Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

DAYS 238 – 240 Pennsylvania, Part 1

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May 25-27, 2013
From Allegany State Park in New York we crossed the border into the large Allegheny National Forest of Pennsylvania. (Yes, the Alleghenies are spelled differently.) Fortunately, we soon stumbled upon the Visitor’s Center and were supplied with information and maps. A helpful ranger explained that dispersed camping was allowed throughout most of the park, which meant you can find your own spot and camp there for free. They also host a variety of fee-based campgrounds, some with electricity and showers and others remote and primitive.

We followed a promising dirt forest service road that ran along a trout-filled stream but all the good camping sites were taken. This was Saturday of Memorial Weekend. After returning to a paved road we spied a narrow dirt road that was not even on our detailed park map. Along it we found a pullout to camp for the night. It wasn’t perfect – a little too close to the traffic noise of Rt. 219 which skirts the national forest – but it was pleasant and a short walk to a stream. The path led to a small beach along what looked like a good swimming hole to me, and probably a good fishing hole to others. (It was too chilly that weekend to be tempted to swim, however.) We were alone for two days except for the fisherfolk who came and went all weekend. A rose-breasted grosbeak sang its cheerful loud refrain throughout the day.

You might be surprised to know that we passed numerous oil wells with see-saw type pumps as we drove through the national forest. Along with the pumps were elaborate piping systems, valves, meters and storage tanks. Unless you grew up in Pennsylvania – as I did – you might not be aware that the first commercial oil well in the U.S. (and debatably the world) was at Titusville, PA, not far from where we were camped. As we continued to drive through western Pennsylvania, oil wells dotted the landscape, in woods, fields and backyards. Few of the pumps were operating which may mean that all usable oil has already been harvested.

We spent two nights along the forest service road, waiting out the holiday weekend until the majority of people returned home. The road continued uphill and deeper into the woods; I hiked it several times while Chris took a long bike ride. Absorbing the beauty of the forest, I found wildflowers such as mayapples, violets, large-flowered white trillium, wild lily-of-the-valley, starflowers, and false solomon’s seal. Birds, deer, squirrels and butterflies went about their daily chores.

In the early evening I sat in the vast woods taking in the smells, the chorus of random birdsong, the innumerable varieties of green, the softness of the air. Around me were giant boulders, stone outcroppings, ferns, and maples, all so familiar, as if imprinted on my soul long ago. To imprint means “to recognize something as an object of habitual trust”. A good description of the ease and confidence I feel in nature, especially in the forests of the Northeast.

The forest I live in now, the redwood forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, is different. The fragrance is different, the sounds have a muted quality, the greens are darker and the red of redwood and madrone deeper. At first, I couldn’t smell the forest. As much as I tried, I couldn’t pick its particular essence out of the air. But now, years later, it is becoming another familiar fragrance of home. The imprinting of the redwood forest on my soul is slower and more conscious – not like the natural and instinctual bonding I developed in childhood for the woods of Pennsylvania – but it is gradually taking place.

NOTE ONE: If you click on the ”WHERE WE ARE” link at the top right of this page, you will see where we are now (or within a few days of now.) I have also added some tantalizing photos of what is coming. If you have suggestions or recommendations of things to see or places to stay near where we are, please let me know! Leave a comment here or email me at

NOTE TWO: It’s great getting your comments. And you can also “Like” or comment on photographs. So if you feel inspired to say something, please do. It encourages me and makes me feel more connected to friends, family and even strangers.

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