Pine Creek (Pennsylvania) Gorge: Dreamtime

Tiadaghton, in the Pine Creek Gorge, used by permission from the Tiadaghton Audubon Society

In my last post, I talked about the family homestead, at the foot of the Pine Creek Gorge in north central Pennsylvania. That blog was about family and friends and comradeship, fun, laughter, stories, food — the communal bits of my family history tied up with Cedar Pines, “back home.”

Pine Creek from Otter Vista

But the painting part of me (as differing some from my personal history) is really about being enveloped by the forests and mountains. It’s about the gentle greens of worn but lively space, the vistas that I remember as a kid. It has a lot to do with car trips the family took to the Old Camp, high above Tiadaghton off the West Rim Road which follows the western side of Pine Creek, where my mother’s family had lived. It’s about sleeping under the apple trees on the top of the hill at the Old Camp and then climbing down to Pine Creek via some dried creek bed — and then climbing back up again. It’s having spent many many hours on dirt roads to arrive at vistas that my father and mother knew about, driving on the dirt fire roads put in place by the CCC boys. My father did some WPA (or CCC) rock breaking on some of those roads and I still remember his stories.

Pine Creek from the West Rim Trail

Like those tracking diagrams for raccoons in cities, I can track where we must have traveled in Tioga county to the west of Pine Creek, mostly by just remembering the names: The Spinning Wheel, the Painter-Leetonia Road, Bradley Wales State Park, The Fahneystock, the old lumbering “town” of Leetonia, the Mine Hole road and swimming hole, the Frying Pan, the Gundigut, Colton Point,  Galeton, Babb(s) Creek, Gamble(s) Run,  The West Rim Road, Tumbling Run,  Ice Break, The Cushman View,  Bear Run, the Algernine.  Some of those were “views”, some “runs” (small creeks), some swamps, some roads, and most overlapped in these designations, being  a “view”, a “gap” a “run” a “hill”, a “ridge” and/or the name of a road. [If you find the Pine Creek Gorge on Google maps and click on “Terrain,” the roads and place names show up among the contours].

Pine Creek, between Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Parks

These places now seem to be known only to hunters and local folks because the Rails to Trails trail for hikers and bicyclists, which runs on the old rail bed, is on the east side of the Creek. However, the West Rim Trail is a designated hiking trail; it skirts around my mother’s girlhood farm,  which is land privately held and off-limits to hikers, but still the trail mostly meanders along the west rim of Pine Creek. I hiked a part of it once in my late 30s with my younger sister, who kept me going with Mars Bars and promises that we were almost there. After setting up camp, she pulled out a couple of jiggers of gin, which we drank while watching bears play in the creek.

Tioga State Forest from Leonard Harrison State Park

I don’t know if anyone else in the family remembers those longs, dusty road trips. We had our own personal trip markings to tell us how close we were to the Old Camp: tumbling run, the rumble bridge, the log cabin, the Mine Hole,  the Fahneystock-back-up road, the West Rim Road off which we turned almost immediately, to drive straight into the forest, through the swamp, by the spring, and down the hill where the rock outcrops caused our teeth to chatter. And then, the forest opened up to meadows, a broken down building,  rock foundations of long gone buildings, and the glory of running pell-mell through waist-high weeds, up the hill to the apple trees, across the fields to find the old hand-laid rock walls now overgrown by forest, down the hill to the remaining traces of the single gauge railroad that carried logs in 1900, over the hill to the old school-house that my mother talked about — all the magical sunny days of bugs and blossoms and being linked to a land that the elders in the family were tied to.Pine Creek North from Leonard Harrison Park

So that is the Gorge of my painterly dreams.

Pine Creek in the mist

A final note: in the 1980s when we lived in Kansas I became a fan of opera. One old warhorse, La Traviata, with a baritone aria, seemed to me to be about the Pine Creek I loved.  This is one of numerous YouTube renditions of “De Provenza il Mar” — Germont’s baritone aria by Leonard Warren — in La Traviata:

My friend, Jane, teases me gently at the thought of Provence being Pennsylvania, but personal daydreams and musical musings are not to be accounted for. “Di Provenza Il Mar” will always be the Pine Creek Gorge to me. — June

[With the exception of the first photo, the photos here are from the Wikipedia Wikimedia Commons (some categories for finding them on the Commons include Leonard Harrison State Park, Pine Creek Gorge, Tioga State Forest, and Colton Point State Park.)]


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12 Responses to Pine Creek (Pennsylvania) Gorge: Dreamtime

  1. Jean says:

    I feel sorry for the many kids who have never known, and probably never will know, the freedom of wandering where one will, without anything manmade within sight or hearing. I come from farmers on both sides of my family (and I have *lots* of relatives) so there was always a farm full of fields, streams, woods, domestic animals and wild animals.

    My very good fortune is that one of my brothers has a home on a ridge in Wisconsin where the only sights are woods and woodland creatures and farms far enough away down in the valley that we can’t hear anything going on down there.

    In contrast, my other brother and I live in the (San Francisco) Bay Area, where nothing is free and machine noises never stop. My luck is that we have birds, butterflies, raccoons, wood rats, and squirrels living or visiting in our bushes. And the cutest, sweetest dog on the planet. 🙂


    • june says:

      Jean, my account leaves out all kinds of downsides and less happy narratives, of course. What was it that Faulkner said about the past being a sun-filled meadow, out of reach of anything but one’s (sometimes edited) memories? I suspect that each of our childhoods could be filled with some kind of description of an environment that others might envy:-)

      Thanks for checking in (twice)!


  2. Judy Shaw says:

    June, what an enchanting story. Loved every bit of it. It reminds me a bit of my childhood living in a logging camp in the foothills east of Seaside. The business of being a kid, free to explore unlimited wilderness is so sweet, and a delicious memory. I’m so glad you had that in your life.


    • june says:

      It’s interesting to note that my daughter’s experience is growing up in a small town in Kansas and she still meets regularly with her high school buddies. And my grandchild grew up in Portland, in the city, and hasn’t the foggiest idea what being free in this particular way is like. But of course, he’s had wildly different and equally interesting experiences in his childhood, things I never dreamed of.


  3. Sally says:

    Beautiful evocations of a place, and of all those special childhood places made magical by connection to family, traditions and summer idyls. For me, it is a cabin that my grandparents built in the Snowy Range east of Laramie, Wyoming.

    When our son was young our vacation travels generally took us west to visit family in Indiana, Wyoming and California. But in 1999 we took a Pennsylvania vacation and spent several happy days at Pine Creek, camping nearby. One day we hiked down to the creek and another rented bikes and rode along it. It is indeed a special place.


    • june says:

      Sally, I have fond memories of the Snowies, myself, although I was considerably older when I encountered them. I distinctly remember going for a Christmas tree one year, the whole family inadequately dressed. And getting a tree that was somewhat of a Charlie Brown stick — we all loved it.

      I’ve never actually been on the bike trail, although a few years ago, a high school acquaintance and I collaborated on some paintings for a scholarship fundraiser. I’m looking forward to painting the space from life — and maybe riding the bike trail, too.


  4. Jean says:

    Some of the terrain reminds me of the part of Wisconsin where I grew up – along the Mississippi River. Our twisty little river or creek valleys, full of trees, were called ‘coulees’, hence that area being called the Coulee Region. The Canadians have their coulees, too, but they talk about short-grass country, and our wild meadows and roadsides had long grass – higher than my 5’4″. Also, in my home area, wider valleys have farmland on the bottom and trees where the hills steepen and across the tops of the ridges. I’ve been back twice this year and would go again in a minute if I were invited. Well, actually, I was invited, but …


  5. june says:

    Good heavens, Linda, where did you vacation in the Grand Canyon? That’s the “Gorge”, of course. I’m making myself mighty homesick, just rambling through these spaces in my mind.

    Thanks for checking in.


  6. Lia says:

    Thank you for the lovely photos and the memories, June! Your musings remind me, too, of family outings in my girlhood, amidst the old, old, worn-down mountains of upstate NY.


    • june says:

      Lia, somewhat same, same. The northern tier of Pa is just an extension of southern upstate. We had family in the Finger Lakes for a number of years, and of course I spent one year at Syracuse U. I get confused, though, with the geography of the ridge and valleys, such as the Susquehanna runs through and the jumble of mountains that Pine Creek exists in. I don’t know if it’s all Appalachia, or how the geographers designate it. Guess I should look at Wikipedia:-)

      Thanks for checking in.


  7. Linda Moran says:

    Why am I just now discovering your blog? I too yearn for the Appalachians, from the tip of the Long Trail in Vermont to Georgia. I’m really an East Coast girl, having grown up in southern New Jersey and vacationed for two summers at the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. While I loved Puget Sound and the Oregon Coast, I want the rivers east of the Mississippi, the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Cod, Lake Champlain, and of course the mountains of New York. I look forward to your adventures this summer!


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