Only the Shadow Knows: Waiting on a Groundhog in Punxsutawney, PA


A mural of a dog with a hat on it's head.
You’ve got to love a town that celebrates its rodents.

So it’s 4 a.m., and I’m waking up to see a rodent. A famous one, but still, I have to ask myself if it’s worth getting bundled up in massive layers of clothing and hiking up a hill to Gobbler’s Knob to see if a groundhog will see its shadow.

Of course, that groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, and he’s not just any marmot wandering about outside his burrow. He is THE groundhog—you know, the one that gives Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel a run for his money when it comes to predicting when winter will end.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, for the past 134 years, a Punxsutawney groundhog has prognosticated whether there will be six more weeks of cold and snow, or whether an early spring will give us all a reason for hope at the end of a long winter–based on seeing his shadow. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Worshiping the Whistle-pig

Surprisingly, when I went on the sojourn to see this wondrous whistle-pig, Terri was not with me. She probably had to be in Paris or Trondheim or something, not realizing that she was missing THE event of the season. She was also missing the chance to imbibe wines from the Groundhog Wine Trail, which is quite out of character for someone who not only appreciates quirky celebrations, but the chance to stay warm by imbibing in the early morning hours.

So, there I was, the night before the marmot moment of truth, sitting in a hotel bar. Beside a semi-drunk groundhog, or at least, someone in a groundhog costume.

Me: Wow, you really get into this!

Personified Groundhog: What do you mean?

Me: Wearing the costume even before the big event.

PG: What do you mean?

Me: Do you always dress like this?

PG:  What, you don’t like it?

At this point, I gave up, which is just as well because more groundhog-clad celebrators showed up. I was pretty sure that the conversation was going to be just as frustrating as Phil seeing his shadow, extending a PA winter far past its sell-by date. The good news is that this group, along with 32,000 other people, were up and ready to go before the 5 a.m. fireworks the next morning, providing the perfect atmosphere for what is truly one of the most bizarre yet strangely apropos events ever to grace the Pennsylvania woods.

Two people in bear costumes posing for a picture.
Why not wear your furry finery on Groundhog Day? At least you’ll stay warm!

The Benefits of Body Heat

There’s a reason that so many people dress up for the morning revelry. When I was there six years ago, it was 17 degrees, and you had to find your place in the crowd before the sun even came up. Suddenly all of those massive fur costumes and groundhog heads made sense. I might scoff at their fashion sense, but I did it while shivering uncontrollably. Of course, the celebratory flasks hidden under masses of faux animal fur might also have had something to do with their cheeriness.

(Just a note: Alcohol is not allowed at the event, though I expect it’s difficult to thoroughly search thousands of people in dozens of layers. Be respectful and leave your booze back in the burrow.)

A man in top hat and coat holding a stuffed animal.
Phil has his own entourage, who carry him through the cheering crowd. I need this groundhog’s life.

Welcoming the Seer of Seers

Phil’s arrival onstage was heralded with as much pageantry as you’d expect for a foreign dignitary or a duck-lipped Kardashian. He was ceremoniously carried through the crowd by a fleet of men in top hats and tails, with the crowd parting as if Moses himself were clearing the way. He was held up in front of the roaring crowd, and he surveyed his minions, knowing how easy it would be to dash their hopes by seeing his shadow, resulting in another month of exorbitant heating bills and bad backs made worse by shoveling.

I was lucky that during my visit, Phil did not see his shadow, causing the crowd to reach such a frenzy that people were calling in sick to work even before the announcement made it to the back row. After much celebration, everyone headed back down the hill into town. The crowd included a herd of deer running down the center of the street that were probably totally put out by that many crazy strangers coming to visit at such an inconsiderate hour.

A bunch of wooden bears are sitting on the ground
Everywhere you look, there are groundhogs. And you can even take one (or a bunch) home with you.

A Community-wide Celebration

Whether or not you believe that a groundhog can predict the end of winter, it’s well worth it to attend this eclectic event just for the experience. The whole town—which numbers about 6,000 people—goes all out to welcome visitors, hosting pancake and sausage breakfasts, holding souvenir sales in the historic Pantell Hotel, taking part in an outdoor festival in Barclay Square and an evening banquet in the Punxsutawney Area High School, and in general, just having a huge amount of fun in honor of a world-famous woodchuck.

For those truly committed to the cause, there’s also the opportunity to get married on Groundhog Day in the Civic Center by the mayor of Punxsutawney. While I was there, I watched five couples tie the knot. No word on whether they came back to the same place every year and did it again (ala Bill Murray’s famous movie.)

A statue of a bear wearing a top hat.
There are 32 Phantastic Phils all over town. It’s selfie heaven!

Of course, you can’t be in Punxsutawney without posing with one or more of the 32 six-foot-tall artistically painted groundhogs (known as Phantastic Phils) that can be found around town. You might even make it on TV if you stop in the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center. There you can pose in front of an AccuWeather green screen and make up your own forecast to compete with the furred weather watcher.

While I missed Terri on this trip, I have to say that surrounding myself with thousands of whistle-pig worshippers made it a pretty fantastic experience on my own. So what does the future hold for this Feb. 2? Only the groundhog knows.

A crowd of people gathered in the snow.
Even if you don’t like crowds, you’re going to appreciate all of that body heat in one place.

If You Go:

Dress warmly…I mean really, really warmly. Typically, temperatures range from -5 to 32 degrees. And wear good shoes! You should plan on hiking all over the place because the easiest way to get anywhere is by walking.

Most of the nearest hotels sell out way in advance (especially when Feb. 2 falls on a weekend), but there are a number of close-by towns, including DuBois (check out Doolittle Station—another of our favorites!) and other locations in Clearfield and Indiana counties where you can still find reasonable rooms just a short drive away. Plan ahead on where to park (a lot of the streets are closed off), and purchase a ticket in advance for the shuttles ($5) that will take you up to Gobbler’s Knob from numerous sites around town. Note that the shuttles stop running at 6:30 a.m., so you’re hoofing it after that, and Gobbler’s Knob is a 1.5-mile uphill hike.

And if you want to dress like a groundhog, go ahead! You’ll be the warmest people standing on that windswept hill.

For more info:  www.groundhog.org and www.pawilds.org.

A painting of two men and a bear
See you next year!

 

Sink or Swim: Houseboating Adventures on Raystown Lake


A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Seriously. It’s so big you can’t even get a photo of it in the frame.

By Vanessa

As Terri and I stood on the shore watching our houseboat slowly float away, we realized that we had made two grievous errors. The first being that at least one of us should have stayed on board. The second, thinking that the two of us could ever handle a 54-foot houseboat on our own, considering that neither of us has either boating experience or common sense.

Our adventure started when we were offered the use of a houseboat on Raystown Lake from Seven Points Marina, who had far more faith than us that we could handle the vessel after watching a 30-minute video, answering a short quiz, and getting a fast but thorough tutorial on how the boat worked by one of the marina crew. After taking us out of the dock and walking us through how to steer, what to do if the generator didn’t work, and showing us the most important aspect of the boat—the large cooler—our guide jumped off the houseboat onto another boat, and we were on our own.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
This should have just stopped at “You may not operate this boat.”

Terri: What are we supposed to do now?

Vanessa: Steer it, I guess.

Terri: Do we know how to do that?

Vanessa: I’m not sure. I know we’re supposed to keep it away from the shoreline until we’re ready to dock. Then we run it aground and tie it to trees.

Terri: We run it aground?

Vanessa: That’s what he said.

Terri:  I thought we weren’t supposed to wreck the boat.

Vanessa: And I thought we were smart enough not to take a 54-foot boat out onto a lake when there are other people whose lives are now at stake, but here we are. So the world’s gone crazy.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Note that there were no boats within miles of us. With good reason.

Who Runs Aground on Purpose?

I took the first try at steering the houseboat, which is kind of like steering my Jeep, Lucille. Neither of them goes where I want them to go. After a lot of cursing and yelling at Terri to stop taking my picture while I was focused on trying to keep us alive, I finally got the hang of it. Mostly. I was still struck with abject terror every time we came within a half-mile of another boat, though I think most locals are used to the fact that there are many beginning house boaters out on the lake, so they act accordingly and flee the area, choosing to fish somewhere safer like in another state.

Brimming with false confidence, I agree with Terri that we should try to dock our behemoth new home.

Terri: There’s a cove! And some trees! Let’s stop there.

Vanessa: No problem. How do we stop?

Terri: (madly rewinding her recording of our instructions as the island gets closer and closer). Give me a minute.

Vanessa: We don’t have a minute. We have an island. And it’s getting larger. In a hurry.

Terri: (clicking back and forth on the recording) I think it was sometime after he talked about the kitchen…

Vanessa:  Which won’t exist if we hit this island. WHICH IS RIGHT THERE.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Even the snake knows this water is way too shallow. He and I were both screaming. (FYI, water snakes are harmless.)

In a sudden flash of inspiration, I pulled back on the handle (throttle? Magic boat-stoppie thing?) and we were able to gently drift into shore. And then the wind and current turned us sideways, where the water was getting shallower by the second.

Vanessa: This can’t be right.

Terri: But we’re on the island.

Vanessa: We’re supposed to be perpendicular to it, not parallel.

Terri: So just…um…move it.

Vanessa: How?

Terri: (pulling out her recorder again)

Vanessa: For the love of….

I pull the magic boat-stoppie thing again, and now we’re going backward. Which is good, because we were out of other directions. I make a second attempt to head straight into the shore and gently bump up against the land. SUCCESS!

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Terri trying to tie up the boat. Does she look scared? We both were.

Watching Our Hopes Float Away

Terri grabs the rope and not so gracefully climbs over the two kayaks we have at the front of the boat to make it to shore. In her defense, she’s only 5’2†and the kayaks are stacked about four feet high. She ties one rope to a tree and begins singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘round the Old Oak Tree,†not realizing that while she’s performing, the currents are once again moving the boat parallel to shore.

Vanessa: Terri, tie the other rope!

Terri: (still singing and now dancing) What??

Vanessa: The other rope!

Terri: (going full-on Broadway)  What??

So I leap out of the boat since I can’t wait for intermission and grab the other rope to tie it to another tree. As I’m doing this, Terri finally stops her performance long enough to realize that the boat is slowly drifting away from us, and since our knots pretty much suck, the ropes aren’t stopping it.

Terri: GET ON THE BOAT! GET ON THE BOAT!

We both start to scramble toward the boat, and I get a leg on it before it gets too far away. Hoisting myself back over the kayaks like a broken-legged giraffe, I pull or push some mechanical thing, and stop the boat from leaving us ashore. Terri, after retying the ropes, gets back on board. And we hold our breath and wait. And nothing bad happens. The boat stays where we put it.

Vanessa: I think we’re docked.

Terri: (opening a bottle of wine) I think we’re drinking.

Vanessa:  Can you imagine if we’d had to call to tell them that we lost the boat on the first day and needed to be rescued?

Terri: I’d drown myself first.

Vanessa: We’re out here four more days. There’s still time.

I’m happy to report that the next four days were absolute heaven, and that no boats or humans were harmed during our excursions out on the lake (or into town). We started the mornings and ended the evenings basking in the hot tub on the roof of the houseboat and spent the days hiking wherever we were docked.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Aw…bliss! Talk about the perfect escape!

We even discovered a cell signal at the top of the mountain, which is one way to force us to get exercise.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Need a cell signal? Start walking! (We did later find a signal on the water, but let’s face it; a little hike isn’t gonna hurt us.)

The two of us also loved our time exploring the beauty of Raystown Lake, where we tried unsuccessfully to motor to the dam, which we never could find. I’m pretty sure that was because of our inability to read a map and not the fact that they might have moved the massive, many-ton structure.

If You Go:

Because we visited in April, it was a little chilly for swimming, but the houseboat is the perfect home base for families who want to spend all of their time on the water—it even has a two-story slide for the kids. The four bedrooms offer plenty of room, and a fully stocked kitchen, including a microwave and grill, means that you can bring your own food and never have to leave this vacation paradise. And you can change the scenery every day—just use the magic boat-driving thing to take yourself to a new location as often as you like!

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
How much fun is this?

We were especially pleased with the wonderful Seven Points’ staff who not only bring you bags of ice if you radio in, but also take the boat in and out of the dock for you—saving untold thousands of dollars of damage in our case. They are always right at the other end of the radio, which adds a level of confidence much needed by newbie boaters like us, and they didn’t even laugh (too hard) as they watched Terri at the controls of the boat, which she drove like a drunken sailor on a four-day binge before deciding her talents lay in navigation (did I mention that we never found the dam?)

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
See that teeny tiny space between the boat on the right and the next one over? That’s where you’re supposed to fit your boat. Time to call in the experts.

If you do decide you want to go ashore, Huntingdon has a charming downtown area. Make sure you go to Mimi’s for dinner—the martinis and Italian food are delish! —and you should also stop at the Isett Heritage Museum atop Stone Creek Ridge to learn more about, well…everything. A collection of everyday items from at least the last 100 years, you can find everything here from toys to miniature railroads to barbed wire collections and Fred Harris’ barber’s chair. And that’s just in one building (there are three).

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
There are so many cool things at Isett Heritage Museum that you could spend a month wandering the aisles! My personal favorite was the poisonous baby doll. Seriously.

I also loved Lincoln Caverns & Whisper Rocks, which was discovered 88 years ago during the construction of Rt. 22. Unfortunately for Terri, she missed this part of the trip (I think she was still looking for the dam), but it’s well worth a stop to see not one, but two stunning natural attractions.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Stalagmites, stalactites, bacon….so many awe-inspiring structures to see at Lincoln Caverns & Whisper Rocks!

To learn more about renting a houseboat in Raystown Lake, contact Seven Points Marina at www.7pointsmarina.com or call 814-658-3074. To learn more about all there is to do in Huntingdon County and the Raystown region of Pennsylvania, visit www.raystown.org or call 1-888-RAYSTOWN.

Let’s Talk Houseboating


 

Sometimes we take our stories on air for the world to hear. It works well for me since I LOVE to talk! Here’s a link to my recent appearance on Travel Planners Radio Network where I share my version of the tales from our mishap-filled adventures while houseboating in Pennsylvania. No doubt Vanessa will have her own version to share, too. But, I’m jumping in first!

 

 

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Where it began…no one warned the good folks at Seven Points Marina!
A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Hot tubs and Houseboats go together like Cheerios & Milk!
A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
When you finally master tying the boat up to the trees, you can go for a hike!
A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
If you’re going to tie a houseboat to a tree, you need to show it some love!

Pinkies Up! Tea Time in Altoona


By Vanessa

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Ah, the tradition of afternoon tea. How civilized!

I’ve always thought that the English tradition of having tea was lovely. Instead of grabbing something out of a vending machine or hitting up a fast food joint, stopping midday to have a warm drink and a scone or crustless sandwich just seems so damn civilized. So I was pleased while visiting Altoona, PA to discover that we were going to take a short break to partake in this afternoon repast. The break was well-earned after a morning spent hiking in Canoe Creek State Park and visiting the Fort Roberdeau Historic Site.

Little did I know that a visit to Pamela’s Victorian at Bell Mansion would combine two of my favorite things—tasty food and fancy hats! Because if you’re going to act like high society, you have to look the part.

So Many Stunning Chapeaus

Despite the fact that I was a tomboy growing up, I love, love, love, playing dress up. And there’s nothing better than vintage clothing to put a girl in the right mood for an elegant meal. So when owners Pamela and George Wertman ushered us into Bell Mansion and then guided us toward the back room with its plethora of divine hats, I was in heaven.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Hats, hats and more hats! You know we had to try them all on.

Vanessa: Terri, do you see what I’m seeing?

Terri: I see hats. Lots of hats. And I want that one. Or that one. No, that one. Oh my god, I look fantastic in all of them.

Vanessa: Maybe I can fit more on my head than one. Because I want to wear them all. That wouldn’t be weird, would it?

Terri: Why do you even bother to ask?

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Once a southern belle, always a southern belle.

While Terri found the perfect purple hat to match her outfit, because she is pretty much the pageant queen, I went with the mother of all vintage hats—one so large that it actually hurt my head from the weight. Because let’s face it: looking good doesn’t always mean feeling good.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
I might have been slightly unbalanced, but damn I look good while perusing my many tea choices.

Choose Your Teacup…Very Carefully

Pamela then told us that in addition to our hats, we should choose our own tea set from a huge selection showcased in an in-wall cupboard. We also got to pick our own flavors. Not easy decisions, considering that the shop offers 95 types of looseleaf teas, including black, green, white, herbal, decaf, honeybush and their own house blends. And did I mention the more than 100 unique teapots and cups?

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Breakable items on every single surface. How there wasn’t an ‘incident,’ I don’t know.

I chose a stunning white, pink and green teapot with raised roses, and a Royal Albert bone china cup and saucer commemorating the 100th birthday of the Queen Mother. Because , in my massive hat, I felt like a (slightly unbalanced) royal. It was a bit worrisome to try to move about the tea house in my chapeau. With almost every inch covered with something breakable, I narrowly avoided quite a few “bull in a china shop†moments.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
A cranberry vanilla sugar scone with Devonshire cream. A girl could get used to this.

Once we were seated at the beautifully appointed table, we were served a wonderful meal prepared by Chef George that included salad supreme (baby greens, cranberries, walnuts, tomatoes, grapes, cheddar cheese and a balsamic-basil vinaigrette), wedding soup, and a chicken salad sandwich on a croissant. I chose the house blend, Berry Berry Good Good Tea, to accompany my meal. I have to say it was very very good good. And of course, we enjoyed cranberry vanilla sugar scones with Devonshire cream, because when in England, or in this case, Altoona, you have to have your tea with the traditional treats.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Owners George and Pamela Wertman in the foyer of Bell Mansion

Of Course, We’re Taking Tea in a Mansion

While we were dining, Pamela caught us up on the history of the Georgian-style Bell Mansion, which was built by Edward Bell back in 1822. For a time it served as an assisted living home before the couple began remodeling it, turning it into a tea room and bed-and-breakfast that has two upstairs guest rooms, a gift shop and a music room where Pamela gives piano and voice lessons.

Well-fortified for the rest of our day, we headed off to Baker Mansion, a Greek Revival-style home built by Alleghany Furnace owner Elias Baker in 1849. Who knew Altoona had such an abundance of fantastic historic buildings? While I felt a little naked leaving my hat behind, once I got the feeling back in my neck, I appreciated the wonderful break that Pamela’s had given us during such a packed weekend.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Our friend, Jennifer Fleck, who is a total natural at this hat-wearing thing.

If You Go:

Want to celebrate the Victorian Age in style?

Pamela’s Victorian at Bell Mansion, One Main St., Bellwood, PA. 814-822-2223, http://www.pamelasvictorian.com/

Baker Mansion: This 1849 Greek Revival mansion is now the home of the Blair County Historical Society. Tours offered of period rooms and historical exhibits. 3419 Oak Lane, Altoona, PA 16603. 814-942-3916, http://www.blairhistory.org/

What goes well with a hat?

If you feel the need to accessorize, there are some wonderful places to shop in the area.

Charlotte’s Trove: A very unique boutique (check out that wooden wall!) where you can also get lunch if you so desire.  819 East main St., Roaring Spring, PA. 814-414-3700, http://www.charlottestrove.com/

LaVintage Décor: Studio, antiques and gifts. Local artisans and vendors provide shiny objects nestled among vintage treasures. 601 N. 4th Ave., Altoona, PA. 814-934-8928, http://www.lavintagedecor.company/

Want to work off all those scones?

Canoe Creek State Park: A 958-acre park featuring a lake, wetlands, and the remnants of kilns from the 1900s. 205 Canoe Creek Rd., Hollidaysburg, PA. 814-695-6807, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/canoecreek/index.htm

Fort Roberdeau: A Revolutionary War lead mine fort is the westernmost Revolutionary War site in America. Open for tours. 383 Fort Roberdeau Rd., Altoona, PA. 814-946-0048, http://www.fortroberdeau.org/

Stalking Bigfoot through Bilger’s Rocks


A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.

Hearing Terri scream on a trip is not unusual. In fact, it’s usually par for the course when she falls up a set of stairs or tumbles off a compost toilet* or trips over, basically, most anything. And since I’m about as coordinated, we rarely get alarmed when the other one lets out a yell. But I admit I was a bit taken aback when we were climbing through Bilger’s Rocks in Clearfield County, PA, because her husband, Greg, was on the trip with us. Unlike me, he doesn’t think it’s that funny when we hurt ourselves trying to act like we’re still 20.

Terri: OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!

Vanessa: What’d you do?

Terri: DID YOU SEE THAT?

Vanessa: What??? Snake? Bear? A snake and a bear? A snakebear?

Terri: It was Bigfoot!

Vanessa: Oh, for the love of all that’s….nope. You did not see Bigfoot.

Terri: I totally saw Bigfoot! It was right up on that rock. And then it ran.

Vanessa: Did you get a blurry picture?

Terri: No. It was too fast. It was just there…and then gone.

Vanessa: Like your common sense.

Despite my best efforts, I could not convince Terri that she had not seen Bigfoot. I was a little surprised, in fact, that Greg agreed that something resembling the elusive Sasquatch had just run through the forest. I took this with a grain of salt, however, since having been born and raised in New York City, I didn’t quite trust his animal identification skills. And Terri is not a reliable source for animal encounters, either. She’s been known to chase after wild baby tapirs to pet them, thinking that no harm will come to her from the “little pig’s momma,†that will, in fact, disembowel her.**

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Not everyone is tall enough to scale the rocks. At least that’s what she says.

Climbing, Hiking and Claustrophobia

We continued on our climb through the rocks, and we learned a lot from our guide, who I’m sure was shaking his head at these city-folks—or just at our general lack of climbing ability. Bilger’s Rocks is a truly spectacular place to hike, consisting of 316- to 320-million-year-old sandstone formations that tower above the forest floor, some rising 30 to 50 feet overhead. Visitors can crawl through small openings, wander through barely-body-width passages underground, or just enjoy resting in the cool air. Bilger’s Rocks is actually cooler than the rest of the forest, which is wonderful surprise on a hot summer’s day.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
The view looking up from the ice cave. Otherwise known as the stuff nightmares are made of.

Being somewhat claustrophobic and more than somewhat wide, I didn’t jump at the opportunity to tour the ice cave, a pitch-black passageway that wove underground for about 25 feet. You can see down into the labyrinth from up above, and trust me, that was as close as I’m ever going to get, except in my nightmares.

My favorite part of the hike was seeing where the trees took root and clung to the outside of the rocks, forming intricate patterns of natural art. And humans had left their mark in the area as well. As a history buff, I was fascinated by a map of the Americas that someone had carved into the rock shortly after World War I—you can still see the 1921 date, as well as the message of solidarity left behind.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Talk about clingy! Pretty sure that tree isn’t going anywhere.
A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Legend has it that this was carved by a soldier recently returned from WWI. Respect.

And while there is so much there to see in what’s known as “Rock City,†what there is not…is Bigfoot.

Maybe Bigfoot Got Eaten by a Dinosaur?

Sasquatch hunters should not despair, however, as there is another place in the county where you can see the ape-beast, or at least his likeness, as well as other incredible creatures. Doolittle Station, located off Rich Highway, not only has Bigfoot replicas eating ice cream, but an entire animatronic dinosaur display that makes it a must-stop while in the county. The history of this place, owned by Dr. Jeffrey Rice, is actually a whole ‘nother story, which we’ll be telling you about soon (we can only write so fast). What you need to know right now is that it’s got dinosaurs, Elvis, Bigfoot, craft beer, train cars, amazing food, mini-golf, scratch-made pizza and more…and you can even stay in a renovated caboose overnight.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Maybe stalking Bigfoot wasn’t such a good idea?

*Want to read about the toilet incident? https://everyroadastory.com/a-night-on-the-jaguar-preserve-a-k-a-the-toilet-incident

**Seriously, never travel to Belize with Terri.

 

If You Go:

Bilger’s Rocks is an amazing place to spend a day, and they also offer overnight camping. Learn more about this natural wonder, including how it was formed (you know, the science stuff) at http://www.bilgersrocks.net/.

If you prefer to spend the night indoors, hanging with Bigfoot statues while listening to live music and sipping on a local beer at a nano-brewery, check out Doolittle Station at http://www.doolittlestation.com/.

For a look at all of the cool things to do in Clearfield County, from monsters to mating elk (seriously—it’s a whole thing there), visit http://www.visitclearfieldcounty.org/.

 

 

 

Imbibing in Erie, PA


Erie, PA is no stranger to awards; recently, its National Natural Landmark, Presque Isle State Park, was named as the best freshwater beach in North America and as Pennsylvania’s top attraction. And while these are worthy accomplishments, we wanted to see what other types of attractions the area had to offer—the kind that don’t make the ‘best of’ lists, or fit exactly under family-friendly activities. So Terri and I set off on a drinking tour to check out local haunts where we could enjoy a variety of libations.

I should mention that these establishments aren’t dive bars—places where you might end up arrested or where I’ll most probably meet the next (temporary) love of my life. Instead, these are the places where the local color shines bright, the bartenders rock, and you can enjoy a sort of Cheers-like atmosphere even if you’re not in Boston. Let’s get this party started, shall we?

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Steelers’ fan? We’ve got the place for you.

First Stop, The Cab

Because we’re big believers in getting  sustenance before getting our drink on, we started at The Cab Bar & Grille, which is the perfect place to pre-game, or actually game-game, considering that they have five flat screens, two projection screens and a massive TV viewing area in the back where you can watch your favorite teams play. They also have big portions of bar-type food to fill you up from Big Daddy’s BBQ ribs to wings with special “Cab-created†sauces, so you can establish the base you need before imbibing. Now in its 22nd year of business, The Cab attracts local Steelers’ fans for games as well as people who appreciate their daily homemade hot lunch specials. They get a special shout-out from me for having a non-smoking section since I’m a big fan of breathable air.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Can’t go drinking on an empty stomach!

Why Do They Spell Dinor that Way?

Haggerty’s Tavern has been serving the Emerald city (who knew that Erie had this nickname?) since 1931. There’s a lot of history here, including that part of the bar is located in what was formerly Bob MacKendrick’s Boston Diner. You can still stand within the shell or enjoy some brews on the outdoor patio. The space bills itself as a tavern and dinor, setting my teeth on edge as an editor who really wants to take a red pen to that spelling. But it turns out that ‘dinor’ is a spelling unique to northwestern PA, and you’ll find other places using this same moniker. I’ll just have to suck it up when in that part of the country.

Big props to their very cool bartender, Meghann, who extended a warm welcome and was extremely patient when I wanted to take lots of photos of her awesome tattoos and eye makeup. I stalk her now on Facebook.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Meghann has that quality that all bartenders need–patience!

 

Going Classic at The Plymouth

The Plymouth is a classic Erie bar where generations of people have come to hang out, from 21-and-over college kids, to girls’ night out groups, to families looking for a meal. It’s a big space made up of three buildings, including one that used to house the Erie Cut Rate Medicine Store. Since I consider my alcohol to mostly be medicinal, that seems about right. Though the buildings are over 100 years old, the bar has been in place since 1973, and has become somewhat of an Erie institution. For that reason, it’s often packed—and loud—so Terri and I fit right in.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Terri and I felt quite comfortable at the Plymouth. Note the alarmed guy in the left top corner. Cheers!

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Gatherings Pub & Grille is a little hole-in-the-wall neighborhood tavern that serves awesome tacos. And I know that I already mentioned that we  had a big bunch of food at The Cab, but when you’re drinking and someone offers you a taco, you take it. Don’t judge. If you’re a craft beer person, this is a great stop. In addition to more familiar offerings, you can partake of a DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus or a Raging Bitch Belgian IPA, depending, obviously, on your mood. It takes a little time before people stop staring at you, because this is definitely a local’s place, but everyone was nice including the happily inebriated woman who kept sitting on my lap while trying to find her seat at the bar. Or maybe she was trying to grab my taco…good luck with that, missy.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
This lovely young lady makes a mean drink. And served us tacos! We love her.

Bad Pick-up Lines…but Good Drinks

The first thing that struck me about the Red Fox Inn, other than the overpowering cologne of the drunk guy hitting on me and the fact that he was still using pick-up lines from 1985, is that the bar name is written on the ceiling—in three-foot letters—which caused us some consternation.

Terri: Look up.

Vanessa: Whoa! No needing Lasik to read that.

Terri: Why in the world do you suppose the name of the bar is written REALLY BIG on the ceiling?

Vanessa: So that if you fall down and need to call for help, at least you’ll know where you are.

Terri: That’s kind of….brilliant.

While we didn’t need to avail ourselves of this amenity, it was nice to know that it was an option. The Red Fox also has a machine hanging from the ceiling that lights up for Last Call/Bar Closed, which is another way to know when you’ve overstayed your welcome. We didn’t get to see it in action, though, because we had more bars to conquer—never let it be said that we’re quitters!

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
There’s no doubt where you are when visiting the Red Fox. Just look up! Oh, and the spider web and creepy crawly thing were just Halloween decorations. Thank goodness they’re not permanent fixtures!

Getting Our Drag On…well, sort of.

Our last stop of the night was the Zone Dance Club, where, despite its name, we did not dance, since at this point, standing was difficult enough. The largest gay bar in Erie, the Zone has another badass bartender who makes me want to cover myself with tattoos, as well as some of the most civic-minded staff I’ve ever met. At the time we visited, the room was filled with baskets they created for the next day’s Annual Pink Party to benefit breast cancer research. Unfortunately we weren’t there at the right time to catch a drag show, which they do the third Sunday of every month, but we’ve been told we’re welcome to return…and I think they actually meant it.

A chicken sandwich and fries are on the table.
Did I not tell you that this town has the coolest bartenders?

Look at Us Being All Responsible

We usually suggest people not do what we do, but this time you really should follow our lead. Don’t drive. Call a taxi, Uber, Lyft or the transport service of your choice and let them do the driving so that you can live to drink again. Special thanks to our chauffeur who totally hung with us until she found a better offer (or at least someone who could speak coherent sentences) and our Uber driver who got us back to the hotel. We hope we tipped you well.

If You Go:

While we chose to go on a whirlwind bar tour, we highly suggest that you also enjoy all of the daytime activities that Erie has to offer from beautiful Presque Isle State Park to the Erie Maritime Museum. You may want to schedule your visit around some of their cool festivals as well—this year, that includes the Great Lakes Beach Glass & Coastal Arts Festival from May 4-5 (www.Relishinc.com) and Tall Ships Erie 2019 from Aug. 22-25 (www.TallShipsErie.org).

If you choose to follow (or fall) in our footsteps:

The Cab Bar & Grille: 5442 West Ridge Road, Erie, PA  www.thecaberie.com

Haggerty’s Tavern: 1930 W. 26th St., Erie, PA Facebook: Haggertys Bar & Dinor

The Plymouth: 1109 State Street, Erie, PA www.plymouthtavern.com

Gatherings Pub & Grille: 2902 Reed St., Erie, PA www.gatheringspub.com

Red Fox Inn: 1224 East 38th Street, Erie, PA Facebook: Red Fox Inn 76

The Zone Dance Club: www.thezonedanceclub.com

Note also that you can wander through Lake Erie Wine Country (www.lakeeriewinecountry.org) or traverse the Lake Erie Ale Trail (www.lakeeriealetrail.com). You know, in case you’re still thirsty.