, were used to separate the gold from the rock.  It was through being superintendent of this mining company that President Herbert Hoover’s brother Theodore lived in Bodie.  It would have been very interesting to tour the stamp mill but we knew the kids would rail against the idea so we didn’t get tickets.  We took a route past some more houses, the schoolhouse, and the hydroelectric substation, and then sadly it was time to return to the car and leave Bodie.

DSC_0080

DSC_0081

DSC_0121

DSC_0126

DSC_0129

I absolutely loved visiting Bodie!  It actually exceeded my expectations, which were high.  I could have stayed there for hours and hours, maybe even days.  I especially would have loved seeing it at night to see if it made the place feel eerie at all.  I am so glad we were able to fit a visit to Bodie into our road trip.

DSC_0111

 

Poconos Day 2 – Rustbelt Decay

I started the morning with a walk along the road from the cottage to see the cemetery that crept up the hillside at the junction with the main road.  The twentieth century grave markers were still legible, and seemed to largely belong to one family, but almost all of the others were too eroded for me to even be able to begin to read them despite the fact that none could be older than 1816 as that was when the cemetery was founded.  What was interesting to me, as a cemetery enthusiast, was the fact that gravestones were erected upon the steep slope as well as the top of the hill and the flatter ground near the roadside.  It made me wonder if the graves were dug perpendicular to or parallel with the gradient of the slope.  The village, Stoddartsville, had been founded to act as the terminal of the Lehigh Canal.  Mr Stoddart apparently saw this as an opportunity to make his fortune but instead he became bankrupt when the canal was terminated a few miles away and all of his investment in grist and saw mills and the like became largely redundant.  That was to set the theme for the day’s activities.

 Image

As a contrast to the previous day’s rambles in the countryside, we decided to spend the day in a town and opted for Scranton.  I am afraid to say that the name Scranton made both Mr Pict and I think of the word “scrotum” which meant we did not have high hopes but were hoping and willing for the experience to exceed expectations.

Since this area was founded on coal mining, we decided to head to the Lackawanna Mining Museum.  The website had stated it was open; notices on the building declared it to be open; nevertheless it was decidedly closed.  According to some men working on machines in front of the Museum entrance, it was opening on Wednesday, despite the statements on the website and building.  We pondered pootling around the nearby Anthracite Heritage Museum but then Mr Pict had the genius idea that we should do some obscure stuff in the area.  We are rather fond of “Roadside America” so we decided we should definitely go and seek out some more offbeat sites to visit.

First, however, we decided to head into Scranton, the county town of Lackawanna County.  We had read there was a second-hand book store there and I absolutely love rummaging through old books so that was the draw for me.  We parked up in the town centre and had a wander around.  The County Courthouse in the centre of town was actually pretty impressive and had all sorts of memorials to veterans of various wars outside, all set in a square.  The main streets were, therefore, huddled around this central square.  Alas, when we arrived on the street where the book store was to be found, we learned it had closed down.  No rummaging through musty vintage books for me then.

Image 

Scranton, it soon emerged, was a rather sad place.   Every third store was empty and there was absolutely no buzz or energy to the place, hardly anyone milling around.  Largely because we were in need of a restroom visit, we wandered into the mall.  It was even more moribund.  Metal barriers were more common than store fronts and either end of the mall was completely barren as the remaining shops had obviously been moved into the centre.  The soulless plinky-plonk piped music echoed around the empty space.  It reminded Mr Pict and me of the mall in ‘Eight Legged Freaks’.  Clearly what this mall needed in order to survive was an invasion of giant arachnids.  I already felt like we were among the mindlessly shuffling zombies of ‘Dawn of the Dead’.

However, as we emerged from the restroom, we spotted that there was a walkway from the rear of the mall out over an old train yard.  We decided to investigate.  It turned out that this was the rear of Steamtown National Historic Site.  We did not enter the museum but spent a diverting hour wandering among the rusted carcasses of train engines, cabooses and other rolling stock, all serried along disused railway lines.  I am not especially riveted by industrial history but something about the rust and decay pleased me aesthetically so I wandered around taking photographs.  I am not ashamed to admit that I have a thing for rust.  It felt like the whole train yard was somewhat symbolic of Scranton: the decaying remains of industry, rusting away, going nowhere.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image 

Before we left Scranton, we popped to a mall on the outskirts of town to lunch at a Mexican restaurant called La Tonalteca.  The interior was very brightly decorated with the vivid paints of South American fiesta, the furniture all painted carved wood depicting scenes of rural Mexican life.  We shared nachos to start with and then my husband had the carnitas and I had chicken enchiladas with a tomatillo sauce.  The food was good but it wasn’t great.  It lacked a bit of additional seasoning or some extra flavour kick to really make the tastebuds sing.  Some lime zest and juice, for instance, would have improved my meal.  We also took some amusement from the surliness of our waiter.  He was efficient enough in his own grudging way but very gruff and his mouth never once twitched into even the beginnings of a smile.  He appeared to be stunned when we left him a tip.

We decided that the theme of the day had been established: urban decay it was.  So we headed south to Wilkes-Barre – which is apparently pronounced Wilkesbury – to see an abandoned railway station.  The Lehigh-Susquehanna station was connected to the coal industry so when it declined and eventually died in the 1970s the station was abandoned.  It had then been converted into a cocktail bar, with abutting Pullman cars providing additional space, but that venture failed and so the station had just fallen into dereliction.  Boom and bust.  As soon as I saw it, I loved it.  It had clearly once been a splendid example of Italianate architecture, with scroll work wood supporting the hanging eaves and a decorative cupola on the roof.  Now, however, it was all smashed glass and plant growth spreading tendrils across and into walls.  We were able to clamber aboard the carriages but I could not find an obvious way into the station building itself.  Probably that is a good thing.  Exploring derelict buildings probably requires some sort of risk assessment.  Nevertheless I enjoyed scurrying around to find new photographs to take of the station’s exterior.

 Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

The next stop on our itinerary was the Huber Breaker in Ashley.  It had operated for eight decades, breaking coal into the right size for domestic and business use.  The company then dyed this coal blue for no other reason than to identify it as their product, a bizarre coal marketing gimmick.  Apparently it could process 7000 tons of coal each day.  Abandoned in the mid-1970s, it was a massive industrial hulk which a group had been trying to conserve as a memorial to those who had worked in the local coal industry but ultimately the site had been sold for its scrap value and was literally being pulled down as we watched.  I, therefore, had to make do with distance shots.

 Image

Image

Image

Our final stop on our themed tour of the day was in the town of Nanticoke, just a short trot down the road from Ashley.  We were there to see Concrete City, a ghost town.  Although there was a historical marker explaining the history of the site, there was no indication of where it was to be found.  Then I had the idea of looking up Google Earth on my phone and the aerial shot provided an indication of where we would find it.  So Mr Pict and I wandered off into the woods, along a muddy track, and soon we could see the ruined remains of houses peeking through the trees.  Twenty two-storey houses stood in a square around a plot of overgrown scrub.  Each house was identical, having been built as company houses for some employees of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Coal Company in 1911.  It turned out that poured concrete was not the most sound choice of building material as the houses were continually damp.  It must have been pretty miserable for the residents.  There was also a tragic story of a boy having drowned in the wading pool.  Ultimately the houses had only been occupied for just over a decade before they were abandoned.  When the Glen Alden Company took over, they didn’t want to invest the money required for sewerage improvements.  Attempts at demolition had failed: 100 sticks of dynamite had not even taken down a single house.  And so there they remained, tucked away in the woods, while houses grew up in the land beyond the ghost town.  Some were missing ceilings and floors; some had basements filled with water which, despite its murk, glinted in the sunlight pouring in through the glassless windows; all were vandalised, absolutely covered in spray paintings and graffiti and some even pock-marked by ammunition.  We were amused by the fact that one vandal had corrected the grammar of another.  It was a very poignant place, post-apocalyptic.  We felt like we were in a scene from ‘The Walking Dead’.

 Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

On the way back to our cottage at Stoddartsville, we took one final diversion when we saw a brown sign pointing to the Francis E Walter Dam.  We thought we might be able to end the day with something a bit more scenic.  Unfortunately the dam was just a concrete carbuncle, doing its job perfectly satisfactorily but without providing any picturesque views of the surrounding landscape.

Image