Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wrapping up Pennsylvania

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By the time we left Gettysburg for our next destination, we were exhausted. The pace we have set so far this year has worn us out. I can't say it's the RV traveling exclusively because we're keeping the same pace as usual. But hitting the road after a month of near constant travel in Europe with no down time upon our return meant we were already in need of some rest.

Our destination was Hickory Hollow campground located in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Somerset County. Talk about relaxing! We ended up staying there for six days, one more than we originally planned. It was so beautiful and peaceful there and since it was still early in the season, we practically had the place to ourselves. Bliss! I don't think there is a single RVer we've talked to who hasn’t stayed here while passing through this part of Pennsylvania. It is central to several interesting sights but one of the draws here is the price. It’s a Passport America park. So, YAY!


It is easy to see why everyone who stays at Hickory Hollow Campground loves it so much.

As for sightseeing, we managed to hit up all the main ones, including the Johnstown Flood Museum and the National Flood Memorial, the Flight 93 Memorial, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and the fun little town of Ohiopyle.

A couple of blog entries ago I mentioned that in Pennsylvania we expected to see cultures, history and tragedy. The Flight 93 Memorial, newly opened in September of 2015, captures the modern day tragedy in a stunning way. The features of the memorial and displays portray the horrific events on Flight 93 as they unfolded. Having received word that the Twin Towers had been struck by two hijacked planes, passengers and crew on Flight 93 realizing their fate, took it upon themselves to change history. The incredibly brave actions by 40 people aboard that plane very likely saved the lives of countless more and prevented an attack on our nation's capital.

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The large boulder marks the spot where Flight 93 crashed.

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The view of the visitors center from the memorial wall and a personal tribute to one of the heroes of Flight 93.

The visitors center is an impressive architectural spectacle.

The power of each display inside can’t be expressed in words.

Each panel described a moment in time leading up to the tragic ending of Flight 93.

This is possibly the most emotional monument or memorial we have ever visited. We knew from news accounts that members of the crew and a few passengers were able to make calls to loved ones before the crash. Some of these voice recordings are featured in the visitors center. Pick up a phone and listen. But when I saw the look in Steven's eyes, I knew I couldn't do it. It was too heartbreaking. Weeks later, as I write this, we still tear up. If you are anywhere close to this area, I urge you not to miss this beautiful and poignant memorial.

As if we hadn't experienced enough tragedy for one day, we decided to visit the Johnstown Flood Museum and the Johnstown Flood National Memorial about half an hour away from the Flight 93 Memorial. This flood ranks up there in the top ten disasters in the United States and that list includes 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. Yet, I'd never heard of it. I wondered if in a generation or two folks will say they never heard of Flight 93. How sad that would be. I understand more than ever the importance of preserving our history and I think the Park Service does a great job.

On Friday, May 31 1889, the South Fork dam failed 14 miles upstream from the town and unleashed 20,000,000 tons of water that devastated Johnstown, PA. With little warning, the flood killed 2,209 people and became the most catastrophic dam failure in US history.

There are two main venues to learn about the flood. The first is the Johnstown Flood Museum which is located in town, and the second is the Johnstown Flood National Memorial run by the U.S. Park Service located on site where the dam failed. We found both to be interesting but, to be honest, we had reached our fill of tragic events by the time we visited the flood memorial and we didn't even stick around for the film. Instead, we headed home as it had been a long day.

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A replica of the wreckage and an interactive model of the water’s path at the Johnstown Flood Museum.

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Some of the people who lost their family, loved ones or even their own lives in the flood.

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Colonel Elias J. Unger lived in this house and had a commanding view of the original lake and dam.

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The visitor center at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial shows photographs documenting the destruction.

Impressive display in the visitor center at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

The weather during our stay had been a mixed bag, so we had put off visiting Fallingwater thinking that, if the weather didn't improve, we would just skip it. But once we extended our stay by an extra day that turned out to be sunny and warm, we thought it would be the perfect place to visit.  Honestly, we weren't expecting to be wowed by it but we were. And we didn't even go inside!


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The grounds leading up to Fallingwater were particularly beautiful on this sunny day.

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The iconic view of Fallingwater, widely regarded as one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces.

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There are plenty of opportunities to see this gorgeous property from all different angles.

The guest quarters feature a spring-fed swimming pool which overflows and drains to the river below.


We didn’t go inside but we had views from the outside patio.

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We were lucky to avoid the crowds. As we were leaving, people began arriving in droves.

Of course, at first I was thinking how depressing it would be to live in the forest! But the way the light fell, it was sunny and bright and just spectacular! We managed to arrive early and beat the crowds so we got to peek inside as well as get the quintessential shot from across the river.

Our tickets also allowed a visit to another Wright-designed property, Kentuck Knob, but we didn't go there. Instead, we went to the nearby town of Ohiopyle to visit the new visitors center, built over the river and facing the raging waterfalls. It's a spectacular view and the center is really nice. The little town is cute with streets lined with shops and cafes. There is the ubiquitous brewery and restaurant but the big business in town is river rafting.

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Three dimensional information signs and a great walking bridge at Ohiopyle.

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The visitor center sits above the river with rapids perfect for rafting and other water sports.

The inside of the visitors center is full of interactive displays. Great for kids too!

We enjoyed lunch in the general store before taking a walk through town. We were so happy to be in the sun and in a place that wasn't all about tragedy.

After two weeks, our time in Pennsylvania had come to an end. Both Steven and I agree that this is one of the most beautiful states we've visited in our travels and we rank it right up there with our beloved Washington state. Now that's saying something!

NEXT UP:  Ohio and finally, Michigan!


  1. Seeing your photos and reading about your visit to the Flight 93 memorial made me tear up. I would want to visit, and still, it would be painful to do so. Fallingwater has been on my list for a long time -- love the way the architecture blends so harmoniously with the landscape. Slowing down our travels is always a challenge....there's just so much to do and see!

    1. The Flight 93 Memorial was painful, for me, more so than the 9/11 Memorial in NYC. It is so worth seeing, I hope you get there one day.

  2. So many wonderful things here, I'm really sorry we missed this part of PA - definitely on the list for next time. I've often said the heroes of Flight 93 can never be honored enough, yet when we "remember 9/11" it is nearly always those in NYC people are talking about. That everyday citizens stopped the terror before it reached the capital, it is the very definition of bravery to me. I want to see the memorial, but I know it has to be difficult. I also don't remember learning about the flood - so many people lost their lives! And I'm a big FLW fan so your visit to the holy grail is great to see!! I love the dappled walkway :-) Looking forward to seeing what you find in Ohio!

    1. I continue to be amazed at how different our east coast travels are from yours. We may yet get to where you were, we'll see. :)

  3. I definitely want to get to Johnstown. I read David McCullough's book about it and I'd love to see it firsthand.

    1. They've done a good job at the museum and memorial presenting the timeline of how it happened. You'd enjoy visiting there.

  4. We were at the temporary Flight 93 memorial back in 2009. It was humbling back then and looks like it's even more so now. I hope to get back there someday.

    1. All of those items left at the temporary memorial have been saved, categorized and are on display. Very moving.

  5. Visit in the fall. The trees are magnificent.

    1. I can imagine that it is so beautiful in the fall. We'll be back there briefly in October, so we'll get to take a look. Not for long though, sadly.