Pine Grove Furnace, PA

We departed for our next great travel adventure on June 14, headed to Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania. We waved goodbye to our housesitters, gave the pups a final scratch behind their ears, and got away around 9:30 AM. The early departure allowed us to roll into camp around 4 PM, including stops for lunch etc.

Traveling heavy, we packed some extra stuff and equipment on this trip to adapt to Camping in the Time of Pandemic—trying to minimize grocery shopping in strange towns, we carried a lot of freeze-dried “hiking” food packets. There were also campgrounds along our anticipated itinerary that only accept campers who are “self-contained,” meaning the bathhouses were closed to limit transmission of Covid-19 (and the attendant cleansing requirements that common sense and visitor safety required).

So we also carried on board a new, freestanding camping toilet (although our Alto has a toilet on board, we use that cabinet for food storage—it is what we call our “pantry”) and we experimented prior to departure with converting our screened shelter into a private bathhouse, to be set up at the utility side of our trailer where the exterior shower access is. 

We also packed in lots of hand sanitizer, extra paper goods, and disinfecting wipes for use when the campground bathhouses were actually open. And face masks, of course.

So we arrived at our good old friend, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, at which we’ve stayed several times in the past. For more about the campground and state park, see the prior post about it that you can access here.


Our site this time at their Charcoal Hearth Campground was #48, the first in the “no dogs” section, and John and Mary—our companions from home who will be sharing this adventure for the first 10-ish days—had the last “pets allowed” site so they could accommodate the canine member of the family, Riley. All of the sites at this campground lack water, so there are potable water spigots scattered around, and we stopped at one to fill our water tank. We did have electricity, although there are some sites without, and others without that are designated tent only. Each of the two loops of the campground has its own bathhouse.

Our bathhouse there was open and very well cared for by the staff—clean and tidy, and with a scheduled “deep clean” on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, when they closed down for a few hours. Masks were required in the bathhouses, the camp store, and the ranger’s office. Although we did not get into the Appalachian Trail Museum this time (a very neat visit) they were also open on a limited schedule and face masks were required inside. They also limited visitors because it is a rather small space.

We took a bicycle ride down to the actual charcoal furnaces, and read the storyboards about the process, and the AT follows part of an old rail bed that carried the charcoal from the furnaces to points of sale in PA back in the day. Now the rail bed is a “hiker biker trail” and goes from the furnaces to the smaller of the two recreational lakes, called Fuller Lake, then along a paved road (with little vehicular traffic) to the larger of the State Park’s two lakes, Laurel Lake.


The route we took, to Laurel Lake’s dam, was about 5 miles one way, and upon our return we went to the camp store to have an ice cream. There, we were harassed a bit by a couple of yahoos sitting in their car in the parking lot, smoking stinky cigarettes. They were “talking between themselves” but loudly enough for us to hear that they were dissing us for wearing masks. They also commented on what they assumed was our political bent, our level of fear for a virus that they believed did not exist, and how their governor had spooked the residents of the Commonwealth about the danger by shutting everything down and only opening businesses back up slowly and carefully. We ignored them until they drove away, taking their cigarette smoke with them (but leaving their trash on the ground next to where they’d parked).

The next day (June 16) we trundled with our bikes out to Gettysburg, and unfortunately, found the visitor center closed. To really grasp the enormity of the Civil War battle that took place there, and to appreciate all the monuments to those involved, one really must see the diorama of the battlefield that is the center point of the visitor center experience. 

But we rode along a part of the battleground Jack and I had not seen before, with the hope of riding through the cemetery, but bicycles are not allowed in the cemetery. Also of note is that the map of the battleground used for the “auto tour” or the self-guided tour is not even remotely accurate. We got turned around a few times because the distances indicated were never to scale, and many of the roads on the map were unnamed.


Also, a problem was the scarcity of open restrooms and comfort stops available due to the pandemic.

But it was a beautiful day and we noted that places like Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields are the exactly appropriate spots for the statues to both northern and southern players in that long-ago conflict—as opposed to those Confederate statues of the Jim Crow era that have been erected in the public squares of 9/10ths of the southern towns in the United States. Just sayin’.

Since the battlefield is in PA; since every state involved in the battle sent monuments to their lost sons; and since PA sent 34,000+ soldiers to the battle, the PA monument is understandably impressive. Each of the brass plaques holds many, many names, and the brass plaques are everywhere in and on the monument. Jack was looking for some of his family names among those listed, but did not find any, even though he knows some of his ancestors fought in the war.

As we’d done in the past (and since the town of Gettysburg is right in the middle of the historic area) we had lunch at the Lincoln Diner, right near the rail station at which President Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg to deliver his famous address. The diner had a large back room in which we were able to be appropriately distanced from one another and others, and the wait staff were all wearing masks. 

In the end, Jack and I cycled longer than John and Mary, who wanted to stroll around the historic town a while after lunch, and we clocked almost 15 miles that day, climbing Little Round Top and Big Round Top mountains, as we’d done last time we cycled the battlefield.

On our third and final full day at Pine Grover Furnace State Park, John and Mary stayed local to hike with Riley along some of the many beautiful hiking trails at the SP, while Jack and I drove to Newville (about 15 miles away) to embark on another repeat cycling experience for us, the Cumberland Valley rail trail. 

The Durfs home, across from the  Trail Head in Newville, explains a lot.

On our last visit, the total length of the trail was in the neighborhood of 20 miles. Plans for extensions on both ends were mapped, but at the time, the plan was in its infancy.

This time, we noted both ends of the trail had been lengthened, and so we were able to cycle from the Newville Trail Head all the way south to Shippensburg proper, past Shippensburg College, to the new Trail Head and rail depot, where we took a Kind bar break and admired the sculptures and the beautiful day.



We really worked the pedals heading back to Newville’s Trail Head, where the newly-paved section right at the picnic area/Trail Head was still cordoned off for reasons not at all obvious to us. But as we’d done on start toward Shippensburg, we rode along the grass as instructed by the signs, and bypassed the newly-paved Trail Head section to see how far the extension to the north went. 

What we found was a shorter but still significant extension, although the scenery was not anything to shout about, as it ran along a high-tension electric wire easement, and had no shade at all. At the end, we got to a sign (see pic below) that we thought was amusing, in that the “exit ramp” was a grassy downslope.


In all, we made 25+ miles at a very good pace (11.91 mph) for our third time out on the bikes since we rode our local, New River Trail on May 3—weather, Blue Ridge Parkway construction, and home-bound chores preventing any kind of a head start on the cycling season back home.

On Thursday, June 18, we packed up and drove ~6 hours (again, with stops) to Glibert Lake State Park in New York.



Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA (Pt. 1)

May 10

This park was named thusly due to the presence of a historic charcoal iron furnace on the property, PG Furnace SP is one of three state parks in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The furnace was built in 1764 and operated for 131 years. During the 1930s, a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps used a site right outside this park, which cabin area was later used during WWII as a German POW camp.

The Appalachian Trail courses through the Park, and many through-hikers are proud to make it to Cumberland County, PA as it is the middle of the 2000+ mile hike from Springer Mountain in GA to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Right at the mouth of the State Park is the Appalachian Trail Museum, which I highly recommend as an informative, not-at-all-stuffy, friendly-staffed stop. It’s a small museum packed with books, t-shirts, memorabilia, information, history, hiker’s stories, photos, and more.

Downside to the PG Furnace SP is that there’s not much else close by. 

We arrived early (around 2:30 on Saturday, May 9) and realized along the way that there was exactly zero cell service around the park, so missed the entryway to the campground itself (thinking we could rely on an online map to find our site). Trailered the Roomba up a narrow, climbing road for quite a while before finally finding someplace that might allow a turn-around. Did our first “back the trailer to turn around” three-point reverse and it went pretty well. Glad there was no traffic on that skinny road.

Back down that road, and we hit the correct entrance and saw the “campground full” sign but soldiered ahead, finding our reserved spot in short order. Another backing the trailer campaign and we were set up and un-hitched in a snap.

 Ventured out straight away to find some info and spoke to a couple of nice folks in the Visitors Center and got a map of the area, as well as a map of Gettysburg, and chatted about where we might find some groceries. We asked about any nearby Rail Trails, and they told us of one not too far away — a new discovery for us, which we got excited about.

Totally by chance, on one of the maps we saw a “Country Butcher” shop and just had to find it (and maybe a farmer’s market?). We did, and got a couple of very nice steaks that would do for two of our dinners (roquefort butter steaks, anyone?), but the true excitement abounded when we found real Lebanon Bologna. Took home a healthy stack of that PA treasure! 

Unfortunately, it’s still a bit early in the season for the farmer’s markets to be selling anything but plants and starts, so we did not get lucky on that front.

They suggested we head toward Carlisle for groceries and on the outskirts, found a grocery called Nell’s. It was similar to our Food Lion in Floyd, and we got a bunch of stuff to carry us over for meals in PG Furnace SP. Jack also found a package store and we felt it was warm enough to initiate G&T season, so we did.

High on the agenda was Gettysburg Battlefield, so despite predictions of rain and thunderstorms, we loaded the bikes onto the car rack and headed to the town and the battlefield visitor center/museum/etc. Saw the movie and watched the “Cyclorama,” which is a light and sound show built around an enormous oil painting by Paul Philippoteaux, which had been painted close to the time of the battle itself, around 1864-5 (?). It was restored within the last decade, and has found its home in this circular display area where they do a light show to help visitors experience the battle. It’s pretty amazing, and with the movie and the museum, well worth the $11.50 senior citizen discount ticket prices.  

Of course, we were there on Mother’s Day, as were thousands of other folks. So we headed out on our bicycles, parking at the Pennsylvania Monument (all of the states who had soldiers participating at the battle have erected monuments to their fallen and wounded). A body could climb up to a top tier of the monument, which I did, and took some photos of the view.   

   Following the “Auto Tour” signs our day was a 22-mile round of the battlefield, and of course, we took our time (but did not stop at every signpost or historic marker, else we’d be there to this day). In the end, with stops and a picnic lunch we packed along, we were riding about 2 hours, and our Cyclometers registered about equal time stopped along the way, so it was a four-hour bicycling adventure (not including the visitor center sights).   


The rain held off and along the way we saw some totally ridiculous-looking folks on Seg-Way thingies, taking a tour. It was too funny not to take a photo or two.   
I liked seeing the tall monuments with horses against the blue sky, and I took several pix like that, but here are the best.


And of course, we stopped at Virginia’s memorial to its fallen, having (who else?) Robert E. Lee on Traveler as the focal point.    

It was VERY hot and we were getting a bit weary, but after eating our picnic lunch at the Peace Memorial, we climbed up to Little Round Top. One cannot get to Gettysburg Battlefield and not go up to Little Round Top. It would be sacrilege. So glad we did — it was a great spot, even though mobbed with peeps, and hotter than a fry pan up there. But Jack especially wanted to see if he could find the place where a photo of his great grandfather Peter Isenberg was taken a century ago on Little Round Top.    

We might have found it, and Jack wanted to stand about where Mr. Peter I. had stood, and we took a photo. He’s going to do something with his heritage website with them. An incidental find as I scrabbled below the boulders was a lovely patch of columbine clinging to the rocky hillside.

We were very hot and about to run out of water, so when we spied a Weiss Grocery store, we wanted to stop for some Gatorade or juice, and while there, we checked email and called Pat McNamara back home, because he’d reported some problems with our rooster attacking him. He said it really wasn’t a problem, but I told him that roosters were replaceable, and if he felt he needed to take drastic action to keep rooster spurs from imbedding into his calves, it was fine by me. Good old rooster came to me because he was rather aggressive with his prior caretakers, and even though I’ve not had any problems with him, he does, indeed have a history. It was good to speak with Pat and hear that (other than rooster attacks) all is well.

Back at the car, we loaded up and went to find a “restorative” as Jack calls it. In a little while, we sat down in some shade in the town of Gettysburg for an ice cream. Yum.

More on our stay at PG Furnace SP next post –