One of the reasons that I still live in Central Pennsylvania is because of its incredible natural beauty. On the boundary line that separates the folded Appalachian Ridge and Valley from the uplifted Appalachian Plateau, we have the opportunity to see the special landscapes unique to this geologic border. On the verge of fall foliage season, it is a great time to talk about some of the special places that we might visit and enjoy in the upcoming month and a half. As busy and complicated as life can be, we sometimes do not take the time to enjoy all that beauty up close. Though I have come to appreciate these places from the saddle of a bicycle, many of them can be enjoyed by foot, on horseback or even from the seat of your automobile.
The Horseshoe Curve and Glenwhite
Though many of us have made this trip many times, the best part of this trek is often overlooked. The ride along the reservoirs is a pretty one but the road beyond the Curve is extraordinary. The tree covered road runs along Glenwhite Run and goes through the now deserted village of Glenwhite. If you hike across the creek, you can actually see the remnants of the old coke ovens in the side of the hill.
It is easy to bicycle, horseback ride, drive or hike this entire route from Roots Crossing west of Bellwood to the village of Blandburg at the top of the Allegheny Front either on PA Route 865 or on the Bells Gap Trail. Like other roads ascending the edge of the plateau, Route 865 follows the creek that flows down the front. But the ride is often more shaded because the gorge is deeper than many others along the front. Though you miss the beauty of the valley on the trail, the vistas from the mountain side are among the very best in the region. The history of the trail, a railroad until the late thirties makes this adventure even more interesting.
A great view and more fascinating history make the ascent (or descent) of Juniata Gap an interesting and inspiring adventure, too. The site of a 60 room hotel built in 1890, a narrow gauge railroad was built to carry guests from Altoona to the resort. Though the hotel burned down thirteen years after it was built, a pond still visible from the road was used for ice skating for many years. It is also possible to hike or cross country ski the old railroad bed, which is still easy to spot from the road near the spring just east of Skyline Drive.
Blue Knob State Park
Whether you get there from the Newry side or you make the climb from Pavia in Bedford County, this is a beautiful ride through some of the highest elevations in Blair County. In fact, the eastern continental divide (that divides Atlantic drainage from Gulf of Mexico runoff) is just a few miles west on PA Route 164. Whatever way you choose to see them, be sure to get out and fully appreciate these truly majestic landscapes.